Mitchell's City of Bits: Commentary and Discussion

Bodies in Antispace: Mitchell's City of Bits

Linda Kim

Mitchell attempts to "reimagine architecture and urbanism" within the context of digital telecommunications in his text, City of Bits. His vision of "digitally mediated environments" raises some questions fundamental to human nature and the future of society.

The worldwide computer network - the electronic agora - subverts, displaces, and radically redefines our notions of gathering place, community, and urban life" (chapter 2).

This redefined notion of community is one that is centered on the unit of the computer, as the crux of social interaction and the gateway to information and possibilities. The idea of "going" somewhere is seriously challenged and questioned. Why go somewhere when all becomes possible from anywhere? Mitchell's City of Bits can quickly become ghost town. To "surf" becomes metaphor. Three-dimensional gratification of the senses becomes rare, museums and libraries themselves become incorporeal and digital. In a rather creepy fashion, physicality becomes increasingly nullified until void. The loss of the sense of touch, the physicality of actually being somewhere is rarely addressed. Mitchell writes that the Net is antispatial and ambient, yet within this indeterminacy lies a revolutionary mode of communication and interaction. This "incorporeal world of the Net" in turn creates disembodied inhabitants. The notion of "a face-to-face human conversation" or even live, synchronous telephone conversations really have no place in Mitchell's City of Bits, and do not really seem to be missed, posing the possibility of permanently disembodied individuals.

Where are the boundaries between the "disembodied electronic identity" and the actual subject? Personal identity and human interaction have an element of invisibility and manipulation on the Net. Mitchell writes that the "Net's despatialization of interaction destroys the geocode's key. There is no such thing as a better address, and you cannot attempt to define yourself by being seen in the right places in the right company." However, Mitchell does not seem to realize that people do not actually 'live' in this space.

In Chapter 4, Mitchell discusses the possibilities that "movements could be monitored continuously..." or that "there might be some behavior-monitoring capacity built into an anklet or implant, together with a drug-release mechanism" with mildly appalling nonchalance and apparent disregard for the implications these possibilities hold. Yes, these devices are discussed with the criminal in mind, but taken a couple of steps further... It seems that Mitchell is so enraptured and caught up with the positive possibilities of digital communications that he only superficially acknowledges its more sober implications.

The act of turning the computer "off" takes on new significance. Going "off-line" and leaving this digitally mediated environment becomes increasingly difficult, if not impossible.

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