Imagine getting out of bed, stepping into an empty closet, and closing the door. The walls inside are painted gray, but it doesn't really matter. The lights might be on, or they might be off. Perhaps there is some background noise, but it's hard to say really. You stand there for some time, and you step out into Wal-Mart. Or Tokyo. Whichever. You have an origin and a destination, but nothing in the middle — a spatial discontinuity. This is essentially what takes place, as Mitchell argues, when we use networks to move our data, our resources, our waste, or ourselves from source to destination:
If you transfer yourself through a network, you directly experience this limbo. It is, perhaps, most dramatic on intercontinental night flights. You have your headphones on, there is darkness all around , and there is no sensation of motion. The video monitor constructs a local reality, and occasionally interrupts it to display current time sat origin and destination. It is best not to worry too much about how to set your watch right now, precisely where you are, or whose laws might apply to you.
The discontinuities produced by networks result from the drive for efficiency, safety, and security. Engineers want to limit the number of access points and provide fast, uninterrupted transfers among these points. So you can drink from a stream anywhere along its length, but you can only access piped water at a faucet. You can pause wherever you want when you're strolling along a dirt track, but you must use stations for trains, entry and exit ramps for freeways, and airports for airline networks—and your experience of the terrain between these points is every limited. You experience the architectural transitions between floors of a building when you climb the stairs, but you go into architectural limbo between the opening and closing of the doors when you use the elevator. [p. 15]
1. What does it mean to remove whole areas of the world from the realm that we experience, and make them merely indefinite in-betweens, irrelevant and ignored?
2. What other examples of discontinuities do we encounter and experience in our day-to-day lives?
3. What status do the engineers mentioned in the second paragraph take on, if they have the power to turn a continuous stream that runs for miles into several faucets separated from each other by miles? What does this say about our relationship to nature or to God, if you believe that God created or is responsible for nature in some way or other.
4. What is the logical extension of these discontinuities? That is, what will the end result be as the use of networks in our world continues to increase?
Mitchell, William J. Me++: The Cyborg Self and the Networked City. Cambridge: MIT Press, 2003.
Last modified 1 February 2005