About a year ago, I decided to try a completely different point of departure for exploring heterotopia. Previously, I had taken a fairly straight-forward interpretation of Foucault’s thoughts, exploring his examples of the cemetery, garden, ship and so on. In contrast, I wanted to see to what extent the ‘digital world’ , specifically the Internet, related to Foucault’s notion of different spaces.
As my reading has confirmed, this opens up a massive, complex, interdisciplinary set of questions that are constantly trying to keep pace with the multiple innovations of the digital EG the internet.
A health problem (minor stroke) interrupted my studies somewhat but I am now able to continue and will publish thoughts as I go along, with the hope that others may contribute to an on-going project (probabaly over some years) that will form a separate page to this website.
As way of introduction, or re-introduction, here are some key questions that have surfaced so far:
- Is there a distinct ‘digital world’? IE to what extent can you think objectively about the digital EG the internet?
- Does it make sense to divide digital/analog?
- Is it a matter of the level of observation, perspective, abstraction (Bachelard)?
- What does it mean to ‘look at’ these questions?
- Is it possible to escape metaphors when discussing the digital (EG ‘world’)? Are metaphors a help or hindrance, or both? Is a spatial orientation necessary at all?
- What are the geographical elements of the digital world (EG infrastructure/regional)?
- Is the digital fundamentally relational both on a micro level and in its wider uses?
- What are the consequences of incorporating the digital into our lives?
- What possibilities, opportunities and dangers are opened up (Heidegger/Deleuze)?
I have in mind to focus these questions through the following overlapping perspectives:
- A metaphorical perspective
- A geographical perspective
- A social perspective
- An ontological perspective
- A heterotopian perspective
Some opening thoughts
There are many ways of conceiving the digital world such as the Internet. Academic disciplines, technology companies, industries, governments will look at it from different angles as will different communities and individual users. As the complexity of digital innovations grow and entangle themselves with a multitude of human activities, tasks and skills through work, commerce, leisure and entertainment, conceptions change and multiply. It is hard if not impossible to keep up with the speed of invention and the impact on our lives. The digital world, in the form of the Internet, is difficult, perhaps impossible, to grasp as it is both so close to what we do and are, and yet seems so out of reach. We turn to metaphors. Is it possible or desirable to avoid them when discussing the digital (EG Internet, world, form)? Some scholars see the Internet as actually constituted by spatial metaphors; others debate the helpfulness, limitations and dangers of such metaphorical conceptions. Is it useful to investigate the Internet as a development of the wider metaphor of ‘public space’, or in terms of ‘networks’, drawing on Castells’ notion of a network society and Latour’s actor network theory? Should we try to avoid the spatial perspective with all its metaphors and turn to instead to questions of, for example, digital ontology?
Some guiding quotations
‘We are in the epoch of simultaneity; we are in the epoch of juxtaposition, the epoch of the near and the far, of the side-by-side, of the dispersed. We are at a moment, I believe, when our experience of the world is less that of a great life developing through time than that of a network that connects points and intersects with its own skein’ (Foucault).
‘In the digital milieu, there is no space, but only relations’ (Yuk Hui).
‘The disciplinary person was a discontinuous producer of energy, but the person of control is undulatory, in orbit, in a continuous network’ (Deleuze).
12 June 2018