Physical and virtual mobilities


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Physical and virtual mobilities

  1. 1. Physical and Virtual Mobilities Prof. Stephen Graham Newcastle University
  2. 2. Structure 1. Dreams of Substitution of Physical by Electronic Communication 2. Critique of Substitutionist Perspectives 3. Virtual and Physical Mobilities as CoConstitutive 4. Conclusions: Understanding Mobilities
  3. 3. 1.  Dreams of Substitution: The Anything-Anywhere-Anytime Dream •  Michael Benedikt (1991) future "with the ballast of materiality cast away" •  Purity of software-constructed 'virtual' reality replacing perceived contamination of 'real', cities •  Two completely separate realms. •  Jay Bolter and Richard Grusin: 'theology' of cyberspace. Information moves “from something separate and contained within computers to a space we can inhabit" (2000).
  4. 4. Utopian Ideologies: Transcendence, Redemption, Dematerialisation •  ICTs will work through "decontaminating the natural and urban landscapes, redeeming them, saving them from the chain-dragging bulldozers of the paper industry, from the diesel smoke of courier and post-office trucks, from jet fuel flames and clogged airports, from billboards, trashy and pretentious architecture, hour-long freeway communities, ticket lines, choked subways... from all the inefficiencies, pollution (chemical and informational), and corruptions attendant to moving information attached to things across, over and under the vast and bumpy surface of the earth rather than letting it fly free in the soft hail of electrons that is cyberspace" (Michael Benedikt, Cyberspace: First Steps, 1991).
  5. 5. •  E.g.s 1995 - Nicholas Negroponte, Director of MIT's Media Lab: "digital living will include less and less dependence upon being in a specific place at a specific time, and the transmission of place itself will start to become possible" From Boston will "see the Alps, hear the cowbells, and smell the (digital) manure in summer". •  1996 - The architect Shafraaz Kaba: "Why would you want to drive for an hour, get stuck in traffic, and be scolded by your boss, when work is a few keystrokes away from the comfort of your home-office?" •  1997 - Uk architect critic Martin Pawley: "in urban terms, once time has become instantaneous, space becomes unnecessary. In a spaceless city, the whole population might require no more than the 30 atom diameter light beam of an optical computer system." •  1999 – The US Romm report, on links between the Internet and global warming. Internet has “the ability to turn retail buildings into web sites and to turn warehouses into better supply chain software, to dematerialize paper and CDs into electrons and trucks into fibre”. •  From Stephen Graham, Cybercities Reader, Introduction
  6. 6. Examples… •  Telecommute instead of commute •  Virtual travel and tourism instead of travel and tourism •  Virtual communities and entertainment •  Cities, paper, physical infrastructure, corporeality, meeting spaces rendered increasingly redundant •  Online music consumption •  Call centres; online banking
  7. 7. •  To sum up, as Anthropologist Caren Kaplan has argued: "the rhetoric of cyberspace and information technologies relies heavily on a hyperbole of unlimited power through disembodied mobility. References to boundless space, unfettered mobility, and speedy transfers abound. [...]. More and more in this context, the concept of a person or of human beings appears to depend on the attenuated possibilities of cyberspace" (2002).
  8. 8. 2. Critique of Substitutionist Perspectives: •  Simply, empirically, wrong! •  Ideologically loaded: neoliberal ‘friction-free’ capitalism (Bill Gates) •  Technologically determinist: ‘impacts’ of technology ‘onto’ society read directly from purported function/effects •  Ignore complex materialities of ICTs •  Overgeneralised and ahistorical : all cities and all effects assumed to be same. No analysis of historical or social evidence on complex co-evolution of ICTs and transport •  “Transmission-oriented account” (Sawhney): overemphasise ICTs; underemphasise place
  9. 9. (i)  Simply, empirically, wrong! (e.g. parallel, log -- i.e. exponential -- growth of transport and e-communications in France, 1800-2000)
  10. 10. (ii) Ideologically loaded: neoliberal dream of a ‘friction-free’ capitalism (Bill Gates)
  11. 11. (iii) Technologically determinist: •  Read-off alleged or predicted ‘impacts’ of ICTs on society through imposing their supposed time-space logic universally
  12. 12. (iv) Ignore complex materialities of ICTs e.g. COLT’s city of London fibre network
  13. 13. (v) Overgeneralised and ahistorical •  ”Perhaps the Japanese will construct cyberspace as an extension of their dense urban corridors. On the other hand, people can live in the suburbs and participate in cyberspace from their homes, as many Americans do now. Or, as Americans do, they can commute between one cyberspace location in the workplace (a corporate communications system) and another in their homes (American Online). Thus cyberspace can be a reflection of the American suburbs and exurbs, the Japanese megacities, or the European combination of large and medium-sized cities. Cyberspace need not be the uniform entity suggested by the current metaphor popular in the United States the information superhighway" (Bolter, 1995)
  14. 14. (vi) Overly “Transmission-Oriented” (Sawhney): overemphasise ICTs; underemphasise place/materiality/ corporeality •  Assume that greater bandwidth necessarily leads to greater levels of meaningful communication & substitution •  Neglects continued importance of “face to face co-present interaction,” and the transport infrastructures and cities necessary to sustain this •  Miss the “compulsion of proximity”
  15. 15. 3. Virtual and Physical Mobilities are Co-Constitutive Typology of Relationships 1: Bill Mitchell
  16. 16. Typology of Relationships II: Graham and Marvin 1996
  17. 17. (i) Physical and Developmental Synergies •  Electronically and physically (dis)connected places one and the same Follow same conduits, pathways, demand corridors and geographies •  Increasingly packaged and developed together
  18. 18. (ii) Substitution Effects •  ICT-based interactions replace physical travel, face to face interactions, and built space •  EG telebanking •  Online movies/ music •  But: Sometimes generate new and hidden material flows, geographies and places as ‘back office’ or logistics complexes •  E.g. iTunes (right)
  19. 19. (iii) Generation Effects •  Use of ICTs to generate new physical movement, face to face contact, and built space •  E.g. web-based booking systems, tourist TV
  20. 20. (iv) Enhancement Effects •  Use of ICTs to squeeze more and more physical traffic within existing infrastructure systems, or at least make congestion more tolerable •  E.g. air traffic control, Just in Time logistics chains, High tech ports, mobiles on tube or roads, ‘cybercars’
  21. 21. SatNav and SemiAutomatic Navigation
  22. 22. Experiments with Fully Autonomous Vehicles eg DARPA Urban Challenge 2007 see http://
  23. 23. (4) Conclusions: Understanding Mobilities •  Increasingly, ICTs ordinary and taken for granted technologies which are infused into the background of urban life, continuously orchestrating complex combinations of electronic and physical mobilities across multiple scales simultaneously •  Electronic and physical mobilities mutually constitutive and inseparably related •  Enrolled, in parallel, into orchestrations and constructions of capitalist divisions of labour, social communities, identities, and socialities, and places, and material practices •  Need perspectives which, rather than assuming some binary virtual-real world, takes this as starting point. Will address these next session.
  24. 24. •  To sum up, rather than being somehow dematerialised and disembodied, ICT-mediated mobilities are: "as embedded in material relations as any other practices. They require hard industries as well as light ones. In addition to the bright and mobile world of designers and users, human hands build the machines in factories that are located in specific places that are regulated by particular political and economic practices. Thus, in the production of the machinery and materials of cyberspace, another form of mobility can be discerned, that of labor in this moment of globalisation” Caren Kaplan (2002, 34).
  25. 25. References •  •  •  •  •  Benedikt M. (Ed) (1992) Cyberspace : First Steps, Cambridge, Ma: The MIT Press Bolter, J. and Grusin, R. (1999) Remediation : Understanding New Media, Cambridge Ma. : MIT Press. Graham, S. and Marvin, S. (1996), Telecommunications and the City: Electronic Spaces, Urban Places, London: Routledge. Kaplan, C. (2002), "Transporting the subject: Technologies of mobility and location in an era of globalization", PMLA, 117(1), 32-42. Mitchell, W. (1995), The City of Bits, Cambridge, Ma: MIT Press.