I’m taking BART up to San Francisco for the Technology Horizons conference. I’ll do just about anything to avoid driving into San Francisco, and fortunately the conference is in the financial district. Though I don’t know exactly where– a small detail, but a quick phone call will take care of it.
For me, riding BART is an encounter with a strange geography. I don’t know the stops or their surroundings, so I don’t have a good mental image of where I am. Where I really am is in BART-space, which intersects with the Bay Area (otherwise, what’s the point) but has its own distinctive rhythm, a space branded with sans serif signage and massive concrete stations (I notice the new ones seem lighter and airy, even though they’re made with the same materials; it’s a neat trick, a movement from 1960s New Brutalist to the aesthetic of the new Denver International Airport). It’s somewhat like flying a big airline that has its own terminal: once you get through airport security, you’re in United Airlines (or KAL or JAL) Space until you pick up your bags and enter Customs (or Car Rental) Space.
BART is a great example of what postmodernists call the fragmentation of space. David Harvey, Anthony Giddens, Frderic Jameson, and others talk about the the breaking up of human-scale spaces into distinctive, branded or restricted zones: welcome to United Space; don’t go past the red line. Postmodern spaces are separated from immediately adjacent spaces (no free movement between the BART and Caltrain platforms in the train station), but they are linked to other spaces far away (subway and train stations, the United terminals at SFO and O’Hare; business interests link Wall Street and the City; academic culture connects the two Cambridges). Finally, they’re defined more by movement and their place in a network, than by the space they bound: they’re about connectivity, not restriction.
The metaphor comes to mind because of the experience with William Mitchell’s Me++. I’ve been reading tons of stuff on cyborgs, GIS and location sensing, the networked world (Manuel Castells, Anthony Townsend, et al), and reading Mitchell’s book is like riding a subway: it alternates plunges into fast-moving, disoirenting Me++ Space, with flashing views of familiar landmarks. Over there is Mark Weiser’s ubiquitous computing idea; on the left, Jay David Bolter; and I think I see a corner of the Memex behind some other stuff. As always, the open questionw are where this train of thought is going to end up, and whether the ride will be diverting, productive, or tedious. So far (as of Chapter 6), we’re leaning heavily toward the first two.