28 October 2008

Simultaneous environments – social connection and new media

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The Big Sort
Kazys Varnelis, director of Columbia University’s Network Architecture Lab, has written a very nice essay for Vodafone’s receiver magazine that explores how mediated communication has changed our notion of place, created non-places and now has us darting between simultaneous environments.

“A century of modernity was undone as fast as it came, as new technologies supported new ways of relating between individuals. Networking is now not just marked by the flow of media from the top down – it is, above all, a vast social phenomenon. This is our world, and it is a radically different place from the condition we once knew as modernity (or postmodernity for that matter).” […]

“We live in a state of simultaneous environments. We are here and there, in multiple places at once. For many of us, this is our condition almost all the time.

The intimacy of the family is now replaced by the “telecocoon”. Coined by anthropologist Ichiyo Habuchi, a telecocoon refers to the steady, ambient conversation over SMS that keeps us together even when we are apart. Providing intimacy at a distance, the telecocoon provides the shared feeling of what Mizuko Ito calls “co-presence”.”

In his essay, Varnelis highlights some dangers though: the fact that we have collectively given up our right to privacy, the splintering of the web in micro publications and micro publics, the tendency to associate ourselves with increasingly homogeneous communities (pictured: The Big Sort: why the clustering of America is tearing us apart, by journalist Bill Bishop).

Within this experimental department of the university’s Graduate School of Architecture, Planning, and Preservation, Varnelis investigates the impact of computation and communications on architecture and urbanism. Together with Robert Sumrell, he runs the non-profit architectural collective AUDC; their first book, “Blue Monday“, was published in 2007. In 2005/06 Varnelis was a visiting scholar with the “Networked Publics” program at the University of Southern California’s Annenberg Center for Communication. This fall, MIT Press will publish the results of this program as “Networked Publics“, edited by Varnelis.

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