Digital media and our relationships with space

To what extent have digital media altered our relationships with space? I’ve been pondering this question in connection with a little assignment I’ve been working on for an interdisciplinary seminar I’m taking this semester on the bourgeoisie and the city. We’ve been asked to create “spatial narratives” of our lives and add to or update them over time. The narratives are to be both spatial (obviously) and personal–expressing, representing, and illustrating our movements throughout various spatial environments. Our instructions are deliberately vague so as to encourage the development of different models of representation. Some in the class have drawn maps, others have cut and pasted images from magazines to represent themselves and their lives. We’ve been asked to consider questions such as, “How do you get everyday life into your work?” “How can you root your daily life in space?” “How does one incorporate the social spaces of the urban environment into a spatial narrative?” and “How many layers does a spatial narrative require in order to convey a certain ‘realness’?”

I’ve been using Prezi to create, update, and manipulate my spatial narrative. Prezi is a good tool not just for presenting information, but also for whiteboarding ideas. (My efforts to update my spatial narrative via paper quickly proved too messy.) You can take a look at my Prezi for yourself here. I would advise utilizing the “zoom in, zoom out” function on the right rather than navigating through the paths I’ve created, as the path view is meant to be accompanied by some explanation by me. I’d wager that my thoughts are a bit too difficult to follow without narration by me.

What I’ve found, and what you’ll no doubt notice pretty quickly, is that my spatial narrative isn’t very spatial. Henri Lefebvre is correct in his assertion that space is something humans produce over time and Richard White points out that space can be both practiced and representational, but I’m experiencing difficulty integrating spatiality into my personal narrative. Perhaps this is due in part to the somewhat limited space I practice. As a graduate student I work a whole lot, and most of my time is spent working at home or on campus. Those are the two primary spaces I interact with. Sad, but true for now at least.

But some of my difficulty in creating a spatially-oriented narrative has to do with the simple fact that much of how I interact with a given space depends upon what I personally bring to that space, and digital media have altered what I am able to bring to a space. For example my home is not a purely domestic, private space because my computer allows me to do most of my work from home. I read, write, grade, perform service work, and correspond with fellow students and family in the space of home. Likewise my “work space” of school is neither purely public or work-oriented. I can find privacy in my office or in the library and can partake of all too many activities that have nothing to do with the work I need to accomplish. Thus I find myself framing my personal narrative less in terms of spatiality and more in terms of how I use space–what activities I am able to pursue and “where” my mind is able to go. I certainly don’t believe space is irrelevant, but I have yet to find a satisfying way to integrate it into my personal narrative. And so I wonder, how have digital media changed our interactions with space and the meaning we invest in space? Are digital media having an impact on our relationship with space that is any different from that of our minds, which also allow us to “go” to places beyond the physical space? If you’ve got a bead, I’d love to hear it.

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