war & peace
This page looks at questions of space, distance and place
in the digital era.
It covers -
Early theorists about cyberspace and the 'internet
economy' often suggested that the online world was radically
different from life offline, somehow no longer subject
to traditional constraints of distance, location or time.
Cyberspace was pictured as a sphere in which distance
was immaterial, national borders were meaningless and
the location of individuals or business facilities no
Enthusiasts thus claimed that email (lately replaced by
VOIP and web-conferencing) would replace face-to-face
contact and decimate the travel industry. Online interaction
would severely erode traditional retailing but offer benefits
such as telemedicine (eg Boston surgeons performing open-heart
surgery at a distance on patients in the Paraguayan jungle).
Cities (decried as "parasitic"
by zealots such as George Gilder) would wither, as the
digerati enjoyed life in a teleworking arcadia.
Life has proved somewhat more complicated than the fantasies
from Harvard Business School Press, WIRED magazine,
newspaper IT supplements and pronouncements by sundry
Does distance matter?
From the perspective of 2004 it is difficult not suggest
that many of the enthusiasts mistook reduced telecommunication
charges - an acceleration of the trend throughout last
century - for a more fundamental 'death of distance'.
Geoffrey Blainey's The Tyranny of Distance (Sydney:
Sun 1966), like Harold Innis' Empire & Communications
(Toronto: Uni of Toronto Press 1972) and Elizabeth Eisenstein's
The Printing Press As An Agent Of Change: Communications
and Cultural Transformation in Early-Modern Europe (Cambridge:
Cambridge Uni Press 1979), highlighted the implications
for society when communications is a question of transporting
'atoms' rather than 'bits': a communications economy of
scarcity rather than abundance. We've explored some of
those issues in our profile
about past communications revolutions.
One view of the global information infrastructure is provided
by Frances Cairncross,
senior editor at the Economist, in The Death
of Distance: How the Communications Revolution Will Change
Our Lives (London: Orion 1997). It is lucid and entertaining
but, like much writing for the Economist, remorselessly
upbeat and inclined to focus on infrastructures - the
pipes and peripherals - rather than how they are used.
Saskia Sassen, a
US academic, has not produced such a panoramic view of
the new "infospace". However, many of her writings
are of considerable value in considering what the death
of distance means for government/businesses structures
and how citizens perceive the world.
Her Globalisation & Its Discontents: Essays on
the New Mobility of People & Money (New York:
New Press 1998) for example builds on James Beninger's
Control Revolution: Technological & Economic Origins
of the Information Society (Cambridge: Harvard Uni
Press 1989) and Joanne Yates' Control Through Communications:
The Rise of System In American Management (Baltimore:
Johns Hopkins Uni Press 1993) in exploring how the death
of distance both allows management-at-a-distance and encourages
concentration of elites within the 'latte belt'.
Complementary analyses are provided in Annalee Saxenian's
classic Regional Advantage: Culture & Competition
In Silicon Valley & Route 128 (Cambridge: Harvard
Uni Press 1996), The Dynamic
Firm: The Role of Technology, Strategy, Organization and
Regions (Oxford: Oxford Uni Press 1998) edited by
Alfred Chandler, Peter Hagstrom & Orjan Solvell, MoneySpace:
Geographies of Monetary Transformation (Routledge:
London 1997) by Andrew Leyshon & Nigel Thrift, and
in Tendencies & Tensions of the Information Age:
The Production & Distribution of Information in the
United States (New Brunswick: Transaction 1997) by
Jorge Schement & Terry Curtis.
There are graphical representations of that concentration
in several of the studies highlighted in our Metrics
guide, in particular the Geography of Cyberspace (GeoC)
project and the US Urban Research Initiative (URI).
Matthew Zook's 1998 paper
on The Web of Consumption: The Spatial Organization
of the Internet Industry in the US is a striking demonstration
of how supposedly 'spaceless' new economy industries clustering
in specific geographical locations, in particular New
York, LA and San Francisco.
There is a more extended analysis in Joel Kotkin's The
New Geography: How the Digital Revolution is Reshaping
the American Landscape (New York: Random 2000) and
Jon Teaford's Post-Suburbia: Government & Politics
in the Edge Cities (Baltimore: Johns Hopkins Uni
Press 1997). Mysteries of the Region: Knowledge Dynamics
In Silicon Valley is an incisive paper
by John Seely Brown & Paul Duguid, considering the
regionalism and globalisation debates discussed in our
Economy guide. US 'Edge
Cities' are briefly examined in Living on the Edge:
Decentralization Within Cities in the 1990s (PDF)
by Alan Berube & Benjamin Forman.
Gertrude Stein complained, in writing about the US,
that "there's no There, there". Sounds like
For us Margaret Wertheim's much-hyped The Pearly Gates
of Cyberspace: A History of Space from Dante to the Internet
(New York: Doubleday 1999) is markedly inferior to James
in Avatars of the Word: From Papyrus to Cyberspace
(Cambridge: Harvard Uni Press 1998) and Rob Kitchin's
Cyberspace: The World in the Wires (New York: Wiley
Among other studies of space, cyber- and the vanilla variety,
we recommend Michio Kaku's Hyperspace (New York:
Oxford Uni Press 1994), Jeff Zaleski's The Soul of
Cyberspace (San Francisco: Harper Edge 1997) and Cyberspace:
First Steps (Cambridge: MIT Press 1992) edited by
The Electronic Space Project (Espace)
at Michigan State University complements the Geography
project. We recommend Information Tectonics: Space,
Place & Technology In An Electronic Age (New York:
Wiley 2000) a collection of papers edited by Mark Wilson
& Kenneth Corey and the associated maps
of hosts and access to telecommunications, and Martin
Dodge's incisive Mapping Cyberspace (London: Routledge
2000), which has a companion site.
The Informational City: Information Technology, Economic
Restructuring & the Urban-Regional Process (Oxford:
Blackwell 1989) and his three volume The Information
Society (Oxford: Blackwell 1999) consider the wider
implications of the networked economy for cities, suburbs
and regions. Strongly recommended. Telecommunications
& the City: Electronic Spaces, Urban Places (London:
Routledge 1996) by Stephen Graham & Simon Marvin explores
some of those ideas.
death of the office
The International Facility Management Association claims
that personal work space in office buildings in the West
has been shrinking over the past two decades, a shrinkage
that reflects the need to cram more equipment (servers,
copiers and printers) into expensive accommodation and
vogues in 'collaborative' or shared workspaces, hotdesking
and 'nomads'. In 1987 the space allocated to an executive
office was supposedly an average of 291 square feet. By
2007 that figure had dropped to 241 square feet. What
IFMA describes as 'senior professionals' have an average
98 square feet for their space in 2007, with call center
employees typically enjoying less than 50. Most office
workers are situated in cubicles (59%), 34% have private
offices and 7% work in open areas with no partitions.
lost in cyberspace
Patricia Wallace's The Psychology of the Internet
(Cambridge: Cambridge Uni Press 1999) is a useful
introduction to how people behave online, with chapters
on group dynamics, role playing, pornography, gender,
trust and other issues. It is complemented by Adam Joinson's
Understanding the Psychology of Internet Behaviour:
Virtual Worlds, Real Lives (Basingstoke: Palgrave
Connections (Cambridge: MIT Press 1992) by Lee Sproull
& Sara Kiesler retains its value as an incisive study
of email and identity.
Sherry Turkle's Life on the Screen: Identity in the
Age of the Internet (London: Weidenfeld & Nicolson
1996) is a more anecdotal account - with dollops of French
structuralism - of online role-playing and gender-bending.
Similar themes are explored in Allucquere Rosanne Stone's
The War of Desire & Technology At The Close of
the Mechanical Age (Cambridge: MIT Press 1995). Online
no-one knows you're a dog, but there's a bit too much
tail-sniffing by some sociology professors.
Notions of 'digital nomads' or wireless 'road warriors'
have had a largely uncritical reception in the mass media
and some parts of industry - in particular vendors of
connectivity services - and academia.
Those notions have centred on suggestions that particular
elites will be able to conduct business without a fixed
base, operating from laptops, mobile phones, PDAs
and other facilities 'on the road', in conferences or
Millennium: Winners & Losers In The Coming Order (New
York: Times 1992) is a particularly delphic meditation
on digital nomads by Jacques Attali, former head of the
European Bank for Reconstruction & Development. For
us there is more value in Digital Nomad (New York:
Wiley 1997) by Tsugio Makimoto & David Manners. We
have questioned some hype about cosmocrats here.