Spaces redux

Beyond homes, schools, malls and other concrete spaces, there are more abstract categories of places that are as difficult to ponder about as they are difficult to define.

One of them is the space to which these words currently belong: the virtual realm. Go beyond mainstream thinking and you will discover that the separation between the real and the virtual is far more complicated than it seems. There is a growing discourse, likely fueled in part by the idea of virtual spaces, surrounding technology (particularly the Internet) and its relation to morality, or authenticity, and other such classical topics of philosophy. But this discourse has turned around on itself, and there are some who now argue that the place we have called cyberspace for a long time is not too virtual after all; it is still rooted in, and therefore not independent from, the reality that supports it. One could say that virtuality cannot be anything more than an augmentation of reality.

There are many aspects to this discussion that will surely continue well into the foreseeable future, given how technology has nowhere to go now but deeper into our everyday routines. Personally I would still say though that it is valuable to think of such a thing as a virtual space. I have had experiences that are fundamentally characterized by being online, and which cannot conceivably exist in any space other than in the virtual. I can even think of corners of the Web as if they were actual, physical places: some of them are fun, some of them are serious and buttoned-up, and some are even pretentious, or evil and dangerous. Certainly, these are all experiences judged by simply viewing through a glowing screen, but they are spaces in the way that we visit them, stay in them, frequent them, and even abandon them.

Back in the physical world, there are also spaces that are best described as the places between other places. These are the spaces of transit, and they have acquired special sentimental value. These are the stations, docks, and airports of the world: the bus seat, airplane row, and common decks where we meet and depart.

The impermanent nature of these spaces has made them ideal for certain sections of that impermanent art form, the film. In romantic comedies, the gentleman meets the lady at the train platform; in science fiction, the computer rebels against the humans mid-voyage; in fantasies the war-worn hero says his farewell at the quays as he departs for the healing lands. The tension of movement present in these settings allows them to impart the necessary emotional quality to these scenes.

It is beautiful that the moment of movement can also become the moment of stillness; how many times have we said that it’s not about the destination, but it’s all about the journey?

The places of transit, however, naturally lead to other spaces. Sometimes they take us home, but sometimes they take us to somewhere distant, exotic, and unknown. When I was younger I thought travelling was such an expensive and unworthwhile activity, reserved only for the upper classes. But over time I learned that no matter how much you read up on about Moscow, you can see the Red Square in only so many ways through the lens of someone else’s camera; no matter how many French movies you watch, your imagination can only take you so far with tasting their prized cuisine; and no matter how interactive the multimedia travel website is, nothing beats experiences exchanged in the flesh.

Yes, I think I would have to blame the Internet for perpetuating the desire for travel in the consciousness of the youth today. Places across the world are now so easily accessible from any bedroom that the needs have shifted from simply knowing to actually experiencing. But the Internet can always blame those earlier forces that led to its own rise, such as more extensive transportation, communication, and trade (or globalization) and all those things I cannot always pretend to really know.

One thing I do know for certain is that as time goes on, the world will be filled by more connections and intersections, giving us spaces with which we are free to create our own meanings.


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