digital rhetoric

the folded spaces of techno-nomadism

In an interview with Arthur Kroker, Katherine Hayles notes that postmodernism ends at the moment that the Netscape browser emerges. She contends that all the notions of postmodernism become literal at that point and that we enter a posthuman period.

Maybe. It’s an interesting way of looking at things. Of course, for Deleuze these concepts were always material, never metaphorical. And in case anyone imagined we were leaving Deleuze behind, the current special report in The Economist addresses mobility and nomadism. Here, this article describes the Stata Centre at MIT

This is best seen in the building’s “student street”, an interior
passage that twists and meanders through the complex and is open to the
public 24 hours a day. It is dotted with nooks and crannies. Cafés and

lounges are interspersed with work desks and whiteboards, and there is
free Wi-Fi everywhere. Students, teachers and visitors are cramming for
exams, flirting, napping, instant-messaging, researching, reading and
discussing. No part of the student street is physically specialised for
any of these activities. Instead, every bit of it can instantaneously
become the venue for a seminar, a snack or romance…

The new architecture, says Mr Mitchell, will “make spaces
intentionally multifunctional”. This means that 21st-century aesthetics
will probably be the exact opposite of the sci-fi chic that
20th-century futurists once imagined. Architects are instead thinking
about light, air, trees and gardens, all in the service of human
connections. Buildings will have much more varied shapes than before.
For instance, people working on laptops find it comforting to have
their backs to a wall, so hybrid spaces may become curvier, with more
nooks, in order to maximise the surface area of their inner walls,
rather as intestines do. This is becoming affordable because
computer-aided design and new materials make non-repetitive forms
cheaper to build.

This strikes me as a quite literal manifestation of folded space. It also reminds me of a post I wrote a while back on academic co-working. Of course it’s far more difficult than the "build it and they will come" model implied here. Yes, there is perhaps a sense that mobile networks shift how we use spaces, and eventually those spaces will begin to adapt. However, there is also a human learning curve here. It will be interesting to see the relationship between those curves and folds. The pleats of materiality and the folds of the soul as Deleuze writes (if I remember correctly).

Architecture is obviously pedagogical, teaching us how it is meant to be used. And like all pedagogies, those subject to it find tactics for resistance and spaces that might be used for unexpected purposes. When architecture widely misses the needs of users, or becomes outdated, people stop showing up.

So it’s tricky. You could say that college students are not fully literate users of mobile networks (nor are faculty for that matter!), but of course that’s imposing a "should:" literate users of mobile networks should use space in certain ways. Maybe we want to facilitate certain mobile network practices, but we’ll have to see. Personally, I can’t see Cortland students wanting to inhabit an "intestinal" space like the one described above.

First, they will have to be asked to operate in a multifunctional way. Only then will they encounter a need for the kinds of spaces described here. That multifunctionality is perhaps a hallmark of the elite education of an MIT and the professions MIT students enter. Perhaps this is also the direction the middle class of upstate NY will follow (i.e. the demographic most Cortland students hope to enter). We will see.


2 replies on “the folded spaces of techno-nomadism”

Hey, got a cite for that interview? Google sends me back here (dang, that was quick). I’ve drafted a piece about design and the grid in which browser evolution plays a pretty big role, and I’d love to see that.


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