A different kind of space

When Marshal McLuhan conceived of the emerging global village, he was impressed by the instantaneous communication made possible by electric media replacing messengers, parcels and conveyance systems.. He imagined that the electronic age would shrink the distance experienced by the time it takes things to travel to and from us. This way of seeing space is congruent with representational paintings that show how near and far things are located. It's also a congruent way to see space when information came into our homes after centuries of going to the concert hall, bookstore or friend's front porch.

McLuhan was a student of visual arts, poetry, history, fiction writing, advertising and media. He estimated that we had become excessively visual in our sensory diet and were due for a recalibration. He foresaw us returning to the acoustic and iconic sensibilities of illiterate tribal villagers. There was nowhere else to go within his outlook from the oppressive world of being wedded to printing presses and other mechanistic technologies. He perceived the magazine advertising and television programing of the seventies showing us the way free of printed words, type-headed thinking and linear seeing. He considered James Joyce to be a prophet of this change in our sensibilities.

McLuhan was also a college professor and author. He was in the business of saying what he knew. I suspect it seemed pointless to say what he didn't know or appreciate how much value he got out of not knowing what to think. He dwelled on delivering insights to us that we caught glimpses of without seeing the patterns he recognized. For all these reasons, it's no wonder that McLuhan thought of space as distance, not emptiness, accommodation, spaciousness or mysteriousness.

When we follow in McLuhan's footsteps, we naturally go crazy about networks and see them everywhere. We think networks span the distance, shorten the distance and even eliminate the distance. We see physical networks comprised of wires, pipelines, pavement, rail lines, software, scheduled routes and any other capital investment in tangible connectedness. We also see relational networks of intangible connectedness where investments have been made in social capital, reputations, credibility, trust and other dimensions of interpersonal reliability. We see natural phenomenon as networks as well. The term "network" gets debated as so many frames of reference come into play.

I first read McLuhan in 1970, in the middle of getting my undergraduate degree in architecture. I was ingesting his insights while learning how to design spaces and places for uses that fit into their contexts. Space as distance took a backseat for me to space as inviting, functional, inspiring or confining. It's this different kind of space that can help us give networks their proper due instead of going crazy and seeing them everywhere. I'm finally being able to articulate this emergent awareness in my mind after lots of note taking and reflecting. I'll share more of this awareness with you soon.

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