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authors Bouman, Ole
year 1997
title RealSpace in QuickTimes: architecture and digitization
source Rotterdam: Nai Publishers
summary Time and space, drastically compressed by the computer, have become interchangeable. Time is compressed in that once everything has been reduced to 'bits' of information, it becomes simultaneously accessible. Space is compressed in that once everything has been reduced to 'bits' of information, it can be conveyed from A to B with the speed of light. As a result of digitization, everything is in the here and now. Before very long, the whole world will be on disk. Salvation is but a modem away. The digitization process is often seen in terms of (information) technology. That is to say, one hears a lot of talk about the digital media, about computer hardware, about the modem, mobile phone, dictaphone, remote control, buzzer, data glove and the cable or satellite links in between. Besides, our heads are spinning from the progress made in the field of software, in which multimedia applications, with their integration of text, image and sound, especially attract our attention. But digitization is not just a question of technology, it also involves a cultural reorganization. The question is not just what the cultural implications of digitization will be, but also why our culture should give rise to digitization in the first place. Culture is not simply a function of technology; the reverse is surely also true. Anyone who thinks about cultural implications, is interested in the effects of the computer. And indeed, those effects are overwhelming, providing enough material for endless speculation. The digital paradigm will entail a new image of humankind and a further dilution of the notion of social perfectibility; it will create new notions of time and space, a new concept of cause and effect and of hierarchy, a different sort of public sphere, a new view of matter, and so on. In the process it will indubitably alter our environment. Offices, shopping centres, dockyards, schools, hospitals, prisons, cultural institutions, even the private domain of the home: all the familiar design types will be up for review. Fascinated, we watch how the new wave accelerates the process of social change. The most popular sport nowadays is 'surfing' - because everyone is keen to display their grasp of dirty realism. But there is another way of looking at it: under what sort of circumstances is the process of digitization actually taking place? What conditions do we provide that enable technology to exert the influence it does? This is a perspective that leaves room for individual and collective responsibility. Technology is not some inevitable process sweeping history along in a dynamics of its own. Rather, it is the result of choices we ourselves make and these choices can be debated in a way that is rarely done at present: digitization thanks to or in spite of human culture, that is the question. In addition to the distinction between culture as the cause or the effect of digitization, there are a number of other distinctions that are accentuated by the computer. The best known and most widely reported is the generation gap. It is certainly stretching things a bit to write off everybody over the age of 35, as sometimes happens, but there is no getting around the fact that for a large group of people digitization simply does not exist. Anyone who has been in the bit business for a few years can't help noticing that mum and dad are living in a different place altogether. (But they, at least, still have a sense of place!) In addition to this, it is gradually becoming clear that the age-old distinction between market and individual interests are still relevant in the digital era. On the one hand, the advance of cybernetics is determined by the laws of the marketplace which this capital-intensive industry must satisfy. Increased efficiency, labour productivity and cost-effectiveness play a leading role. The consumer market is chiefly interested in what is 'marketable': info- and edutainment. On the other hand, an increasing number of people are not prepared to wait for what the market has to offer them. They set to work on their own, appropriate networks and software programs, create their own domains in cyberspace, domains that are free from the principle whereby the computer simply reproduces the old world, only faster and better. Here it is possible to create a different world, one that has never existed before. One, in which the Other finds a place. The computer works out a new paradigm for these creative spirits. In all these distinctions, architecture plays a key role. Owing to its many-sidedness, it excludes nothing and no one in advance. It is faced with the prospect of historic changes yet it has also created the preconditions for a digital culture. It is geared to the future, but has had plenty of experience with eternity. Owing to its status as the most expensive of arts, it is bound hand and foot to the laws of the marketplace. Yet it retains its capacity to provide scope for creativity and innovation, a margin of action that is free from standardization and regulation. The aim of RealSpace in QuickTimes is to show that the discipline of designing buildings, cities and landscapes is not only a exemplary illustration of the digital era but that it also provides scope for both collective and individual activity. It is not just architecture's charter that has been changed by the computer, but also its mandate. RealSpace in QuickTimes consists of an exhibition and an essay.
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email oleb@xs4all.nl
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