I’m starting to think we may need a new Einstein.
In a comment on my earlier realtime post, David Evans observed: “A realtime system for connecting humans to each other in surprising and free-form ways is a park bench. Pity that when two people sit down on a park bench these days, they are more likely to be twittering via 3G than talking to each other.”
I was reminded of a haunting passage in a recent New Yorker article about the boom in Japanese cellphone novels:
A government survey conducted last year concluded that eighty-two per cent of those between the ages of ten and twenty-nine use cell phones, and it is hard to overstate the utter absorption of the populace in the intimate portable worlds that these phones represent. A generation is growing up using their phones to shop, surf, play video games, and watch live TV, on Web sites specially designed for the mobile phone. “It used to be you would get on the train with junior-high-school girls and it would be noisy as hell with all their chatting,” Yumiko Sugiura, a journalist who writes about Japanese youth culture, told me. “Now it’s very quiet—just the little tapping of thumbs.”
Realtime, you see, doesn’t just change the nature of time, obliterating past and future. It annihilates real space. It removes us from three-dimensional space and places us in the two-dimensional space of the screen – the “intimate portable world” that increasingly encloses us. Depth is the lost dimension.
Since we need a word to describe this new kind of space, I’m going to suggest “realspace,” which ties together nicely with “realtime.” What we need now is an overarching theory to describe how realtime and realspace come together to form, well, a realtime-realspace continuum. What are the laws that govern existence in realtime-realspace? What’s it like in there?
UPDATE: Adds Rob Horning: “We know what gets us into realspace; it seems to me a continuation of the space of consumerism—of impulsiveness, instrumentality, convenience for its own sake, and ersatz individualism. And obviously it is not just going to go away. We are all complicit in it, eventually. At some point it suits our purposes and we go along, as though we control the terms by which we interact with it. We don’t notice the creeping ways in which it begins to dictate terms to us.”
This post is an installment in Rough Type’s ongoing series “The Realtime Chronicles,” which began here.