Revision of 2. Space. Pervasive Simultaneity and the Financialization of Everyday Life from 6 September, 2010 - 11:56

Two shows of architecture at the Museum of Modern Art-"Light Construction" of 1996 and the "Unprivate House" of 1999-inaugurate the supermodernism in architecture and design that marks network culture. Developed by the museum's curator of architecture and design Terence Riley, these shows brought an end to the tradition of formalism and language in architecture that the museum helped bring into being with its 1966 publication of Robert Venturi's Complexity and Contradiction in Architecture.[1] This new modernism lacks any desire for complexity or linguistics, instead demonstrating fascination with simple shapes, with materials and transparency, with the performance of the structure itself. Epitomized by the magazines Wallpaper* and Dwell, such spatially embodies network culture's promise that technology, openness, and individuality have at last brought us happiness, reconciliation with modernity.

But this is happiness for the few. Stripped of its utopian aspiration, supermodernism has become a sink for overaccumulated wealth. Worker housing has all but vanished, often literally dismantled or privatized. Instead, network culture is marked by the luxury condominiums and cultural centers (museums, concert halls) that rose across global cities worldwide during the real estate boom of the 2000s. Here, however the transparency of light construction is a ruse. The -supermodern skyscraper is not transparent but opaque; behind the transparent façade lies the machinery of financialization that made it possible.

As much as supermodern architecture design is associated with the lifestyle of a global élite, supermodern product design is associated with mobile, networked technologies. Drawing on the work of Ulm School designer Dieter Rams for inspiration, Apple Computer's lead designer Jonathan Ive utilizes new materials and technologies such as composite polymers and mutual capacitance multitouch screens to create high performance products that mask their complex technological nature.

Ive's designs for the iPod and the iPhone are network culture's icons, much as the Model T Ford or the Boeing 707 were icons of their time. Just as the earlier machines produced mobility, so do ours: mobile, networked technology allows most members of developed societies to compress space in a way reserved until recently for the media, government, and élite. In so doing opened it opens up a new phenomenological space.

Mobile technologies allow us to disconnect from the world around us so that we may instead connect with individuals at a distance or, alternatively, with software agents residing either in our mobile devices or in the networked cloud (as data speeds rise, the difference between local and remote applications and data is becoming unclear). Although sometimes this disconnect with our surroundings is a matter of lament, more frequently it is a deliberate choice, a way to fill something we lack in space that surrounds us. If sometimes we use such technologies to augment immediate space-looking up the address of a destination on a map, calling a friend to triangulate a meeting place while in route-more often we employ them to distance ourselves-reading and writing e-mail, updating a social media site, immersing ourselves in a soundtrack of our own choosing with portable music players.

Introduced in October 2001, the iPod was a runaway success worldwide. That it succeeded even though it was released just a month after the 9/11 attacks to a generally depressed consumer mood and a dismal economy points to its significance. By allowing individuals to paint the world with an emotional soundscape, it allows them to subject it to their control, making it familiar through the recognizable sounds it reproduces. Technology, it seems, could overcome alienation.

Just as financialization is a mutation in the production of value from space, this disconnect is a mutation in social space. To understand the significance of both, however we need to compare them with earlier spatial experiences. Again, I'll begin with the hypothesis that intensification is an appropriate model of historical succession. Our own condition exacerbates the experiences of simultaneity and abstraction that first emerged under modernity. Nor should we be surprised about its relationship to the space of postmodernity: just as that period was marked by a fragmented, schizophrenic space, under network culture it is not so much the experience of space that has fragmented as space itself that has splintered, becoming discontinuous and multiform.

To discuss space in historical terms, Henri Lefebvre's The Production of Space still seems the most workable starting point.There, Lefebvre identifies three successive spatial regimes: absolute space, historical space, and abstract space. [2] In the regime of absolute space, humans value spaces for their natural qualities, defining them as sacred, only to obliterate their natural characteristics with constructions and interventions. Historical space evolves out of absolute space, as humans value spaces that have been the object of accumulated human habitation and events. The most recent of the three, abstract space, emerges when humans quantify territory, assigning value through capitalist and bureaucratic organizations. Throughout, spatial regimes build upon spatial regimes. Thus the spring from which a local people drew fresh water becomes sacred and a temple is built upon it. When the people are converted, Christians obliterate the pagan temple, build a cathedral on the site, and centuries later wonder why the foundations are sinking. By then, however, the buildable area facing the square in front of the Cathedral is the object of increasing speculation by land developers. [3]

Lefebvre's thesis is that "(social) space is a (social) product," that space is not a cultural superstructure determined by a mode of production, but rather a construction that is both produced within a society and serves to reproduce that society. Just as a society's conception of space is influenced by the way that economic forces shape it, it is also an agent of its own that impacts the development of such forces. [4] So, if in modernity, the Cartesian grid gives value to land, the claim to map the world accurately emerges first not in the economy but rather in art and science, through the invention of perspective, the Cartesian grid, and grid-based cartography.[5]

Abstract space, Lefebvre writes, subordinates all spatial models to its inexorable, mathematical logic. [6] But abstract space is a process, not an end point; rather than a homogeneous condition, it is the process of creating spatial homogenization, producing a form of space based on value. [7] In making the world exchangeable, abstraction is fundamental for investment, trade, and management, allowing machines and humans to be interchangeable and interoperable, not just within their respective categories, but between them as well. Abstraction unmoores objects and individuals from their contexts, allowing them to circulate freely, traded for their exchange-value. Where under feudalism, wealth had been concrete-land, buildings, animals, and treasure-and ritualistic-legitimized by religion and bloodlines-under capitalism, abstraction makes wealth quantifiable, liquid, and readily tradable.

Take, for example the grid that covers the American landscape. In his Land Ordnance Act of 1785, Thomas Jefferson divided the country into one-mile-square units that were in turn subdividable into smaller units for homesteads. Philip Fisher describes the result as a "Cartesian social space, identical from point to point and potentially unlimited in extent." Instead of a place being defined by its natural characteristics and history, under the Land Ordnance Act, a place's identity derives from its location within the geometry of the grid. To claim a piece of land, settlers had to realize its value, marking off its boundaries and using it gainfully. But this system isn't merely conceptual, rather it is inscribed upon the land by means of roads. Mobility is inherent to abstract space, as is the uniformity it distributes across the grid. With an efficient transport system and the development of mass production, Fisher concludes, that sameness proliferates as identical products are transferred across the country to populate homes on the grid-the Singer sewing machine, the Ford Model T, and the television-while identical institutions-post offices, chain grocery stores, and gas stations-provide a homogenous infrastructure.[8]

[1] . Robert Venturi, Complexity and Contradiction in Architecture, Museum of Modern Art Papers on Architecture (New York: The Museum of Modern Art, 1966). Terence Riley and Museum of Modern Art (New York N.Y.), Light Construction (New York: Museum of Modern Art: Distributed by Harry N. Abrams, 1995); ---, The Un-Private House (New York: Museum of Modern Art: Distributed by H.N. Abrams, 1999).

[2] . Henri Lefebvre, The Production of Space, trans. Donald Nicholson-Smith, La production de l'espace copyright Editions Anthropos 1974, 1984 ed. (Oxford, UK and Cambridge, Massachusetts: Basil Blackwell Ltd, 1991), 47-53.

[3] . Ibid, 26.

[4] . Ibid.

[5] . To be clear, the grid also emerged because of needs developed in earlier forms of land valuation-for example Alberti's map of Rome was for the use of Pope Nicholas V-or in military applications. Compare with Lefebvre's discussion of the invention of perspective, which he attributes to a space emerging out of the Tuscan reconstruction of the relationship of the town and the country. Ibid, 78.

[6] . Ibid, 49-50.

[7] . Ibid, 287.

[8] . Philip Fisher, "Democratic Social Space: Whitman, Melville, and the Promise of American Transparency," Representations (1988).