Dissertation Introduction

[Please refer to my Bibliography for the sources of quotes.]

Reality is a construct, a ‘view of the world’, which we perceive spatially owing to the nature of our physical existence. With regard to our spatial perception of reality I am inclined to agree with Peter Anders in his supposition that: “Space itself has long been a subject of philosophical debate and we won’t summarise it here. (2001: 58)

Bearing this in mind, it is important, in exploring the changing nature of space, to provide context and a focus to this work by referencing some of the more helpful and prominent arguments and theories. One key point of reference in understanding space is noting that ‘…a critical landmark in its history was the determination by Kant (and subsequent others) that we are complicit in creating our reality – our view of the world [Immanuel Kant, Prolegomena, 1996]. Our ‘view of the world’ includes the totality of sounds, mental images, and the products of perception and cognition.’ (Anders, 2001: 59)

As our ‘view of the world’ relies on our sensory input, our perception of reality is mediated; even at the most basic level. There is a scientifically documented half-second interval between a stimulus and the brain processing it, therefore ‘…consciousness lags behind what we call reality. It takes half a second to become conscious of something, though that is not how we perceive it‘ (Norretranders, 1998: xi). Thus, we ‘…create space – our holistic ‘view of the world’ – to manage awareness’ (Anders, 2001: 59).

When discussing our models of space ‘reality’ is a problematic term. The aim of this work is not to answer profound and deeply debated questions such as what is real? Instead, this dissertation focuses on our mediation of space through the vast array of technological devices we use to extend our senses, as ‘we are increasingly dependant on such technologies to sustain our social and cultural reality. They are part of being human in our time’ (Anders, 2001: 59). Such extension of our senses, through technological mediation leaves society in a ‘mixed reality’. We live in an era in which we not only extend and project ourselves through the actual and in to the virtual, but have begun to marry the two together in complex, overlapping hybrid spaces.

Actuality is the physical space we inhabit, which is commonly understood as having three dimensions – as described by Rene Descartes and hence actuality is Cartesian in its dimensions. Important to note is that ’…geographic [or actual] space has a stable Euclidian [or Cartesian] geometry, making spatial relations between objects stable and permanent.’ (Dahlback, 1998: 17). Being physical in nature, measurement of actuality can be considered in its most basic units of existence; atoms.

Virtuality is the perceived or imagined space that rests entirely in electronic form; the rudiments of which are bits. Constantly in a state of flux according to how we perceive and attempt to measure it, virtuality can shift between the hyper-realistic three dimensional worlds – popularly known as ‘Virtual Reality’ and most commonly experienced in computer games, such as the Quake series by ID Software – to the flat two dimensional world of the world wide web (www) and email. Many terms have been coined to describe the variety of worlds that go to make up virtuality: William Gibson’s ‘Cyberspace’ (1981), Stephen Perella’s ‘media space’ (2002) and Neal Stephenson’s ‘Metaverse’ (1992) to name but a few.

The first chapter will explore the marriage of these forms of space and the spaces that are created as a result of their overlapping. This chapter will examine existing hybrid spaces presenting definitions and explorations of the terms used to define these new digital borderlands. The chapter will seek a common lexicon for describing these spaces.

Inherent in the concept of space is our need to navigate through it. As social beings we share our spaces and thus have formed complex strategies for navigation within social systems. Our experience in virtual space has been largely an individual one. I feel it will be important to expand upon what little social experimentation we have already done in the fixed, screen-based, virtual realm and compliment this with the methods we have in the actual realm to reach a synthesis for our new hybrid spaces.

Spatial models of navigation have been applied in many aspects of our virtual worlds. In fact, the application of spatial arrangements has led to our understanding of the navigation of information systems. In their provocative paper ‘Running Out of Space’ (1994), Dourish and Chalmers suggested two main areas of application of spatial models of information. The first is the ‘inherently spatial’, which equates to the likes of computer-based maps. In spatial navigation a user will move from one item to another because of a spatial relationship – above, below, outside. The second, and more common, is a ‘semantic’ relationship between information objects mapped onto a spatial arrangement. In semantic navigation users move from one object to another because of a semantic relationship – bigger, alike, faster – even when that relationship is expressed spatially.

However, when the navigation of information systems is extended with collaboration a third model arises. Dourish and Chalmers claim this is social navigation. Social navigation is the navigation of information spaces through social interaction. Traditional Human-Computer interaction studies put the user in a one-to-one relationship with a computer in which the user must navigate all of the information alone. Dourish and Chalmers (1994) introduced social navigation as ‘navigation towards a cluster of people or selecting objects because other people have been examining them’.

Social navigation then is a more intuitive means of navigation. Taking clues from other users of the environment and using these clues, whether they are gestures, exclamations or the routes they take, users navigate their own way through space.

The second chapter will examine methods and strategies of social navigation in our new hybrid spaces. The chapter will examine forms of social navigation and investigate the application of Game Theory. Drawing upon a new lexicon for describing spaces and strategies for extending our existing social navigation systems the chapter will examine emerging technologies and assess the social implications of our technologically mediated future.

Originally posted by Sam at February 7, 2004 04:54 PM

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