The long here and the big now
A fragment, a note, to be returned to.
Anybody into geography, landscape architecture, or urban planning will (or should!) be aware of Kevin Kelly’s writing on what he calls the Big Here, a way of thinking about the extended spatial context we’re embedded in and a development of Peter Warshall‘s pioneering work in the area. And most of us have by now tripped across one or another of the provocative explorations of “deep time” bundled up in the Long Now idea.
Happily, these interventions have functioned in my life exactly as I believe they were intended to: they expanded and refined my perceptions, helped me look at the world around me in a different light, and even occasionally urged me to one or another practical decision about the way I wanted to live my life.
But as I’ve considered how urban experiences are constructed under the condition of ubiquitous informatics, I’ve slowly come around to thinking that these Whole Earthy ideas are in general precisely the inverse of how we actually perceive things when afforded the technologies I’m so interested in. The terms are painfully reductive, but let’s for the time being go with the convention that’s been established: “u-” places are nothing if not cities of the long here and the big now.
The “long here” part is, I think, a little easier to make out; we’ve already seen how easily we can lay a persistently retrievable history of the things that are done and witnessed there over any place that can specified with lat/long coordinates. Whenever I’ve used the phrase “anchoring subjectivities,” this is what I was thinking of: place now has visible depth in time.
What about “the big now,” though? It’s shorthand for the enhanced and deepened sense of simultaneity – of the world’s massive parallelism – that certain digital artifacts lend us. The most concrete example I can come up with is my experience of Twitter, which, like one of the great NYTE visualizations, though more subtly and expressively, quite clearly reveals the great waves of activity and slumber sweeping over the globe. A ten-minute interval may see reports of friends’ experiencing rush-hour frustrations in the Bay Area, dining out in New York, and late night dancing in London, a notable lacuna in pings from Brussels or Torino or Helsinki, and then the first groggily pre-caffeinated dispatches from Seoul and Tokyo. For me, at least, it’s been difficult to see my New York through quite the same eyes, when every time I get my phone out I feel the entire planet’s deeper rhythms working themselves out.
I’m willing to bet that these are among the factors which will do the most to bend and shape our experience of urban place in the next few years to come. If, as so many have pointed out, the ongoing process of digital ephemeralization has taken previously place-bound functions like communication, banking and commerce, and exploded them – “smearing them across urban space,” in Bill Mitchell’s words – it’s without question also doing interesting and significant things to how we perceive the nexus of place and time. This is something I’m going to want to explore in more detail in the book.