Essay: The Poetics of Invisible Space
“The ‘invisible’ space of electronic data flows as substance rather than just as a void – something that needs a structure, a politics, and a poetics.”
With this statement, Lev Manovich ends his essay “The Poetics of Augmented Space.” All the readings for this week were fantastic and without conclusion. Aware of the momentum of information, communication, experience, and relationships influenced by electronic media, Manovich and Kruger tackle the missing meaning behind the momentum of a seemingly chaotic digital culture. We truly are in new conceptual territory with this experiential space, sharing our individual thoughts and instincts through philosophically infinite air. This space is an invisible dimension full of humanity and yet its physical translations lack human poetics. Why?
To begin to understand why poetry lacking in our understanding and depictions of technological spaces, we need to assess how we describe those spaces in the first place. One word habitually used in the essays to describe what makes the technological media so rich is “dynamic.” The term “dynamic” alludes to characteristics of energy: time, change, layers, range, force and speed. The first image to pop in my mind is the Sony Centre at Berlin’s Potsdamer Platz, a large public building that is architecturally futuristic and visually layered with motion graphics, plasma screen videos, lighting effects and projections. It is also economically filled with businesses and socially filled with pedestrians. It is a dynamic space – a dense, layered microcosm of capitalist culture. The invisible technological spaces we are trying to understand certainly have dynamic qualities, but to consistently use “dynamic” as a guideline for expressing and analyzing new media semantically limits our imagination as we investigate the content qualities of that space. Dynamic is energy, not content. Although content can be dynamic, dynamic is not content. Something dynamic is a spectacle, which is often a distraction.
Distraction is part of the new technological, cultural experience. Distractions are not necessarily bad. They can assist creativity and inspire intellectual travel down unforeseen paths, but on the flip side, distractions hinder the quality of focused thinking. The greatest distraction with current technology is ironically information. The word “information” implies intelligence, interest and engagement, yet in the context of information gathering and dispersing today, information quickly ceases to be informative. We click around the internet, instantly connecting the disparate thoughts in our minds. In one sitting we can search for word definitions, read technical data, IM with friends, watch funny videos, download software, listening to songs by an obscure band, read a bio about that band while checking out other bands that influenced their sound – we run a non stop line of segmented points splitting directions, looping several circles and hopefully ending with substance. I repeat, distractions are not necessarily bad. It is amazing how much information people are capable of absorbing at one time. But if the information interface is designed as “distraction” then the content of that information is likely lost. The content of that densely layered, distracted information is questionable. If the content is weak we become accustomed to disposable knowledge. We become accustomed to information as fetishized and visualized through dynamic media – flashy, layered and empty. Beyond media, we see the present-day dynamic person as someone with tons of useless information. Our culture embraces information for quantity’s sake. It is noise.
Technological space is not just noise. Sure, there is much noise, but that is because it is full of life. The challenge is going deeper beyond the obvious spectacles of visual dynamics and distracted information. The poetry of augmented space exists in the invisible data space, not the entrance devices. Poetry implies intuitiveness, ambiguity and interpretation. We should take these words to heart and focus on the abstract connections being made between people within the invisible space. Critical analysis of the activity within this space will inform our understanding how to connect with it on a physical scale through architecture, industrial design, and graphic design, as well as in the form of artistic expression. I do not think this analysis will be easy, but I sense the poetry that is lost is simply the poetry that is not being read – and is there.