The second of our international network meeting’s thematic discussion sessions tackled the question of how we understand the relationship between online and offline – and whether, indeed, this distinction still makes sense. It also asked whether the ways in which digital media encourage us to understand time and space are really ‘new.’ You can also hear audio from our sessions on The Politics of Digital Life and Routine Quantification: Habit, Affect and Health.
00:00 – Craig Howes introduces the session by raising the strengths and limitations of geographical information systems. Pointing to the way in which forms like the visual timeline can show information in both geographical and temporal relation to each other, he notes that such visualisations are nevertheless always restricted in certain ways – they propose to show a lot and are very visually convincing, but this visual aspect is but one piece of the puzzle.
01:23 – Leena Kurvet-Käosaar observes that this limitation is not peculiar to online media. Archives, for example, can be ordered or unordered, but most are not ordered; the present and past intermingle when one dives into it.
02:48 – Rob Gallagher suggests irony can provide a means of reconciling different possibilities. Juxtaposing diverse materials and holding irreconcilable ideas in tension, he proposes that irony allows different spaces, perspectives and times to co-exist.
03:30 – Zhao Baisheng foregrounds the importance of language as a geographic marker in communication. He notes that in China one can immediately identify somebody’s location by the language they use, and that the same perhaps applies to English accents, e.g. Australian vs British English.
05:08 – Alfred Hornung warns against attributing a higher value or “realness” to “online” than to “offline” experience.
06:15 – Julie Rak frames the relationship between online and offline as a productive rather than reflective dynamic. She notes that “liveness” can refer both to creating an environment where computer operations occur simultaneously, and to the things you need to do to make something appear live while it isn’t.
06:55 – Alexandra Georgakopoulou points to empirical studies showing how offline lives inform online lives. Drawing on her experience of editing a special issue of Discourse, Context and Media on communicating time and place/space on digital media, she notes that one of the common factors was how real, embodied people would make their offline lives consequential for their online activities in different ways.
08:44 – Alfred Hornung observes that according to neurology the brain is never offline, always online. He argues that this stream of consciousness distinguishes the brain from technological media.
09:20 – Julia Watson differentiates between e-mail as a professional social medium and what we ordinarily call ‘social media.’ She notes that the two are characterised by a different kind of temporality.
11:14 – Sidonie Smith points to the linguistic and epistemological specificity of the words and concepts we use to deal with time and space. She notes that the German word “raum” has a lot more connotations than “space,” and that “time” can be similarly wide-ranging. The idea of linear progression may not be relevant to discussions of the Internet. She cites 1970s Feminism’s use of the concepts of “location” and “position” as an example of how to achieve a conceptual clarity not captured by broad concepts like “time” or “space”.
13:11 – Eveline Kilian asks whether practices seen online in social media really “new,” highlighting similar practices in life writing and literature. She argues that trying out identities in a virtual space has always been a thing within literature and life-writing.
14:45 – Rebecca Roach suggests there is something new in how games on social media commodify our offline lives. Pointing to online farming games, which allow players to wait for certain actions or pay to “skip” them, she argues such software commodifies the player’s offline time, which is assigned a value within the online game, raising questions of labour and economics.
16:03 – Clare Brant posits the epistolary novel as comparable to real-life video streams. Conceding the phenomenon of teenagers broadcasting 24h webcam streams from their bedrooms is interesting time- and space-wise, she asks how different is it from the 18th century epistolary novel, which can be understood as a valorisation of the labour of writing.
17:54 – Monica Soeting underlines the importance of understanding the human subject as being in time and space rather than confronted with it, citing Merleau-Ponty.
19:12 – Amanda Lagerkvist frames the internet as a scene for both the transient and eternal – at once offering a platform for perpetuating yourself into the future and access to the absolute present of 24/7 culture and instantaneous communication. Suggesting we might see this as “life irony,” the transient and the eternal at the same time, she notes that online the eternal subsists as “netlore” (as in folklore). She also reminds us of transhumanist projects that attempt to project the self into eternity, bodily.
20:35 – Leigh Gilmore notes that the experience of being online is different for women and people of colour. For some of us, participation means subjecting yourself to harassment just for entering online spaces.
21:12 – Alfred Hornung suggests past and future may be understood as different configurations of the present. Citing St. Augustine’s assertion that everything is always “present” – so that the future consists of the things that will be present in the future and the past the things that have been present in the past – he suggests that maybe eternity is online.
21:53 – John Zuern closes by noting that social media have a prescriptive or normative notion of time. He offers the example of Facebook’s “wall,” which has a literal time line running from birth until now with life events along the way, and which arbitrarily highlights certain events with messages like “this happened 5 years ago!” – a move deserving of further theorization.