Forgetting about space

In an earlier post (2018), I wrote about “the waning of spatial integration.” Spatial integration is the holding together of some assemblage in space, like putting all the books by a particular author together on a library shelve. It wouldn’t make much sense to have all Faulkner’s novels, for example, scattered all over the library. By contrast, temporal integration means things are scheduled by the clock or calendar: The students and the professor come together for a Faulkner seminar at the same time once a week.

Luhmann argued that in modern society temporal integration takes precedence over spatial integration. For example, people can be scattered around the world but meet at a scheduled time for an online meeting, or a group of people can read “the same novel” while scattered around the world. Or if you are traveling, it is less important how far away you are than how long it takes to get somewhere. We say “I’m an hour away” rather than “I’m sixty miles away.”

Michel de Certeau wrote,

The functionalist organization [of modern urban life], by privileging progress (i.e., time), causes the condition of its own possibility–space itself–to be forgotten; space thus becomes the blind spot in a scientific and political technology.

Certeau, M. (1984). The practice of everyday life. Berkeley: University of California Press.

When a city is organized around the principle of progress, old buildings will be torn down and replaced with new, “better” buildings. The danger of forgetting about space is that lots of people end of being crammed together in tight places (e.g., subways, buses, elevators), or all of the green space is turned into asphalt and concrete. If, for the sake of efficiency, everyone has to be a work between 7:00-8:00 in the morning and everyone leaves work between 5:00-6:00 in the evening, gridlock happens twice a day. The more we prioritize time, the more we ignore space. People rushing to get into a subway car bump into one another. All anyone thinks about saving time, doing something faster, or getting a temporal edge on someone else. Of course, people get used to this and don’t dwell on the horror of this way of life.

Andrew Yang, in The War on Normal People (2018), argues that time can be the new wealth, as people learn to value leisure time over more money.

But what about space? People might be willing to take less money to live somewhere where they can move around freely.

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