Dr. Mariann Hardey

Digitally on.

Speaker, Writer, Academic.

Durham University Lecturer.

I do stuff for the BBC.

Feminist & lovely.

Slanguage of social media

ShiftHappens when you're least expecting it

July 2012

Dear lovely readers,

For those of you who know about the 'big stuff' and that Sh*te happens, today was a very special day in the calender, nay momentus event at once being ShiftHappens with Marcus Romer and at the same time my first 'outing' and moment back on stage. A shakey start, but I think we made it [the shift] happen.

Anyway, I am thrilled to announce that thanks to being at Shift (if only for moments), I've been invited to write a whole proposal with some American Cartographic Society. Lots of you have mentioned my talk in various forms, tweeted about it, shared and generally said nice things. Over and above trending #TheShard on twitter today. So thank you all so very much – you’re all fabulous, I owe you cocktails, and I’m just delighted as everyone’s been so kind.

Thank you again for your support, your tweets, and your many, many kind comments.

And if you were just wanting to read the presentation, or at least what I was trying to say, below is an edited version of my original words...

We are here. To re-image space. This depends on our ability to develop a rule of space. To leave. To move. To escape.

Starting out from the first cartographers, the sense of where we are, where we've been and what this looks like is nothing new. In 1569, the Flemish mapmaker Gerardus Mercator created the now familiar Mercator Projection showing us how everything is where it should be, or rather everything is where we can expect it to be.

Mercator's images present one view of the world. Of our space. Of our territory. His is an Atlantic-based world-view, with Africa, Asia and other landmasses distorted in a way that bears no reflection of the real - as viewed from space in terms of their size or position.

In other words our sense of space is composed not as mirrors of nature - in that they are objective and essentially truthful, but these are socially constructed. Which is fascinating. Where once we were dependent on the various tools of the cartographer, now there are new tools and practises that together constitute the labour of maps of old.

Who here has checked in? or shared their location?... And who's lied and said that they are somewhere else?... the point being that such phenomena obscure and distort as much as they reveal. The where, the how, the now.

Paradoxically, then our sense of place is omnipresent - where and when there's always a ‘here' and a ‘now'.

What are revealing are the discrepancies and inconsistencies between these two: The where. The now. In the West we enjoy a privileged landscape, nay even promote a territory, of space. So, what if anything we can learn about this rule of space? And are we naïve enough to consider that our systems of practice and value are in ‘such good health' that these can simply be replicated as best practice for everyone else?

Right let's establish some rules. These are; The Ground Rules of Space / see what I did there, and these can be navigated by:

1. equal accessibility, be intelligible clear and predictable [not MySpace then];

2. any issues about ‘ownership' can be resolved by an application of a right to territory and without prohibitive costs or delay - which explains why the purchase of fluffybum.com was made by myself last Sunday;

3. should be fair and apply equally to all with no differentiation.

In an ideal world, our territory (which we might imagine as a personal empire of Pinterest-ed, tweeted, shared, flickr'ed and tube'd points on a map) arises like a new city out of principles of justice and fairness. The what we choose to fence in and that which we choose to leave open is up for negotiation.

HOWEVER, there is a background of social and political land law that can be (and has been) applied in the context of the digital. We have the elite (who enjoy relatively ‘free' access) and are confident to manage and separate their own information. And we have the deserted and derelict (MySpace), as well as what are essentially gated resources that are fenced off by countries, political regimes and even individuals. Potentially these could be a source of stagnation to any digital development and limitation to our supposed limitlessness of space.

Such exchanges could require a third party enforcement or ‘agency' to monitor property rights and personal boundaries. Something I am now more than familiar after the purchase of a new home and a house move only in the last couple of weeks.

One problem is getting the individual to exercise their power. And to be aware of how institutions might monitor, track and take away information. We are a pizza order away from the future. Where people are not constrained by space, do we enjoy any more liberation? And are we any safer? What is our space really based on? kinship ties? ‘friends'? And can we begin to piece together the mysteries of any legal origins in terms of ‘spatial rights'.

We may choose to embrace (as a whole generation of digital natives do) to insist on more and more time and territory that can be transposed by ‘the digital'. The result? a less independent or free space that is made up of connections and becomes over constrained in real time.

It is in our nature to be territorial. To choose whom to ‘friend' and to let into our enclosed worlds. I want to ask; where are the outer limits? And do we actually want to escape?

Despite its importance very little has been written about escape, this is surprising given the rise of the digital agenda and the presence and the prominence of issues of control, surveillance and coercion in social and political life.

To show that we are good social scientists: one can show where our thoughts originated from - the 1970s. In the preface to the first edition of their classic book Escape Attempts, first published in 1976, Stanley Cohen and Laurie Taylor offer the following rather startling account of their research practices:

‘In pursuit of this contextual view we travelled with football hooligans to away matches, wandered around the shop floor with industrial saboteurs, slept on the beaches of Clacton with Mods and Rockers and simultaneously took notes about our own ‘normal' deviance: smoking dope with our students, organizing anti-Vietnam war demonstrations, watching porno movies' (Cohen and Taylor, 1992: xi; first edition 1976)

The contextual view was built on our observation of everyday life - albeit one that did not involve smoking dope and watching porno's, but having supposed limitless space. So what we did was to look at small-scale utterances about escape that were published through digital content. We found that this talk of escape could be organised around three key themes: temporality, emotionality and my favourite, the territoriality of escape. So back to space.

The ‘escape attempts' were based on a shared a sense of frustration at feeling ‘imprisoned', if not over-awed by a limitlessness of space. There was simply too much.

We seem reluctant to think about how moments of liberation and freedom are eked out of the fabric of everyday life. It is not that space is ignored; it is rather that it sits as an implicit and understated sense of place or it is translated into the grander themes of liberation and freedom. What is more, and where Cohen and Taylor's dope smoking remains useful, is that we tend to overlook the routine strategies that are deployed in the everyday context to negotiate our own sense of boundaries and territory.

Part of everyday life is then a common ground in an apparently individualised, fragmented and decentred space-less-ness.

Let us reflect on the use of common space when it was at its most reinforced during the last ‘technological' revolution - The industrial revolution... Here class divided space. Is this different now? As we grope around knee-deep in each others lives.

And for those of us who are amused and get a kick out of it (like me) these can occur as preponderances (and appear on properfacebooketiquette.com), composed as moments of nonsense that pile up before us. There is no other greater distraction than a status update or an added friend here and there. And there is no greater sense of freedom than your own space.