Let’s begin by admitting that news has always been fake. There is no media product that is not filtered, framed, and formatted. Filtered means that always some information is selected and other information overlooked. Framed means that the information selected out of all possible information is put into some kind of interpretive frame that describes what is going on. The frame decides whether we are dealing with an accident, an act of terrorism, a prank, or an advertising campaign. Formatted means that selected and framed information is always presented in a certain way, as image, text, video, audio, etc., all of which have their own rules of production, distribution, and consumption. These three “F”s create a gap between what “really” happened and what the media tell us happened. This is a fact. It remains a fact even when professional journalists are replaced by citizen journalists who upload their spontaneous and accidental photos, videos, and comments onto platforms like YouTube, Twitter, Facebook, etc. So what do we do about it? Up until the advent of “post-truth” politics and “fake news” – formerly known as propaganda – there was apparently no pressing need to do anything about it. The experts, authorities, gatekeepers, and institutions of knowledge and truth were solidly in place and functioned quite well. We could tell the difference between the New York Times and Gawker and there really was a difference to tell. Although we knew that the media didn’t give us the truth, at least what we got was good enough to make reasonable decisions and get along with our neighbors. This is no longer the case.
Ever since Clay Shirky (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=LabqeJEOQyI) proclaimed that there is no such thing as information overload, there’s only filter failure, the role of filters in the network knowledge economy has taken center stage. With over 3 billion searches per day, Google’s search engine is probably the most used filter in the world. Google’s PageRank algorithm – and 250 other criteria that are much less publicized – seem to work so well for filtering that knowledge out of the ocean of information in the web that is relevant and reliable for our questions and concerns that we have come to believe that Google is presenting us a complete and unbiased view of the world. We tend to forget that there is indeed a problem of filter failure and that perhaps no filter, not even the algorithm searching for Google, can be a mirror of the world.
Heidegger’s definition of space (in Building, Dwelling, Thinking) is unusual and thought provoking. Things don’t exist in space, they are space, that is, they exist by making space. In Heidegger’s view things are not mere objects lying about out there in the world waiting to be stumbled over or discovered, they are active. Things open up places in which humans dwell. Heidegger uses the example of a bridge. The bridge doesn’t merely connect the banks of a river, it lets them appear as banks from out of an anonymous and undifferentiated nature. Not only that, it creates a relation between the banks of the river and the surrounding land. They are “gathered” together as places of crossing, places of meeting, of communication, and of commerce. Such activities, or as architects would say, programs, are made possible by constructions of all kinds; roads, checkpoints, watchtowers, shops, houses, etc. Each thing, each building allows certain activities to “take place.” Buildings create places to live, to do business, to produce or sell goods, to learn, and much more. These constructions are not simply put into an abstract Cartesian space that was somehow already there. Buildings not only take up space, they make it appear and open it up for human dwelling.
Architecture is becoming more reflective. Not because architects are theorizing more about what they do – they have always done this –, but because the conditions of the possibility of architecture are themselves becoming an object of architectural design. Stan Allen’s post-semiotic architecture of infrastructures is an example. According to Allen (Infrastructural Ubanism), “Under the dominance of the representational model, architecture has surrendered its capacity to imagine, to propose, or to construct alternative realities.” (50) This implies a new program for architecture in which design does not exhaust itself in autonomous, representative buildings, but is concerned primarily with “the production of directed fields in which program, event, and activity can play themselves out.” (52) Concretely, Allen is talking about infrastructures, that is, not specific buildings, but “the site itself…the conditions for future events…the construction of surfaces, the provision of services to support future programs, …the establishment of networks for movement, communication, and exchange.” (54) All these things such as transportation systems, energy grids, communication networks, and so on can be seen as the conditions of the possibility for architecture in the sense of objects and buildings. For readers of Castells’ Information Society this sounds a lot like what Castells calls the “space of flows,” that is, the hardware and software that creates a global network of simultaneous action beyond any local places, traditions, cultures, and identities. Although Castells has not entirely given up the conflict and even contradiction between the global and somewhat virtual space of flows on the one side and the physical and fragmented space of places, he has come to recognize the role of architecture in “making places in the space of flows” (Space of Flows, Space of Places: Materials for a Theory of Urbanism in the Information Age, in The Cybercities Reader ed. S. Graham, 2004). Castells cites such projects as Gehry’s Guggenheim Museum in Bilbao, Calatrava’s bridges, telecommunication towers, airports, Moneo’s AVE station in Madrid, and Koolhaas’s Lille Grand Palais. Many other multipurpose megastructures in the form of transportation or communication hubs could be added to the list. In these structures what is designed is infrastructure, the network of the network society. It is not place but flow that is the “object” of architectural design. It is the flow that becomes the place we live, work, play, shop, etc. Contrary to Castells opposition between flow and place, what these examples show is that it is the space of flows that is becoming the place in which we live, work, and construct our identities.
Microsoft introduced the Internet to the world in 1994 with the slogan: “Where do you want to go today?” Everyone who booted up Windows 95 was routinely asked this question. Although the Mad Men did not consider this global image advertising campaign a great success, Microsoft’s slogan says something philosophically important about the digital media revolution. Digital media, and above all the Internet, have something to do with space, with where you are and where you are going. The importance of new media for the concept of space has for the most part been formulated in negative terms. Digital media are said to annihilate space, to shrink great distances to the movement of a computer mouse, and create a networked global space – Castells speaks of a “space of flows” – in which everything and everyone are open and available all the time. This is indeed what Microsoft is saying; you can go anywhere; there are no limits to movement, space is no longer a barrier or a hindrance to communication, flows of information, and cooperation. In the Internet space is replaced by cyberspace, a virtual reality, a paradoxical expanse containing the whole world in the dimensionless realm of bits and bytes. Much has been written about the dangers and advantages of cyberspace. In the meantime, so-called virtual reality has become so important for work, shopping, business, education, and all other areas of life that it cannot be thought of as a domain of its own, somehow separated from the “real” world. Physical space and cyberspace have merged to become what could be called a “mixed reality.” But how are we to understand space when it is mixture of contradictory elements. Is the philosophy of space after the advent of digital media doomed to speak of a spaceless space similar to what Castells has called the “timeless time” of the network society?