Sunday, December 2, 2007

City as body

For my final paper, I would like to explore the ideas of the journey, the body, and cognitive distance/mapping. I read an interesting book recently titled Cityscapes in which the author describes the contemporary city "as a nervous system, requiring faster synapses and more and more information," and cities in the past as "a cardiovascular body, needing oxygen, healthy blood and so on..." (Highmore 132). He points to The Matrix as a film that captures this shift in perception of the city. This reminded me (somewhat tangentially) of our section discussions of the journey and our (human) desire to preserve a sense of time-lapsing travel even in cyberspace. For example, in Snow Crash, when Hiro is chasing Raven in the virtual world, they still travel on motorcycles instead of simply flashing from one location to another. In Star Trek and The Matrix, the transporter (beam) and telephone don't transfer a person instantaneously. There is a pause and a sense of travel from the moment of departure to the moment of arrival. (I remember one Star Trek episode where Barclay sees a worm/monster in the transporter beam - interesting that he sees anything at all while molecularly diassembled...)

I'm still working through my ideas, but I was thinking about the body as related to the journey through neural and cardiovascular networks. Even seemingly instantaneous communication (a burned fingertip notifying the brain) takes time. We react slowly when tired or distracted - there is a sense of time associated with feeling. I'm curious how this maps onto the city, onto our understanding of travel and distance, and onto our visions of future utopias/dystopias such as in The Matrix and Snow Crash. Why do we need to preserve a sense of journey? Is it just a continuation of our need to connect the body to the virtual and the urban? Why do we need to see the city in terms of a human system - cardiovascular or neural? And why does this only seem to be the case in fiction?

In Second Life, though, there is less of a sense of travel or distance. Moving from place to place in Second Life is immediate, although you also have the option to walk, run, or fly. In any case, there is definitely a preservation of the body. Is it possible for us to conceive of a virtual world not based on our physical selves? Or a body-less city?

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