Monday, September 24, 2012

Ambiguity in calculation

I felt a disconnect between the rhetoric used by Thrift in his article and the reality he was proposing. On page 600, he projects that “sense of direction will become a given. It will no longer be something that has to be considered.” This assumes that one will always know where he is. What Thrift doesn’t seem to address is the space between the “You are here” on the map and “here” where the “you” actually is. Perhaps he sees the physical space eroded, now that we no longer need to hold paper maps, but I can’t see the calculations that exist on a map or GPS on a phone transposed directly onto/in the body—barring computerization of brains, the space between an indicator of location and the location itself will need to be mediated. Rather, it seems to me that if the space around us is changing in such radical ways, sense of direction will not be “given,” but will be the ultimate consideration. As he suggests earlier in the piece, if senses will no longer be compartmentalized, creating a synesthesia of surroundings, we will need to rely on our sense of direction, just as changeable as the other senses he cites as becoming fluid. His confidence in sense of direction seems to be rooted in the “fine grid of calculation” to which he refers on page 592 that houses the volatile relative space. I am unsure about how this fine grid is established, how it can be trusted, and whether or not the squares on the grid will just get smaller and smaller as this grid becomes more precise, more “fine.” It seems that the gridded notion of time and space, having been constructed at a point in history, cannot be a reliable basis upon which to build such a changeable system of relative space.
            The suffix “-scape” in the Appadurai article acted as more of a catch-all for movement and relativity, a suffix based in nature but in the human view of nature as a landscape, and thus an appropriate term to describe human interaction within a world that is acted upon. Appadurai acknowledges the difficulty I have expressed on page 18, in “a world in which both points of departure and points of arrival are in cultural flux, and thus the search for steady points of reference, as critical life-choices are made, can be very difficult.” Where Appadurai sees bridging happening is not in calculation, but in construction of commodities, even in the form of traditions, heritages, cultures. I wonder if Thrift’s concept of increased potential of production and the ability to create things that were previously conceived of, but unable to be realized can be applied to Appadurai’s notion of “cultural reproduction, which he sees as pained and difficult. Thrift has currently identified the importance of memory in retaining a sense of identity in “producing symbols (e.g. personal surnames, stable national languages, currencies, fingerprints, barcodes and other addresses) that can be used as stable identifiers and, increasingly, these have taken on numerical form.” The reduction of such culturally and personally charged symbols to a simple sign-signifier relationship seems limited. Where he sees possibility and, seemingly, precision, I might look for possibility in the ambiguity.

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