The advent of digital media has changed temporal and spatial dimensions of cultural and social life. There has been a rapid evolution in the manner of communication from the traditional, almost localized ways, to a global trend that transcends both geographical and cultural boundaries. The development in both the volume of media content and speeds of information delivery has been accelerated significantly in the digital century. Previously, the delivery of messages was only as fast as the vessel, train or person tasked to deliver it. However, physical limitations were diminished with the arrival of the first electronic media that included telegraphy, radio and telephone. The next media consisted of telecommunication and television technologies, but were still geographically constrained. The arrival of mobile media and the internet started eliminating the constraints of space and time. This paper looks at cognition of media space, time-construal level and the perception of interactivity between the two to create places. It then looks at how new media technologies have impacted social and cultural aspects of life.
Space and time are closely connected as components of the physical reality. Space often requires time, while time is known to engage space. According to Neumark (2006) the sense of space among people is made possible because they can move. The sense of time is experienced by people, in their capacity as biological beings, as they constantly undergo recurrent phases of tension and ease. Neumark (2006) further argues that space exists in time because it changes with time. The depiction of space is different at varied temporal points in history, while the length of time often involves distance in space. Furthermore, the measurement and the sense of time are dependent upon spatial distances and space. Consequently, the depiction of time depends on the world’s spatial dimensions and vice versa. A space is transformed into a place whenever a symbolic meaning is assigned to it, hence creating a concrete definition that marks the spectrum of a sense of belonging and identity. The concepts of space and time, therefore, constitute a place. The well established, close links and the vital role in the evolution of reality, have led to the consideration of the role played by electronic media communications in experiencing and conceptualizing space, time and place.
Space, time and place have been at the center of heated debates on change and continuity, with relation to digital media and the associated communication systems. According to Castells, Fernández-Ardèvol, Linchuan & Sey (2013) the space-time compression brought about by the new digital media has successfully compressed the world into one place. The diminishing perception of distance achieved through the digital media ability to stretch social relations, so that they are carried on regardless of the distance between individuals, has equally diminished the sense of place. This according to Meyrowitz (2005) has created the digital concept of ‘placelessness’. The concept now permeates social and cultural experiences in the postmodern age, where virtually all manner of communication is electronically mediated. Prior to the era of electronic communication, people were restricted to physical travel and oral communication. In the postmodern era, people adjust and cross spatial and temporal distances from the comfort of their homes, through the use of electronic communication and media.
The concepts of space and time were socially constructed and perceived differently from various cultural stand points. Conceptually, time was constructed with the creation of the calendar in the early times, and by the global standardization approach based on the Greenwich Mean Time in the modern age. Time has also been historically influenced by changes in experiences and perceptions of geographical and social spaces. Time, therefore, became historically shaped and socially dependent by the various aspects that influence social order. As Castells et al. (2013) remarks, the category of time is based on the rhythm in social life. And since social life is immensely influenced by culture, culture is equally a function of time. It, thus, follows that studying time methodically requires historical, cultural and social contextualization. Similarly, it requires the perspective of a historical empiricist to principally account for changes in the social order and its structural effects on time (Meyrowitz 2005).
When the mechanical clock was invented, it shaped the social framework, as far as the arrangement of time is concerned, even in its current form. The clock set up parameters to measure time and conform it to human affairs; humans eventually had to conform to it. The invention of the telegraph in the nineteenth century as the first electronic medium of communication undermined the essence of the previous concept of ‘real time’ as used in oral communication. It also undermined the concept of ‘delayed time’ as used in printed and script communication.
For the first time, barriers in communication and time gaps were overcome to some extent. This early process made way for instant global communication that extended after the advent of wireless electronic media in twentieth century, namely television and radio. Broadcasting is credited for changing our sense of time from its very beginning. In the words of Scannell (1996), “the huge investment of labor in the form of care that goes towards the production of broadcasting output delivers a service whose most generalizable effect is to re-temporize time” (p.149). Scannell (1996, p.164) analyzes the role played by the ‘broadcasting calendar’ in forming our sense of time. The ‘calendars’ and ‘times’ of electronic media are organized with the consideration of timeframes from the non-media world. They thus, influence and at the same time renegotiate the perceptions, dynamics and experiences of the non-media time. For instance, the choice of specific television and radio programs for transmission in the morning only shows a consideration for the daily schedule of the audience. At the same time, it significantly influences the daily routine of the audience, thus, impacting on their culture immensely.
The advent of computers facilitated a revolutionary change in the orientation of time, just like clocks had done a few centuries before. The computer changed the way people conceptualize time and also the way they think about themselves and the world around them. According to Roche (2013) the internet came with the concept of ‘internet time’ and exemplified the perspectives on the impact of the new media technologies. The development of information and communication technologies, the internet in particular, overhauled the cultural dynamics in everyday life. They affected and changed time, the way it is organized and people’s perceptions about it. Meyrowitz (2005) maintains that time is connected to information and communication technologies in many ways. Time is either organized or structured by information and communication technologies. A lot of disposable time is spent with information and communication technology equipment, although not without opportunity costs. At the same, the technologies have potentially alleviated multitasking challenges and pressures while at the same time creating many others.
The many activities people get involved with on the internet, and the internet itself, have changed the fundamental meaning of temporal differences, as well as their impact on physical mobility. Contacts in distant locations can now establish satisfactory communication instantly over the internet. The use of emails has altered the dimension of time at the work place, as well as in social interactions hence, readjusting the rigid time patterns that characterized organization of work and other life activities. In the words of Roche (2013),
“Nine-to-five, five days a week, and two weeks off a year starts to evaporate as the dominant beat to business life. Professional and personal messages start to commingle: Sunday is not so different from Monday, with all industrial settings of work and living now revised by flexible and shifting post-industrialist modes of time management” (p. 103).
Information technology, particularly the internet, has played a major role in diminishing the traditional timeframes that were characterized as suitable for accomplishing given tasks (Thompson 2005). The fading of time constraints that were associated with communication among remote places, as well as in the organization of everyday life, goes a long way in offering a new form of ‘virtual reality’ to people. They allow them to experience things that would in other cases be reserved for the future. By doing so, the internet has enabled the simulation of the future by modifying timeframes that would, otherwise, be relegated to repetitive phenomena of the past without much variation (Neumark 2006). Examples that indicate the experience of virtual reality include internet spaces such as interactive online games and social networking sites. Both of them transcend the conventional temporal boundaries experienced offline. Online activities and time schedules fit in the boundaries that allow parallelism in the virtual, temporal frameworks that challenge the normal user time frames and identities.
Despite the creation of a parallel time and renegotiated time frames on the internet, temporal limitations have persisted in the virtual world of communication, mobility and establishment of intercultural relationships. For example, while the experience of instantaneity is felt by the users of the internet, sometimes the web surfing experience is affected by connection delays and interceptions by people who invade the ‘private’ space. The adoption and abandonment of the internet has been shown by empirical studies to be affected by the time spent online, inefficiently searching for specific materials (Thompson 2005). Therefore, even if people have increasingly viewed the traditionally demarcated and measurable time as shattered by the advent of an internetworked society, the timeless idea of new media technologies has its share of challenges. Deadlines, lag in time and temporality still matter, despite the increased mediation by new media technologies. The technologies have altered the parameters of dimensions, flexibility, influence and aspects of urgency in the everyday use of time.
Moreover, despite the provocation by the internet to shift perceptions and definitions of temporality, time has historically been incorporated into the lives of people with roots in specific, cultural environments. Time remains a consideration that cannot be ignored in the daily lives of the people, as it is closely related to the complex dynamics of people’s lifestyles and cultural identities. Nowotny (1994) remarked at the initial stages of development in internet communications about illusion of simultaneity. The impression of subjective time and the various evaluations of temporal qualities, challenge the claims of instantaneity in the social life of people (p.16). In this regard, the advancement of temporality along the trends in technological change requires structural reconsideration of the old notion of time that considered socio-cultural drivers and parameters of media technology.
Space has both socio-economic and geographical dimensions of existence. With regard to the geographical dimension, space as a physical location is related the notion of place, since it provides the perspective for places despite getting its meaning from specific places (Robertson 2002). In this regard, space is represented by derivations from the realization of perception and cultural places, which shape collective and individual identities. It thus, follows that space is closely linked to the notion of experience, consciousness and thought.
Viewing space from the socio-economic perspective, its production is rooted in organizational and technological developments of the recent times, as well as in capitalism (Roche 2013). Spatial relations and space have been increasingly commodified. Structural conditions arising from consumption and market production have also been affected by them. The technological and commercial advancement of the last century have challenged and significantly restructured spatial boundaries. For instance, Ling & Campbell (2009) argues that there has been irreversible shrinking of distances in space and time, combining everything together in uniform ‘distancelessness’ (p.15). The increased use of mass media and digital communications has led to the creation of new electronic spaces that have diminished spatial distances. The case of the electronic spaces highlights the role played by electronic media towards reshaping the modes of experiencing space and re-conceptualizing it.
The new digital media technologies have enabled geographically dispersed communications by reducing the initial significance of detaching physical mobility and spatial differences from the quickly growing pace of communication. Communication now occurs in defined electronic spaces that disregard the physical space and mobility of the communicating parties. Since the era of the telegraph, electronic spaces have continued to be abstracted to overshadow physical spaces. The reduced spaces rearranged social interactions and combined many aspects of culture from different parts of the world, to emerge with a near uniform global culture (Thompson 2005). People can now learn the cultures of others through interaction on electronic space and can make references to those cultures on the same space. Social relationships are now fully mediated in both expansive and reduced physical spaces with little difference in experience.
Spatiality was at first, fundamentally transformed with the invention of broadcasting as everyone around the globe started accessing content simultaneously. The experience among people was that of duality, being at the actual physical space and experiencing occurrences in spaces halfway around the globe. More recently, the internet has delivered new virtual spaces overshadowing the barriers initially created by physical spaces. The extent to which the virtual spaces will replace the physical spaces is still a subject of intense debate. In the current era of mobile internet and many other mobile means of communication, space and time have been completely reconstructed. Material organization is now characterized by complete independence from physical proximity (Ling & Campbell 2009).
Since the concepts of space and time are socially and culturally constructed, people of the digital communication era have emerged as culturally multi-layered and divergently contextualized. The identities of places are now as many as the number of people. As much as time and space have successfully been abstracted, places have remained as the phenomena that are directly experienced by individuals to give cultural experience. The experiences can then be shared on the virtual spaces. Through the place, man keeps touch with the bonds of his existence while experiencing the depths of his freedom as a global player in the virtual space and time. Personalities are now increasingly experienced on the electronic spaces, with the physical interaction reduced to minimum. The social and cultural experiences are completely transformed and within the reach of each individual regardless of location.
List of References
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