Nonplaces redux

[25 January 2010]

By Rob Horning

I have an essay up at Generation Bubble about nonplaces, an elaboration of some thoughts I had jotted here last week. The idea is basically that Web 2.0 is a contemporary “nonplace”—a place without the embedded history that defines spaces anthropologically. It seems like a bit of a stretch on the face of things, considering Marc Augé, who coined the term nonplace, defines them as places that are not concerned with identity or are not “relational.” Web 2.0 is concerned with little else than identity-making and establishing networks of relations.

I argue, more or less, that these are relations and identities are so provisional and instrumentalized, they negate historicity. Instead the conceptual space of Web 2.0 demands as the price of participation a willingness of users to perpetually discard identity and reshape their relations and refashion themselves in the performance of value-creating, meaning-making labor. The space is a paradoxical vacuum, sucking up all the information about ourselves that we “share” and leaving us only as relevant as our most recent update, our most recent contribution to the uploaded collective mind. Identity gets thoroughly problematized, to use a ugly piece of jargon—that is to say, we become more acutely aware of our identity as constituting a problem we have to engage with. This has its pros and cons, but ultimately the self-consciousness stemming from this tends to negate the flow states conducive to well-being.

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