Time-Space Compression by Elaine O’Driscoll-Adam

My personal project relates to the concept of ‘time–space compression’ a term used to describe the acceleration of our experience of time and space. This expression is also known as ‘time–space convergence’. It is concerned with the impact of new information and communication technologies such as the internet, email and mobile phones on the individual both in the private and public spheres. These technologies have essentially reduced the distances between people and places thus resulting in ‘time-space compression’. It has therefore become easier to move information across space; speeding-up the pace of life while abolishing traditional spatial barriers. Geographer David Harvey (1989) introduced this term in The Condition of Postmodernity, where he makes reference to the concept as “processes that so revolutionize the objective qualities of space and time” (240). He further states that “as spatial barriers diminish so we become much more sensitized to what the world’s spaces contain” (294).

In a worthy article in Environment and Planning D: society and space, Sheller (2004) provides the reader with an account about mobile spaces. She discusses new modes of space; ‘public in private’ and ‘private in public’ whereby our concept of the traditional spatial model has changed. Information Communication Technology (ITC) has allowed us to become part of a wider community of internet networking (39-52). However, it must not be taken for granted that all of us experience this phenomenon positively and at the same rate. ITC has certainly broken down the barriers of time and space therefore altering our concept of them. I came across an interesting Ted Talk ‘We are all cyborgs’ by Amber Case whereby she discusses the ways in which intensification of the human-technology interface will quickly reduce the distance between individual and community and believes that the convergence of technologies will bring about unprecedented rapid learning and communication. Amber Case is a cyborg anthropologist, examining the way in which humans and technology interact and evolve together. Amber Case’s Ted Talk

With various online social networking (Twitter, Facebook) a global event can reach the public in a matter of seconds even before the media has time to think! Events such as the Arab Spring, that has enthralled the world and sparked the Occupy Movement, demonstrate the positive effects of new communication technology. Time and space appear to be completely compressed. People all over the globe gained awareness of these occurrences via the internet even prior to print or TV media. These global experiences are witnessed by so many internauts simultaneously and yet such distances apart. Social media powered up the Arab Spring and has created a new space for how history will remember its events.

Castells (2009) discusses the power of the media, be it corporate or governmental, within new technologies of communication. Communication Power appears to be an essential reference to new information and communication technologies. He leads the reader through various perspectives of mass media, mass self-communication and how the citizen can use media to her/his advantage. It is an insightful book which is among many he has authored. As my project relates to time-space compression I will therefore explore his chapter on communication in the digital age and reprogramming communication networks. The rise of the internet and wireless communication have given way to a whole new concept of space and time. Castells (2009) asserts the fact that “the rapidly growing social demand for the ‘networking of everything’, arising both from the needs of the business world and from the publics desire to build its own communication networks” (62). Individuals are becoming increasingly adept to wireless communication; the idea of being connected anytime, anywhere. It appears that people no longer identify the difference between time and space as boundaries begin to blur. Emails and texts sent in seconds in contrast to the traditional letter that could take days. It is all about the ‘here and now’. Castells (2009) also discusses how the internet, the worldwide web and wireless communication are means of interactive communication rather than media in a traditional sense. He further states that the worldwide web is a communication network used to post and exchange information and documents (64). Information travels much faster via these new technologies. Documents have become so varied that nearly everything can be digitised. This allows for the flow of information and knowledge around the world (64). Although this flow of information permits the wider world access to knowledge, many global citizens do not have internet connectivity. Castells maintains that digital divide is shrinking with the ratio between internet access in OECD and developing nations fell from 80.6:1 in 1997 to 5.8:1 in 2007 (62). Meanwhile these statistics may not transpire the true value of internet access in isolated regions. I remain skeptical that the world is shrinking for everyone and at the same rapid pace. Economist Aleph Molinari is working to close the digital divide and empower people by providing access to technology education.  In 2008, he founded Fundación Proacceso, and in 2009 launched the Learning and Innovation network, which uses community centers to educate under-served communities about different technologies and tools. To date, the network has graduated 28,000 users through 42 educational centers throughout Mexico. Aleph Molinari’s Ted Talk 

It may possibly be accurate that in Western society individuals are constantly multi-tasking, jumping from work to personal activities; there is no more divide between the two therefore public and private space is no longer distinctive. Castells (2009) continues to consider that the diffusion of the internet, wireless communication and digital media prompted development of parallel networks of interactive communication connecting local to global in chosen time. This idea of connecting local to global however becomes apparent with the events such as the Arab Spring or the Occupy Movement whereby within minutes the world was witnessing activities via social networking. These movements spurred the concept of ‘power to the people’. As Castells (2009) explores the concept of the new activist, distributing messages via networks of alternative media, I agree that the activist’s commitment is inseparable from revolution in digital technologies. There is a potential to unite activists giving a voice to citizens worldwide; ‘power to the powerless’ (366). These demonstrations have illustrated how an isolated incident can now reach societal proportions especially with the availability of the internet on mobile phone devises. A message can be diffused globally in real time, transcending all traditional spatial barriers; time and space become one!

On the whole Communication power provides a valuable awareness into the power of the worldwide web. Castells further imparts how technologies of freedom are not for free; governments and corporations and power groups in general give priority to harness the potential of mass self-communication in the service of their specific interests. He includes that they have a common goal which is to tame the liberating potential of networks of mass self-communication; the idea to commodity personal freedom (414).

Although the internet has enabled marginal groups to transcend the barriers of communication electronic lifestyles can lead to polarisation. It remains to be seen whether we succeed in getting the balance right! Space and time are being transformed under the joined effect of the information technology paradigm.


Castells, Manuel. Communication power. Oxford; New York: Oxford University Press. 2009. Print.

Department of Geography, UCC. Introduction to Geography. Essex: Pearson Education Limited. 2009 (4th ed.) Print.

Harvey, David. The Condition of Postmodernity. Oxford; Massachusetts: Blackwell, 1989. Print.

Sheller, Mimi. “Mobilepublics: beyond the network perspective”. Environment and Planning D: society and space. Vol. 22. (2004): 39-52. Web. 24 Nov. 2011.

Video clips:

Case, Amber. We are all Cyborgs. Ted Talk. Dec. 2010. Web. 31 Jan. 2012

Molinari, Aleph. Let’s bridge the digital divide. Aug. 2011. Web. 31 Jan. 2012.


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