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virtual geographies

  As computer networks have spread across the globe, and as computers have acquired increasing visualization capacities, so it has become clear that the ability of human beings and machines to imagine the world (and each other) has been extended in significant new ways. Though these extensions have been the subject of much ill-judged hyperbole, it seems undeniable that four different but related processes are occurring.

First, the ability to produce detailed, moving three-dimensional environments is reaching the point where these environments are becoming significant supplements to the landscape around us, or even new kinds of landscape (rather as film altered our perception of the city in times past).

Second, through the power of computer simulation, it is becoming possible to extend the range of \'would-be worlds\' it is possible to think of (Casti, 1996): filmic special effects, computer games like \'Sim City\', and various outputs from geographical information systems are only the tip of the technological iceberg (Mitchell, 1995).

Third, computer visualization is re-inscribing the visual domain, perhaps to the point where we \'may be returning to an oral-visual culture. Animation, virtual reality, fibre-optic video, laser disks, computer modelling, even e-mail, are part of a new vision and visionary art-science\' (Stafford, 1994, p. xxv).

Then, finally, this power to represent in new ways has heralded an era in which there is considerable uncertainty about what counts as \'real\' and what counts as \'virtual\'. When using computers it is possible to alter images and produce new ones at the drop of a hat, so that the world can sometimes seem as though it is built on shifting sands (Wark, 1994). But, more likely, we are entering a period rather like that which heralded the introduction of print or film when we are having to gain new kinds of skills, new cultural apprehensions of the digital realm and new cultural appreciations of what can and cannot be: a new virtual \'literacy\', if you like. What we can be sure of is that this process of settling in is clearly not yet complete (Turkle, 1996).

Geography is intimately bound up with each and every one of these processes, both in the sense that new geographies of the imagination are being produced and that new geographies of production are being established — in places like Boston and Los Angeles — from which these new imaginative geographies can venture out into the world. (NJT)

References Casti, J. 1996: Would-be worlds. New York: Wiley. Crang, M. and May, J., eds, 1998: Virtual geographies. London: Routledge. Cubitt, S. 1998: Digital aesthetics. London: Sage. Graham, S. and Marvin, S. 1996: Telecommunications and the city. Electronic spaces, urban places. London: Routledge. Mitchell, W.T.J. 1995: City of bits. Space, place and the infobahn. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press. Stafford, B. 1994: Artful science. Enlightenment entertainment and the eclipse of visual education. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press. Stafford, B. 1996: Good looking. Essays on the virtue of images. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press. Thrift, N.J. 1996: New urban eras and old technological fears: reconfiguring the goodwill of electronic things. Urban Studies 33: 1463-93. Turkle, S. 1996: Life on the screen. Identity in the age of the internet. London: Weidenfeld and Nicolson. Wark, M. 1994: Virtual geography. Bloomington : Indiana University Press.



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Other Terms : time-space distanciation | Brenner debate | Pirenne thesis
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