McKenzie Wark on Wed, 12 Mar 2003 04:22:36 +0100 (CET)

[Date Prev] [Date Next] [Thread Prev] [Thread Next] [Date Index] [Thread Index]

Re: <nettime> There are only Vectors

>From: human being <>

>Would you please further define these 'vectorial' statements,
>as each is a very big statement, and I must have missed the
>post where all of this was reasoned as a common empiricism.
>If you would begin with a solid (physical) definition of vector,
>that would be helpful, as in, how does it relate to vectors as
>they are used in mathematics and the sciences? And, if this
>is based in Paul Virilio's work, would you post the definition
>that you've stated before that you use but have yet to share.

happy to oblige...

From: The Virtual Republic, Allen & Unwin, 1997:

A word on this word vector. I've borrowed it
from the writings of French urbanist and
speculative writer Paul Virilio.  It is a term from
geometry meaning a line of fixed length and
direction but having no fixed position. Virilio
employs it to mean any trajectory along which
bodies, information or warheads can potentially
pass. For example, a flight from New York to
Sydney, via Los Angeles, is a vector both me
and my baggage might happen to be on. There
are certain fixed qualities about this vector. The
plane travels at a certain range of speeds, has a
certain maximum distance, and so on. But in
theory it could fly to any direction from its
starting point, and land at any point within a
circle, the radius of which is determined by the
amount of fuel it can carry. In other words, its
flight is of fixed maximum length, but potentially
in any direction. The virtual dimension to any
vector is the range of possible movements of
which it is capable.

While flying from New York to Los Angeles, I
pick up the telephone and make a call to
Sydney, to ask a friend to pick me up at the
airport. That call has different properties -- it
moves faster than the aircraft, obviously, and it
moves only information, not bodies and
baggage. Virilio's interest is in the way vectors
tend to get faster and more flexible, connecting
anywhere to anywhere, revealing every last
fold of the earth to the observer, and what this
might mean for the way power is organised. I'm
interested in the way the vectors along which
information moves separated out from those
that move things. Information can now almost
always get there before you can ship your
goods there, or dispatch a division. Third
nature is fast; second nature is slow. Third
nature seems increasingly to be in control of
second nature. We no longer have roots we
have aerials. Or as the Aboriginal writer
Mudrooroo says, apropos people like me: 'They
love grids, all straight lines, all leading to

This is the other source of anxiety in the 1990s
besides the market. The vectors of third nature,
from multichannel and satellite TV to the
internet, seem always to speed up, proliferate,
merge, divide, mutate, and beam in on us from
afar. The market seems to be everywhere; the
media seem to be everywhere. Market and
media merge as endless data-bit-streams,
transmitted all the way around the world. They
could be stock quotes or soap opera, all
rendered purely virtual, instantaneous,
ubiquitous, senseless. A perpetual challenge to
the imagination, and hence to the very idea of
culture, and the very possibility of the virtual

We are not entirely without resources for
thinking about such things. The Canadian media
studies scholar Harold Innis had the idea that
the types of vector people use will not only
shape certain kinds of culture, but will offer
different possibilities for the shape and
durability of society, economy and nation. His
famous example, to put it in a very crude way,
was to think about the way ancient Egypt built
itself out of media with very different
properties -- stone and papyrus.

Papyrus is what he called a 'space-binding' kind
of media. It made possible the transmission of
written orders across space, and the return of
written reports. Its a useful tool for making
empires, and enables the waging of distant
military campaigns and colonial administration.
On the other hand, stone is 'time-binding'.
Through the construction of temples and the
pyramids, a priestly caste can sustain their
authority from generation to generation. This
simplifies Innis' famous essays on these
questions a great deal, but the point is that he
offers a way of thinking about the potentials
that different kinds of media offer.

Innis also argued that it might be important for
a society that its culture be based on some kind
of 'balance' between space-binding and time-
binding media. He was very worried about
what he saw as a bias towards space-binding
media in his own time, which was why he was
very active in the formulation of media policy in
the 1950s in his native Canada. I'm less sure
about whether one can determine what
constitutes bias or balance between different
kinds of media, but I think Innis was on to
something, nevertheless.

In a remarkable essay on the development of
the telegraph, American media studies scholar
James Carey picks up where Innis left off.
What is distinctive about the telegraph is that it
is the first really successful technology for
moving information about from one place to
another faster than one could move a person or
an object. Think about it. Before the telegraph,
information had to be moved around by road
or rail, but it could not really get there any
faster than, say, an army or a wagonload of
wheat. But from the telegraph onwards, one
vector after another added to this basic ability
to move information faster than things. Its not
necessarily that there is 'more' information than
there ever was before. I'm not even sure how
one would measure that. What has changed,
since the invention of the telegraph, is the
relation between information and other things
that society moves around in space -- people,
goods, and weapons.

Thesedays cultures may have access to
television, radio, mass print media, video,
computer networks, and so on. The vectors
along which information passes are now many
and varied, and not equally available to all
cultures. Thinking about culture, questions of
power are never far away. From the telegraph
onwards, these vectors progressively create a
new space of possibilities for organising what
happens. After the telegraph came the
telephone, the television, telecommunications. A
whole series of developments of a certain kind
of experience -- telesthesia, or perception at a
distance. They are what made possible the
development of Australia, as a progressively
integrated economy, society and culture. They
are the conditions of possibility for the 'abstract
community' of nation which can imagine itself, at
one and the same time, as diverse and
coherent. They are what make possible a virtual
republic, where specific cultures bring their
interests and passions into an ongoing
conversation about what kinds of thing might
be possible.

Like everything else that sticks around for a
while and gets woven into the fabric of
everyday life, the experience of telesthesia
becomes a habit. I can remember when making
an international phone call was a really big deal.
Something rare and expensive and requiring
special assistance from an operator. Now I just
don't think that much about it. Punch in the
numbers and there you are, talking to someone
on the other side of the world. 'No one's far
from anyone, any more', as Telstra ads used to
say -- as if it were the most natural thing in the
world. 'Reach out and touch someone', as
another ad puts it. Only you don't touch them.
You experience the other person at a distance --
telesthesia. How quickly it comes to seem so --

While it may feel natural for some to inhabit this
media made world, I suspect there's a
fundamental change here that has a lot of
people just a bit spooked. Its no longer a case
of making second nature out of nature, of
building things and getting used to living in the
world people build. I think it might be
interesting to consider telesthesia to be
something fundamentally different. What gets
woven out of telegraph, telephone, television,
telecommunications, is not a second nature, but
what I call third nature.

>>the vectoral class

see A Hacker Manifesto:

>>  the commodity game of the vector

>>the strategy-game of the vector


Tired of spam? Get advanced junk mail protection with MSN 8.

#  distributed via <nettime>: no commercial use without permission
#  <nettime> is a moderated mailing list for net criticism,
#  collaborative text filtering and cultural politics of the nets
#  more info: and "info nettime-l" in the msg body
#  archive: contact: