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Facilitating Real Experience in Digital Places

Part 2 Dissertation 2009
Nicholas Skepper
University of Queensland | Australia
The thesis proposes to ascertain an appropriate understanding of our experience of the emergent digital realms. Where experience, in general terms, is considered a key concern of architecture, this is seen to be critical. Much architectural discourse appears to be framed by a presupposition that one engages with such spaces (cyberspace, virtual space) in much the same way as with first reality, real space. This is most apparent in the misappropriation of language, ordinarily associated with physical space and architecture, adopted when addressing these non-spaces, which, in turn, confuse meanings and understandings of cyberspace.

A prerequisite for occupying cyberspace within this framework is the dislocation of mind and body – it is celebrated, or more often implied, that the digital realm liberates one from the corporeal. This framework is clearly one that concurs with the outmoded philosophy of Cartesianism (Descartes) and is in direct opposition to modern thought (phenomenology) which debunks the primacy of mind over body.

Phenomenology (Merleau-Ponty, de Mul) provides a more useful framework for examining the true nature of online experiences and may be substantiated by drawing upon ethnographic studies of the real phenomena. The discernable affects of the proliferation of digital media are apparent in the loosening of spatial networks (Mitchell) within cities and the relocation of social exchanges from the physical to the digital agora (Markham, Carter). Here notions of place (Norberg-Schultz) come to bare on the discussion, where it is dependent upon physical locality and in which the body thus plays a key role in its construction.

The nature of engagement in cyberspace – as embodied in reality – is attested by both phenomenology, in ethnographic accounts and theories of place-making, providing a sound conceptual framework within which to examine the implications of cyberspace for architecture.

Nicholas Skepper

Nicholas Skepper’s dissertation entitled Facilitating Real Experience in Digital Places attempts to proffer a phenomenological and ethnographic critique of the contemporary virtual phenomenon of cyberspace in particular digitally networked environments as offering a “new conception of place.”

He argues that a reliance on the outmoded Cartesian conception of a mind/body dualism has clouded thinking in relation to the virtual. He assembles an overview of the relevant literature to position digitally networked environments as an extension of the real.

In positioning place as the framework from which to consider cyberspace he argues that rather than negating physical space, urban space in particular has the potential to be re-configured to open up possibilities to the subject interacting within it through the doubling of experience.

As Nicholas concludes: “ It is within this understanding of cyberspace that the architect may consider the key concerns of experience, the body, physical space and place. “

Mr Andrew Wilson
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