Literary roots of a digital choice. Worlds mixed in the street, part I

Differing from Newton and Schopenhauer, your ancestor did not think of time as absolute and uniform. He believed in an infinite series of times, in a dizzily growing, ever spreading network of diverging, converging and parallel times. This web of time – the strands of which approach one another, bifurcate, intersect or ignore each other through the centuries – embraces every possibility. We do not exist in most of them. In some you exist and not I, while in others I do, and you do not, and in yet others both of us exist.

Jorge Luis Borges. The garden of forking paths

One of the first post I wrote, a couple of months ago, was about the advantages of turning digital. There, I presented seven reasons why digital media results to be an attractive resource for publishing specialized content. From economical reasons to open access and going through a methodological advantage of controlling the (extension, shape, and resources of the) content we use to post, having an academic blog is a performative exercise for turning ANT into a digital materialization of an epistemic way of understanding the world. 

A blog works as a network. Its structure is based on connections of heterogeneous materials. The metaphor of hyperlink flats and materializes the nonnecessity of dichotomies of any kind for (temporal) organizing the social. Flexibility is a feature we can find attached to the acts of writing, posting and using the elements around the blog. This sort of plasticity is a reflex of the absence of limits, boundaries, and hierarchies that nonlinear writing is proposing. 

A blog is a semantic truss. Despite its chronological organization, specifically talking about this in particular, its content can be read in any order following a set of tags and sections. Also, and despite there are some roadmaps for approaching and organizing the posts, those are merely suggestions that obey the author’s logic of giving them a specific kind of sense. However, that proposed order is not the only possible one. Readers are turning into users who have the faculty of deciding how to move around the structure of this site. Any route is a right path.

Following Barthes’ thoughts (1967) regarding the figure of the author about the elaboration of his product, my position here, in the construction of those texts, is near the idea of a compiler which also has some co-authorship attributes. The notion of the compiler appears with the intention of recognizing the relevance of each specific element that is participating in the assemblage and stabilization of a specific net.

In the end, this is a way of distributing the agency among all the network, rejecting the heroism of the author as an element of authority. My ideas are not only mines and do not belong to me. Those are the result, the temporal result, of a process of continuous collaborations between the other elements participating in the net and me. For example, the current piece of research about Times Square I am carrying out is the materialization of a specific sort of network composed by an indeterminate number of actors where I am just an element more. 

The digital, in this particular case a website, is one of the most proper infrastructures for talking about what we use to call as urban, from an STS-ANT perspective. The public space, perhaps the most common urban space, is a permanent convergence of tons of different worlds establishing temporal and heterogeneous assemblages. In that way, using a digital product under a hyperlink-logic allows us to translate that reticular-effervescent emergence of associations into a flexible never-solid semantic structure. 

This digital platform is the stabilization —in the shape of a network too— of a set of tools that allows the capture, stabilization, transcription, and distribution of a collective construction about how to live together in the same reality. However, this digital interest in presenting the complexity of urban life was inspired by Borges’ El jardín de los senderos que se bifurcan (1984) [The garden of forking paths]; La Biblioteca de Babel (1956) [The Library of Babel], and Cortazar’s Rayuela (1963) [Hopscotch].

I took the idea of non-linearity from both authors. I learn about the semantic hyperlinking possibilities of exploring without a specific order when I read Hopscotch. As well as Cortázar did, I wrote a proposed way to approach my work, and I also let the users decide how to navigate around the content. This blog is not  serendipity caused by the digital at the opposite. I chose the digital looking for that possibility of involving the reader in the active construction of this sort of stabilization.

Hopscotch is a product constructed between Buenos Aires and Paris. This blog —and specifically my current piece of research about Times Square— is the result of dialoguing from and between Germany (Munich, Berlin, and Lübeck), New York City and Medellín. This translocality is allowing me to rethink issues related to spatialities, opening a dialogue about different ways of territorializing and being in a relationship with space. 

Borges provided me the concepts of simultaneity and interconnection. The books the shelves, and the sections of the Babel’s library, the paths and possible worlds tied, or not, occupying the same space like in a quantum physics issue… all those figures allowed me to imagine the composition of new metaphors and old alternatives for describing, organizing and presenting the complexity and effervescence of the world(s) outside. 

I decided not only talking about urban-ANT, but I also wanted to explore some options for representing the methods and epistemic notions based on this academic tradition. In this particular case, more than just writing about nets and connections my idea was creating a sort of structure for linking those concepts with the production of a non-finished digital material with the aim of experimenting in the assemblage mechanism of my Ph.D. final product. 

I see my doctoral process as a sort of intellectual craftsmanship (Wright-Mills 2000 [1959]) where the key is not only to think about and design artifacts for approaching life, but also constructing them and going outside for experimenting with those devices in order to produce a sort of reverse onomatopoeia that can include other kinds of sensorial and mental experiences. In this case, the experimentation included building a network for talking about networks.

The second and last part of this post will be an encounter between the streets and the digital. This reunion is condensed in a story about how the outside served as another source of inspiration for constructing a digital product. This new entry is the beginning of a discussion about digital ethnography, expectorating about some possibilities of cross-media and presenting a particular example about how to read Berlin using a tablet.