Time and Space Compression

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Time and space compression is a phrase used to describe the decreasing space between people and ideas. The concept is important when considering changes in culture and structure, especially transit and value production. Time and space were first compressed when trains begin to drive through human geography. The Railway Journey by Henry Shivelbush is an excellent resource on understanding how time and space compression alter how work, free time, and community forms, grows and dies. The Internet compresses time and space of the mental arena. Vehicles reduce the time and space needed to transport goods. Each iteration of speed creates a faster culture. The compression of time and space create fractal value systems and hyperarchitectures that are characterized by the automatic production of space. Social networks, blogs, websites and the entirety of the Internet are the most recent examples of time and space compression. Time geography also maps this.


Zygmunt Bauman suggests that “modern society is characterized by power that has become truly exterritorial, no longer bound, not even slowed down, by the resistance of space.[1] The cell phone is unique because it is a social network that is not bounded by the confines of space. The traditional network of socialization is bounded by the confines of time and space. A face‐to‐face social interaction entails that the two social interactants are in close proximity to one another. Letter writing saves this social interaction and compresses it into words to be read later, but it does not provide a real‐time social transaction. E‐ mail is a social interaction that moves more quickly than a letter, but is still not real‐time. The traditional network is bounded by the confines of space, because text takes up space on paper, and e‐mail cannot be accessed in real life.


A mobile phone is a time compression device because it compresses the social communication of the caller to the call‐ee. It is a box that transcends space and time to connect users across great distances with minimal lag time. It is a device that compresses time more readily than a computer because it is smaller and more mobile. Unlike a computer, the cell phone provides a connection unmitigated by image. Without image to distract the cell phone user, the space and time of the connection is more compressed and pure. Instead of pure media such as images, sound files, and movies, the cell phone presents communication in its most unfiltered state. Not only is it unfiltered and pure, but it is mobile. The individual can access communication while "on the go" since the compression of time/space exists on a phone as much as a computer.[2]

The cell phone is the most compressed real‐time form of technosocial existence. The cell phone is the ultimate compressor of social space because it allows real‐time communication from any place with reception to any other place with reception. The compression of time and space that the cell phone can handle is akin to a worm hole. The caller goes into a partial black hole of perception as a phone call is taken, when the caller connects to the call‐ee, a wormhole forms in time/space, allowing communication to happen through the two individuals. The cell phone is is the newest kind of communication in what Sandy Stone calls “Epoch Four” in technosocial communication. Epoch Four exists as the most advanced stage of technosocial communication, in which a new community of technosocial ability is formed. “Epoch One” began with Robert Boyle's 1669 literary correspondence network, one of the first examples of ‘text as apparatus’. [3] Modern E‐mail and text message capabilities upgrade the speed at which text can function as an apparatus, but the cell phone is capable of digitizing voice and compressing it so effectively that it can travel almost instantaneously across the world with minute lag.


Examining the compression and experience of space and time are becoming increasingly important. As technosocial humans we are no longer living in one place at one time. Time has compressed itself so far that we now have time within time, and space within space. While you sit in your apartment, you are experiencing your local time and space but also the digital time and space.

By opening up the terminal or browser window, you can experience an entirely different time and space. Geography can be rapidly switched with the touch of a button. This 'fractal or simultaneous time' annihilates geography, allowing the punctuation of one space with another space, one piece of time with another. My iPhone collapses multiple social geographies into one. Facebook, Twitter, SMS, Voicemail, websites, news, incoming calls, notes to my future self, apps, ect. Each digital geography has a different set if natives, some imports, and some immigrants. Each space has different social norms and different ways of presenting oneself. Each space has different social classes and entrance requirements. But with a computer or iPhone, the travel time between those different geographies is almost instantaneous.

In the same way that a cell phone opens up a wormhole between two users for a limited amount of time, social networks open up wormholes to each other through text, creating invisible, 4th dimensional wormholes from person to object to person to object through text. People begin to become hyperlinks, text begins to become social objects, developing personality and having social value.


In the end, all text becomes linkable, all history becomes linkable to the future, every moment capable of being saved, reported, commented on and played back in slow or fast motion. Each reported moment becomes social capital, increasing the amount of embeddedness that networks and nodes have with each other.

Liquid Modernity

As node distance decreases, communication becomes more liquid, and digital geography between two people, thoughts, ideas, or groups becomes more instantly traversed. There become a range of those who are connecting more tightly together and a series of those who remain loosely connected in the analog space. Envision a conical basket whose weave is becoming tighter at one end while the other end remains loose and unconnected, fibers sticking out of the unfinished side of the basket. As time progresses, even these loosely connected fibers begin to weave themselves together, finishing the basket at some point in the future when almost evereything is connected. As in real life, the most connected points of the basket are the strongest.


  1. Bauman, Zygmunt. Liquid Modernity. Wiley-Blackwell, 2000. Pg. 11.
  2. Weiser, Mark. Some Computer Science Problems in Ubiquitous Computing. Communications of the ACM, July 1993. Pg. 71.
  3. Stone, Sandy 1993:95)