What one does in the church is different from what one does in a strip club, for example; as such certain functions are typology-specific. But into our physical environment we have introduced these brilliant and kind of magical objects which go by names such as “computers” or, “cell phones,” which have become so integral in our lives that entire buildings are dedicated to their retail, or to keeping them in a cooled environment to keep them functioning, think of server buildings for example. These machines which occupy volume of our physical space contain within them a whole other world, a digital space.
The Digital Space could be described as what you see within the borders of such a device, the screen. Within this digital space there are programmes which have specific functions, and specific (2D) formal language which lets you understand that you are in fact interacting with your online banking app and not, for example, a dating app.
Sounds quite similar no? Where the double click is akin to opening the door and stepping into a building, different apps and programmes could be dubbed as digital typologies. I consider these virtual environments just as important as a part of our daily experience, not because they function independently of our physical environment but because they (almost always) influence our experience of the real. It has happened to myself many times where I’ve missed a bus stop because I wasn’t aware of my physical surroundings so much as I was of your digital ones – notifications, likes, comments, hearts, stories… Such a reduction of your physical awareness could be compared to a kind of daydream, present physically but mentally on what might as well have been mars. You don’t remember the journey because you didn’t experience it, so where were you? From a user experience standpoint, you were within the digital realm as opposed to a physical one.
When most of our time is spent inside of a house, digital typologies have come to replace physical spatial typologies, enabling us to perform the typology-specific functions without leaving our home. Suddenly, the things that you do in your home are no longer different from what you would do in a university, bank, church, or concert venue because all of these functions have been collected into one physical location via the digital space. The distinction of physical typologies becomes as a result, almost redundant.
Of particular interest to me of these digital typologies is the the video calling platform. When lockdown began not only did I quickly learn the name of Zoom, but it also became a critical part of my daily existence, where in one week I could be spending 40 hours in it. For those 40 hours of my life, where was I? And where were the nine other people in the call with me? It would be useful to consider where this digital space finds itself in relation to the physical space with a tree diagram of typologies.
This tree diagram defines an essential question which the opening paragraphs pose: where do these digital typologies find themselves in relation to other spatial typologies? It seems apparent that the digital space finds itself firmly within the physical space. But we could also consider it as something completely detached from reality, detaching you from any experience of the physical environment and providing you with some other, non-tangible environment.
In answering the question of if Digital space finds itself within physical space or outside thereof it must now be asked where the user is as a result. There seem to be three possibilities. If we look at Venn Diagram 1 you are within the physical space as a collection of disconnected individuals (black icons), and simultaneously together within the digital space as artificial copies (red icons). But because the digital space is defined as within the physical, it follows that you’re somehow in two physical places at the same time within a singular physical realm.
The second option as shown in Venn Diagram 2 poses the notion that the digital space actually interacts in a 1:1 relation to reality with perfect overlap, which would mean that each person in the meeting isn’t in two distinct places at the same time, but rather you are in 3 places each, appearing simultaneously in each other’s bedrooms, lounges, or studies.
Alternatively, if we look at Venn Diagram 3 you could see 3 people within the physical space in black, and the digital duplicates of the same 3 people within a non-physical space in red, but the question becomes what is the container of these two spaces, and similarly, is it possible to be in both the physical, and non-physical space at the same time?
If we assume that your sense of place is reliant on your awareness of the environment, meaning you understand where you are based on information you’re gathering from external experience, then perhaps while in the digital space, you are no longer within the physical space and vice versa. This means that in the model of Venn 3 you would essentially teleport with your two group mates into the digital space to be collected, while you become unaware of, and thus removed from, your immediate physical environment… This also seems farfetched, but perhaps the most accurate from a phenomenological perspective; it doesn’t feel like you’re in 3 physical rooms at the same time, it also doesn’t feel like you have 2 additional people within your small studio; but it does (vaguely) feel like you’re collected with 2 others in a space which does not exist in reality.
Perhaps these analyses are a bit absurd as they try to assess a digital world with physical models – like trying to depict the fourth dimension in the third. Perhaps we need a new method of analysis which can better incorporate this digital space into the real. In any case it is clear that when discussing typologies of digital space there are problems in our understanding – perhaps when virtual reality takes over the mass market we will see a more architectural approach to the digital environments in which we meet, but it seems worth considering today as opposed to tomorrow.