How can we really live if there is no more here and if everything is now?
In continuing with the discussion of Paul Virilio’s book Open Sky, Part 2 of the book brings up more specific questions about the law of least action and digital technology’s role in globalization. After discussing at length in scientific terms the effect of technology on time and space, Virilio applies those principles to more pressing issues that we have encountered in our everyday lives.
Virilio gives a name to an effect of technology that everyone has recognized at some point: the law of least action. According to the law of least action, when given the choice between two processes that accomplish the same end result, we will choose the one that allows us to put forth the least effort. We will choose to take the escalator instead of the stairs or to type out a message instead of writing it by hand. Less is more, and faster is always better. This is certainly a recognizable phenomenon, as each smartphone claims to be faster and each laptop and tablet become smaller. And it is definitely obvious that we are becoming more impatient with slow or bulky items, because we have come to expect speed and streamlined designs. Indeed, this is not necessarily a beneficial trend, and in many ways the technology controls us more than we control it.
Today, faced with the decline in geography, now converted into an abstract science of space, and the disappearance of exoticism with the boom in tourism and mass communication equipment, surely we should be asking ourselves in all urgency about the meaning and cultural importance of geophysical dimensions. (60)
Globalization is a visible result of the breakdown of time and space that Virilio discusses. As the physical space of the world becomes less of a barrier thanks to telecommunications and modern transportation, the world itself is becoming smaller. There are very few undiscovered corners of the world, where humans have remained untouched by technology or the world outside their borders. Virilio refers to this as urban ecology, drawing a parallel between the pollution of the earth’s green environment and the pollution of space-time that is ruining the proximity of the human race in relation to each other and the physical world. There have been concerns voiced about the loss of unique cultures and customs because of globalization, but Virilio points out another, perhaps more serious, result. In the future where Virilio’s “world-city” functions on a gigantic network of telecommunication and virtual time, those outside this network will become increasingly isolated.
The society of tomorrow will splinter into two opposing camps: those who live to the beat of the real time of the global city, with the virtual community of the ‘haves,’ and the ‘have-nots’ who survive in the margins of the real space of local cities, even more abandoned than those living today int he suburban wastelands of the Third World. (74)