Morley, “communication and Transport”

Morley. “Communications and transport: the mobility of information, people and commodities” MC&S July 2011 33.5 (16 pages)

Morley revists a historical perspective of communication studies that seeks to align it with materiality and transport studies. Historically, scholars like Marx and Engels have defined communication to “include the movement of commodities, people, information and capital—including within their remit not only the instruments for transmitting information but also the material transportation infrastructures of their day” (753). As such, communication studies would decenter its focus (solely) on media and mediation and instead look into “factors governing the differential mobility of the people who constitute media audiences” (744). In other words, we turn our attention to the infrastructure that regulate both movement and stasis. A focus on these infrastructures allows us to walk away from models that “render the world as a formless ‘goop’ of liquidity” (or, in other words, “if mobility is everything then it is nothing”); rather, we begin to see how network—both virtual and actual—are facilitated and cordoned off.

Morley directly challenges notions of digitality and virtual technologies that presume that the cyber world constitutes placelessness, “where material geography counts for very little as a determinant of social and cultural life” (745). Rather, “cyberspace itself has a perfectly identifiable geography, in which its routes and locations largely replicate the structure and patterns of earlier modes of communication” (745). Cyber-industries, for example, tend to cluster to very particular places—physical location remains a significant factor for competitive economics.

Likewise, internet technologies have not only been seen to emancipate people form physical location, it was also seen as a means to liberate identities from the body. “The virtual simply becomes one dimension of personal identity, rather than some magical means of ‘escaping’ from it, an increasingly ‘banalized’ overlay of the virtual and the actual” (745-6). Furthermore, locative media—locating your embodied identity within particular locales in social media sites—seems to be central to the future of social media. And e-mail, often seen to connect users from far remote locations, seems to more accurately intensify communication between people who are geographically contiguous. Put simply, “material geographies thus retain significance in a variety of ways” (746).

Central to Morley’s argument is to note how “old ghosts” of antecedent networked technologies, such as telegraph lines, “still haunt the byways of cyberspace” (746). “The effectivity of even the latest technologies still depends, ultimately, on material infrastructures” (746). Not simply remediation as Boltor & Grusin have described—although this is part of it—but Morley is focused on how cyberspace networks overlay on top of existing lines of connection. “Rather than think about cyberspace in the abstract, as some unitary sphere, we might be better advised to investigate the specific ways in which the virtual is integrated with the actual in different material cultures” (746). The lines of the telegraph, for example, “laid the foundation of the spatial networks that still provide the essential infrastructure for organizing global commerce and security today” (758). Furthermore, the reopening of old trade routes between Indian and Chinese governments “can only be understood in the context of the longer history of the articulation of the overland trade route” (751).

Morley also seeks to contextualize the perceived collapse of time and space in the face of further mobile technologies. For example, he looks at the cargo ship—where the world’s harbors have never handled as much material as they do now—where it still takes 8 days to cross the Atlantic Ocean, 12 days for the Pacific. He also notes a class difference in Time-Space compression. Often, when migrating or travelling, there is a considerable amount of waiting (or periods of immobility)—this amount of time (of immobility) can often be a good index (and determinant) of a person’s social status. Likewise, different types of transportation can “engender very different experiences of travel and how the relative satus of any particular mode ‘rubs off’ on those who use it” (753).

Turning to the idea of place compression, “our analyses need to be able to give an account both of ‘the kinds of spaces created by media’ and the ‘effects that existing spatial arrangements have on media forms’. Thus, the emerging picture is not simply that of ‘the collapse of place’, but rather of ‘the more subtle integration of other places and agents into the flow of everyday practices’” (Couldry and McCarthy 8 qtd in Morley 754). In other words, the relationship between virtual and physical space are intertwined, reciprocal.

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