Destruction of Liminality in the Digital



Volume 9, Issue 01
October 17, 2023

In the digital, there is no dwelling or liminal space—no place for rest and reflection. Nor does there seem to be a need for transition spaces anymore. Access to everything is simultaneous and instantaneous. We do not go to things anymore; rather, these places are accessible to us everywhere all the time. We can deal with finances, education, and socialization from home all in a few taps, and we can be transported to somewhere across the globe without physical travel. With the growing expectation for services, media, and entertainment to be more efficient, the thresholds of our patience and willingness to exist in transition diminishes as well.

Liminal spaces facilitate breaks and disruptions of circulatory space and spatial experiences. These transitory spaces are a place of becoming with boundaries that acknowledge the end of one thing and beginning of another. Liminal space exists in between environments so that we may externally project onto it and interact with it to synthesize past experience into causal models that are then tested and reflected on.

In the digital, however, there are no breaks. If there are transitions, they are instant and sought to be minimized by designers of the interface’s architecture. If a UI requires any embarking to access a page or feature, its design is deemed unintuitive. Loading screens for more than a couple seconds are considered problematic. Every tap should instantly take us to a destination. Every space is filled with pure data meant to entertain and captivate, thus flattening the transitory time and spaces void of pure content. There is no information processing in a digital environment, only information. Only the computer is granted the ability to process the infinite and simultaneous information being produced, reproduced, and circulated. Any psychophysical processing for a person must be done outside of a screen where infinite flow of input can finally be disrupted to be digested. Without such temporal delineations, we experience information as a flowing stream with no beginning and end.

Fredric Jameson’s Postmodernism (1991) characterizes society as “a series of pure and unrelated presents in time” and argues that “our daily life, our psychic experience, our cultural languages are today dominated by categories of space rather than by categories of time.” However, even categories of space are dissolving. Now we live in a control society that Deleuze outlines in his “Postscripts on the Societies of Control” (1990), which is dominated by information access instead of by the spaces we inhabit. Realms of power, work, recreation, home, and play are no longer spaces to go to, but instead are now places made accessible to us by technology. Participation of all parts of daily life can be done remotely now. No longer contained to locations, each sphere bleeds into the others in a gaseous state, creating a society based in movement with no destinations during and between and to no end.

The fluidity of Deleuze’s control societies reminds me of Marcos Novak’s “Liquid Architecture in Cyberspace” (1992), which is an architecture that transforms as its visitors and ideas evolve. It is void of transitions “without doors and hallways, where the next room is always where it needs to be and what it needs to be.” This reactive shapeshifting environment functions similarly to ways that Big Data algorithms evolve and present content that caters to our needs and influences our consumption and relationships to our milieu based on the content, people, and services we engage with. Before the World Wide Web was launched to the public domain in 1993, and before it even became dominated by user-generated content around 1999, Novak was able to predict the mechanisms of today’s internet. Unbound by physical limitation, the online networks we interact with function like liquid architecture. They are not only highly dynamic, but also assume an accelerated temporal quality that is linked to the impermanence of non-physical digital infrastructure, emphasizing the come and go of ideas and the structures that support it.

Liquid architecture’s ultra-fluidity takes you somewhere new without travel. It is not the person who processes information, but the architecture that processes the user and regurgitates new information to be reproduced again, constantly morphing without giving the user a moment of stillness. There is no friction between user and environment, and thus, there is an elimination of boundaries. Without boundaries, there is no distinction between here and there, or external and internal. And without these boundaries, there is no space-time for contemplation and action, only absorption. By completely surrendering to the digital, the exterior world becomes interiorized and liminal space disappears, killing the generative possibilities along with it. For the moments that we turn toward screens, we exist disembodied. The psychophysical connection is cut and we are rendered unable to synthesize new ideas out of memories from our physical experience that we were once able to in liminal periods.

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Volume 9, Issue 01
October 17, 2023