Research Critique 2- The Third Space

The third space has been compared, by Randall Packer, to “a space of invention and possibility, like lucid dreaming, where participants might assume their avatar identities, engage in post-human, cyborgian manifestations, or perhaps reinvent the world in the image of their own making”.

The third space refers simply to the “networked-ness” of relationships – be they in the form of interpersonal relationships or virtually collaborative performances. To “assumer avatar identities” and “reinvent the world in the image of their own making” is, in less bombastic language, simply called imagination. It is human nature to imagine – in fact humans are distinguished from other sentient creatures by our ability to project unto the future, a process that would be impossible without imagination. So to suggest that it’s “post-human” and “cyborgian” is sensationalist at best, and at worst, simply inaccurate.

We don’t behave the way we are around friends when we are around our in-laws; we don’t behave the way we are around our spouse when we are around our boss; we don’t even behave the way we are on Facebook when we are on LinkedIn. These are all different ways in which we “assume an avatar identity”, and herein lies the criticism of Packer’s article, because the inhibition of the third space should be viewed not in absolute terms, but along a spectrum.

Of course there have been cases of people living their lives on Second Life at the expense of their real lives to tragic consequences, but these are at the extreme end of the spectrum and should be viewed as what they are: anomalies.

Reading Packer’s article, with his apocalyptic declarations that “the laws of the known world have been all but abandoned in the third space”, one gets a foreboding sense of pessimism; that society today is at a sorry state of evolution. But i would argue that to live in the third space, to have the ability to “inhibit a swath of networked space, no longer constrained to the singularity of a single moment or place” should be viewed instead as a great enabler that has allowed us to collapse previously insurmountable boundaries

As i type this in my room, i am looking at my boyfriend who’s in Taiwan via Skype while messages are constantly coming in on Whatsapp from friends scattered around the world. Just the other day, I “attended” Jay Chou’s concert despite being at home in my pajamas because it seemed everyone at that concert were posting live stories on Instagram.

In that sense, I would align my views more closely with those of Maria Chatzichristodoulo as her article on Cyberformance paints the “third space” in a more optimistic light.

Written in 2012, she is prescient in her prediction that streaming platforms will “become more ubiquitous and embedded within our daily lives”, and that there will be greater “use of Skype, VOIP and other internet telephony protocols to converse with family and friends”. In fact, the most popular messaging apps today (WeChat, Line, Whatsapp) all have call functions and they have proliferated to the degree that we take the closeness and intimacy that this third space provides for granted.

From having to wait for a myriad number of factors to converge before we could meet a loved one residing overseas, we are now complaining when the Facetime connection is poor. The extent to which we are able to touch, feel and connect with another person remotely is so embedded that it is no longer possible to imagine a world without it.

Where her prediction falls short is with regard to performances moving towards a virtual world. Performances have been increasingly consumed online, but a live performance being streamed online is still not the same as a performance that exists solely in and for the virtual world.

And as for collaborating with one another remotely in the third space, it is telling that Paul Sermon’s Telematic Dreaming does not sound dated despite it having been conducted 25 years ago. While the technology has so greatly advanced that anybody can easily do it now – for our micro project 3, Kai Ting and I made a symmetrical drawing despite being in different locations – the demand for such performances have not kept up.

That’s because performances are emotive experiences after all, and the feel of a live performance will never, in my opinion, be exceeded by that of a virtual one. The knowledge that “very single moment of a theatrical experience is entwined with the loss of a specific and unique relational experience that cannot be preserved or reproduced exactly so” is irreplaceable.

So I am, in Packer’s words, a “digital native”, and I am proud of it. But i reject his notion that we “cannot separate the real and the virtual”. The third space is indeed “an integral fact of everyday life in the 21st century”, but just because we embrace it does not mean we are consumed by it.


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