Sunday, December 20, 2015

All Aboard the Quantum Train: connecting self, space and time in Seoul’s subway

Abstract for a new paper . . .

The city consists of a collision of relativistic spaces and temporalities that overlap in tension with each other, nowhere more evident than in Seoul’s subway system, where, above ground, urban development space is warped around new stations and new lines, while below, space becomes the 2-3 minutes duration between stops.  For many theorists, this sprawling subway (the largest in the world) is an “empty” time in what Auge calls a “non-place”--a period of empty waiting.  In addition, capital has been quick to exploit these temporal and spatial interstices, with Seoul’s subway stations host to a cacophony of advertising and media.  On the other hand, the subway also contributes to new forms of connection and place-making, possibilities that have been enabled by technological developments of mobile connectivity that extrapolate on digital presence and absence in order to forge new quantum potentialities for human life and sociality.  In order to elaborate on possibilities for connectivity and temporality in Seoul’s subway, two sets of data are utilized.  The first consists of structured observations of smart-phone use in Seoul’s subways over the 2014-2015, with qualitative and quantitative analyses revealing the rhythms of sociality and connection at different times of day for texting, reading and entertainment.  The second looks to Twitter traffic around subway lines from 2014-2015, concentrating on the ways subways connect people to each other and to diverse geographies that may transect the subway, but are in no way confined to it.  What these suggest is, on the one hand, an accommodation to neoliberal imperatives to exploit “non-productive” time for imperatives of production and consumption.  On the other, it considers the subway as the creation of a quantum city where time, space and sociality exist in a state of superposition and indeterminacy.  Within these interstices of space/time lie new possibilities for challenging hegemony.  Above all else, the subway is a technology that helps to articulate what Rainie and Wellmann call the “networked self,” a shifting configuration of social relations and identities that is splayed across metropolitan space and time and enabled by a variety of technologies and mobilities.