As the ART weekend at Ardtornish approaches, I expect others may share my experience of finding the theme Shared Space cropping up and seemingly applicable to more and more of whatever we do or think about. Here are a few thoughts on this prompted from my own past week...
From Will Boyd-Wallis's interview on Farming Today about the Scottish Wildcat and the issues of how Will and his colleagues negotiate with local inhabitants the right of that species to continue its existence in the terrain it shares with grouse and with feral cats, I look at the themes covered in a typical week on Farming Today.
Almost always, there is a direct or indirect implication of shared space as part of the issue - eg, currently listed topics include commoning, GM crops and milk prices. These spread from the local and direct issue of common grazing, to the wider environmental, nutritional and economic picture of the GM debate and farming economics.
In my opinion, as a non-farming town dweller, Farming Today is one of the best things on the BBC. It is informative, shocking and fascinating in turns, always well produced and topical; and the picture it paints of farming is very often far from the happy and environmentally focused picture of the consensual support to the native Wildcat which WIll's interview covered. http://www.bbc.co.uk/podcasts/series/farming
Thinking of the the virtual sense of shared space, which Bill Thompson will be reflecting on at the weekend, it's an interesting concurrence to see the newly launched website 'The Space' which Bill's been involved with, and which John Peel's widow was speaking about on the Today programme last week: http://thespace.org/ .
Radio is itself a shared space with which we are very familiar, albeit one with different features and affordances from other media which use electronic communications (eg, TV, online chat, personal communication sites such as Facebook). In a sense, the voice on the radio inhabits the physical space in my kitchen, and inhabits my mind. If someone doesn't like that sound in the kitchen, or what it is doing to their mind (or to my lack of attention to what they are saying), they turn off the radio.
Now that many radio and TV programmes include the facility for real-time call-in or tweet/email comment during broadcast, and after-broadcast interaction with the journalist or presenter or in an online discussion thread, the one-way dissemination model of broadcasting has changed and is becoming more participatory and shared. At the same time, now that one can listen or watch in one's own time, not at the moment of transmission, an element of the shared experience has gone (as Alex Ferguson laments with the staggered timing of football games, with some reason; but then, the space and time sharing for the live broadcast, and thus the revenue source and constituency, are now not local or in one timezone, as they were in the olden days, so it depends entirely on one's horizons).
Still, by and large, there is still a community of people next day at the office who all watched the same TV programme last night, whether a talent show or a football match, and a (much smaller, middle aged and older, community) who heard the same radio programme, and we can talk about it, as a shared experience. Physically we were in various locations, at home or perhaps in our cars, when we listened; socially, when we next meet, we value that we 'shared' some experience.
Connecting again the aspects of imaginative space and how this can be mediated either through virtual or by physical instruments, there was a discussion recently in Click, one of Bill's BBC radio programmes (http://www.bbc.co.uk/podcasts/series/digitalp), on the relative characteristics and merits of ebooks and e-publishing, on the one hand, and traditional paper books - for distributing and reading novels, for example - on the other hand.
On the imagination side of that, it was an interesting coincidence to hear also on another Radio 4 programme, Saturday Live (the 5th May 2012 edition) http://www.bbc.co.uk/podcasts/series/satlive , a British woman, Mary Hobson, who had learned Russian and become a leading translator from Russian to English after, in her 60s, she was in hospital for a few days and had immersed herself mentally in the world of War and Peace, which her daughter brought her in hospital as a paperback to pass the time; when she finished the book and left hospital, she described how she felt all the people she knew had emigrated - the characters in the book had left, and she remained with the down to earth physical surroundings in UK. She had, mentally and emotionally, been in a different space from where she was physically, to such an extent she changed her life and became an expert in Russian, and has just had published, in her eighties, a new audio book of her translation of Pushkin's Eugene Onegin.
On the environmental side, I don't know how the play-off stands between saving of resources, energy and greenhouse emissions, when one balances the reduction in paper and transporting of paper books and documents, when these are replaced by electronic, screen-only copies, as against the consumption and creation of waste from the disposal of last year's computers and smart phones, and the energy used to run the ever growing computer servers required to run the web and cloud computing.
Aspects of these kind of issues about the distributed versus the physically present are not new, but the picture continues to evolve and they press further to the centre of most of our lives, whereas previously perhaps they were more marginal and most of us could go through life without being aware of them. Largely that seems to be down to the growth in communications technology and in particular the internet and digital revolution, which have changed and continue to shape how we organise and manage all aspects of our life as individuals, communities and a global human family. On this theme, there is an interesting Secret history of social networking from the 1960s up to 2010, presented by Rory Cellan Jones, http://www.bbc.co.uk/podcasts/series/shsn .
In the 19th Century, early correspondence courses meant people could study without having to go physically to college; by the 1980s, distance learning using radio, audio-cassettes, TV, video, phone tutorials, self-study texts and correspondence assignments, combined with occasional face-to-face tutorial meetings, was well established; and experimental study programmes with live satellite video and text link-ups across the world were underway (eg, a Commonwealth of Learning pilot developing a marine ecology course including partners from as far afield as Nova Scotia and the Maldives); distance learning courses began using 'virtual learning environments' for students and tutors to exchange documents and their ideas in real time and otherwise. But those were still, by and large, minority pursuits, and outside the mainstream. Now, we all expect to be able to access the latest and fullest information online, maybe on the train through our phone, and we expect any organisation of any size to have an effective, up-to-date and responsive online presence. And the distinction between 'on campus' and 'distance' modes of study has in many cases disappeared, as many institutions and students expect to utilise both in a mix and match approach.
The space we all share, if we define it as the planet earth, is limited and is not getting bigger. At the same time, there are going to be very many more of us in the coming years; and most of us are also going to want to have more and to consume more (I don't mean someone living in a cottage in Argyllshire here; we may well become much more energy efficient and less consuming; I mean the billions in sub-saharan Africa and Asia in the coming years, for whom land, water, food and energy are going to be pressing issues; who will further be expecting increasing levels of healthcare, education, financial prosperity; and participation in all that we who are able to turn on a computer or smart phone and read this blog entry take for granted.
How, at this moment and through the coming century, are we going to negotiate this shared space, so that life in the 21st Century is looked back on as one of relative comfort and not one of collapse against whatever indicators we may identify as measures of the well-being and health of human beings and of the environment we inhabit and share with all other known lifeforms?