Digital Heterotopia

What do we supposed to do when we are waiting in public transportation stop?  Stare the subway tracks? Count the number of cars passing on the street? Interact with other people?  For a few minutes we indubitably, and unconscious, start to scan the environment. But we get bored too quickly.  We also certainly avoid getting in contact with ‘strange’ people. According to Simmel (1903), the metropolitan man cultivates an appearance of indifferent in order to psychologically and socially protect the self from the masses of strangers – the blasé attitude.

We do not know what to do because of train stations, bus stops, and airports terminals are transient places. They have no particular meaning to ourselves – they are non-places. The transitory condition of transportation nodes in the modern life can be considered heterotopia (Foucault, 1984). Heterotopia is a particular space that relates to all the other, but at the same time contradicts these relations and are very different from all other sites that they reflect. It is a place that encompasses other meanings (cultural, historical, emotional) than the present physical space – a virtual place.

Mobile media transforms and add another layer to these places. Lemos (2010) noted that by adding a digital layer to the physical, an informational territory takes form. It blends with the physical space, giving new meaning to that site.

“Mobile technologies and networks create new urban ecologies that redefine place and our sense of the city, changing our everyday experience of places” (Lemos, p. 412).

Informational territories are very transient and unstable – it can abruptly shift very easily. In the case of transportation nodes, we cannot help ourselves in our blasé attitude, so we turn our attention. We immerse ourselves in the digital territory seeking for a familiar face, a friendly environment that means something. In doing so, we attempt to give new meanings to the place where we are in a never-ending process.

Once a physical node for physical movement, airport terminal, subway stations and bus stops acquire new meanings. No longer the boring place where we used to wait alone, but a place that connects to every other place – physically and virtually.