The Visualisation of Time and Space

In an episode of the long-running British science-fiction series Doctor Who, the Doctor explains how time travel is possible: “People assume that time is a strict progression of cause to effect, but actually from a non-linear, non-subjective viewpoint – it’s more like a big ball of wibbly wobbly… time-y wimey… stuff.”

The transition from the long-held visualisation of history as a continuous timeline towards a more flexible approach to the relationship between time and space is a key feature of network theory.

Network theorists implicitly reject the compartmentalised approach to organising the social activities of everyday life.  To understand the changes wrought by advancements in global telecommunication networks and the instantaneous exploration of online information through hypertext, Castells introduced the concepts space of flows and timeless time.

The space of flows (the circulation of information within a network) has an impact on our understanding and perceptions of time. Social practices are seen to occur simultaneously in the network, due to the compression of time and the blurring of linear sequencing (Castells 2004, 36).

The idea of time travel is a reflection of the human desire to overcome boundaries of space by freely exploring various points in history. It makes sense then that a popular choice for time travellers is the telephone box (see Bill and Ted’s Excellent Adventure and Doctor Who), a telecommunication device that compresses geographical divides and allowing instantaneous communication despite time differences. We are all time travellers in the era of the network society.

Further Reading:

Castells, Manuel (2004) ‘Informationalism, networks, and the network society: a theoretical blueprint’ in The Network Society: a cross-cultural perspective, Cheltenham: Edward Elgar, pp. 3-45

Article by Stephen Hawking on the possibilities of time travel

A website that explores the theory of relativity in relation time and space

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