the search obsession

what you see is not what you get

The search for love, friends, intimacy or just a thrill has recently taken on the dimension of OCD. Based on a new social code, this behavioural disorder usually consists of five key questions: what's going on? where? why don’t you call? where are you? and even if it's ten o’clock in the morning - are you awake?

Woven into heavy industry, the activity is motivated by manufacturers who exploit the need to be updated in order to manipulate a real time data base for an optimum match between consumers and suppliers. Led by gods like Google, Facebook and Ways, the search engines act like a giant flywheel that determines our rhythm of life, and worst of all - its shallowness. Since this binds us all to catching up and renewing - without missing an opportunity to acquire the last word - this social change commands a significant price in many ways, of architecture in particular.

One of Confucius’ wise sayings was “Life is really simple, but we insist on complicating it”. From personal experience, I know that the tendency to complicate stems from the natural need for excitement.

However, the constant obsession with being updated, even while moving, actually undermines the boundaries of a place, blurring the difference between near and far. Furthermore, in a situation in which the distance factor no longer affects speed, the conventional formula of V = S / T collapses.

And this has an effect on every social framework, starting from school that has lost its exclusivity as a source of imparting knowledge, to the family structure that disintegrates more easily in the face of temptations painfully available on the Net.

The most tangible outcome of this is the loosening of the relationship between society and its space. And in our case - the entry of a new player in the architectural arena, which severs it from its traditional goals of seeking answers to defined questions.

It is no coincidence that the relationship between time, space, mass and energy was the focus of Einstein’s first version of the theory of relativity. Published at the beginning of the 20th century, it attempted to explain difficulties in understanding the light phenomenon. Einstein’s explanation (later changed) was that speed of light is consistent (299,792,458 m/sec) and independent of the relative speed of other bodies. This is not the place to analyze the physical explanation of the phenomenon, which undoubtedly would have been explained differently in the cyber era, and evidently - in 1915, Einstein himself changed his attitude in his General Theory of Relativity, claiming that every mass “distorts” the relationship between space and time, as evidenced by light changing course when influenced by other masses.

The by product of this was that a straight line is not really straight. And in more poetic words - things we see today, we have not seen before, which is what we are now dealing with.

Economist Thomas Robert Malthus had already brought us to a more earthly problem in his late 18th century publication titled: An Essay on the Principle of Population. Malthus argued that while food production grows arithmetically (rising as, population growth is multiple, doubling itself every 25 years.

While one might argue with this sweeping claim (for example, in Germany, where natural growth is negative (because who can think of children when busy with Facebook), it served as a platform for the “Survival of the Fittest” theory, the underlying aspect of Darwinism.

Whether we are talking about “Natural Selection” or “Natural Creation”, the battle for survival has a say, even in Cyber time, and this has a lot to do with architecture.

The act of searching is a fundamental factor in architecture, whereby the explicit stands in opposition to the implicit. That is, what ought to be clear and understandable for orientation, versus what should be left subtle and obscure - for privacy, for instance, or simply in order to ensure that what you see is not what you get.

A fine example of the relationship between implicit and explicit in architecture is seen in the Chu Chi 250 km long tunnel system of the Vietcong, built on three levels, which could be disconnected when necessary. The structure which included air vents camouflaged as termite mounds, and smart techniques to disperse cooking smoke, actually accelerated the entry of the US into the Vietnam War - after the French failed to deal with its sophistication.

And what has this to do with architecture in the cyber era?

Well, Einstein said that only fools repeat the same procedure, expecting to get different results. In light of the sharp social change and the spatial confusion it creates, one should perhaps ask whether it is not preferable to abandon anachronistic thinking in light of the new situation.

Pure logic suggests that key questions in architecture based on paradigms that preceded the communication revolution must be re-examined, particularly in light of the fact that social interactions are no longer place dependent.

Much has been written here (and elsewhere) about the widespread addiction to the smartphone, in public and even in bed, when interest and curiosity about what is happening to others, is more compelling than those beside us.

In a situation where there is a constant search for the unknown, each question has numerous answers. For example, a Google search for the term ‘question’, yields no less than 2,570,000,000 results; while for a question like “the breakdown of the family unit”, something that undoubtedly creates an increased need for more and smaller housing units, one may get only 69,000,000 results.

In a situation where there is already an unbearable shortage of housing, the default solution is an accelerated suburban process that finds expression in high-rise residential buildings with open spaces in-between that are disconnected from the public domain.

This actually empties the urban realm of traditional meaning.

Whether or not they are compatible with the expectations of nostalgic urbanists, urban principles, based on city streets and squares cease to be relevant.
The collapse of social order is not only unique to the twenty-first century, although it is clear to everyone that it’s an integral part of the communications revolution. However, since one may infer that search engines ultimately cause a reduction in open spaces, one could do something about it.

Formulated by Emile Durkheim in the late nineteenth century, the Theory of Labor Division explains the balanced relationship between Organic Solidarity based on vicinity, and Mechanical Solidarity based on affiliation. Regarding our issue, Durkheim's main claim was that when sharp social changes occur, such as when collective consciousness takes over individual consciousness, they may create a state of confusion (“anomie”), whereby the individual is lost and turns to crime, power struggles, and even suicide.

The connection between crime and the internet has reached hitherto unknown proportions in the world, with estimated damages of $ 500 billion a year - something which could have solved the world food shortage, the housing problem, and the boredom prevailing in the Western world.

This is more than slightly reminiscent of the food shortage predicted 117 years ago by Thomas Malthus, when all he wanted was to return home peacefully.