26 Sep How You Became a Riparian Citizen

Do you remember the moment when you checked out an online video for the first time? Chances are you don’t, but it was a pretty defining moment in your life. At that moment, you stepped into a stream of endless information. Without realizing it, you closed the gap between yourself and the world…

We Will All, Only, Be Here

“We are not seeing an ‘end of history’, but we are seeing an end of geography” (1). French cultural theorist Paul Virilio wrote this in 2005, the same year in which Web 2.0 showed its enormous potential with the birth of YouTube. The unthinkable had happened: man had created a platform for audiovisual products that defied space and time. Every video could, potentially, be shared with everyone, everywhere, right now. The information bomb had been detonated.

As a consequence, more information became available than at any other point in history. Furthermore, that information could also be retrieved more quickly and easily. You did not need to go to the library anymore to read about the Renaissance (which, of course, we’d all love to do); you did not need to go to the Louvre to see the Mona Lisa; you did not even need to go to your friend in America in order to speak to him face-to-face. Everything could now be done from behind a monitor in your bedroom. This idea of a spaceless now was perfectly exemplified in old internet commercials. Take a look at the following MCI Network commercial from 1994. It serves as a perfect representation of how our information society works: “There will be no more there. We will all, only, be here”.

The Riparian Citizen

This constant here and now has become very common in our everyday lives and we do not realize how much it has fragmented our world. On your way to work you’ll probably check your mail, watch some new music videos by your favourite artist, chat with your friends and share your thoughts on Twitter or Facebook. All in a time frame of ten minutes. Don’t you think that is absolutely amazing? Probably not. We have become what David Berry calls Riparian Citizens (2): very good managers of massive data streams. We have become so used to data processing in the past few years, that we are now perfectly capable of handling it in crazy amounts in our day-to-day lives.

Video occupies an important place in this massive spreading of information, simply because it is the best way to spread information. It is easier for the human brain to absorb visual information rather than written information. You can probably vividly recall the images from your favourite films, while struggling to remember the exact lines spoken by the actors. In 2004, scientists from the MIT discovered that “the human brain can process entire images that the eye sees for as little as 13 milliseconds”.

Aside from the fact that visual information is easier for the human brain to process, the format of a video is also ideal for spreading knowledge. People nowadays like to get their information straight away, and in bite size. We, Riparian Citizens, are used to quick answers and solutions. We don’t read entire manuals to understand something anymore; if we have a problem, we’ll Google it. The same goes for research results. We don’t want to read more than sixty pages to understand a certain phenomenon; we want to understand it as quickly as possible. Video can help us with this, as its visual form is ideal for explaining complex matter in a simple and quick way.

We live in a world that is extremely fast-paced, but it doesn’t exhaust us. Rather, we have become used to it and wouldn’t want it any other way. However, we need the right tools to help us navigate this hyperreal, spaceless and timeless world of ours. In that regard, videos are just what the doctor ordered.

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  1. Berry, David. The Philosophy of Software: Code and Mediation in the Digital Age.Palgrave Macmillan, 2011.
  2. Virilio, Paul. The Information Bomb. Vol. 10. Verso, 2005.