The Third Space

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We are now distributed across space and time. We essentially inhabit a swath of networked space, no longer constrained to the singularity of a single moment or place. Whether we are conscious of this idea or not – tethered as we are to our devices – it is a fact: we live in the third space.

It’s not exactly a new idea, it can most likely be traced back to the origins of time, such as when smoke signals were dispersed across the horizon and communication links were established connecting the far and wide. Nowadays, our sense of being and presence is scattered throughout the third space. We are everywhere.

Now you may be wondering what exactly is the third space. Here is a definition:

The third space represents the fusion of the physical (first space) and the remote (second space) into a third space that can be inhabited by remote users simultaneously or asynchronously.

It’s not that the third space represents a novel departure from other forms of telephony (the telephone is in fact the third space), rather, it is the pervasiveness of distributed space and the degree and myriad of ways in which we are constantly connected. And from this ubiquitous state of shared presence we have come to inhabit an entirely new way of seeing via a fracturing of perception. The window through which we view the world is multi-layered, composited, and non-linearily re-arranged. The order of things has been substantially randomized, whether it is a volley of emails, or perhaps a multi-threaded chat space, our sense of reality is fragmented and juxtaposed: a remix of relationships, images, and memories. It is the all-at-once concept of the abstract expressionists, in which everything is everywhere and the canvas became a total field of possibilities. The third space is a fluid matrix of potentiality and realizable connections to the most far-reaching remoteness.

The third space is perhaps akin to the fourth dimension, a hyperspace where spatial trajectories have no boundaries, where temporal relations are amorphous, where wormholes reveal pathways that are instantaneous and geographically dispersed. The third space is a multifarious web of connections for all who inhabit and explore and share its dimensions. The laws of the known world have been all but abandoned in the third space: it is a space of invention and possibility, like lucid dreaming, where participants might assume their avatar identities, engage in post-human, cyborgian manifestations, or perhaps reinvent the world in the image of their own making.

But most startling is the fact that the third space is simply an integral fact of everyday life in the 21st century. The digital natives have never known another reality, they are the standard bearers of this brave new world. They define its meaning and its complexity because it is for them instinctive and natural. And that is perhaps the most disconcerting notion of the third space: that it can become the new normal. When we can no longer separate the real and the virtual (the post real), when the third space is just the way things are, well, that in sum is the current state of evolution.

The third space has become the new order of what it means to be human. And if you find that unsettling, well, as Ken Kesey said: you’re either on or you’re off the bus.