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Communications & Control by J.R. Swartz
Social & Cultural Elements of Communications

Cultural Space & Distance
Cultural space and distance refer to the way in which an individual views the space around him, and his physical distance in relation to other humans and objects. This phenomenon relates both to communications and to ownership.

We only have to look at most of the major wars fought throughout human history to see the importance of space & distance perceptions in ownership. The German rationalization "der Lebensraum" says it all. The much-quoted meaning for this word in American classrooms is "living space." But, to the Germans, it also means "opportunity, one’s chance, no obstacle, stepping stone." Allied intelligence analysts in 1936 would have been remiss had they not included this additional meaning in their reports, as a full understanding of this word may have telegraphed the intentions of Nazi Germany in time to prevent World War II.

Political and technical language concerning cultural space and distance play an important role in any new communications medium or system, including CMC, when trying to communicate information about construction projects, territorial rights and any other political or technical issues. The way that this communications is handled can start a war or complete a construction project.

Proxemics, on the other hand, is "the study of the cultural, behavioral, and sociological aspects of spatial distances between individuals," and in this respect, there is no question that the relationship between the individuals communicating face-to-face vs. on-line will be different. But how so? For instance, will we see a reduction in conflicts usually brought on by envy, jealousy or competition that may be diluted by distance? Or would the number of conflicts remain, but the nature of the conflicts change?

Group affiliations are certain to change. Face-to-face, one is limited in the number of groups with which he can associate. After all, there are only so many meetings that an individual is physically able to attend, and there is only so far that one can travel on a regular basis. But CMC offers an almost limitless number of potential affiliations scattered around the globe. Not only can the individual increase the number of his affiliations, he can also increasingly become more selective, narrowing his area of focus within a given affiliation, to allow greater attention to a specific area of interest. Or, the affiliations themselves may have a very narrow focus. His options grow wider, but his thinking may face increasing fragmentation as he attempts to satisfy all of his interests that could not be satisfied in person. Further, as Georg Simmel (Simmel 1955) says, "Human nature does not allow the individual to be tied to another by one thread alone." So as the individual’s affiliations increase, there then comes increasing demands from these affiliations to connect additional threads.

Next Section: Time

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