Representing Global Capital
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Karl Marx, writing in the Grundrisse in 1857, anticipated how the contradictions of Capital could spur on the "annihilation of space by time." He wrote,

While capital ...must strive to tear down every exchange and conquer the whole earth for its markets, it strives on the other side to annihilate this space with time." (538-539)

Throughout the pages that comprise this project, we have repeatedly referred to matters of speed - from the speed of production to speed of consumption and gratification to the speed of information flows. Certainly, advertising has done its best to equate gains in speed with general notions of progress - how often have you heard an ad refer to gaining time because of the use of a particular product? In a world seemingly packed to capacity with things to do and places to be, the technology of speed promises to deliver us to a better place.

Breaking speed-barriers is not a new obsession. Speed of movement not only signals our capacity for overcoming the fixity of geographical distance (space), it also has come to suggest the possibility for increased efficiency and productivity. Since its inception, capitalism has measured value in terms of time inputs since the amount of labor required to produce a commodity could most easily be measured in units of time. So it stands to reason that our 'common-sense' understanding of technologies of speed connote a future liberation from material scarcity. In contemporary society, where time itself has become perceived as a scarce resource, appeals to instantaneity and immediacy are quite seductive. Has speed annihilated spatial distance? Paul Virilio writes that one of the most revolutionary transformations occurring today "is the invention of a perspective of real time.

Real time now prevails above both real space and the geosphere. The primacy of real time, of immediacy, over and above space and surface is a fait accompli and ushers a new epoch. Something nicely conjured up in a (French) advertisement praising cellularphones with the words: "Planet Earth has never been this small". This is a very dramatic moment in our relation with the world and for our vision of the world. (Virilio, 1995)

Virilio sees a dark side to the hegemony of speed. Sometimes referred to as time-space compression, sometimes as deterritorialization, this process threatens/promises to transform not only the ways in which we work and do business, but also the ways in which we live our private lives. How do corporate ads represent speed is in our lives?

Here it is important once again to distinguish between what actually goes on in the world and how it is represented, or at least leave open the question of how these are related. Our own position at present is that while time-space compression and deterritorialization are real processes, they produce neither homogeneous time nor homogeneous space. Though this is the first impression that one might have after viewing the commercials in our database, closer inspection of these ads reveals a far more contradictory set of representations. Indeed, while "faster" is everywhere presumed to be the goal in these commercials, the technologies of speed and commodification are no less obsessed with repetition - so much so that latent meanings of speed in the ads suggest that efforts at eclipsing space have placed us in an infinite loop. Perhaps this is part of what Virilio means when he says that hyperspeed induces a "loss of orientation."

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© Copyright 1998-2003
Robert Goldman, Stephen Papson, Noah Kersey