Landscapes of Global Capital
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Perhaps we should revisit the question of space-time compression that stems from market-driven races for short-term profit. Few would argue today that the rhythm of business life is changing -- time is compressed, pace has accelerated, and the materiality of distance is shrinking. Change is moving at internet speed!

David Harvey advances the concept of "time-space compression" to signal "processes that so revolutionize the objective qualities of space and time that we are forced to alter, sometimes in quite radical ways, how we represent the world to ourselves." (1989:240). Harvey points out that many of the transportation and communication technologies advanced by capitalist corporations have had the effect of shrinking space. Spatial barriers have been overcome largely through increases in the speed of sending material goods, information, and people. As distance has been overcome, time too becomes compressed. The best-known instance of this is "jet lag" when we travel too rapidly across time zones.

Our social spaces are more and more designed and built by capitalist firms to facilitate greater efficiency of transactions with customers. Wal*Mart, like the large grocery megamarkets it competes against, has worked hard to streamline the purchasing/exiting function, so as not to slow up the transactions that may follow. Soon, we may well see a grocery store like the one in the January 2000 IBM ad. Firms like this will introduce the entire shopping cart barcode scanner. Self-service and greater speed in one move, not to mention the extension of the panoptic capacity of the firm.

Most of our electronic devices are dedicated to speeding things up -- more CPU power can mean more cycles per second, and hence more 'work' and greater productivity. In a world of ever-present efforts at speedup, ephemerality and fragmentation of experience become commonplace. Harvey's concern is that spatial and temporal relations become so destabilized as a result of constant flux that these can provide little in the way of anchoring for social relations and social formations (Harvey, 1989: 238-239). This tension is heightened by the fact that abstract spaces relentlessly peck away at, and replace, places. Though we are loath to romanticize "place," we do agree with Harvey that this historical process draws out "place-bound nostalgias" (1989: 218).

Many of the corporate ads in our database seek to represent space-time compression, either as a product of high technologies, or as a function of globalized business. They depict globalization as a serial montage of landscapes. In the video strings of landscapes that frequently make up these ads, each scene carries roughly the same weight or significance as that which precedes it or that which follows. These landscapes suggest spaces defined by equivalency, bound together by the ad, and by extension, the sponsor. The panoramic version of this landscape style was evident in a 1995 AT&T ad depicting the integration of China into our world system. Time and space appear to dissolve as variables, so that the space of a Chinese peasant can appear to be simultaneous with that of an urban apartment in a North American city because now it's all "one world." The various spaces referred to in this ad are all signified as abstractions -- carefully simulated, over-stylized back drops. Telephony is presented as the means of shrinking and overcoming the barrier of distance. A solo male voice draws out this sentiment in song, "It's all within your reach." And a reassuring male voice-over offers this closing summary: "AT&T. That's your true choice."

In this vision of technologically integrated globalism, AT&T wants less to assert the primacy of space over place, but rather to deny that speed is antithetical to geographical territory. In the AT&T cosmology of globalism, advanced telecommunications do not displace geographically located cultural identities, but instead unify them -- leaving intact the primacy of territory, but overcoming all its limits.

The vision of social relations emoted throughout the AT&T ad is once again colored by a humanistic connotation of spirituality. The music orchestrates a sweet (almost saccharine) version of spiritual fulfillment as rooted in caring personal relations in a world characterized by the global separation of families and kin groups. What goes unsaid here is that these people are likely separated by the dynamics of labor migration prompted by now-global capitalist labor markets. But this does nothing to diminish the AT&T claim that they have deployed the civil technology to reunite that which capitalism stretched asunder.

We have previously dubbed ads like this as legitimation ads because of the way they ideologically promote an institutional system. "AT&T. That's your true choice." "It's all one world."


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Robert Goldman, Stephen Papson, Noah Kersey