A Place to Dwell In

“You move through a space and you dwell in a place,” Sennett told CityLab’s Ian Klaus last year. “It’s a distinction for me that has to do with speed and automobiles. When people start driving at a certain speed, they lose awareness of where they are. […] Where this gets reflected in urbanism is the more we create spaces where people move fast, the less they understand about what those spaces are. At about 28 or 30 mph people, moving through an urban environment stop being in a place and are in space instead.” * * Andrew Small, “Why Speed Kills Cities” (source). Much obliged to Bix for bringing the article to my attention.

And so we have to ask – if we slow down enough, would we find the place worth dwelling in?

This question of speed in urbanism extends to the web. We jump from link to link and scroll through endless feeds. The speed limit? None in sight. So we ask a similar question as above – if we add friction to these web experiences, would we find the platforms worth dwelling in?

It is a question that Cal Newport asks in his New Yorker piece “Can 'Indie' Social Media Save Us?” (source). His answer is one of caution:

Despite its advantages, however, I suspect that the IndieWeb will not succeed in replacing existing social-media platforms at their current scale. For one thing, the IndieWeb lacks the carefully engineered addictiveness that helped fuel the rise of services like Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram. This addictiveness has kept people returning to their devices even when they know there are better uses for their time; remove the addiction, and you might lose the users.

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Social media has reshaped our culture, and this has convinced us that it is fundamentally appealing. Strip away its most manipulative elements, though, and we may find that it’s less rewarding than it seems.

Speed is part of the appeal. A thrill comes over as you move through the space, wondering what photo or article could appear around the bend. However, as Richard Sennett said, with that speed comes a lack of understanding. Ignorance is bliss. But once that veil is lifted, will the knowledge be even more blissful?

So then a different question forms – how do we create a web worth dwelling in? Many are working towards this end, bringing forth ideas that increase meaningful friction, slow the experience down, and foster spaces for thoughtfully dwelling on the web.

May it be a question we continue to dwell on.