Idensity®

The term ‘Idensity®’ is a conceptual tool for researching and developing space in the information/communication age.

In the contradictory dynamics of today’s urban environment, with its antithetical tendencies of concentration and decentralisation, of functional mix and segregation, traditional terms of spatial distinction lose their validity. In this fragmented urban landscape, categories like ‘functional zoning’ (living, working, recreation), ‘centre’ versus ‘periphery,’ ‘landscape’ versus ‘city’ are becoming obsolete.

The polarity between private and public space is disintegrating. Public and private environments are becoming intermingled and blurring in the fusion of media and ‘real’ space. We see this in the hybrid spaces of the publicly broadcasted (inverted) privacies of reality TV and the ‘Big Brothers,’ in the media presence of war intruding on our living rooms and in the private communication space of mobile telephony within public urban space.

Density
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Identity
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Idensity®

To understand the fusions, this superimposition and the interactions of media and ‘real’ architectural/urban spaces, the new term ‘idensity®’ replaces the obsolete conventional terms of spatial distinction. It does not differentiate between media networks and urban/ architectural environments and it offers an integrated model for dealing with ‘hybrid’ (media and ‘real’) space in the information/communication age.

This model can incorporate the widest range of (future) spaces:
from the “tele-feeder unit at your neighbourhood’s laundrette”, a public infrastructure for teleshopping, telelearning or teledemocracy, see ‘Public Media Urban Interfaces,’ to new ‘club’ facilities, providing the space for ‘hybrid’ (media and ‘real’ space) events on a larger urban scale, see ‘Bridge Clubs,’ and the networked ‘Mobile Containers,’ see for example, “ReBoot-NRW.NL,” a networked boat with 80 participants on board, descending the Rhine in 1999, connecting the network and the nodes (harbour-cities) of the river with media networks (Internet/ TV), or the combined media and ‘real’ space of your bank, presenting itself in its telebanking application with the corporate identity of its ‘real’ architectural building while fusing in the representational entry of its headquarters a high-touch architectural space with the media spaces of its net presence, in the form of monitors, projections, etc. (just visit your bank).

‘Idensity®’ integrates the concept of ‘density’ (density of connections, density of physical and digital infrastructure, density of communication-spaces, etc.) with the concept of ‘identity’ (image policies, urban brands, etc). It can therefore, for example, help in understanding the processes of spatial segregation and distinction between urban fragments that have qualities of global performance and that can be seen as part of a ‘global urban condition’ and those other, sometimes neighbouring (parts of) cities that lose in relevance and disappear from (global) mental maps. ‘Idensity®’ can be implemented as an operative tool to steer the processes of urban development.

But it is not a mere summation of the two concepts of ‘density’ and ‘identity.’ It is rather a fusion, as it inverts ‘identity,’ linking it to communication: ‘identity’ being defined by connectivity.
Therefore, it does not just address the ‘clear-cut identity, the particularity, the individuality of the traditional places or cites (like centres and monuments)’ but also the layered ‘idensity®’ of the ‘non-lieux’ [‘non-places’] of today’s generic cities, which are to be found especially in the realms of mobility and consumption (airports, hotels, shopping malls, motorway rest areas, etc). It does not refer only to object-qualities but describes a field of superimposed communication spaces: the branded space of the chain-shop, the symbolic space of the traditional building the shop is housed in, the media space of teleshopping, the communication space of the GSM…

This new term is implemented to describe and analyse the communication spaces of the coming ‘network society,’ a society not so much based on the traditional, relatively static structures of belonging in the family, the corporation or the state, but on flexible, dynamic, ever-changing networks of exchange and communication. It carries the discussion on the urban from the morphological level of a formal description of the network patterns of the ‘network city’ to a more integrated structural understanding of the networks of spaces for social communication.

The term ‘Idensity®’ is a conceptual tool for researching and developing space in the information/communication age.

Inversion
of
Privacy

Idensity®
of the
Urbanite

According to the traditional (bourgeois) concept of privacy, identity is based on private individuality. It is, however, important to be aware of the historicity of such a concept. As John Lucaks writes “Domesticity, privacy, comfort, the concept of the home and of the family [..] are, literally, principal achievements of the Bourgeois Age.”[1] The notion of the “privy chamber” emerged in 17th century English literature at the same time as new private physical spaces came into being, when the introduction of the corridor layout in English interiors of the 17th century enabled the development of “private quarters.” But the expression “privy chamber” is also used metaphorically for the soul. The “privy chamber” is the container of (private) identity.

In the last year of the 20th century, “Big Brother,” the notorious reality-soap (with its networked container) was launched in Holland and was cloned and copied all over the planet. “Big Brother” shocked people profoundly and became a prime topic of debate in the media, from popular talk shows to scholarly journals (“Is this the End of Our Civilization?”).

What was shocking in “Big Brother” was the broadcasting (the inversion) of privacy. The participants of the soap defined their identity not in the “privy chamber” but in the public networked environment of the broadcasting-container. The ENDEMOL soap was an interactive environment (the television audience had democratic rights, influencing the sequels). The captives in the container/networks witnessed their existence in the “Real Virtuality”[2] of their media presence. They experienced their identity within the ‘idensities’ of the (communication) channels.

In the same year, 1999, a big campaign was launched in Holland. On most billboards in major and minor cities, men and women, youngsters and the elderly – in short, the average Dutch person – were declaring “ik ben Ben.” This was not the mass expression of an identity crisis, but an advertising campaign for the launch of the new GSM company called “Ben,” targeting the public at large. The slogan was based on a simple play on words, “ben” meaning in Dutch “I am” and “Ben” being a common man’s name as well as the name of the mobile phone company.

But what makes this slogan such an interesting expression of our times is its definition of identity (I am: Ik ben) as connectivity (“Ben” being the network provider) with the ‘idensity®’ of the urbanite being defined as the density of the (superimposed media/“real”) communication spaces.

In February 2000 it was announced: “Ik Ben een jaar”.

This advertising slogan expresses in a very direct way nothing other than a new view of subjectivity and identity. Villém Flusser, the philosopher of communication, would write:

“The new image of man looks roughly like this: we have to imagine a network of interhuman relations, a ‘field of intersubjective relations.’ The strands of this web must be conceived as channels through which information (ideas, feelings, intentions and knowledge, etc.) flows. These strands get temporarily knotted and form what we call ‘human subjects.’ The totality of the threads constitutes the concrete sphere of life and the knots are abstract extrapolations. […] The density of the webs of interhuman relations differs from place to place within the network. The greater the density, the more ‘concrete’ the relations. These dense points form wave troughs in the field […]The wave troughs exert an ‘attractive’ force on the surrounding field (pulling it into their gravitational field) so that more and more interhuman relations are drawn in from the periphery. […] These wave troughs shall be called ‘cities’.” [3]

The term ‘idensity®’ is a conceptual tool for researching and developing (social) space in the information/communication age.

[1] Lucaks, John, “The Bourgeois Interior”, in American Scholar, Vol.39, No. 4, Autumn 1970, pp. 620-21.
[2] Castells, Manuel (1996) The Rise of the Network Society, Massachusetts: Blackwell Publishers, pp. 327-375.
[3] Flusser, Vilém, “Die Stadt als Wellental in der Bilderflut”, in: Flusser, Vilém, Nachgeschichten. Essays, Vorträge, Glossen; Düsseldorf 1990; English translation in part by Stephen Cox (“The City as a Wave-trough in the Flood of Images”, in ARCH+ 111, March 1992, p. 84) and in part by Fiona Greenwood.

Idensity®

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Identity
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Private
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Density
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Public