Imagine for a moment that you are on a satellite, further out and beyond all actual
satellites; you can see ’planet earth’ from a distance and, unusually for someone with
only peaceful intentions, you are equipped with the kind of technology which allows
you to see the colours of people’s eyes and the numbers on their number plates. You
can see all the movement and turn in to all the communication that is going on.
Furthest out are the satellites, then aeroplanes, the long haul between London and
Tokyo and the hop from San Salvador to Guatemala City. Some of this is people
moving, some of it is physical trade, some is media broadcasting. There are faxes, e-
mail, film-distribution networks, financial flows and transactions. Look in closer and
there are ships and trains, steam trains slogging laboriously up hills somewhere in
Asia. Look in closer still and there are lorries and cars and buses, and on down further,
somewhere in sub-Saharan Africa, there’s a woman - amongst many women - on foot,
who still spends hours a day collecting water.
Now I want to make one simple point here, and that is about what one might call the
power geometry of it all; the power geometry of time-space compression. For
different social groups, and different individuals, are placed in very distinct ways in
relation to these flows and interconnections. This point concerns not merely the issue
of who moves and who doesn’t, although that is an important element of it; it is also
about power in relation to the flows and the movement. Different social groups have
distinct relationships to this anyway differentiated mobility: some people are more in
charge of it than others; some initiate flows and movement, others don’t; some are
more on the receiving-end of it than others; some are effectively imprisoned by it.
In a sense at the end of all the spectra are those who are both doing the moving and
the communicating and who are in some way in a position of control in relation to it -
the jet-setters, the ones sending and receiving the faces and the e-mail, holding the
international conference calls, the ones distributing films, controlling the news,
organizing the investments and the international currency transactions. These are the
groups who are really in a sense in charge of time-space compression, who care really
use it and turn it to advantage, whose power and influence it very definitely increases.
On its more prosaic fringes this group probably includes a fair number of western
academics and journalists - those, in other words, who write most about it.
But there are also groups who are also doing a lot of physical moving, but who are not
’in charge’ of the process in the same way at all. The refugees from El Salvador or
Guatemala and the undocumented migrant workers from Michoacan in Mexico,
crowding into Tijuana to make a perhaps fatal dash for it across the border into the US
to grab a chance of a new life. Here he experience of movement, and indeed of a
confusing plurality of cultures, is very different. And there are those from India,
Pakistan, Bangladesh, the Caribbean, who come half way round the world only to get
held up in an interrogation room at Heathrow.
Or - a different case again- there are those who are simply on the receiving end of
time-space compression. The pensioner in a bed-sit in any inner city in this country,
eating British working-class-style fish and chips from a Chinese take-away, watching
a US film on a Japanese television; and not daring to go out after dark. And anyway
the public transport’s been cut.
Or - one final example to illustrate a different kind of complexity - there are the
people who live in the favelas of Rio, who know global football like the back of their
hand, and have produced some of its players; who have contributed massively to
global music, who gave up the samba and produced the lambada that everyone was
dancing to last year in the clubs of Paris and London; and who have never, or hardly
ever, been to downtown Rio. At one level they have been tremendous contributors to
what we call time-space compression; and at another level they are imprisoned in it.