“Shot by a security camera
You can’t watch your own image
And also look yourself in the eye”
–Arcade Fire, “Black Mirror” (2007)
Technology has created a new place for us in the twenty-first century. According to one French thinker, Marc Auge, we spend a vast majority of our days less in specific places and more in non-place. We travel through non-place all the time. It’s the everyday oddness that welcomes and surrounds us.
So much of our identities are stored in distant databases and on plastic cards we keep safe in our wallets. Who we truly are is becoming blurred as computers continue to dominate our lives.
We meet our identities at the ATM, which tells us how much we’re worth. But the same machine that greets me, greets Joe and Mary and Bob. We’re engaging in our own automated experience each time we need a little cash, completing our transactions from a distance, in the comfort of our local branch.
On page 103 of his book, Introduction to an Anthropology of Supermodernity (1995), Auge describes what happens when we enter non-place:
What he is confronted with, finally, is an image of himself, but in truth it is a pretty strange image. The only face to be seen, the only voice to be heard, in the silent dialogue he holds with the landscape-text addressed to him along with others, are his own: the face and voice of a solitude made all the more baffling by the fact that it echoes millions of others.
Auge conveys here the depths of our inner disconnect. It’s like that feeling you get when you return from a long trip—you sense that you’ve been gone. This is how we always feel, like we’re returning home from far away, even though we never left.
But returning is not enough—even when we’re home we’re not at home with where we are. Of course, some quality time online can alleviate our uneasiness. In the end, though, we remain strangers to ourselves, encountering our identities in the non-place that exists everywhere.
Perhaps I’ll visit a friendly teller at my bank tomorrow, instead of hitting the machine. This will serve as my partial protest.