Navigation in a changing world
North is always marked on a map and is taken as a universal constant to allow a consistent method of navigation. Considering how many people actually can’t find north, it’s worth asking: To what extent are our everyday modes of navigation changing, and how does this affect our relationships with our surroundings?
Consider how we orient ourselves in time and space, how we position ourselves in the world, and what is the extent of our universe. As people no longer place themselves within the cosmos but amongst man-made objects, what might be in store for our future methods of navigation, and how might it affect how we see the spaces we inhabit?
Man has always positioned himself in time and space, a moving earth amongst a three dimensional, dynamic, cyclical universe. Sunrise and sunset heralded new days, constellations left and returned to the night sky year after year, as physical reminders not only of the constance and repetition of the earths position in the universe, but our own relationship with time. If the sun dial freed man from looking to the heavens, the clock provided an even larger degree of autonomy, with maps and electric lights then freeing the ordinary man from acknowledging their direction by the universe, the ruling sun, stars and the moon.
North and south, longitude and latitude allowed for travel in any direction from any location. Everyday navigation has since become more radial, movement is either towards centers or away from them, with the significance of locations dimming the further one gets from the centre. There is even the option to transport oneself directly from one centre to another to repeat this process elsewhere. In such conditions, boundaries and peripheries are irrelevant as it is only the marked pathways and defined networks that are of significance to the traveler, going from one place of defined importance to another , with the levels of interest and the ability to navigate waning accordingly the further they stray from set pathways.
We put ourselves further into a two dimensional space amongst static objects, on one flat surface relative to two other flat surfaces; the map of the round city, and that of the face of the clock. With radial navigation on a static map, the maps can be read from any direction and our journey is no less difficult. The destination and current location is all that is required. The further the move from a navigation through space and time; that is to say, a moving earth amongst moving points in space, the likelihood increases of a more static and two dimensional navigation process, all the while remaining abstracted from the tangible lives of most people. Just like constellations that remain places you never reach, or never enter.
What stars will be created to become the new constellations and what heroes will represent them, with tales to be created to remind us of their significance and their relevance to the paths we are choosing.
Monuments and symbols of power and guidance will become the new markers of mans journey through their universe – the city. Just like children were taught to learn the constellations, they will be taught about these new buildings and monuments, and their significance as markers and guides to people journeying within their worlds. Not looking at the streets they are on, but at places that exist but are just beyond their reach.
Travellers needn’t even know how far away they are, their diminished spatial awareness does not allow for understanding dimensions, their one dimensional reasoning does not allow for them to conceive of existing in two places at once, they are merely situations at intersections of radians. This multitude of circular rotations and positioning will appear like cogs of a machine, moving in unison to keep them moving along their predefined paths.
A New North?
The concept of a universal north becomes more localised as all information becomes diluted. Science, religion, and business become fragmented through increased specialisation. As people take more control of their bespoke lifestyles, they begin to wish to create their own personal gods and the significance of North as a quide becomes abstracted, and is more of a symbol of a level of significance in ones orientation around a specific object. North becomes the beacon that heralds the entrance- the main gate.
The North face is a facade, the premier mark of the significance of a building and is adopted individually by every building to wear. It takes the position of pride on the clock face. 12 o’clock is the face of the building or monument. As structures change and are demolished or rebuilt, premier faces may change their orientation, so structures that have stood the test of time will be more frequently used as reference points and pathways based on these constellations and will become more used.
What results is a map that is only relevant to urban life, and is only valid in given time periods. As buildings change, information becomes outdated, and maps need to be upgraded with old versions being destroyed and forgotten. It also results in a perception of space that is fixed entirely in the present with no relationship to understanding movement in the past or the future. It is convenient for metro-centric users as it requires them to merely look at what is around them and walk towards or away. When they travel to other hubs, they do not learn street names, discover new places or record their journeys, they look to dictated monuments and navigate amongst them, visiting only places that have already identified themselves in accordance with their guiding constellations.
Without the visual reminder of time passing, we are cut off from our relationship with the past as something that can- and indeed does to an extent return again to face us. What we are left with is a linear timeline which clearly differentiates between the past and the future, supporting the assumption that events of the past will stay in the past and not return again to face us in the future. According to Baudrillard,
“We are unable to relive duration that has been destroyed. We can only think of it as an abstract line devoid of all thickness… Memories are motionless and the more securely they are fixed in space the sounder they are.”
What happens to our level of responsibility towards the future if we lose our ability to relate the past with it. History and memory becomes a mere lesson as opposed to an ingredient in the future structure of the earth when in fact decomposed forests are soil, demolished buildings are foundations, displaced populations and refugees are settlers pioneers and future lawmakers.
It is now widely accepted that astrology is a false science, and it is viewed by many as absurd that what is in the stars can predict the future. However, while acknowledging that the starlight we see is actually from events occurring far into the past- from stars that do not even exist any more, might add weight to the absurdity of this notion, it does exactly the opposite, as examining this prehistoric activity actually does help scientists to predict behaviour within our own galaxy.
The ancients in their naivety were still in tune with a very important truth. They could see, and fully sensed the significance of the repetitive cycle of the universe. That the sky that they looked to for guidance left and returned and along with the anticipation, was the past returning with instructions for the future. There was a principle of being aware of that connection with the past and the future, that actions had repercussions, that were not immediately effected, but became part of a cycle set in motion that would return.
The constellations show us entering a new age, we are aware that the universe is expanding, even the constellations that revisit us show changes and are not quite the same when they come back round again. And this is exactly how our positions should be mapped, as part of a repetitive flux which exists in a state of both newness and familiarity.
It is imperative that memory is not abandoned in order to understand the present or the future. Time present and time past are indeed contained in time future. Contrary to what Eliot says, time can be redeemable by that very same idea, with time future contained in time past. Perhaps there is a space to not just build on the past, but to allow for the past to be revisited.
Time present and time past
Are both perhaps present in time future,
And time future contained in time past.
If all time is eternally present
All time is unredeemable.
What might have been is an abstraction
Remaining a perpetual possibility
Only in a world of speculation.
What might have been and what has been
Point to one end, which is always present.
…human kind Cannot bear very much reality.
Time past and time future
What might have been and what has been
Point to one end, which is always present.
T.S. Eliot , Burnt Norton