Imagine we are travelling at a speed close to the speed of light. In physics, this means that our perception of time would, in turn, make progress seem shorter than it would to someone travelling at a slower speed. Furthermore, because we are taking less time to cover a vast amount of ground, distance will also shrink in proportion to ‘normal’ Earth time.
We can see correlations between Einstein’s theory of relativity and Virilio’s theory of the technologies of speed. According to Virilio, our sense of space is distorted when technologies of speed perform at higher velocities; like the computer processor that takes a split second to solve complex algorithms, while our brains take much longer procedures. It is also the rate of progress in technological innovation that contributes to Virilio’s anxieties.
Using Virilio’s theory, we can thus deduce that our world is split up into categories of speed in terms of technological advances. Technology must then be taken to be “the agent of social change” (Andrew & Potts, 2003) an idea derived from technological determinism, which like Virilio’s theory, is “linked to the idea of progress” (Andrew & Potts, 2003). Progress is measured in terms of speed of movement (as determined by technological innovations), and the mass production of new technology. It is only when these technologies are distributed on a mass scale that they are constitutive of mass social change. Take the Internet for example. In the U.S, 80% of citizens are connected to the Internet, thus making the entire nation predominantly wired to this form of technology. However, a country such as the Congo has a mere 2% of citizens who are connected, making their nation almost void of Internet activity. So, according to technological determinism, with the widespread accessibility of the Internet came social change; one that allowed people to communicate over wide distances and to access information at any time and place. The opposite can be assumed in a place like the Congo.
We can thus deduce that the Congo and the U.S are separated in terms of categories of speed. The U.S is operating on a much faster velocity, given the dominant forms of technology that are widespread. When looked at from the perspective of a citizen of the Congo, the U.S would seem to have travelled at a faster speed than that of its own country. The U.S would appear to be further ahead in history; time would have travelled faster.
What does this mean for space though? Virilio asserts that the speeding up of technology results in a “pollution of distances” (Andrew & Potts, 2003). The problem for Virilio is that technological advances in mass communication distort our conception of geographical space. Boundaries are delineated by the ability of technology to supersede them, thus bridging the gap between locations that are geographically distant. The geographical environment is permeated by networks, which dissolve the space and speed up the time between different locations. A nation without this form of infrastructure has a more vast conception of space – networks do not permeate the geographical environment, and in turn shrink our perception of it.
The space-time continuum must be understood relative to technological innovation. Virilio’s theory allows for us to determine social progress in terms of the perception of space and of time that dominates a particular culture. From the relative perspective of someone living without technological advances, the U.S could thus be seen as a nation travelling closer to the speed of light.