Visual Design
+ Marketing

The following is an excerpt from Automated, my Master of Arts thesis for the graphic design program at San Diego State University, 2016.



          The streets were filled with moving parts: mopeds whizzing in and out of traffic, vibrations of the tuk-tuk’s roaring engine and glistening bodies walking in this direction and that. The people within this area employed various speeds. Some hurriedly passing through towing heavy workbags, some swaying back and forth as they hawked goods, others inching at a snail’s pace as they peered curiously about their surroundings. Nightfall had arrived. With it brought cooler weather, iridescent glows of street signage and floating mosquitos. Despite the drop in temperature, the heat was clocking in at a humid seventy-five degrees Fahrenheit. As a native southern Californian traveling in the metropolitan city of Bangkok, Thailand, I was a foreigner to the heat, the sounds and the sights—all of which were new to me. Yet, still, I felt an uncanny sense that I had been there before.

          The setting described is the Ratchaprasong intersection of the Erawan Shrine where just five months prior a bomb explosion killed upwards of 20 people and caused injury to 125 (“Bomb toll revised,” 2015). Figure 1 displays my first-hand perspective in a photograph captured during my travels.

Figure 1. Ratchaprasong intersection in Bangkok, Thailand, where the deadly bombing took place. Photograph from author’s travels. (2016, February)

The reason I felt I had been there before was because of the breaking news that bombarded my smartphone across multiple applications on the day of and days following the bombing. The developing stories offered graphic imagery, security footage depicting the blast, bird’s-eye view maps of the crime scene, quotes from local police and sketches of possible suspects. In Figure 2, the New York Times website’s video section reveals the charred and damaged street intersection that I would later find myself, walking through the cleaned up scene with an odd sense of familiarity as if it was not my first time, though it actually was. Clamoring to get the breaking news out, articles had been posted online by news organizations with varying death tolls as information on deaths would continue to arrive, pushing the toll higher and higher, and back down after mistaken counts (Figure 3).

Figure 2. Screenshot of the New York Times website’s video section displaying coverage of the Bangkok bombing of August 2015. Adapted from Times Video: Bangkok explosion caught on camera [Video webpage]. (2015, August 17).

Figure 3. Smartphone screenshot of Google search for news on Bangkok bombing, revealing varying death tolls as news organizations received and reported information as it arrived on the day of the bombing. Adapted from Google search: bangkok news [Search query]. (2015, August 17).

All of this was masterfully laid out and hyperlinked, keeping me emotionally involved until the next update arrived on my screen that I could then eagerly consume. Being programmed with my personal preferences, my phone’s News app would consistently feed stories in genres and subject matter tailored to my interests, thus providing me with any and all angles on the incident that it could possibly offer. Receiving my news via the Internet on both my smartphone and laptop allowed me to experience the Bangkok bombing in an intensely multi-layered and in-depth manner, despite not ever leaving my house. In the moments that I would jump from hyperlink to hyperlink for more information on the bombing, my behavior verged on obsession, only to be encouraged by the Internet’s facilitation of web travel with its use of emotion-inducing elements mixed with reality. I was functioning primarily in the ‘space of flows,’ or cyberspace, something quite different from the ‘space of place.’

          The ‘space of flows’ is an abstracted concept of space and time as it concerns the digital age, introduced in the late 1980s by renowned theorist on the information society and networked systems, Manuel Castells. He describes distant locales as brought together through shared functions and a global simultaneity via linked technologies (Castells, 2001). Cultural critic Steven Shaviro (2003) explains, “The space of flows has been freed from the constraints of duration: in consequence, distance is abolished, and communication between any two points is instantaneous. Proximity is no longer determined by geographical location” (p. 131). Interestingly, it is also argued that the city itself is to be approached in the same manner—“not as a substantive entity” but as “a nexus of flows” in which it is “the site of circulation and exchange” (Taylor & Harris, 2005, p. 113). Standing in the busy intersection of the Erawan Shrine, I experienced the space of flows in a heightened sense, two-fold in terms of the ghosts of webpages past imprinted on my mind and by finding myself in a globalized city that had emerged only in relation to its networked connections.

          Through experiences as such, I have learned that the commonplace act of peering at a web-accessible screen is akin to stepping ‘through the looking glass.’ Similar to the story of Alice who experiences a new world of fantasy on the other side of a mirror in Lewis Carroll’s (1871) Through the Looking-Glass, and What Alice Found There, an Internet user is flooded with information immediately upon accessing the web, whether or not it is factual or of value to him or her. A distant reality is mirrored in the virtuality of the Internet, which is then mirrored in the user’s reality, just as was the case with my experience in Bangkok. Somewhere within the space of flows, a distortion of reality occurs, magnifying emotions and shortening distances. Hierarchies are modified and meanings become altered.