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Time-Space Compression

  Time-space compression is a term used by geographers to indicate the apparent compression of geographic space by faster means of transport and communication. At one level, this is an obvious idea and most people must be aware that a few centuries ago the fastest means of transport covered only a few miles per hour. Great technical progress 150 years ago made it possible to envisage a voyage around the world in only 80 days. Today, the same journey can be made in fewer hours. This idea has a long history in geography as a reduction in the ‘friction’ of distance. However, the idea of time-space compression indicates more than an even reduction in friction in all directions because most transport media are confined to routes which vary in speed (between motorways and lanes, main-line railways and branch lines) and which often vary in cost in a way which relates to speed. So the compression is uneven over space and different people have different degrees of access to fast travel.

The complexity is increased by the expanding role of electronic communication, from telegraph to computer networks. Here the speed is so great that space has apparently collapsed. But different media have very different properties, some broadcasting to millions, others available to one or a few, some one way and others two way. Again, a key difference is in access to the media: not for nothing was the portable phone the status symbol of the 1980s. The difference is not just between individuals but between organizations: the international cable and satellite networks used by financial institutions were highly significant in changing the world economy, including changing the form of uneven development and the international division of labour. A particular feature has been the emergence of world cities, such as New York, London and Tokyo, as the major centres of financial power in an economy where prices and exchange rates vary instantaneously in response to electronic messages. PS



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