The rise of the multilinear existence 20. April 2009, 14:02

Multilinear Existence

Contemporary human being exists inherently in several environments simultaneously; one’s personality is being visible in multiple environments and channels at the same time. This information about oneself is available with or without one’s awareness or intention. On the other hand, different media environments and interaction methods create social spaces where one can observe the activity of others, taking place both in non-physical and physical worlds.

Today’s digital media environments are under constant change; continuously updating and changing media contents and elements, and their complex visual, textual and associative relationships form ever-changing unique patterns for endless interpretation. Thus the interpretation of one’s status-message, photo or blog entry can vary depending on the other contents that are visible simultaneously in the same context. Different types of narrative patterns become intermingled in this huge dynamic jigsaw puzzle, in which every piece can change in form, style, meaning and function.

Multiplicity of emerging personal digital narratives

Consequently, the identity of an individual is constructed, maintained and developed simultaneously in several socially orientated environments. The representation of one’s identity depends on the particular environment and its functional dimensions since different environments serve different purposes as social realities. An individual’s existence and identity becomes visible through observable and accessible linear or nonlinear narratives that exists as fragments or concisely constructed storylines depending on the given environment (e.g. Google search results, Twitter status stream, Facebook activity history, photo blog). The context of a narrative affects its meanings and possible interpretations.

All the public and private digitized material deriving from various sources (e.g. one’s profile in Facebook’s profile information, Google search results, Twitter’s micro-blog entries, blog entries, the list of material borrowed from the public library) can and could potentially be used to observe an individual’s existence and activities. Digitized information enables the (re)constructing of concise, comprehensible narratives about an individual. When a person is leaving traces in several digital domains simultaneously, her personality has multiple instances and forms of existence at the same time. Consequently, a person can use these emerging narratives as channels for self-expression.

With all this in mind, I will propose the concept of multilinear existence which means that an individual becomes visible to others and herself through multiple, linear and nonlinear narratives which exists simultaneously in various dynamic environments. An individual can be seen as a nexus of a parallel yet distinguishable emerging narratives; through these narratives she can be seen as a nexus for various instances of her personality and identity. Multilinear existence is layered existence, consisting of interconnected intrinsic narrative elements that exist both in physical and non-physical environments. Through multilinear existence, unique patterns of human behavior and social practices will emerge. We must understand the meaning, value and importance of this new form of human existence as it substantially affects our future way of living.

The effects of reconfigured existence

Multilinearity of existence will affect to basic needs and possibilities of personal expression; it will have an effect on sociocultural behavior, structures and manifestations of the whole society. We must be able to evaluate and analyze the environments and channels of existence in order to analyze the essence and influence of multilinear existence. Furthermore, multilinear existence will affect the design of new artifacts in virtual worlds as well as in the real world. As the importance of non-physical, digital realms increases in ways never seen before, the role of the design of these environments thrives as well. Developers and designers are constantly affecting the mental processes of the human being relative to introspection, social orientation, social awareness and social behavior. At the moment, new unique methods of engagement and technologies of interaction are being designed, developed and tested. Different methods of co-design and co-creation are utilized to let the people actively participate to the development of new products, services and environments. All in all, multidisciplinary design teams will define and design the experience of multilinearity in co-operation with the ordinary people.

Thus I’ll suggest and emphasize that today and in the future designers are not just designing applications, services, products or devices; designers are also designing future users, customers, clients, their models of behavior and expanded mode of existence – the future human being with a multilinear existence. In the future, the design of virtual environments will have more and more impact on an individual’s experience of reality as a whole. Designers have to be aware of the values affecting their design choices and solutions in general. The influences of design patterns fluctuate back and forth from the physical world to the non-physical environments and vice versa.


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