Miniaturization, Miniatures and the Digital

Sheenagh Pietrobruno (bio)
Fatih University, Istanbul

The miniature, or microcomputer, is the absolute culmination of the gadget; the transformation of the tool, with its human trace, into a mechanical extension into space.
- Susan Stewart, On Longing: Narratives of the Miniature, the Gigantic, the Souvenir, the Collection


The process of miniaturization and the generation of miniatures, which are integral facets of the digital, yield affective responses. As users encounter virtual miniaturization and miniatures, they experience sensations of intimacy, possession or control with respect to the digital data obtained through networked computer screens. These effects are characteristic of the way that the human body determines to a large extent what constitutes a technique of miniaturization and the dimension of a miniature. The sensations of intimacy, possession or control are also evoked by both the practice of miniaturization and the fashioning of miniatures that mark the rise of the printing press, photography and television. Although new media provide distinct forms of miniaturization and miniatures, this progression toward diminution is rooted in earlier technologies. Various key aspects of new media are outlined: the miniaturization of information and space as well as the generation of virtual miniatures, of which Google Earth serves as a case study.


Miniaturization and the production of miniatures are processes of the digital. They are attainable not only through software but also through technological advancements that have diminished the size of material networked devices. As users encounter miniaturization and miniatures, they experience sensations of intimacy with, possession of, or control over the digital data that they obtain through the networked computer screen of portable devices. These affective responses are grounded in the ways that phenomena of scale can be both defined and determined by the human body. Not necessarily unique to new media, these sensations can also be elicited through the process of diminution and the generation of miniatures that characterize previous technologies. The digital is tied to miniaturization and the creation of miniatures in a manner that both distinguishes it and binds it to earlier communications media. This research adds to a burgeoning field of inquiry into new media that deals with the interrelation between small technology and affective aspects of ordinary experience (Hawk et al., 2008).

To illustrate the ways digital miniaturization and miniatures can evoke affective responses, this paper unfolds in various stages. First, miniaturization and the miniature are each defined to illustrate their differences. At the same time, a description is provided of the ways miniaturization and the miniature are both bound up with the metaphorical and the physical, which are not as a matter of course completely exclusive since the metaphorical and the corporeal intertwine. Second, the history of communications technology is uncovered as partly a history of miniaturization and the creation of miniatures. Furthermore, various case studies of miniatures produced by technologies are presented to depict the way that miniatures prior to new media can also awaken sensations of intimacy, possession or control that are ultimately linked to the relation of the miniature to the body. Third, the claim is made that the progression toward miniaturization and the generation of miniatures facilitated through new media continues a process that is rooted in prior technologies but also produces miniaturization and miniatures that are distinct to new technologies. Three specific aspects of the digital and diminution – the compression of information, the miniaturization of space and the production of virtual miniatures – are elucidated to illustrate the ways processes of reduction may also bring forth sensations of intimacy and closeness with the data accessed through the network, as well as feelings of control over and possession of this information. The interpretation of miniaturization of space, which is the most extensive of the three areas, integrates the philosophy of Gaston Bachelard and Maurice Merleau-Ponty as well as the ideas of new media theorist Alexander Galloway. The final section, on the creation of virtual miniatures, explores Google Earth as an example of a digital miniature. This article both draws from and expands on earlier research conducted on miniaturization and new media (Pietrobruno, 2006, 2007).

Miniaturization and Miniatures: Distinctions and Similarities

Before we analyze the ways that the processes of reduction can invoke these affective sensations, background information describing the distinction and connection between miniaturization and the miniature needs to be considered. Miniaturization can be defined as a trend in the fabrication of technological devices and products toward providing smaller sizes to minimize volume and weight. Through miniaturization, items become more transportable, storable and convenient. Miniaturization relates to the human body in the sense that this manufacturing practice renders devices physically easier to use, carry and store. The miniature, on the other hand, is a small-scale replica or variation of an object, person or place. As an intrinsic factor in technological change, miniaturization yields miniatures. Given that the human physique has provided our fundamental “instrument” for considering and determining scale, the standard for what is judged a miniature is also decided in the context of our actual corporeal dimension (Stewart, 1993, p. 46) Hence a miniature is a version of an originally larger inanimate or living object duplicated in a size small enough that we can hold it in our hands while viewing it in its entirety with a mere glance. Whereas miniatures offer drastically scaled-down reproductions, hence distorted versions of the actual world, miniaturization is the process of rendering objects smaller, lighter and more user-friendly. In its elaboration of miniaturization and miniatures, this article does not include nanotechnology, whose scope is infinitesimally smaller than that of the miniature. To provide an example of the scale of nanotechnology from the perspective of the human body, fifty nanometers is two thousand times smaller than a human hair (Veltman, 2006, p. 25).

The terms miniature and miniaturization converge in their shared characteristic of being metaphors. The impulse to conceptualize in metaphors is an integral aspect of language. The linguist George Lakoff and the philosopher Mark Johnson argue on linguistic grounds that metaphors underlie most of our ordinary conceptual systems, such as thought processes and the nature of experiences (Lakoff & Johnson, 1980, p. 4). Generally, we are unaware of how deeply they structure our conceptual universe. Metaphors, for one, enable us to forge space. The visual field, for instance, is transformed into a receptacle through the word “field” itself as well as through the prepositions we use to speak about it: expressions such as “to have something in sight” or “out of sight” give the impression that we can enter the visual space that holds the objects we see within it (p. 30). Metaphorical language, according to Lakoff and Johnson, also structure the physical world by rendering it distinct and confined even when it may not consist of clear borders. They write, “Human purposes typically require us to impose artificial boundaries that make physical phenomena discrete just as we are: entities bounded by surface” (p. 25). Metaphors, therefore, enable us to fashion and demarcate spatial dimensions of scale by drawing disinctions between the small and the large through terms such as “miniature,” “miniaturization,” and “Lillipution” as well as “giant” and “gigantic.”

The idea that a miniature can be simultaneously a physical object and a metaphor appears to be contradictory. As metaphors are based in the physical world, most notably the human body, they are, nonetheless, inextricability linked to the material and the concrete. The “miniature” can therefore be viewed as an actual object that takes shape and is conceived through the metaphorical use of language. Paul Ricoeur identifies, for instance, the role that the body plays in our understanding of metaphor. In light of his perspective that a “picturing function” underlies metaphorical meaning, Ricoeur proposes that the expression “figure of speech” is rooted in our perception of the body as figure. He equates the ways the human body shifts its positions and the ways it twists and turns with how metaphors alter accepted meanings through the specific ways they change and twist words and phrases. Through figures of speech such as metaphors, language becomes furnished with a “quasi bodily externalization” that renders abstract concepts more material and physical (Ricoeur, 1978). Lakoff and Johnson have further noted how metaphor is rooted in the tangible. The language of metaphors arises and is shaped into meaning through physical experience governed by the dictates of culture (Lakoff & Johnson 1980). Metaphors are grounded in the material, specifically the body.

The History of Technology: Miniaturization and Miniatures

The enormous storage capacity of today’s computers enables an unprecedented compression of massive amounts of information. Be that as it may, techniques of diminution are not unique to new media. The history of communication technology unfolds in some measure as a history of miniaturization. Even though miniaturization does not automatically produce miniatures, advancements in diminution have from time to time turned out miniatures as physically and metaphorically scalable objects. A historical perspective of the book, photograph and television reveals the correlation between miniaturization and miniatures. In addition, case studies of miniatures as products of technology – the fifteenth-century miniature book and the nineteenth-century daguerreotype – emphasize the interrelation between the miniature, the body and sensations of intimacy, possession or control. This historical overview is imperative, as practices found in preceding technologies are furthered by the trend toward miniaturization and the fashioning of miniatures that is advanced by new media.

The printed book can be regarded as one of the first products of miniaturization. In Notre-Dame of Paris, Victor Hugo argues that architecture, the once “great book of mankind” whose buildings capture a thousand stories, was supplanted in the fifteenth century by the paper book of Johannes Gutenberg’s printing press (Hugo, 1978, p. 189). Hugo extols the accessibility and transportability of the new communication medium in proclaiming, “A book is so soon made, it costs so little, and it can travel so far!” (p. 200). Since the emergence of the printing press, books have been produced in a range of sizes, whose variations of scale are nonetheless always reductive in relation to architecture. In fifteenth-century Europe, for instance, they were often folios with large print that required being read on stands or lecterns, whereas in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, smaller books, such as the octavo or the even smaller duo decimo (12mo format) or the sextodecimo (16mo format), were deemed more desirable, as their readers could transport them more easily with relative comfort (Briggs & Burke, 2005, pp. 47, 54). Chap-books, which offered cheaper and simpler versions of more expensive, literary or technical printed material (Altick, 2002, p. 347; Briggs & Burke, 2005, p. 17), were small. They were pocket-sized booklets, usually printed on a single sheet that was folded into a book comprised of eight, twelve, eighteen or twenty-four pages. These popular books that could be readily transported were distributed by chapmen, or peddlers, throughout early modern Europe (roughly 1450 to 1800) and even in some areas in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries (Briggs & Burke, 2005, p. 17). The portability of books has continued into this century with pocket paperbacks, whose extensive production and circulation began in 1939, despite their appearance in the American market a century before the onset of the Second World War (French, 1964, pp. 255, 256).

An effect of the passage from manuscript to print culture was the invention of the miniature book, which developed in fifteenth-century Europe. Books were miniaturized basically to restore commitment to the laborious and detailed craftsmanship that had marked the creation of manuscripts. With the rise of printing in the fifteenth century, artists devised new ways to stress the importance of the earlier medium of manuscripts (Grebe, 2006, p. 49). Printing tiny books required considerable artistry and mastery of craft on the part of both the printer and the binder that evoked the virtuosity of manuscript makers (Stewart, 1993, p. 39). How the miniature book was used and what key texts it miniaturized illustrate the way it incorporates the physical body, as well as potentially elicits sensations of intimacy and possession. This book’s status as miniature was determined by the scale of the body: measuring about two square inches or less, it could be easily held in the palm of the hand. Miniature books also adorned the body: often designed for the merchant princes of Florence and Venice, these precious books were cast in gold and worn hanging from belts by a charm or rings (p. 39). Calendars, almanacs, books of hours and Bibles were the preferred texts to be miniaturized. Each of these genres encompasses a vast terrain of information that could be captured within a tiny form easily grasped in the hand and captured by the eye. In the example of the miniature Bible, immensity is enclosed within a drastically reduced material size. The Bible, which for some stands as the work of greatest value, also encloses the world in both its past and future (p. 40). Owners of miniature Bibles, who could seize them in their hands or wear them on their bodies, were supposed to have felt near to the grandeur of the Bible through this corporeal intimacy. As the human body is gigantic in relation to the miniature book, clutching it with the hand might also lead to the feeling of possessing its immenseness.

Photography’s history is characterized by a successive diminution in the volume and weight of cameras. The replacement of materials, according to William J. Mitchell (2004, p. 64), brought about their miniaturization. Since the dimension of the camera was dictated primarily by the size of the negative, the substitution in 1888 of celluloid for glass by George Eastman, the founder of Kodak, accorded a certain gradation of miniaturization (p. 65). Although Kodak turned the camera into a paramount portable gadget, the transition from the wet plate process to dry plates in the 1870s had formerly disencumbered photographic equipment. The dry plate process permitted photographers to employ prepared plates that conserved their sensitivity over a prolonged period and that could be developed an extensive time after their exposure. These prepared plates, which were sold in packages, freed photographers from the strenuous task of transporting the darkroom and tripod with them. The plates, which were loaded into the camera, became smaller, with quarter plates, for instance, being three and one-quarter square inches (Newhall, 1938, p. 59). Cameras, which metamorphosed into handheld devices, had become miniatures (p. 57).

The photograph itself can be considered a miniature representation of the slice of the world it captures. As miniatures, photographs do not afford mirror images but rather misrepresentations of “reality” through their radical compression of actual dimension. Various historical moments affirm the ways photos have been fashioned into minute images. Daguerreotypes, for instance, created by Louis Daguerre in 1939, were always miniatures and frequently enveloped in lockets (Newhall, 1938, p. 42). Ambrotypes, which became fashionable in the 1850s, succeeded the daguerreotype, as they were cheaper to make. Ambrotypes again produced small representations, specifically portraits (p. 47). The wet plate technique established in the 1850s drastically altered portrait photography by rendering it possible to produce a limitless number of prints from a singular negative, which were generally made on albumen paper (Mirzoeff, 2004, p. 67). Small portraits, known as carte-de-visite, which were fastened to cards approximately only two by three inches, were miniatures. The snapshot, a product of Eastman’s Kodak camera, the Brownie, originating in 1900, again reproduced the world in miniature. Snapshots, which come in standard shapes, either rectangular or square, and a size that is small enough to be placed in a pocket or wallet, further offer minuscule representations of the world.

The rise of the daguerreotype and photography in general led to the demise of miniature portraiture as an art and commercial practice. The small size of photographs is an element of this medium’s history, particularly in regards to a wider aesthetics of representation, namely that of painting. In the first decades of the advancement of photography, this new technology literally displaced the painting of miniature portraits, or limnings, an art form that essentially vanished ( Benjamin, 1978, p. 246; Benjamin, 1999, p. 6; Clarke, 1997, p. 21). Consequently, photography, in particular the daguerreotype, continued the tradition of miniature portraiture within the dimension of another medium. Just as miniature portraiture can be associated with the body as well as with intimacy and possession, so the early forms of photography, which evoke the portrait miniature painting that they replaced, can be viewed in a similar light. From the Renaissance to the eighteenth century, miniatures were either worn as ornaments or displayed within oval or rectangular frames and hung on walls. The latter, known as cabinet miniatures, were slightly larger than those worn on the person (Stewart, 1993, pp. 125-126). Susan Stewart proposes that both types of miniatures apprehended the image of the face, of the other, enabling its beholders to possess it (p. 126). Miniatures, especially those worn as jewelry such as amulets, lockets, bracelets or rings, also embodied intimacy in the sense that the face of the person miniaturized in ornament was donned close to the body of the wearer. The interlaced impressions of intimacy and possession connoted by portrait miniatures are rooted in their link to the corporeal, which Stewarts states is an integral part of the miniature. She writes, “As early as the 1560’s, it seems, miniatures had passed from the manuscript to the cabinet to the body” (p. 126). Often fashioned as portrait miniatures wrapped in lockets, daguerreotypes recall the jeweled miniature paintings that preceded photography. Through the daguerreotype’s summoning of portrait miniatures as bodily ornaments, these early photographs also embody intimacy and possession.

The commercial launching of television in 1948 miniaturized cinema. Various cultural critics have commented on the way that the “small screen” offered a miniaturized version of cinematic images. In an interview with Neil Postman, Camille Paglia, for instance, claims, “If you go back to the Fifties, when movies lost their cultural centrality to TV, you’ll see that the great sacred images -- the huge, cold images of cinema -- were being miniaturized, familiarized and domesticated by the television screen” (Postman & Paglia, 1999, p. 298). Edmund Carpenter put forward in 1957 that television’s minuteness scaled down its content from the great narratives and gigantic landscapes of the cinema to spectacles that could fit only a few characters at a time. In his “The New Languages,” Carpenter asserts, “TV is a tiny box into which people are crowded and must live; film gives us the wide world. With its huge screen, film is perfectly suited for social drama, Civil War panoramas, the sea, land erosion, Cecil B. DeMille spectaculars. In contrast, the TV screen has room for two, at the most three faces, comfortably” (1957, p. 167). The television screen of the 1950s, which was approximately ten to twelve inches wide, was adjusted to the interior surroundings of the family house (Friedberg, 2009, p. 175). In contrast to the cinematic screen, the television set was a comparatively mobile entertainment apparatus that could be moved around the house and fitted within the domestic milieu. Lynn Spigel’s writings on television and its impact on the postwar American home demonstrate how this medium was decisive in the remodeling of the domestic realm of the 1950s. TV’s essential position in the family home is elucidated, for instance, in the way that it served as a stand-in for the hearth. Families came together around the television set as they had once huddled around the fireplace (Spigel, 1992). Viewers today are conceivably watching television on sets that are considerably larger then those of the 1950s, as witnessed by the commercial success of widescreens. Notwithstanding this development, contemporary television screens are undergoing a coinciding shrinkage. Researchers are also devising them to be littler and lighter than ever: in 2007 Sony reported their prototype of a two and one-half inch diagonal, paper-thin, ultraflexible television screen that can be held in the palm of the hand or worn on the wrist (Organic TFT on plastic films and organic El driving the world’s first full-color display, 2007).

Miniaturization, Computers and the Internet

Miniaturization is a key player in the history of the computer. The first computers, such as the ENIAC built in 1945, measured hundreds of cubic meters, took up the space of a very large room and consumed power equivalent to hundreds of modern personal computers (Veltman, 2006, p. 4). Advances in the technology of integrated circuits, or microchips, enabled computers to become much smaller and yet more powerful than previous models. That said, supercomputers, such as IBM’s BluGene/L (2005) and Roadrunner (2008) are massive, measuring hundreds of cubic meters. The supercomputers of this century are huge, but their storing capacity far exceeds the earlier designs of comparable dimensions, such as that of the ENIAC. They can also be smaller, such as a Cray supercomputer, which has a storage capacity of manifold terrabytes and is generally roughly ten cubic meters (Veltman, 2006, p. 4).

Notwithstanding the magnitude of supercomputers, computers available to individual users have considerably diminished in mass. According to Janet Abbate, the first model of small computer to be widely used throughout the research community at the start of the 1960s was the minicomputer. This version enabled independent research groups to own and manage their computers. The even smaller and less expensive microcomputer was available in the 1970s. These microcomputers were coined “personal computers” since they were cheap enough to be bought by individual users. The surge in small, locally operated computers by teams of researchers and in due course individuals precipitated the expansion of networks and consequently of the Internet (Abbate, 2000, p. 186; Hawk et al., 2008, p. xiv). Computers and the Internet have coupled in the past two decades, producing a formidable communication medium.

Progress in microprocessing has furthered radical diminution in the size of computer chips, resulting in an increase in miniaturization, in relation to computers and the Internet, that assumes various shapes. First, through the Internet and its Web (World Wide Web) application, enormous amounts of compressed data can be disseminated and made available. The Internet is a global network of interconnected computers employing the TCP/IP protocol, whereas the Web is an application constructed on top of the Internet that enables the interlinking of hypertext documents made available through the Internet. Second, a decrease in the magnitude of computer chips has minimized the size of the gadgets that can be operated to reach the Internet: laptops, mini-laptops, cell phones, and palmtop computers, or personal digital assistants (PDAs). Kim H. Veltman notes, “The rapid development of microprocessors since 1971 has brought computers to the desktop, then to portables, to the laptops, the notebook, notepad, smartpad, table PC and more recently to handheld devices such a the Palm Pilot and the Treo” (2006, 24). Today’s handheld laptops, for instance, can be very small, measuring approximately seven and one-half inches in width. Third, information circulated on the Internet and the Web is commonly accessed by users on the scaled-down screens of small portable networked devices. As screen size decreases, books, photographs, television shows, videos and films are accessed in distinctly miniaturized formats. The rising miniaturization of forms of technology absorbed through the digital media remediates them in terms of scale. Remediation is defined by Jay David Bolter and Richard Grusin (2000, p. 273) as the way new media reshape previous types of media. This digitally based decrease in dimension advances the process of miniaturization that has been associated with the history of the book, the photograph and television. With computers, the dividing line between these prior media is being gradually undermined, as they can all be accessed through the same medium, that of the digital screen (Friedberg, 2009, p. 3). Handheld computers, combined with the Internet, continue a process of diminution that underlies earlier technologies, whose distinctions are currently being eroded through their integration within digital technology.

The miniaturization of information through computers and on the Internet is connected to integrated circuits (microchips) and to small gadgets with minimized screens. These tangible forms of reduction permit users to encounter the space of the Internet as miniaturized and to apprehend particular data made available via the Web as miniatures. As a result, with computers and the Internet, miniaturization and miniatures again intertwine. Each of these facets -- the miniaturization of information, the miniaturization of space and the production of miniatures -- is interpreted in terms of the Internet and its Web application to further elucidate the ways that the digital and diminution may evoke the sensations of intimacy, possession or control.

The first element to consider is the miniaturization of information disseminated via the Internet and the Web. Although the amount of information transmitted online is immense, this vast quantity is so substantially minimized in scale and weight as to enable it to be effortlessly accessed on the networked screen of a small portable device. The information transmitted through the Internet and the Web is not only colossal but continually multiplying. Veltman provides detailed documentation of the size of the Internet. On the Internet, an approximate 1.4 billion gigabytes of information were produced in 1999. According to Veltman, in July 2000, Cyveillance, which is a world leader in cyber intelligence, declared that every day the Internet increases by 7 million pages. Furthermore, they contend that in 2000 the Internet had exceeded 2.1 billion pages. Various companies, such as Intelliseek and BrightPlanet, claim that the assessment of the size of the Internet often includes only the surface web and thus does not take into consideration the deep web, which encompasses all the databases and intranet documentation not available through simple Web pages. If the full scope of the Internet is taken into consideration, Intelliseek and BrightPlanet assert, it includes 550 billion online documents (Veltman, 2006, p. xi). As these figures date back a few years, the Internet has expanded since then. The emergence of video-sharing services in 2005, for instance, has further multiplied the scale of documentation. As of April 2008, YouTube, for example, hosted 85 million videos, a figure that is increasing rapidly (Burgess & Green, 2009, p. 2).

The Miniaturization of Space

The second aspect to take into account is the miniaturization of space. The advent of small-tech, mobile, networked devices that enable users to access the Internet through mini-screens has advanced the process of miniaturization. The rise in the number of transistors on computer chips equips the electronic devices that have computer chips inside -- laptops, cell phones, and handheld PDAs -- to be more powerful while rendering them even smaller and more compact. This access to potentially sweeping amounts of information through the miniscule screens of small-tech gadgets miniaturizes the space from which this data is ascertained. Enclosed within the scaled-down sphere of the digital screen is a massive amount of global information disseminated through the Internet and the Web. Users can hold in the palm of a hand a macrocosm of information. This universe of information that marks the convergence of computers with the Internet has generally been viewed as a space, most notably concretized through the term “cyberspace,” first coined by William Gibson in Neuromancer (Graham, 1998, p. 165; Gibson, 1984). Emphasizing the spatial dimension of networked computers, Byron Hawk and David M. Rieder state, “But once PCs become networked in the 1990s, the simplicity of the desktop interface that contributes to its wide adoption gives way to a more complex information space and completes the transition from tool to virtual medium” (Hawk et al., 2008, p. xiv). The data accessed via the network is apprehended more as a space than as a tool.

The application of spatial metaphors to the Internet, which stems from the early years of Internet and cyberspace studies in the 1990s, has further transformed the network of information into a space. Some of these include the frontier, the neighborhood, the community, the global city, information superhighway, library, bookstore, shopping mall, marketplace and boulevard (Graham, 1998, p. 166). The tendency to view this network as a realm further emerges through the usage of language steeped in spatial significance: surf the Web, move from one site to the next, enter or visit sites, enter passwords, access homepages, hang out in chatrooms, roam around dungeons and domains, navigate, explore and trespasss (Hunter, 2003, pp. 7, 16). The use of metaphors and language signifying spatial dimensions has facilitated the transformation of the Internet – which is “no more than abstract flows of electronic signals, coded as information, representation and exchange” (Graham, 1998, p. 165) – into a space. Whereas research in the 1990s tended at times to view the Internet as a space that was separate from the actual world and that could in certain contexts even replace “real” places and spaces (Benedikt, 1991; Marvin, 1997; Negroponte, 1995), more current research addresses the interconnection between digital and actual spaces as well as their simultaneous production (Graham, 1998, p. 167; Graham, 2004; Varnelis & Friedberg, 2008). In light of contemporary research conducted on space and the Internet, this inquiry therefore addresses the miniaturization of Internet space not as a phenomenon that is outside of lived territorial experience but rather as a product of the physical dimension of actual material devices used to access the network as well as the corporeal dimension of our bodies.

This interpretation of the miniaturization of space maintains that the Internet, which is capacious and mammoth, becomes compressed through the reduced scale of handheld screens, thereby eliciting the sensations of possession and control. The theoretical framework linking miniaturization and space and these affective responses unfolds through various levels of analysis. First, a key analogy is drawn between Gaston Bachelard’s idea that we miniaturize the space around us through the imagination and vision to make it more easily controlled and possessed and the way that the vast space of the Internet is miniaturized through the computer screen. The miniaturization of the space of the Internet is created through the imagination of the users, who feel themselves connected to a vast universe of information accessed through a tiny screen as well as through the actual materiality of the portable devices, whose small size shrinks the access point of the Internet. Second, the issue is raised of whether the essentialism of Bachelard’s phenomenology, and of phenomenology in general, renders it incompatible with contemporary analyses of the Internet, which often seek to eradicate essential concepts and binary dualisms. The philosophy of Maurice Merleau-Ponty can be applied to the ideas of Bachelard to illustrate that phenomenology is not necessarily dualistic and essentialist. Merleau-Ponty’s theory of perception, which collapses the essential division between the body and the world, pertains to the way Bachelard intimates that the body is the key player in the miniaturization of the surrounding world. Third, that we encounter the Internet as an expansive space is further supported through the ideas of Alexander Galloway, who proposes that we experience the virtual as a sphere into or through which we can physically move.

The connection between miniaturization, space and the sensations of possession and control has been expounded upon by Bachelard in The Poetics of Space. His phenomenology of space can be applied to the Internet’s colossal scale, which is contained and miniaturized via a small screen. To clarify how the minute and the large are compatible in thought, he provides a simple but significant illustration. When one looks out at the horizon, distance creates miniatures. The miniatures on the horizon are not actually diminutive but become tiny through the mind’s eye. The imagination seizes this immensity and shrinks it to a little world that can be more readily possessed, controlled and dominated (Bachelard, 1994, p. 173). As Bachelard writes, “In distant miniatures, disparate things become reconciled. They then offer themselves for our “possession,” while denying the distance that created them. We possess from afar, and how peacefully!” (p. 172). He further elucidates how the miniaturization of space created through perception provokes domination. He writes, “From the top of his tower, a philosopher of domination sees the universe in miniature. Everything is small because he is so high. And since he is high, he is great, the height of his station is proof of his greatness” (p. 173). With the example of the ‘philosopher of domination,’ Bachelard intimates that miniaturization is yoked to the human body. When we look at the world from high above, the physical elevation of our bodies in relation to the surrounding world enables our own bodies to seem so much larger than the encompassing realm. Consequently, miniaturization is apprehended in relation to our physical dimension. He explicitly entrenches miniaturization within the corporeal by elucidating how the production of the miniature is created by the senses. In the case of space and miniaturization, it is human vision that is activated to transform the encompassing world into a miniature. Yet miniaturization is generated by all the senses. He writes, “Since I have centered all my considerations on the problems of experienced space, miniature, for me, is solely a visual image. But the causality of smallness stirs all our senses, and an interesting study could be undertaken of the ‘miniatures’ that appeal to each sense …. But a whiff of perfume, or even the slightest odor can create an entire environment in the world of the imagination” (p. 174, original emphasis).

As the physical world is reduced in scale so that it can be better possessed, values for Bachelard become both compressed and enriched. To apprehend how the gigantic is enclosed within the miniature, one’s conceptual framework needs to be extended beyond the logic of “platonic dialectics,” which differentiates the large from the miniscule, to the “dynamic virtue of miniature thinking,” which permits the imagination to encounter the massive within the small (Bachelard, 1994, p. 150). “Miniature thinking” moves the daydreaming of the imagination beyond the binary division that distinguishes large from little. These opposing spheres become intertwined in a spatial dialectic that fuses the mammoth with the tiny, collapsing their sharp divisions.

Although Bachelard’s ideas of miniaturization do not go beyond the binary, his fusion of the two realms echoes the poststructural collapse of stark conceptual divisions. Since Bachelard uses a phenomenological method to set out his poetics of the miniature, or the dialectical spatial relation between the large and small, forging a connection between Bachelard and poststructuralism appears at first to be misconstrued: poststructuralism challenges phenomenology. The Poetics of Space is inspired by Edmund Husserl’s transcendental philosophy, which questions the basis of knowledge, claiming that we cannot be sure of the independent existence of the objects around us. All we can be certain of is the way they appear to us in consciousness (Eagleton, 1996, p. 48; Husserl, 1982). Husserl argues that all truth can be pictured in one’s mind in an ideal essential form, similar to geometrical configurations, that exists outside of time and place in a transcendental sphere. In Bachelard’s search for the essences of images grasped through daydreaming, or “reverie,” the term to denote the creative function of daydreaming, he evokes Husserl (Picart, 1997, p. 60). Bachelard seeks an essential quality behind the images that augments the reality of intimate spaces. He writes, “In each variety, the phenomenologist makes the effort needed to seize upon the germ of the essential, sure, immediate well-being it encloses. In every dwelling, even the richest, the first task of the phenomenologist is to find the original shell” (Bachelard, 1994, p. 4). The essential power of the miniature is that it enables the imagination to move from the small to the large and to contain immensity within the minute. The intimate spaces produced and accessed through the imagination are not metaphors but images. For Bachelard, an image stems from the imagination and is derived from it; it is “the pure product of absolute imagination” (p. 75). The metaphor is a “fabricated image” that does not contain a profound, true and authentic origin (p. 75, original emphasis). Through this distinction between metaphor and image, Bachelard’s search for the essences of images further emerges.

Seeking the essence and origin of spatial images, as Bachelard’s does, is in opposition to postructuralism as well as postmodernism, which are inherently anti-essentialist and anti-transcendental. For instance, Jacques Derrida contested Husserl’s phenomenology. He asserted that the transcendental realm beyond time and space where universal knowledge appeared attainable could be viewed as simply one additional realm among numerous realms and one more instant of consciousness that is followed by other instances. It is not possible to go beyond time and space; transcendence does not exist (Derrida, 1973). Furthermore, phenomenology and poststructuralism diverge in their stance on the relation between knowledge and language. Meaning is grasped by the individual in phenomenology, for instance, through his or her consciousness, which stands outside of language. The world is known for poststructuralists through language, which is inherently unstable given the separability of the signifier from the signified (Eagleton, 1996, p. 111). Consequently, meaning can never be a fixed truth or essence for poststructuralists since meaning is always accessed through the unstable medium of language.

The virtual sphere of the Internet is often framed in terms of postmodern and poststructural theory, which break down fixed binary oppositions and maintain the impossibility of finding the essence, the original, the real and the authentic. Are Bachelard’s ideas therefore relevant to Internet space? Although he pursues the essences of the images of various intimate spaces produced through literary means, the essential qualities that he finds are not finite and restrictive but maintain at their root a fluidity that resembles the lack of fixity underlying postmodern and poststructural theory. Given that at its core miniaturization empowers the imagination to apprehend the immense and the grand within the small, the image of the miniaturized world ascertained through consciousness provides this continuous movement between the minute and the monumental. The essence of miniaturized space produced by the imagination is at its root fluid and in constant motion, which in turn echoes the way meaning resists being reduced to essential finite entities in postmodern and poststructural theory.

Applying Merleau-Ponty’s work to Bachelard’s philosophy eases the tension between phenomenology and poststructuralism. Perception, according to Merleau-Ponty, is not simply having something in our minds but is the ongoing state of being oriented in the world that surrounds us. His phenomenology is not based on mental representation but rather provides a description of perception as a way of being in the world. In contrast to Husserl’s eidetic reduction, which transposes perception from lived realities to ideal intentional essences, Merleau-Ponty advocates the impossible condition of absolute reduction and hence essences as removed from experience. He writes, “The most important lesson which the reduction teaches us is the impossibility of complete reduction. … If we were absolute mind, the reduction would present no problem. But since, on the contrary, we are in the world, since indeed our reflections are carried out in the temporal flux on to which we are trying to seize, … there is no thought which embraces all our thought” (Merleau-Ponty, 1992, p. xiv).

Merleau-Ponty’s theory of perception is based on the body and the world as inextricably fused, eradicating their binary division and essential distinctions. Bachelard also implies an interdependence of the body and the world through his concept of the miniaturization of space. Broaching Bachelard’s ideas through the prism of Merleau-Ponty’s theory of perception, provides a more thorough understanding of their interrelation. Perception, for Merleau-Ponty, is “the phenomenal and motor aspect of our bodily being in the world” (Carman, 2008, p. 43). As perception is at its core bodily, we cannot comprehend it as an abstract idea removed from palpable corporeal circumstances. The framework of perception is also the framework of the body. The body grants us our point of view of the world (Merleau- Ponty, 1992, p. 70). Merleau-Ponty’s description of the horizon of perceptual experience finds resonance with Bachelard’s vision of how looking onto the horizon miniaturizes the world captured in the mind’s eye. Merleau-Ponty compares seeing an object in a photograph and in the actual. Whereas the photograph is framed by the edges of the photo, the visual field has horizons that are specific to the body. He writes, “In normal vision, on the other hand, I direct my gaze upon a sector of the landscape, which comes to life and is disclosed while the other objects recede into the periphery and become dormant, while, however, not ceasing to be there. Now, with them, I have at my disposal their horizons, in which there is implied, as a marginal view, the object on which my eyes at present fall. The horizon, then, is what guarantees the identity of the object throughout the exploration ….” (p. 68). The horizons of perceptual experience are therefore functions of the body in which it is actualized. In a similar vein, the miniaturization of the landscape that Bachelard imagines is also shaped by the body: the world in the distance that appears tiny is small in relation to the dimension of the body, which is perceived as so much larger than the objects located far away.

The phenomenology of Bachelard, further illuminated through the ideas of Merleau-Ponty, demonstrates the way that the vast realm of the Internet becomes miniaturized through the small computer screen. Taking into account Bachelard’s idea that the miniaturization of space enables its beholders to take hold of and hence to experience control over the world, I argue that this experience of grasping the immensity of the Internet in the palm of the hand also empowers its user to feel a sense of possession of and control over this virtual universe of information. Because a massive quantity of knowledge is procurable with a handheld gadget via a small screen, users are given command of a far-reaching terrain, granting them mastery of the global through the tiny.

The impression of being connected to a massive realm accessed via a small computer screen does not merely occur at the level of the imagination but is also physically experienced by users through the perception of moving through virtual space. According to Alexander Galloway, the physical media of the Internet, the Internet protocol itself, nurtures this experience of flow. Users are able to imagine, as they surf the Web, that they are suspended within a large terrain because of the formal apparatus of the Internet protocol, which refigures physical media into a cultural object (Galloway, 2004, p. 53). Computer protocols determine the way particular technologies are consented to, taken on, executed and finally employed by people throughout the globe, taking into account issues of logic and physics (p. 7). The sensation that users experience of moving through an expansive space via a small screen is linked to the formal apparatus of the Internet itself (p. 64). Users are not necessarily aware that it is the formal apparatus of the Internet that enables them to experience this mobility through the Internet. This voyaging becomes perceived as an extension of the human body. As Galloway writes, “On the Web, the browser’s movement is experienced as the user’s movement. The mouse movement is substituted for the user’s movement” (p. 64).

Continuity can be described as a collection of techniques deployed by the Web master that together generate this fluid sensation that enables users to sense the Internet as an extension of the body. When grouped together, according to Galloway, these techniques shape an assemblage of abstract protocological rules affecting the application layer (2004, p. 64). The application layer is one of the multiple encapsulated layers that constitute the protocol layer of the Internet (p. 39). The application layer is defined by Galloway as a semantic layer that is in charge of sustaining the content of the data during network transactions (p. 41).

The following is a selection of some of these techniques used by the Web master to create continuity. First, in order for movement to be uninterrupted, dead links must be eradicated. These dead links, which are termed “404 errors,” need to be eliminated to maintain the sensation of endless and connected flow (Galloway, 2004, pp. 65-66). Second, all links must go somewhere even if the movement is backward. For an online circulation of information, there must be an elimination of the possibility of not having any links, in addition to the eradication of dead ones (p. 66). Third, links on Web pages facilitate connected movement through the nature of the links themselves. The meaning of a link should be contained within its actual representation. A link should not require a separate text to indicate its direction forward; rather, this should be incorporated within the iconography of the link itself. This promotes a greater sense of uninterrupted motion. Fourth, there needs to be an unbroken connection between media types such as texts, images and animation so that users do not experience a sense of discontinuity as they pass between media. Therefore, undisturbed progression between texts and images is essential (p. 67). Finally, optimal continuity is further engendered through the elimination of mediation. Users should not have a sense that anything is mediating their interface with the network. Interaction with the Internet must feel natural, as though it were an extension of the human body. This sensation is created through interfaces that are rendered as invisible as possible (p. 68). “Interface” is a term used to denote the communication border between two entities, such as a user, a component of software or a piece of hardware. A maximum sense of continuity is created when the boundary between the user and the Internet seems to have vanished.

Galloway describes the physical set of techniques that generate a sense of movement, which users perceive as extensions of their bodily motor activity, such as their manipulation of the mouse or keypad. These movements give the impression that the user is flowing through a vast sphere. Yet this immensity is miniaturized through the screens of handheld devices used to access the Internet and the Web, rendering the virtual sphere a realm that can be both possessed and controled. Bachelard’s theory of the miniaturiation of space provides a theoretical framework to look at how this miniaturizing of the enormity of the Internet and Web engenders impressions of possession and control. Bachelard further suggests that the miniaturization of space is founded upon the interaction of the body with the world. In other words, we construct the world as diminutive by miniaturizing it in relation to our human scale. Approaching Bachelard’s theory through the lens of the Merleau-Ponty’s phenomenology helps to illuminate the interrelation between the miniaturization of space and the body that surfaces in Bachelard’s writings.

Virtual Miniatures: The Example of Google Earth

As we shift from considering the miniaturization of space, the final aspect to examine is the production of virtual miniatures. As previously mentioned, the miniature can be understood as a small-scale reproduction, or variation, of an object, person or place. A miniature is never an original but always a duplication. Often being copies of pieces of the actual world yet in minute form, miniatures can connect their beholders with the lived territorial world. Since their diminutive size contorts the actual “reality” they represent, the affects they could potentially induce are also distortions. Grabbing a miniature with the eye and the hand can make us feel close to what is in fact distant; seizing and toying with its diminutive size enables us to take possession of and to feel a sense of mastery over what is out of our physical reach in its “original” form.

The idea that representations of the world rendered smaller through the process of miniaturization can lead to an increased connection with the actual stands in sharp contrast to the perspectives of Jean Baudrillard and Paul Virilio concerning miniaturization and technology. Baudrillard maintains that the disintegration of human scale through miniaturization drives contemporary society to a further disappearance of the real, while Virilio stresses the way that the erosion of the “life-size” detaches us from the existing territorial world. In the contemporary context, according to Baudrillard, all perception of depth has acquiesced to the proliferation of surfaces and to the limitless repetitiveness of signs, promoted through communication technologies. This shallowness has been amplified by the miniaturization of the world through technology. Time, space and even the human body have been shrunk to the minute sphere of the television and computer screen as well as to “the infinitesimal memory” of digital technology (Baudrillard, 1988, p. 17). In his The Ecstacy of Communication, Baudrillard asserts, “The era of miniaturization, of remote control, and of microprocessing of time, bodies and pleasure has come. There is no longer an ideal principle of these things on human scale. All that remains are miniaturized, concentrated and immediately available effects” (p. 18). Paul Virilio argues that the heightening miniaturization of technology is detrimental, inducing the erasure of the “life-size,” a human perspective emanating from our actual material relationship to the natural sphere. Our potential to connect to the world and other human beings at their veritable scale is being stripped away, to be replaced by the mechanisms of miniaturization of new technologies. He foresees that the living experience and awareness of propinquity will be undermined as we become even more separate and removed from each other, shutting ourselves off from the world in our micro domains (Virilio, 2008, p. 62). In his Open Sky, Virilio laments, “If being present really does mean being close, physically speaking, the microphysical proximity of interactive telecommunication will surely soon see us staying away in droves, not being there any more for anyone, locked up, as we shall be, in a geophysical environment reduced to less than nothing” (p. 62, original emphasis).

Contrary to Baudrillard’s and Virilio’s pessimistic points of view on the prospect of miniaturization and technology, accessing information through new media may instead connect users to the actual rather than distancing them from the physical world. This position is grounded in the claim that many of the visual images, both moving and static, that circulate throughout the Internet and on the Web could be regarded as miniatures. They become miniatures as they capture an “original” object, person or event in a scaled-down size that is minimized by virtue of the reduced space of the networked screen of portable devices. A detailing of Google Earth as an example of a virtual miniature elucidates they way this minute depiction of the world can induce sensations of intimacy and closeness with the earth as well as simultaneous feelings of possession and control. Since the release of Google Earth in June 2005, it has been available for free on personal computers, and in October 2008 it became accessible on the iPhone OS. Google Earth consists of a virtual globe, map and geographic information program that was initially entitled Earth Viewer. A virtual globe is a 3D software replica of the earth that offers users the capacity to fluidly circulate around the virtual domain by altering the angle, or position, of observation. Google Earth charts the earth by superimposing images attained from satellite imagery, aerial photography and a Geographical Information Systems (GIS) 3D globe (Morris, 2006, p. 295). Google Earth is a miniature in various ways. First, the virtual globe, around which users can freely move, is a miniature model of the earth whose scaled-down size ranges slightly in accordance with the dimension of the computer screen of its users. Second, as users can move around the globe to access a close-up of a specific location, the image that appears is also a minute representation. These minuscule reproductions seem almost real, as they are created through satellite imagery and aerial photography. Although close-ups of the earth’s surface are largely available in two-dimensional format with a vertical or oblique perspective, other parts of the earth are featured in three-dimensional compositions. The Grand Canyon and Mount Everest, for instance, can be accessed in three-dimensional configurations, transforming them into miniature models on the portable networked screen. To create three-dimensional images, Google Earth uses digital elevation model (DEM) data gathered by the Shuttle Radar Topography Mission (SRTM) of the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA).

That users can get so close to the entire earth’s surface by virtue of the miniature size of Google Earth could enable them to feel intimate with and close to the earth and its countless sites. At the same time, that they can literally access with their fingertips the monumental surface of the earth could bring forth sensations of control over the earth’s tremendous scale. These affective responses induced by seeing as well as holding a diminutive representation of the earth are not unique to virtual globes but can be traced back to the development of maps, atlases and globes, which emerged with the technology of the printing press.

In 1472 maps began to be printed, creating images of the world that were repeatable. As an aspect of the printing press, they can be viewed as a miniaturization of information whose history has been previously sketched out in regards to the book. Maps miniaturized the world, but they themselves were not necessarily miniatures: they were often produced in large format, and large presses were designed to print them (Briggs & Burke, 2005, p. 19). Asa Briggs and Peter Burke allege that maps enabled those in possession of these documents to command areas of the world. They write that maps “made it easier than ever before for groups armed with these documents to control parts of the earth, whether their control was primarily military, political, economic or ideological” (p. 33). Printed cartographic images of the world have not been merely associated with the desire to control, which is outlined below, but have also provided a concrete means to dominate.

Maps were remodeled into three-dimensional globes. Martin Behaim built a globe in 1492 that stands as the oldest surviving model (Briggs & Burke, 2005, p. 33). Maps were also combined to produce atlases. The first atlas was Abraham Ortelius’s Theatrum orbis terraum (Theatre of the World), which was published in Antwerp in 1570. Ortelius’s atlas consisted of fifty-three maps to create, according to Denis Cosgrove, “a ‘theatre,’ conspectus or mirror of the world” (2003, p. 130). The development of globes and atlases enabled the earth’s appearance and dimension as a whole to be imagined. The earth could never actually be observed until 1968, when Apollo 8 astronauts took the photograph entitled Earthrise, depicting the earth half hidden by shadow ascending over the lunar landscape. Apollo 17 astronauts in 1972 took the unnamed photograph that features the entire globe without shadows suspended in the blackness of space (p. 257). As the globe could not be in fact seen until 1968, it had to be pictured in the mind’s eye through global models and cartographic images (p. 15). The motif of the globe has tremendously stimulated the imagination (p. 3). As is the case for images and representations in general, the depictions of the globe, according to Cosgrove, are not neutral but have prompted deep-seated transformations in the consciousness of society, the self and the world (p. 5). He points out, for instance, that envisioning the globe played a pivotal role in fashioning Western imperialism and colonialism, which shaped the modern world in multiple dimensions (p. 16). Cosgrove illuminates how images of the globe that have become tools of imperial and colonial expansive and domination provoke the sensations of control and possession. He asserts, “The idea of seeing the globe seems also to induce desires of ordering and controlling the object of vision …. Emperors, kings, states, and corporations have yielded to similar temptations, picturing globes and global panoramas to proclaim territorial authority (p. 5). He also elucidates how viewing Ortelius’s atlas could enkindle sensations of intimacy as well as control: “Ortelius’ work encouraged the idea of private, vicarious enjoyment of geographic discovery, which had become a common feature of mapping rhetoric. The individual could master the globe at a single glance” (p. 130).

This brief overview of the images of the globe produced by the printing press reveals that the sensations of intimacy and control that explorers of Google Earth may experience as they travel around a miniature model of the world have antecedents that long predate the emergence of new media. A key characteristic that differentiates Google Earth from many of the globes and atlases of yesteryears is that it is indeed a miniature. The experience of corporeally holding the globe in the palm of the hand and scanning it with multiple quick glances may in fact heighten the sensations of intimacy and control that have been associated with visually capturing the earth through images and models. As a reproduction, Google Earth provides a means through mediated technology to get close to the entire earth that our human physicality does not allow. We can access only the small piece of the earth on which we are physically located. Google Earth, which is nonetheless a model, can never fully capture the real experience of viewing the entire world. The astronaut Thomas D. Jones, for instance, describes the act of observing the earth’s surface at a low altitude (215 km) from the window of the space shuttle Endeavour as a completely different experience from surveying it via maps and globes. He exclaims, “Each time I turned to a window, I was struck by a flash of recognition: The terrain unfolding silently before me did reflect the maps, the globes I’d studied in my youth. But what a pale imitation those maps were! Earth’s surface is far more textured and complex than any map can hint at, and the rich beauty and variety of that surface increased as I searched for finer and fine detail in its geographical fabric” (Jones, 2001, p. 255). But just a few of us have the opportunity to gaze at the earth from a space shuttle. The miniaturized globe of Google Earth, on the other hand, provides an available means to access the physicality of the earth’s surface that does not necessarily distance us from the world, as Baudrillard and Virilio proclaim is the effect of miniaturization, but instead grants us an enhanced contact.


This study, which has closed with the example of a miniature of the digital era, Google Earth, has been framed through various interrelated levels of analysis to argue the interconnection between miniaturization, miniatures, the affects that these induce and the body within the context of new media. Although miniatures and miniaturization are related concepts, they are also distinct. A miniature is a small-scale replica of an object, person or place, whereas miniaturization is a technological process that renders gadgets smaller and more convenient to use. Miniatures and miniaturization converge in their shared association with the corporeal: the scale of the miniature is judged in terms of the human bodily dimension; miniaturization is a process that creates devices and products that are easier for our bodies to use. Miniatures and miniaturization further join in their shared attribute of being metaphors. Yet as metaphorically scalable units, they are also tied to the body. Through the ideas of metaphor expounded upon by George Lakoff and Mark Johnson as well as Paul Ricoeur, the association between metaphor and the physical has been elucidated. This study has also outlined a brief history of miniaturization and technology, emphasizing the process of miniaturization and the history of the book, the photograph and television. The technological mechanisms of diminution occasionally produce miniatures. Two examples have been brought forth: the fifteenth-century miniature book and the nineteenth-century daguerreotype. These miniatures of past eras can possibly evoke feelings of intimacy, possession and control that are grounded in their interconnection to human physicality and scale. This inquiry has sketched the history of miniaturization and miniatures to illustrate that the processes of miniaturization and production of miniatures that are generated through computers and the Internet are rooted in earlier forms.

In the contemporary digital age, miniaturization has culminated in the development of exceedingly small computers that can be deemed miniatures. The mechanism of miniaturization as well as the miniatures produced by the digital are a result of the convergence between the Internet and the radically scaled-down screen size of computers used to access the network. Three key elements have been examined here: the miniaturization of information, the miniaturization of space and the creation of miniatures. The miniaturization of information lies in the way that the colossal size of the Internet, which contains billions of pages, is so minimized in scale and weight that users can easily access it on a networked screen. The miniaturization of space refers to the experience of accessing the immensity of the Internet through the tiny screens of portable devices. This process of reduction can elicit sensations of possession of and control over global networked information. Spatial miniaturization is produced through the workings of the imagination, the material size of networked devices and physical media. Gaston Bachelard’s phenomenological investigation of the way that the miniaturization of space leads to the experience of possession of and domination over the world rendered small through the mind’s eye has been applied here to the digital sphere. Bachelard’s ideas have been further illuminated through the philosophy of Merleau-Ponty to illustrate how Bachelard’s concept of miniaturization of space as well as its integration into the digital are entrenched in the body. Alexander Galloway’s outlining of the techniques of continuity demonstrate how we experience our contact with the network as a space through which we can physically move. This sense of flow is a result of physical media. Galloway’s work has been expounded upon to emphasize that we encounter the network as an expansive space that is in turn miniaturized through our imaginations and the scaled-down size of the computer screen.

In parallel with non-computer-based forms of communication media that have at times produced miniatures, the digital also generates virtual miniatures. Google Earth serves as an example of a miniature engendered by digital technology. Our engagement with Google Earth can make us feel close to the earth, whose miniature we can hold in our hands. Because the earth becomes so reduced in scale, we may also experience a sense of domination over its immenseness. These affective perceptions prompted through digital miniatures are also grounded in the human body. These reactions possibly set in motion through the sight and exploration of Google Earth can be traced to earlier cartographic images and models of the world. A brief survey of maps, atlases and globes of past eras reveals how they could also kindle sensations of intimacy and control. Miniatures, such as Google Earth, can connect us to the actual world in a way that is not possible without the process of miniaturization created through the digital. Claiming an increased connection to the actual through miniaturization and production of miniatures opposes the perspectives of Jean Baudrillard and Paul Virilio, who envision miniaturization as the detrimental trend of detaching us from the veritable world.


[1] Further references to Bachelard’s conceptualization of the miniature can be found in a compilation of his essays entitled The Right to Dream. For instance, in “Introduction to the Dynamics of Landscape,” Bachelard writes, “Lilliputian dreams start to take shape, Lilliputian dreams that take us out of the world of slavish hugeness. They make us alternately large and small. And often we catch a glimpse of the greatness of the tiny. We experience a strange communion of vastness and detail. Balanced upon the simple ambivalence of large and small, we lie open to all the blessings of the cosmic imagination” (1988b, p. 69). Furthermore, in “Castles in Spain,” he describes how his miniaturizing of the castle, which enables him to be as gigantic as the massive sea and sky, leads to a controlling of the vast landscape that lies before him. Bachelard writes, “But since contemplation has to be partial, I take the side of the sea and sky. As for the castle on the rock, I ‘miniaturize’ it. By making it very small against the vast horizon, I psychoanalyze the temptation to possess it, the temptation to dominate the country side, to look down on the world (1988a, p. 89).

[2] It should be noted that the relationship of individuals to the body is structurally dissimilar to their relationship with any other device that provides them the possibility of perception. As a person’s body is his or her mode of observation, he or she cannot render the body in its entirety an object of survey without having an additional body. As Merleau-Ponty writes, “In other words, I observe external objects with my body, I handle them, examine them, walk round them, but my body itself is a thing which I do not observe: in order to be able to do so, I should need the use of a second body which itself would be unobservable” (1992, p. 91).

[3] Mark B.N. Hansen provides an additional means to theorize the way that crossing from the physical world to the digital world is so “seamless, so unnoticeable, so unbelievable” (2006, p. 8). His theory offers another look at how we can move easily from the material computer screen to the virtual realm of the Internet. Hansen claims that the body plays a pivotal role in the interface with the virtual (p. 2). As the physical and virtual converge, it is the bodily motor activity that provides the link to the effortless and operative passages between virtual and physical realms. It is the capability of our embodied existence to produce reality through motor activity. The virtual realm, which is not enclosed in itself but thrives as a realm among others, can be entered by virtue of embodied perception. This capacity to access the virtual through embodied perception is a result of the mixed-reality paradigm, which is not unique to digital media. Mixed reality emerged at the moment when tools initially disseminated and spread human sensation, especially vision and touch, beyond the local sphere of the body (p. 9). Consequently, the bodily, or analog, foundation of experience has basically always been habituated by a technical facet that has consistently materialized, occurring as an operation of the embodiment of technology (pp. 8-9). As Hansen notes, “Here, the transcendental function of mixed reality as a specification (our contemporary specification) of technics is to stimulate or provoke the power of the body to open the world” (p. 9).


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