Upon striking a lively conversation with my father and getting him to indulge in some healthy nostalgia regarding his cinema experience in the old days as well as now, I got him to reveal a lot more about how he perceives the concepts of media experience but also the concept of time as a channel that enables that experience (as per Hägerstrand’s definition). But if I am to explain why I chose to analyze my father’s cinema experience instead of my own, I first need to address Corbett’s simple yet effective explanation of Hägerstrand’s space-time path.
My father said the way of going to cinema changed drastically. Looking from Hägerstrand’s perspective, we can see why going to cinema 30 years ago must have been a more arduous task to organize and complete. Should he have decided to go with friends, rigorous planning had to take place at least a week or two in advance to make sure all of them confirm they are going and that they meet at a correct location on time. He recalls a general lack of technological wonders we have today and says it sure would have been easier if he could just group-text his friends a few days before the movie instead of calling them individually to their landline phones while also having to make sure he is calling at the right time.
As explained by Corbett, Hägerstrand came up with the concept of a space-time path in order to emphasize the importance of time in human activity as well as illustrate how people and things fit together and function in socio-economic systems and how people navigate their way through the spatial-temporal environment; the physical area around an individual being reduced to a two-dimensional plane on which their location and destination are presented as zero-dimensional points.
Before I continue and put this in the context of my father’s experience, it is necessary to explain the limits to this concept. Seeing as we are observing how people move in a spatial-temporal grid, it is expected there might be a number of obstacles that may prevent those people from reaching all the wanted points on the grid within the desired time. Hägerstrand categorizes these obstacles as three types of constraints;
Capability constraints – these refer to limitations caused by certain physical or biological factors. For instance, being in multiple locations at the same time is impossible, therefore it is categorized as a capability constraint.
Coupling constraints – this type of constraint simply refers to a need to be at a certain location for a certain period of time, which usually involves crossing paths with other people and needing to interact with them in order for our activities to be completed. In my father’s case, going to a cinema and completing his movie watching experience before he can go home would make for an ideal example.
Authority constraints – refers to a type of constraint that may involve limited access to certain locations that are controlled by institutions or people.
Yet another reason why I chose to write about my father’s cinema memories is the huge technological gap between the cinema of his youth and the contemporary cinema. This gap not only affects the difference in how he completes his space-time path but also how he perceives the whole experience and determines whether it was enjoyable or not. Being a rather tech-savvy 54-year-old, he celebrates modern gadgets and praises them for allowing him an easier and more comfortable ability to organize his time, and social life and combine the two with a pleasant evening of catching a new flick.
As for constraints he encountered over the last 30 years, one particular situation he told me about involved an authority constraint and he and his friend wandering into an area that served as a drive-in cinema they didn’t know belonged to a military base. Seeing as most other restraints involved his friends being unable to go due to physical factors or they couldn’t spend as much time outside, this one stood out to me. His quote about the cinema visit planning process back in the day made me think:
” It used to be quite difficult, your generation has it easy. It was either call one friend for days to make sure he’s going, then have another friend cancel on you without being able to let you know because there were no cellphones. You start by planning to watch a film with 10 friends but end up finally going with only 2 – if you’re lucky that is. “
His contemporary experience can hardly even compare to the way he used to go to a cinema, considering he is a major cinephile and needs to see all the newest films. It is safe to say his daily ‘movement pattern’ alters significantly on the days he goes to the cinema, so much so in fact, that even he could say it looks as if the cinema visit is a priority while everything else gravitates around it.
To finalize this intriguing perspective, while the technology continues to develop and in process grants us new methods of entertaining ourselves, I am curious to see how my father and his generation might keep up with it.
1. Corbett, J. (2010). Torsten Hägerstrand – Time Geography. Center for Spatially Integrated Social Science, Spatial Resources for the Social Sciences. Retrieved from: https://is.muni.cz/el/1431/jaro2006/Z0147/time_geography.pdf