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The Impulse to Chatter

At the beginning of my summer, this passage provided the spark for a paper on spaces in Cinnamon College:

The socialization of space is a predominant factor in how people remember and forget certain physical spaces. Socialization is defined as “a continuing process whereby an individual acquires a personal identity and learns the norms, values, behavior, and social skills appropriate to his or her social position” (“socialization”). Applied to physical space, this concept refers to space as a location that has assembled a cultural identity based on individual and community values, norms, and behavior in that location. Physical space, as an agent of people’s principles and ideals, acts as a material of distributed cognition by which people’s memories are attached and dispersed. Similar to how one remembers a birthday party or a wedding, individuals remember a place for the events that occurred there and the people that remain significant to its daily, continuing construction. (Source)

Even though summer’s been over for a while, I never did more than begin that paper. It is a pity. Although I’ve been on quite a ride since then.

I think it may be because I have not written a reflective piece in a long time that I’ve missed just how much this paragraph of academic definitions may have contributed to that ride. In retrospect I am beginning to appreciate how dangerous it was for me not to have thought about it – just how far did it get into my head? – when I consider how things like ‘space’ and ‘community’ and ‘social life’ and ‘culture’ have become what they are to me. (Apologies for my convoluted grammar; in a way, I am trying to wrap my treacherous brain around and in on itself. I imagine folding the grey folds.)

At the time I read it, I could not get over how uncannily descriptive it was of our Chatterbox – though it must be said that my use of ‘our’ here is stretching it, given that I only ever visited it a handful of times during Rag 2011. I was surer of what I had in mind when I said ‘Chatterbox’, though; I was specifically trying to imagine the one we (‘we’) had left behind. As I wrote in early June in that fragment of a beginning,

What continues to be a central motivation for this proposal is what I think of as the Chatterbox problem. I have come to see this as a three-fold problem.

There is, firstly, a historical problem. As a USP student who has recently completed his first year in AY 2011/2012 and whose experience of the USP is centered on life in Cinnamon College, the frequently made references to a historical Chatterbox in Block ADM presents a persistent problem of meaning. The problem is a lack of knowledge of the historical context. […]

The second problem is the sociological problem. Understanding why Chatterbox was socially significant in an earlier time and place goes some way towards addressing this problem, but the current situation has its own social context. The new social context is defined by networks of acquaintanceships and relationships from both before USP’s move to the RC and after. These social connections form the fabric of the social life of the community. The sociological problem involves understanding how social forces come to define ‘common’ spaces and imbue them with significance. What makes a Chatterbox, and what would its place be in the current social situation?

The third problem is the practical problem of planning for, designing and maintaining a Chatter-like space. I think of the third problem as an economic problem because it can be analyzed in terms of utilization, efficient allocation and management of common resources. How are available spaces being used? What are these spaces, and who uses them? What sorts of constraints are presented by the architecture and administrative decisions?

I have mixed feelings, looking at this fragment and the bunch of unrealized theses in the questions, about my seeming: did the answers really seem that close to me at the time, or have I merely been presumptuous so far?

What I’d started on was the task of imagining what made Chatterbox, Chatterbox. Right now, though, I’m mainly lost and sad, and tired. It will soon be 5 a.m.

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