Mostly Space


Atoms are mostly space.

99.99% of everything is empty space.

99.99% of everything -- You, Me, the full coffee cup in front of you and the half full coffee cup in front of me, the ocean, the floor, the steel door in the bank vault -- is empty space.

We are the space between things. Everything that exists is the space between things.


My eyes start off at about 30cm away from the screen. I'm not sure if this is the recommended distance, but it works for me. I can see everything I need to.

And then I start to move in. I start to reduce the space.


The first thing to go is the peripheral. I'm no longer aware of the outside world. There is just screen now. It's getting a bit bright.

And then, there goes context. I don't see a text editor and I don't see characters. I see shapes and colour, black and white. The words have lost all of their meaning.

Now, my face is pressed against the screen. It feels warm, and my eyes have adjusted to the brightness. I can discern pixels, but little else. Brilliant squares in a grid.

I'm as close as I can possibly be to these words, but without any space I am incapable of understanding them.


It looks like "peak busy" hit us somewhere in the 80s. That point where technological advances gave us a lot of opportunity to do things, but somehow didn't make things any easier for us.

A little bit like the habit we had of putting a radio in everything. Or turning everything into a calculator. There are probably calculator-radios out there.

What happened, when we reached this peak is that we adapted to this dizzying altitude by reducing the space-time between things.

Take the space between home and work. Rather than walk, we could drive. That gap between being at home and being at work shrinks so you can spend more time being at home -- or, more likely, being at work.

And music. Perhaps you don't remember that mid-point in an album where it went silent. Perhaps there was a click. Either way you had to turn something over, the vinyl or the tape. The CD did away with that. You don't have a gap in an album any more. There is no side one and side two. And without that, there is no 'side'. Along with the gap we lost a word.

And now, we don't have to even change at the end of an album. That space has been eliminated too.

The last film I watched with an intermission was a reshowing of Stanley Kubrick's '2001: A Space Odyssey'. Just after the half-way point the film fades to black and the word 'Intermission' appears on screen. A film about space, containing space.

The reason for this space is that at a running time of 142 minutes, the film was thought long enough to require a moment of respite, to go to the toilet, or to pick up a drink -- or maybe to stand and talk briefly about the mind-blowing scenes your brain had just been subjected to.

Compare that with 2003's 'The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King'. It had a running time of 200 minutes (263 if you watch an extended cut). There was no respite, no drinks or toilet. The gap, the space, had been removed.

Some people blame Kevin Costner for the demise of the intermission. It had been a long held belief that audiences wouldn't tolerate a long film without a break. He refused to put one in 'Dances with Wolves'. He didn't think his artistic intent should be tempered by someones need to go to the toilet.

I'd argue that in all of these cases we lost something, rather than gained something. The loss of space isn't really more time to work, or more music or film. It's the loss of context and reflection. those moments of silence where you can think.

That slow commute to work is a time to be you. Not the 'home you' or the 'work you' but another you. One that exists in a world and moves around.

And can you imagine a gallery with no space between the pictures? No bits of blank wall between the end of one frame and the start of the next? It would be overwhelming. I'm not sure that the work would be better off for it.

But progress isn't always a case of removing the space.

The written word. The very old written word, before books. Back when scrolls were used. Classical Latin. Back then, it was written without spaces between the words in a form called 'scriptio continua'. There was no punctuation either. Just a constant stream of letters.

The spaces came later. They added something. They helped make sense of the words.


A shadow of a model of a molecule.



I start to back away from the screen. Everything becomes clearer again. I can see that I've made a bunch of typos. Spelling mistakes. Missed spaces. Everything makes sense though, more or less.

as Adam_Y on mastodon