Unit 2: Changing Space – the shrinking world

Time-space Convergence 

Definition: The reduction in the time taken to travel between two places due to improvements in transportation or communication technology.

The last century has seen the time taken for travel reduce drastically.

Air Travel

International flights are now much cheaper in real terms that they were 50 years ago & so are more accessible to many more people.

Aircraft have increased the speeds at which they travel & computerisation of many of the systems has decreased airport turnaround times.  Increased efficiency and larger planes have also increased the distance that they can travel without having to stop, this has sped up travel.

There are also many more routes for air travel which has reduced the need for multiple flights to reach a destination.

Domestic travel

Train speeds have vastly increased with a new generation of rail technology.  The TVG in France and the Shinkansen Bullet in Japan are examples of very high-speed trains.

Car ownership has exploded in many countries, this has led to massive investment in road infrastructure and slashed journey times for local and regional travel.

Friction of Distance

The concept that there are difficulties connected with travelling (friction).  This friction often increases with the length of the journey.   It has the effect of reducing the amount and distance that we travel.

Examples of friction are:

  • The cost of travel
  • Documentation needed to cross international borders
  • The physical and mental effort of travelling (tiredness, jet lag etc).
  • Different time zones (harder to communicate with family etc).

Negating the friction of distance:

  • Many modes of travel have become more comfortable:
  • cars are quieter, improved suspension makes the ride smoother, in-car entertainment has been transformed to the point of having television in the back of the headrests.
  • The real cost of air travel has significantly fallen (admittedly at the expense of comfort in many cases).

Concept of Distance

Traditionally distance has been primarily considered as how far apart two places are.  Modern methods of transport and concepts of travel are changing this, and distance (when considering travel) is often considered in terms of the time it will take. In this sense, with increasing speeds of transportation, distances are decreasing and there is a time-space convergence.

Ocean Freight Transport: Containerisation

Ocean transportation of goods has seen huge increases in recent decades as containerisation and huge cargo ships have revolutionised the industry.  Global Insight Inc record that sea freight increased by 12% per year from 2001 to 2005.  Approximately 90% of the manufactured products that we purchase will have been transported by sea.

The increased scale of the boats (the Maersk Majestik can carry 18000 containers with a crew of 22 staff) has led to economies of scale which has significantly reduced the costs.  The cost of shipping a smart-phone from Asia to Europe is about 7 pence. This reduction in cost has transformed supply chains for many companies.  With transportation costs being negligible it makes more economic sense for firms to produce in countries with low labour costs (and possibly lower labour and environmental regulations). The busiest shipping ports are in the far East, mostly in along the Chinese coast around the Pearl River delta (Shenzen and Guangzhou) and Shanghai.  This represents the huge importance of Eastern Asian countries in manufacturing products.  Significant quantities of waste products and material flow in the opposite direction (from Europe and N.America towards the far east) for recycling.

Strategic canals such as the Panama & Suez have vastly shortened the distance (& time & cost) of shipping between Asia and N. America & Europe.

Extension & density of Networks

Internet Network

The internet has seen rapid increases in its adoption across the globe.  Establishing itself as a key method of trade and communication its capacity has been rapidly expanding.  The major flows of internet traffic are between North American and European countries.  These countries have invested heavily in domestic infrastructure but also in Trans-Atlantic cabling.

Eastern Asia (Japan, East China, Malaysia & Singapore) is rapidly increasing its internet traffic with North America & Europe.

2002 saw major sub-marine cable connections with South America.

Africa has drastically lagged behind in international internet traffic.  Held back by poor connectivity due to the lack of high bandwidth cabling it has experienced slow and expensive internet services often relying on satellite connections.  2009 saw the first major sub-marine internet cable connecting East Africa to the world’s main internet networks.  This should provide much faster & cheaper connections.


Cell phone communication has exploded in recent decades with Western European and North American markets now being considered relatively saturated.  Major growth is occurring in Asian, African and South American countries.

Mobile communication masts are a common feature in most countries now and are a symbol of the growth of the cell phone network.  New innovations such as being able to transfer credit (enable the paying for goods in shops through your phone) has revolutionised the way that business is conducted in many African countries.

Costa Rica has recently joined the Central American Free Trade Association and is opening its previously monopolised industries to competition.  This has resulted in phone masts springing up around the country as new operators establish themselves.

Since 2000 there has been a dramatic shift from land-line calls to mobile calls.  Huge investment in mobile internet capacity and speed is leading to a revolution in the way that people access the internet.

Role of ICT in Civil Society

Transmission & flow of ideas, images, information & finance

ICT developments have been changing the way that civil societies disseminate information and organise campaigns/events.  Digital photography and the internet have combined to enable instant transmission of images/video depicting events.  Civil societies use the internet and social media to instantly make people aware of issues that they campaign for/against.  It also enables them to collect images/video from people living in the area concerned, rather than waiting for staff or reporters to get there.  The speed of this information transmission and the level of coverage that can be achieved adds more weight to their campaigns.

Social media also enables civil societies to communicate very quickly and effectively with their members/supporters at very low cost.  This means that they can update information & news as it happens rather than publishing monthly (periodical) newsletters/magazines.

In addition to this, websites & social media have made it much easier for people to follow or be a part of a civil society.  It is quick easy and usually free to join a society or at least follow what is going on.  Geographical location is of limited concern unless a physical event is organised.

Funds/subscriptions/donations can be instantly transferred to civil societies through electronic payment systems.

Contrasting level of ICT adoption in two countries


Scored 4.87 in the Connectivity Scorecard charts.  Mexico has a reasonable ICT infrastructure but businesses have been slow to adopt ICT & there are low levels of ICT being delivered in the education system.

United Kingdom

Scored 6.88 in the Connectivity Scorecard charts.  The UK has good ICT infrastructure and is currently installing superfast broadband in all the main urban areas and aims to have the whole country receiving 2Mbs/second within the next couple of years.  Rural areas have lagged behind in internet speed.

The Connectivity Scorecard Chart can be found at:


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