Home Pages and Empty Cities

“The city I am talking about (Tokyo) offers this precious paradox: it does possess a center, but this center is empty. The entire city turns around a site both forbidden and indifferent…One of the two most powerful cities of modernity is thereby built around an opaque ring of walls, streams, roofs, and trees whose own center is no more than an evaporated notion, subsisting here, not in order to irradiate power, but to give to the entire movement the support of its central emptiness, forcing the traffic to make a perpetual detour. In this manner, we are told, the system of the imaginary is spread circularly, by detours and returns the length of an empty subject.”

-Roland Barthes, Empire of Signs

In a similar manner one could imagine our modern musical cities: Spotify, Youtube, etc. What are their centers? A home page? If so, this center sends one away much like the empty one. Recommendations offered on the page can lead users away. The action, however, is often achieved by the search bar. It serves as a means of “forcing the traffic to make a perpetual detour.”

Contrast this with a center that pulls.”The center of our cities”, Barthes compares to Tokyo’s, “is always full: a marked site, it is here that the values of civilization are gathered and condensed.” A concert hall, for instance, gathers and condenses the artistry and sophistication of Western art music. Culture as a value of civilization is presented clearly and easily accessible from this node.

The same is hard to say of Youtube. While the concert hall’s structure leads us to the hall, there is more ambiguity in these sites. Where are they supposed to lead? By constant detour we arrive back to the main page of Youtube only to detour again. We cannot make a value judgement in constant motion.

A home page does not act like a home at all. It is an empty home, or better yet, a hallway.


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