Some Answers to the Question "Where Are You?"
- I am seated in this chair.
- This identifies my place in relation to a piece of conventional technology. By "conventional", I mean that we all know what it is. You can probably imagine encountering another culture, where you don't recognize things to sit on. Where would you be then?
- I am in HUM 3394
- This places me in terms of what I am engaged in at the moment. Could you say that you are in HUM 3394, but your mind is on the ski slopes or the beach? Can you be in two places at once?
- What if you are engaged in this class? Take another example - what's the difference between being "at work" and being "at your work"?
- I am in Orlando
- What is Orlando? A city. What if someone happened to be standing on exactly the spot you are, but 200 years ago? That person would of course not say that he/she is in Orlando. So, place sometimes has to do with social and political organization, and therefore with history as well.
- I am in the South
- Where is the South? Georgia is clearly the south, as is Arkansas and Alabama. Is Florida? Is Central Florida the South? And what does it mean when we say we are in the South? This is more than just weather - it points to customs, lifestyles, economic arrangements, history, and a host of other social factors. This is a regional designation, as opposed to the civic designation of "Orlando" or the national one of the "US".
- I am in the US
- In some ways, being in the US is like being in Orlando - there was a time when it wasn't there. But being American is different from being Orlandonian. How?
- I am in North America
- Is this like being "in the US"? Not quite. Why not?
- I am on earth
- Under what circumstances could this answer to the question "Where are you?" not result in someone thinking you are weird? Does this amount to the same thing as saying "I am in the universe"? Can you designate a place as including everything?
- I am at UCF
- Being "at UCF" refers not only to spatial location, but also to engagement. That is, there is an ambiguity here - someone might say they are "at UCF" and just mean they are physically located here, but someone asking you "where are you now?" might really mean "what school are you attending?", which makes "I am at UCF" into a chosen activity, not just a spatial location.
- I am at a specific longitude and latitude
- We use GPS systems to locate ourselves, but it is interesting to note that in themselves, they don't really tell us anything. You need to have some sense of where you want to go for this information to make sense.
- I am beside a particular person.
- Useful way to designate place, but probably temporary. After all, that person is probably going to move sometime. But it does point to a feature of place - it is often relational, and it is often ephemeral.
- I am son or daughter of my parents.
- This is a kind of location - in a family tree. When you meet someone from a similar background to you, you might be tempted to figure out what your "place" is in that tree.
- I am here/present
- When would you use a phrase like this? What would it imply?
- I am lost
- Under what conditions is one lost? Is being lost the same as losing place?
- I am in my skin
- We are bodies in a world. What do our bodies have to do with our being in place?
- I am in a chat room on the internet.
- To what extent could we be in a virtual place? Is this a place at all?
- I am in a good place or a bad place.
- The very same place can be good for some, bad for others. Is this just an attitude toward place, or does it have something to do with the place itself? Imagine, for example, being disabled and trying to get around the UCF campus. What kind of place is it for you?
- I am confused.
- Sometimes we talk about being "in" a state of mind. This is a platial term, and suggests that our consciousness is like a geography, that we move around. Only a metaphor? Maybe.
- I am at church.
- Ok, you aren't at church at the moment, you're in class. But what would it take to be at church? Does it require moving to a different place, or can the place you are currently in be changed so that you can say, you are now at church without having physically moved? What is it to be "at church"? Where is church? And what happens if you just decide to hang around the seat you're in until tonight at midnight? You haven't moved, but you're no longer in class either. In fact, if the campus security catches you, you might be in trouble.
Several issues arise from this:
1. It is almost impossible to coherently answer the question "Where are you?" without knowing who is asking and for what purpose. This seemingly simple question hides a host of other questions.
2. And, "where are you" also seems to require us to answer other questions, like "who are you?" Place has to do with identity as well.
3. "Where are you?" seems to be a question located somewhere between subjectivity and objectivity. In other words, we can't just say that place is an objective thing, available to everyone, because the "same place" is really not the same place for different people. And, we also cannot say that is it just subjective, "in our heads", because it seems we would have more control over it if it was. Furthermore, we seem to require physicality of some sort for place to happen. If we didn't, if it was just all in our heads, we'd be idealists of a fairly unsophisticated sort.
4. The "same" place can mean different things to different people, or in different circumstances. The same place can, in fact, be different places.
5. Place is used both literally, to designate geographical location, and figuratively, to designate other kinds of location (family, emotional state, perceptual reality). Sometimes it is hard to tell which is meant, even when we think we are referring to geography.
6. Place cannot be addressed without also addressing time and its related concepts (history, tradition, causation, past, future).
7. Place doesn't have a metaphysical meaning, that is, a definition that refers to its essential nature. It is necessarily tied to its representations.