Desire Paths in Digital Spaces

It is a lovely thing to follow a dirt track across a park from one side to the other. It feels wayward, it satisfies a delinquent urge to deviate from the suggested route.

There are few maps as we wrestle to make sense, establish order and chart courses through online spaces, and it’s time to remind ourselves that there are good reasons to carve our own connections and pathways and perhaps even, create digital desire paths.

London Fields desire path With Associates CC BY-NC-SA 2.0

Urban planners try to anticipate the paths which will appear naturally as people decide for themselves the most direct and convenient routes to take. We see them most usually across parks and open spaces, linking buildings, as shortcuts or routes to common destinations.

Desire paths are formed from an act of simple disobedience, often we don’t walk in straight lines or turn at ninety degree angles and if we want to go from A to B then we do. These routes are democratic, open and sometimes kinder. It’s common to see a path down a slope adjacent to steps. As the name suggests, there’s frisson of pleasure, a moment of delight in walking a desire path, a little hit.

Even the motorways that cut through the countryside started out as simple paths, animal tracks across fields that were paved as the traffic increased, as the loads people carried increased, as we moved from walking to horse and cart, carriage, bicyles, cars, lorries and trains.

Is this something that we’re still doing? Are we creating digital desire paths? Lines of communication, systems, ways of working that are simpler, quicker and easier? Does the internet enable us to link ideas in the shortest most simple and seemingly obvious way? We find ourselves removing something, refining something, changing something or creating something entirely new.

I like the idea that art can be made anywhere, perhaps seen by few people, or not recognised as art when they do.
Richard Long

Our start and end points aren’t usually as clear as in geographic spaces. A desire path never meanders, it never takes a winding course. Although it’s a psycho-geography, no desire path was ever created without knowing where it was leading to.

We see these paths appearing in education and technology, between the commercial and not-for-profit, between individuals and groups. Let’s try to create networks that are as desire paths, democratic, connected and emerging, chosen by the people using these spaces, shaped through the structures built for us and by us.

It only takes a few people to create a path, they form when we see a common solution, a route that just makes sense. We need to find better ways to communicate and talk to each other, send messages and deliver ideas. We need to find ways to better establish relationships between spaces, collaborate and share as much as possible.

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