Following on from my post earlier, I’ve been thinking about another issue that I discuss in my thesis. It’s related to the notion that there’s really no use for digital dualisms (real/virtual, offline/online, etc) that are often deployed when talking about the Internet.
Something I didn’t get around to mentioning but intended to was the fact that I still find the concept of cyberspace useful, but I am struggling with the terminology.
Due to the fact that my research investigates geography and place identity (i.e. our relationship and identification with the environments we inhabit – taking ‘place’ as different to ‘space’ in that place is “location (space) made meaningful” [see Tuan, Cresswell]) and social networks, I’ve spent quite a bit of time thinking about what cyberspace means in the early twenty first century.
cyberspace: not quite this hectic, as far as i know. is that a body? do we even need bodies in cyberspace?? (hint: yes) //source//
I’m sure it has different meaning today than it did in the early 1990s, when cyberspace was posited as a futuristic, disembodied, dislocated Other world. It was firmly situated within the realm of the online/virtual, and in cyberculture studies the tension between our physical reality (perceived as flawed, restrictive; at a time when the (western) world was experiencing the first true dissolution of geographical boundaries, the body was an encumbrance to freedom) and the desire to exist purely as data inside the network.
Have you seen The Matrix? That, really. Jacking in, logging on, and dropping out: it was all about information, where to find it, and how to absorb as much as possible.
The only real problem with this was that it wasn’t entirely feasible. As far as I know, in 2013 science has still not found a way to separate mind and body, allowing the psyche to be uploaded to the network in order that one may live as a series of ones and zeroes, free from the constraints of ill-health, age, race, gender, death, and the need to pee. And that’s not to mention the ethical issues. I receive emails from my department reminding me to review ethics clearance for my research, which involves trawling blogs and social media and waxing lyrical about them. I can’t even imagine trying to get ethics clearance for a project that would essentially kill the physical body whilst preserving the human mind inside a machine.
So it’s fair to say that cyberspace, as the ultimate pre-dot-com-bubble-burst buzzword, is probably no longer useful in the 1990s sense. However – and this is where it might get a bit mind-blowy (or maybe not) – I firmly believe that we now live in cyberspace.
This is where I come back to Nathan Jurgenson’s post that I commented on previously. He argues that there’s no need for digital dualisms, and I agree. When was the last time you used Google Maps your mobile phone to find your way to a friends’ house? Have you ever used Urbanspoon to find a restaurant recommendation when you’ve been out in town and want something good that’s within walking distance? Have you checked in on Foursquare or Facebook Places, or uploaded a photo to Instagram (they’re geotagged, you know), or tweeted from a festival? Have you asked for recommendations, or visited your national news website and automatically been directed toward the local news?
This is cyberspace, friends.
In many ways, ‘cyberspace’ forms a useful portmanteau – cyber referring to information (rather than virtual or fake), and ‘space’ to, well, geographical space – for labeling the relationship between data and materiality. When we participate and contribute content (status updates, photographs, videos, music downloads, check ins, reviews, ratings), we’re telling the network something about us, and about the places we inhabit. Our interaction with our physical surroundings is richer and more complex because “it” (the Internet – or more accurately, the algorithms and programming that allow information to be fed back to us as users) knows so much about us, our world, and what we want. Isn’t that a grand thing?
Like I said at the beginning though, I do struggle with the term ‘cyberspace’, probably because it is difficult to shake off the 90s connotations. The second you say ‘cyberspace’, it conjures up images of ones and zeroes and terrible (but awesome) movies like Hackers.
It’s also a term that I can’t help but want to use ironically, because it’s just really naff. But what should we say? Is there a good way to describe this network of information that coexists with our physical world?