Last week, I wrote a piece entitled “There is no Cyberspace,” where I argued the today’s World Wide Web bears little resemblance to the thing that cyberpunk authors like William Gibson imagined as cyberspace. I explained that Gibson defined cyberspace as a “consensual hallucination” and proceeded to argue that the Web was neither consensual nor hallucinatory. I noted that even Gibson himself acknowledges that the cyberspace concept is outmoded—that, rather than being sucked into the world behind the screen, computers have “everted,” overlaying the physical with the digital. I concluded that the term “cyberspace” confounds our ability to makes sense of a social Web that has very real consequences in our lives because it evokes images of fantastical space apart from reality that we can enter and exit at our leisure. The piece received thorough feedback and critique in posts by Mike Bulajewski (on his Mr. Teacup blog) and Jeremy Antley (on his Peasant Muse blog), which has encouraged me to further develop my argument.
My claim that the “cyberspace” misleadingly evokes elements of fantasy left room for possible confusion insofar as I failed to define what I meant by fantasy. Bulajewski, for example, attempted to invert my argument, making a sort of post-Modern claim that “there is only cyberspace” because both our individual psyches (à la Sigmund Freud) and our collective consciousness (à la Emile Durkheim) mediate and interpret experience through the lens of our history, memory, traumas, etc. As Immanuel Kant (and his sociological successor Georg Simmel) explained long ago, there is no access to “real,” unmediated experience—all subjective input is filtered through the pre-existing structures of our consciousness. Bulajewski wants to call all experience “fantasy” because it is historically and culturally relative. Perhaps this is an important distinction in an arcane philosophical context, but I’m rather more concerned with what people actually mean when they say “real” in the context of the Web, as in: “real” life vs. cyberspace. (more…)
Reposted from Peasant Muse.
Photo by aagius
What does the term ‘cyberspace’ mean? Does this Gibsonian construct adequately fulfill the task, currently asked of it by many, of defining the digital/physical realm interaction in terms of its scope and function?
Attempts to frame new social interactions spurred by digital innovations in communication, documentation and self-actualization (just to name a few) generally encounter problems of word choice when describing the effects these advancements bring to our growing conceptions of reality. Literary terminology, often built upon antiquated notions reconfigured to suggest a potential or future state of being, sometimes suits the purpose of analogy when looking at these phenomena. Yet there always comes a time when our understanding of an event or construction of reality demands that we re-evaluate our word choice, lest our future analytical efforts be hindered by its, perhaps, outmoded or misleading operation. PJ Rey and the internet persona known as Mr. Teacup produced just this sort of re-evalutation of the term mentioned above, cyberspace, through two excellent pieces titled ‘There is no Cyberspace‘ and ‘There is Only Cyberspace’, respectively written.
PJ Rey argued that the term cyberspace, first coined by William Gibson in the short story ‘Burning Chrome’ and defined as a ‘consensual hallucination’, is deeply problematic in describing our contemporary social web because the web is neither consensual nor a hallucination. Thanks to the ubiquity of smart phones, pervasive documentary practices (something Nathan Jurgenson calls the ‘Facebook Eye‘) mean that even if someone does not participate in the social web their actions are nonetheless captured by it to some degree, thus shaping our actions on the individual and societal level. Many of us cannot control the degree to which this ‘Facebook Eye’ documents our actions (Could you stop every friend from making comments or posting pictures of your embarrassing moment from last week’s party? What about last year’s party?) making the web far from a consensual space. In many ways, because the web is not consensual it is also not a fantastical or a hallucinatory space either. It is a part of reality- the web is as real as reality itself. Actions taken offline impact online relations and vice-versa, allowing Rey to state that, “causality is bi-directional. We are all part of the same human-computer system.” (more…)