[Home]CyberSpace

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There's no there, there. -- Gertrude Stein, originally applied to suburban America.

A conceptual space; etymologically navigable space from the Greek kyber, to navigate. The word itself historically is a variation on cybernetics, a term coined by Norbert Wiener from the Greek root kyber (meaning helmsman) to describe the study of control systems (ie, what we would think of now as computers). It first appeared in the seminal NeuromancerBook by WilliamGibson in 1984. Based on that conception known as The Matrix, CyberSpace is generally envisioned as a VirtualReality as Gibson metaphorized the network as a spatially "navigable space" (an ObjectiveSpace?). Other notable conceptions include NealStephenson's (1984) metaverse in SnowCrash and the movie Wiki:TheMatrix.

One conception of computer-mediated communication claims it takes place through CyberSpace. When someone is online, they are in CyberSpace. This claim is contested by, in, through, on, with, or over Meatball depending on your perspective (cf. PostWELL). More to the point: Meatball is over CyberSpace and MeatballWiki is in CyberSpace, but as an integrated collective, it's not clear where the whole entity lies: probably in MeatSpace and CyberSpace depending on your reading.

Contrast the RealWorld, or more colloquially, the BigBlueRoom. See also HyperMedium.

CategoryNavigation (c'est ├ža!)


Don Quixote rides again

After talking to Cliff about his earlier days of HackingAtNight, I began to wonder about why people began thinking that online communications constituted some sort of CyberSpace. When computer time was rare, restricted, expensive, and essentially required going to a special room at a special time with special people to do a special thing--i.e. HackingAtNight--I suppose it was alluring to create the myth that the Net was a different place entirely. After all, after you were done being online, you would leave into the BigBlueRoom, where every sensory perception was different. (*) It's probably significant that many of the people who built the 'Net were glad to create a space for themselves, away from the mainstream culture they didn't feel too attached to. I don't think it's too surprising that many feel that the BigBlueRoom and CyberSpace are antipodes rather than parallel or even orthogonal places.

However, as the PostWELL Net continues to proliferate both across industries and down the class ladder, it has become comfortable to many. It no longer encompasses a totally unique sensory experience, in fact melding with (though not dissolved within) our common "daily life" experiences. I assert that as PervasiveComputing marches forward, the Net fits socially more clearly in MeatSpace than CyberSpace. The Net is only made up of people, after all.

Then again, PervasiveComputing also allows for a whole new dimension to existence that we didn't previously have. While the social aspect of the Net is not particularly new, those capabilities that information technology uniquely contribute do create a new type of space. Consider for instance the combination of persistence, global access, and location based services. This technology allows individuals to drop little digital "post it notes" on any place, for instance restaurant reviews tagged against each restaurant down the street. In this way, the street has been augmented with an ArtificialReality, orthogonal to its bricks and mortar reality.

Still, even though no information exists without physical form somewhere--and, therefore, a separate cyberspace does not really exist--it's pretty unromantic to eliminate CyberSpace altogether in a puff of reductive smoke, so I'll leave that last step to you. But I continue to assert that humans cannot be in CyberSpace, just as we cannot be in a novel. Then, when discussing things like OnlineCommunities, I believe it's important to remember each person is still a person, somewhere out here, hunched in a chair, squinting at a glaring monitor. We merely talk to each other with the Internet, not within it. As I said elsewhere, "Meatball lives in MeatSpace, but is accessed through the Internet." -- SunirShah

(*) I wonder if these earlier pioneers felt more comfortable in the sensory deprivation tanks of their labs than in the outside world, so that the outside world felt different instead of normative. I know I've felt this sensation after hacking for weeks straight and then wandering outside. I'm of course romanticizing lab culture way beyond belief, but I still think that the total sterility of the labs cognitively disconnected that online experience from the rest of the chaotic human experience.

Contrast PostHumanism.

Consider RepresentationConfusion.


Certainly, each of us is "somewhere out here, hunched in a chair, squinting at a glaring monitor". But this is exactly why cyberspace is an essentially different "place", not why it doesn't exist. In MeatSpace, we talk to people, not to glowing monitors. Meditate on the utter strangeness of a society in which people have strange boxes, some parts of which are movable and which are painted with odd glyphs. There, sometimes people sit in front of these boxes for a few hours, pushing the movable parts around, and then afterwards declare that they were "talking to someone". If you didn't know about communications technology, you would think that person was utterly insane. But then you might think the same of someone using a telephone.

The forms of communication are altered substantially by the computer medium. In MeatSpace, we don't have asynchronous WikiNow discourse. We don't have "pages" to organize our thoughts. We don't constantly send trivial greetings and "links" across a room to our friends by voice.

Hence, the subtle texture of conversation, and the subtle texture of our perceptions of each other, are very different from MeatSpace. At this point in our technological development, we cannot escape CyberSpace completely without, well, leaving it. Social interactions online cannot be exactly like MeatSpace interaction.

At some point in the future we may acheive the technology to have cheap virtual reality conferencing, in which case we will be able to have something very close to MeatSpace-like interaction within CyberSpace.

There may be a useful distinction between two notions of CyberSpace; in one notion (see PostHumanism), our very selves exist in a different form than now; if we are ever able to run our minds on computers rather than brains, it will make more sense to say we are "in the computers" than that we are "in our bodies". If our minds turns out to be information or information processing, then transferring them into computers will make it easy to break down any notion of locality at all. In which case it will make sense to say the minds are "in CyberSpace" rather than in a particular computer. Currently, however, this is an abstract notion, because no known, non-supernatural conscious being exists without being tethered to a specific brain.

In another notion, the one that this passage is focusing on, CyberSpace is a metaphor used to describe the place in which we are communicating, even thought we cannot be in CyberSpace anymore than we can be in a novel. The above passage opines that this metaphor is ultimately unnecessary, more of a rhetorical florish than a really useful concept. This passage, by contrast, opines that this metaphor is often a cleaner, clearer way of thinking about what is happening than the alternative.

The above passage clearly recognizes that using computers has repercussions on modes of interaction. The only difference between these two points of view is whether it is a good thing to wrap those repercussions into a metaphor and give it a name.

So, what about "MeatBall lives in MeatSpace, not CyberSpace"? As stated, it is more of an ideal or guiding principal than a fact. It states that we like MeatSpace modes of interpersonal communication. We cannot completely have technologically mediated MeatSpace types of conversations yet, so we cannnot achieve this. Nor would we want to; if cheap VR teleconferencing was here today, would we abandon these strange Wiki forms, with their essays and their WikiNow? Would we give it up and simply call groups of each other up on the phone, so to speak? No; we would probably do both.

So, what do we mean when we say we want to exist in MeatSpace, not CyberSpace?

It's ill-defined. And that is not a bad thing. Part of what we mean is that we'd like to meet each other if we could afford to. That we intend to treat each other as human friends and aquaintences, not as made-up entities with wacky names. That we have more of a preference for MeatSpace social styles than some other discussion forums on the web, although there are still elements of the CyberSpace social mode that we consider valuable. That we like to keep in mind the fact that we are not teleporting to some mystical realm when we talk to each other but rather sitting in chairs and typing.


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