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September 01, 2006

The End of Cyberspace


Cyberspace, a state of mind? + Another view

From UC-Irvine professor Mark Warschauer, The Death of Cyberspace and the Rebirth of CALL:

"The notion of "cyberspace" suggests that there exists a virtual, online world that is distinct from our real world. "Cyberspace" is a type of fantasyland, where we take on cyber-identities and engage in virtual reality. But then, when we leave cyberspace, we come back to the "real world".

I would contend, in contrast, that the significance of online communication lies not in its separation from the real world, but rather in how it is impacting nearly every single aspect of the real world. Just like there is no such thing as "speechspace" or "writingspace" or "printspace," so there is no cyberspace. The notion of cyberspace is thus not helpful for understanding the very real impact of online networking on our lives, and indeed the concept of cyberspace is slowly dying out." [link]

Cyberspace, a state of mind?

Buried in my del.icio.us links was a paper titled You Are Where? Building a Research Presence in Cyberspace, by an Edinburgh-based writer named Rory Ewins. It makes the argument that we should understand cyberspace as a kind of state of mind-- or more accurately, as a kind of imaginative state that we enter when reading:

"While most of us associate cyberspace only with computers and the Internet, we have been living in it for years. Whenever we pick up the telephone to talk to another person, we meet them in cyberspace, a place that corresponds to neither end of the line and to both.... [C]yberspace actually predates the “cyber”; we have been shifting in and out of it for as long as we have been communicating at a distance. It’s possible, perhaps, to trace it back even further in the history of communication: long-distance conversations carried out via airmail letters could be said to take place in a kind of cyberspace as much as at either end of the correspondence. As could letters from one side of town to another, or messages carried by couriers. All invoke an imaginative space in which two sides can meet and exchange information.

As anyone who has spent any time surfing the Web knows, it’s quite possible to spend hours at a time “in” cyberspace even when the only communicating one is doing is clicking on a link every few minutes to get a browser to send a request to a server for a new page to read. Most of our time online isn’t spent talking; it’s spent reading. Yet we still feel as if we are “in” cyberspace as we read words from the screen. Because of the history of the term itself, and the way we access these words via the Internet, we might conclude that computer technology is an integral part of this feeling of being in cyberspace....

Given the strong overlap in contemporary thinking between cyberspace and the Internet, and the past examples of the phone and telegraph networks, we might be tempted to think of cyberspace as arising out of communications networks, as being the place we meet when we communicate with each other. But that cannot be the whole story.... [R]eading takes us into an imaginative state, a state shaped by the author of the words we read, and by ourselves as readers. As readers we know what it feels like to be in that state; and we know what it feels like to slip out of it. We have all felt our minds wander as we read words on a page, and found ourselves having to go back and re-read them—forcing ourselves into a focussed, “reading” state of mind—immersing ourselves in those words, giving our attention over to them, quietening our own inner voice to listen to the voices of others.

What is this mental state? Where are we when we are in it? I would argue that it’s cyberspace; we simply didn’t have a name for it before. It’s a virtual place—the place where our mind meets another’s; where reader meets author. It’s the place we find ourselves in when we read a friend’s email; the place we meet when we hear their voice on our mobile phone. We have less opportunity when reading a printed page to respond to their words in a way that they will hear, but communication is still taking place, even if one-way....

So cyberspace is not something new. We have been building it for centuries, book by book, letter by letter, web page by web page. Or rather, we have been building gateways to it for centuries, because that’s all any of these are: means of access to the real cyberspace, which is invoked by our minds. Cyberspace is an imaginative state—a state of reading, of communicating, of thinking—which we have made more and more a part of our lives through advances in technology, from writing to printing to telecommunications to television to the Internet." [link] [blogged by Alex Soojung-Kim Pang on The End of Cyberspace]

Posted by jo at September 1, 2006 09:56 AM