October 09, 2010

Definition of Cyberspace

‘Cyberspace’ is a complex term to define; indeed, its definition can be refracted through our three story-telling tropes to give us different (though often overlapping) definitions. We can define cyberspace in terms of hardware, for example – as a global network of computers, linked through communications infrastructures, that facilitate forms of interaction between remote actors. Cyberspace is here the sum of all those nodes and networks (‘what it is’). Alternatively, a definition based partly on the ‘symbolic’ trope could define cyberspace as an imagined space between computers in which people might build new selves and new worlds (‘what it means’). In fact, cyberspace is all this and more; it is hardware and software, and it is images and ideas – the two are inseparable. Moreover, the ways we experience cyberspace represent a negotiation of material and symbolic elements, each given different weight depending on the kind of experience (‘what it does’).

We can experience cyberspace mundanely, as where we are when we sit at a computer checking emails; or, we can experience cyberspace as an immersive realm where our ‘real life’ (RL) bodies and identities disappear – even if what we’re doing in those two scenarios isn’t, at one level of interrogation, that different.

In The Cybercultures Reader Michael Benedikt defines cyberspace along similar axes, pointing out a number of different ways of conceptualizing what turns out to be an elusive thing. Consider just a couple of his attempts at definition: Cyberspace: A new universe, a parallel universe created and sustained by the world’s computers and communications lines. A world in which the global traffic of knowledge, secrets, measurements, indicators, entertainments, and alter-human agency takes on form: sights, sounds, presences never seen on the surface of the earth blossoming in a vast electronic light.

Cyberspace: A common mental geography, built, in turn, by consensus and revolution, canon and experiment; a territory swarming with data and lies, with mind stuff and memories of nature, with a million voices and two million eyes in a silent, invisible concert to enquiry, deal-making, dream sharing, and simple beholding. (Benedikt CR: 29)

After ten such attempts, Benedikt states that ‘cyberspace as just described does not exist’ (30). In fact, I would argue that it does exist – maybe not in terms of hardware and software, but certainly in terms of story-telling.

Attending to cyberspace through its stories makes definition harder, but that’s a necessary thing if we are going to grasp the manifold places it occupies in the worlds of science and technology, business and everyday life, dreams and nightmares. So, in fact, I am deferring definition because to define cyberspace too rigidly at this point would shape the agenda of the ways we read the stories I want to introduce. Instead, it’s more useful to redefine cyberspace in the context of each story, and then explore the overlaps and intersections of these definitions. As John McLeod (1997) remarks, stories are ways of making sense of the world and our place within it – so, what I want to do in these two chapters is to share with you a number of different stories, that taken together might give a broader picture of the relationships between cyberspace and everyday life.

From : Bell, David. An Introduction to Cybercultures. Routledge. Page : 6-8
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