Wednesday, November 16, 2005

There's no such thing as cyberspace.

Analog Sky
Analog Sky,
by Corporal Tunnel.
"The sky above the port was the color of television, tuned to a dead channel." - Neuromancer, by William Gibson

William Gibson was wrong (whew). It turns out that there's no such thing as cyberspace.

A few things collided in my mind recently. One: I've been reading this report: Pew Internet & American Life Project Report: Teen Content Creators and Consumers. Two: Last Saturday night I had a conversation with friend of a friend a party about the isolation and impersonality (did I just make up a word?) of "cyberspace". And three: I have this meme I inherited from I know not where: "Always-on Relationships."

Obviously, as a civilization, we're still processing, just beginning really, to feel the impact of the expansion of our network beyond physical space. We're still updating our idea of what community is, what workplace, education, conversation is, in this new environment. Those who are going through the process of change marvel at the young ones who had no such preconceptions, and seem to stretch effortlessly past the old boundaries. I love the idea of "social networks" because it contains within it the recognition that "the net", at least the human part, has always existed. Instead of having only light and sound waves as the communication protocol, now it also includes IP and those things we've built on top.

Some interesting tidbits from the Pew report:
  • 40% of online kids who live in cities remix and mash original creations out of the web
  • 38% of all online teens say they read blogs, and 62% of those say they only read blogs of people inside their social network
  • 57% of internet-using teens and 50% of teens overall (representing 12M US youth) self-publish on the internet
  • 90% of kids who blog, and 72% of those who don't, use IM to communicate with their friends, and 55%/35% use SMS (I'm guessing this is different in Europe)
That doesn't sound very isolating and impersonal. It sounds like conversation. I can't remember where I first heard the term "always-on relationships". I could be that I inherited this meme from the writings of Philip E. Agre, from the Department of Information Studies at UCLA, who wrote, among many other things, two papers which I highly recommend you read: Cyberspace as American Culture and The Market Logic of Information. I find very compelling the idea that we beginning to see a generation that has not grown up with the idea of the internet as a separate "cyberspace", but instead experiences it as an aspect of the environment in which they live; another channel alongside "real space", only with different characteristics. The Internet as a technology, without the ideology of cyberspace.


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