Friday, 26 September 2014

Essay: Cyberspace Explored Through the Symbiotic Perspective

Cyberspace has become the quintessential term for describing the vagueness and complexity that surrounds human-computer interaction (Adams & Warf 1997). Many people would have been unprepared for the rapid ascension of technology in daily life, let alone the significance that the Internet and World Wide Web would have on almost every aspect of society (Clark Wroclawski, Sollins, & Braden 2002). When something so significant appears in history, man has the need to define it. This is a necessary thing to do in order to provide frameworks for research, study and understanding, to communicate with consistency, and to build on the creation that has been released upon the world.

This paper will discuss the current literature and commentary attempting to define cyberspace, with the aim of providing clarity to the definition and its potential for future use. First, the nature of cyberspace is briefly discussed, contextualised through the writings of William Gibson. Second, the paper analyses various ways of defining cyberspace by introducing the functionality perspective and experiential perspective. Third, an examination of these perspectives reveal that there is a symbiotic relationship between them, which once recognised, can dilute the often convoluted definition of cyberspace. The essay concludes, that by utilising the symbiotic perspective, the greatest understanding of cyberspace and its future in society can be achieved.

The term ‘cyberspace’ first appeared when William Gibson released his 1984 science-fiction novel, Neuromancer. In the book, Gibson describes cyberspace as a “consensual hallucination”, alluding to the disembodied consciousness projected into a virtual realm by his character ‘jacking in’ to cyberspace (Gibson 1984). Since that time, the evolution of technology, and the way society interacts with technology, has continuously shifted the dialogue of computing (Coyne 1998). Computing was once considered a rival of human intelligence, due to the threat of Artificial Intelligence (Coyne 1998). However, the shift of the contemporary human-computer relationship shows the dissolution of that fear. Computers are now considered an indispensable component of human activity, and have a significant role in the lives of millions of people around the world (Abraham 2000). What relationship do these shifts in technology have to cyberspace? The nature of cyberspace can be described as dynamic and flexible, shifting more endlessly than the technology within which it resides (Cobb 1999). Issues of increasing human cognitive ability have become far less important than the amplification of our vision to observe aesthetically gratifying graphical interfaces for obtaining the information that resides within our technology (Heim 1991). Cyberspace is representative of this change in focus, and has more relevance than ever, as technology becomes increasingly pervasive throughout all aspects of society (Abraham 2000). 

Pralea (2010) makes the point though that “Pervasive as it is, digital technology cannot account for a universal human experience” (p. 2). Using this thought as a foundation, cyberspace can be broadly defined as what humans experience it to be, and what it actually is. This leads to the two perspectives of cyberspace. The experiential perspective, on one hand, relates to how humans experience human-computer interaction, attempting to explain cyberspace through numerous psychological, philosophical and sociocultural approaches. The functionality perspective, on the other hand, relates to the more tangible elements within the human-computer relationship, attempting to explain cyberspace through practicality and logic. The approaches to this perspective are common in fields such as economics, governance, and military applications (Lord 2008; Kobrin 2001). This distinction between perspectives, while initially creating some barriers to understanding, ultimately assist in realising a more complete interpretation of cyberspace. A visualisation of cyberspace becomes clear that it is outside of individual perspectives, and outside of a real or unreal environment. Cyberspace demonstrates it has become an interwoven fabric through both physical spaces and the space between our minds.

The practical elements of cyberspace are deceivingly simple, it’s functionality abundant with opportunity for interaction with any number of applications. The internet was initially a concept for functionality, and like all great inventions could not have realised the true limit of its potential. A recorded description of Licklider’s 1962 vision of a “galactic network” was to have a globally interconnected set of computers, that people could access data and programs from, no matter what their location (Internet Society 2014). Cyberspace was born from this vision over half a century ago, but is no longer confined to it (Cobb 1999). Cyberspace is functionally utilised with limitless purposes throughout individual, business and government spheres.

Kobrin (2001) explores the territoriality and governance of cyberspace, questioning the necessity of cyberspace to be self-regulated. He argues that “cyberspace should not (and will not) remain free from taxation and regulation” (p. 688). The cyber-warfare attacks launched on Estonia in 2007, crippling the country’s information technology infrastructure, provides another example of the functional possibilities of cyberspace (Lord 2008). The analyses of these applications pertain to the functionality perspective of cyberspace. This is the idea that cyberspace by itself, separated in its virtual distinctness, is nothing. Definition’s stemming from this perspective, regard cyberspace as another communication medium and a structure that needs to be controlled in order to achieve strategic objectives. Deibert & Rohozinski (2010) provide an insightful analogy to the condition of cyberspace, likening it to “a gangster-dominated version of New York: a tangled web of rival public and private authorities, civic associations, criminal networks, and underground economies” (p. 44). A single observation of the functionality perspective and its materially developmental priorities may give one the opinion that it is a wasteland for thought, inherently wicked and part only to the institutions of global economics and governance. However, all the complications of our reality, both physical and non-physical are reflected in the world behind the computer screen.

Behind the screens lies a world, but no physical investigation of wires is able to take you there. The paradox of the cyber-world is non-physical space (Adams & Warf 1997). As Pralea (2010) explains it: “[In fact,] there, there is no there… nothing that resembles a world” (p. 61). Cyberspace is something that exists, but only because of human-computer interaction. Heim (1991) considers cyberspace “A metaphysical laboratory, a tool to examine our own sense of reality” (p. 59). This type of analysis of cyberspace can be defined as the experiential perspective. Descriptions through this perspective realise that cyberspace cannot exist in what we consider to be reality, but exists and continues to evolve within the space between our minds (Pralea 2010). This shared space that exists between our minds brings together thoughts, ideas, emotions and information communicated through text and images (Cobb 1999). Gur-Ze’ev (2000) goes to the extent of saying that “Cyberspace is a giant pleasure machine” (p. 227). This kind of perception is further elaborated by Coyne (1999), who notes the high degree of romanticism present in contemporary cyberspace dialogue. People possess a growing disdain for the limits of the body, hoping for an ultimate transcendence through cyberspace, which may lead them to a more promising and truly democratic future (Pralea 2010; GurZe'ev 2000; Coyne 1999). Feldman (2012) also observes the etymology of ‘space’, describing it as a social construct before a geographical territory, underlining the necessity to recognise the social significance of cyberspace. It is the experiential perspective that moves cyberspace from a one-dimensional representation of technology, to a realm of discovery that uncovers the dynamic and flexible nature of its existence, while reflecting upon our own.

The individual analyses of cyberspace, through the functionality perspective or experiential perspective alone, is not sufficient for explicating the complexities of cyberspace. Krueger (2007) alludes to the fact that cyberspace consists of both tangible and abstract foundations. There is a physical existence present between hardware devices and network data flows that is not separate, but interrelated to the ‘experienced’ space where people connect both directly and indirectly (Kruger 2007). It is the holistic approach, the symbiotic relationship between the functionality perspective and the experiential perspective that promotes a higher understanding of cyberspace as both a technological and sociocultural construction. The flexible and dynamic nature of cyberspace requires the continuous construction and development of its parts. Adams & Warf (1997) highlight this continuum of technology and society, articulating that “Computer network communications are not simply passive reiterations of an existing social reality; they are integral to the constitution of society… [a] society [that] constantly constructs and regulates itself” (p. 142). There is no centre of control in cyberspace. It is a collaborative construct of the masses, reflective of our own biological design. Therefore, it is the symbiotic perspective that is necessary to attain a more complete definition of cyberspace.

The elusive answer to defining the entirety of cyberspace, has curiously been within reach, but never entirely attained. The reason for this is that cyberspace resides not only in the virtual dimension of digital technologies, nor the real world in which that technology is exploited. Consequently, attempts at defining cyberspace must encompass the whole. The functionality perspective and experiential perspective are contained within a symbiotic relationship, assisting further understanding and the evolution of cyberspace and its representations. Instead of reducing the definition to an egocentric perception of the impact that technology has on our lives, or the destructive abilities that can be delivered through warfare applications, the answer is found to be that cyberspace is an interwoven and highly pervasive construct.  It is the space between our minds that determines that cyberspace exists, and the space between our screens that enables it to exist. Cyberspace is outside of a real and unreal distinction, its entire representation unavailable to be defined. However, the symbiotic perspective will provide clarity as the presence of cyberspace continues to permeate our lives, and will continue to do so as we move toward the ever-changing future of the human-computer relationship. 


Abraham, RH 2000, ‘Cyberspace and the Ecotopian dream’, World Futures: Journal of General Evolution, vol. 55, no. 2, pp. 153-158.
Adams, PC & Warf, B 1997, ‘Introduction: cyberspace and geographical space’, Geographical Review, vol. 87, no. 2, pp. 139-145.
Clark, DD, Wroclawski, J, Sollins, KR & Braden, R 2002 ‘Tussle in cyberspace: defining tomorrow's internet’, ACM SIGCOMM Computer Communication Review, Vol. 32, No. 4, pp. 347-356.
Cobb, JJ 1999, ‘A spiritual experience of cyberspace’, Technology in Society, vol. 21, no. 4, pp. 393-407.
Coyne, R 1998, ‘Cyberspace and Heidegger’s pragmatics’, Information Technology & People, vol. 11, no. 4, pp. 338-350.
Deibert, R & Rohozinski, R 2010, ‘Liberation vs. control: The future of cyberspace’, Journal of Democracy, vol. 21, no. 4, pp. 43-57.
Feldman, Z 2012, ‘Simmel in cyberspace’, Information, Communication & Society, vol. 15 no. 2, pp. 297-319.
Gibson, W 1995, Neuromancer, Ace Publishing, New York.
GurZe'ev, I 2000, ‘Critical education in cyberspace?’, Educational Philosophy and Theory, vol. 32, no. 2, pp. 209-231.
Heim, M. (1991). The erotic ontology of cyberspace. Cyberspace: First steps, 59-80.
Internet Society. (2014). Brief History of the Internet, viewed 25 September 2014, <>.
Kobrin, SJ 2001, ‘Territoriality and the Governance of Cyberspace’, Journal of International Business Studies, vol. 32, no. 4, pp. 687-704.
Krueger, T 2007, ‘Mapping Cyberspace: The Image of the Internet’, Annals of the History of Computing, IEEE, vol. 29, no. 1, pp. 100-100.
Lord, WT 2008, ‘USAF Cyberspace Command: To Fly and Fight in Cyberspace’, Strategic Studies Quarterly, vol. 1, no, 3, pp. 5-18.  
Pralea, C 2010, A Hermeneutical Ontology of Cyberspace, Doctoral dissertation, Bowling Green State University, viewed 15 Septembers 2014, via <>

Thursday, 25 September 2014

Academic Journals and Brainstorming Map

List of academic papers related to cyberspace:

Adams, PC & Warf, B 1997, ‘Introduction: cyberspace and geographical space’, Geographical      Review, vol. 87, no. 2, pp. 139-145.

Clark, DD, Wroclawski, J, Sollins, KR & Braden, R 2002 ‘Tussle in cyberspace: defining tomorrow's  internet’, ACM SIGCOMM Computer Communication Review, Vol. 32, No. 4, pp. 347-356.

Cobb, JJ 1999, ‘A spiritual experience of cyberspace’, Technology in Society, vol. 21, no. 4, pp. 393-  407.

Coyne, R 1998, ‘Cyberspace and Heidegger’s pragmatics’, Information Technology & People, vol.  11, no. 4, pp. 338-350.

Deibert, R & Rohozinski, R 2010, ‘Liberation vs. control: The future of cyberspace’, Journal of  Democracy, vol. 21, no. 4, pp. 43-57.

Basic brainstorm created from

Wednesday, 24 September 2014

Incoming Essay: Defining Cyberspace

An essay will be posted on this blog, from the topic below for a university assessment piece.

William Gibson says cyberspace is a consensual hallucination. Is he right or is cyberspace just another part of the everyday world? Is there a future for the concept of cyberspace? or is it time to come up with a better term for human interaction with computer networks?

Defining cyberspace can be a difficult task. There are various explanations that are simple. The simple explanations pertain to the functional side of cyberspace. The difficulty of defining cyberspace is rooted in the paradox of cyberspace - cyberspace is a non-physical space. From my recent literature review of cyberspace, I came to the conclusion that cyberspace has two main elements, two sides to it. The first is the functional element, previously mentioned. The second is the existential, experiential side.  

This second element is extremely complicated, trying to pull together definitions from philosophy of mind, socio-cultural determinants, and it is this realm of cyberspace explanations that often carries the romanticism of cyber ideologies. 

My essay will delve into both elements in an attempt to provide a more complete description of cyberspace, using the two elements previously mentioned as a simple framework. My essay will discuss William Gibson's original meaning of cyberspace as a consensual hallucination, and conclude that this description is entirely insufficient. To be fair, even Gibson didn't truly know what it meant. In an interview he says that he thought it and then saw it on the page and there it was. He couldn't have known the mutations in the use of the word that were to follow. 

I will also address the topic question by arguing that there is a future for the concept of cyberspace. The ramifications that can occur in the economic and developed worlds due to misuse of computer power are a real threat, and there are plenty of people out there that want the internet sewn up with laws and regulations. The most insane idea I read about was that everybody who wanted to access the internet would have an individual ID. This ID would be like an access card with a security clearance. So depending on who you are, would determine what you are allowed to access and to do online. Governments are worried. It's been a long time since the Peace of Westphalia, and governments don't like the idea of cyberspace diluting their long held sovereign borders. 

Perhaps there is room however, for some new terms. Just like the internet is a mother to the world wide web, perhaps there are some other terms that can be the sons and daughters of cyberspace? and just like the internet, people will continue to use the term in general conversation, and not for it's true meaning. But the new common terms may provide clarity and assistance for writers and academics who further explore the ever-changing realm of cyberspace. 

Sunday, 31 August 2014

Mind Control & the Internet

The topic of this entry is based upon the writing by Sue Halpern (2011), "Mind Control & the Internet".

How might the internet be controlling our minds? Directly? Indirectly? By setting our expectations? By becoming our psychic environment? Advertising is one of the key players to answer all these questions. The amount of data that is now captured when individuals are online provides marketing departments with an abundance of information that can be used to target very specific markets, acting before we do from past experience, making people aware of products they might not have ever searched for directly (Halpern, 2011). 
Are neural implants the way of the future? Would you have neural implants inserted? Under what conditions? Brain-interface technology will most likely have applications in the future for people with disabilities who cannot move limbs and will move robotic devices or prosthesis with their mind, such as the Braingate system. Microscopic sensors or neural dust is another technology currently in research stages,  and can record the equivalent of electrical signals of neurons. I would only try implants if I had a debilitating disability that made my life cumbersome for myself and other people.
Does Google's personalisation of our internet interaction assist us? Or is it exploitation? Does it deny our freedom or is it all part of being a collective? How is it affecting the climate change debate? It is both. Data is taken form everyone but only a percentage of people use the information and applications that Google can provide. Much of the data is used for business income. They create more freedom within the context of the internet and digital connectivity and provide solutions to be more collective as a culture, but this does not apply to people who desire freedom in nature, away from the digital world. Digital products save trees but produce e-waste, the climate change debate is more accessible to everyone who has internet access. People are living in areas that experience dramatic environmental changes and can let the world know of their problems while engaging people to receive support.
Is commercialization destroying the web or is the web improving the way we do business? with education people are free to choose the way in which they engage with the internet. Online business is hugely successful and provides a competitive edge for people who realize the future if digital business. People are able to look at business and their products before they decide to buy or visit a store or restaurant. Many people will not use many businesses now that don’t have an online presence.
Will Moore's law give out in 2015? What will happen then? not likely, but there is no definite outcome. Some people think 2020-2022 when chip-sets reduce to about 7-5nM, with the cost-benefit unlikely to take circuits any smaller. Once the size of circuits using current CMOS technology has reduced to the smallest viable size, then technology research will perhaps focus on bettering existing technology and moving to different materials that will allow further advancements – such as nano-ribbons for example. 
Or perhaps you can. Researchers at the University of New South Wales, Purdue University and the University of Melbourne, created a 0.1 nanometer transistor from a single phosphorus atom in 2012. "To me, this is the physical limit of Moore's Law," said Gerhard Kilmeck, Director of the Network for Computational Nanotechnology at Purdue and a Professor of Electrical and Computer Engineering. "We can't make it smaller than this." There's plenty of scope to improve tomorrow's processors that we haven't talked about - parallelism offers ways of scaling up processing power without the need for new chips, while it can be argued that raw processing power is now less important than power efficiency. Software can be rewritten, I/O and memory can be tweaked. Further into the future, there's the prospect of tunnel transistors, photonics and quantum computing.

By then, perhaps Moore's Law will be adjusted to fit a new technology landscape. Or we may never see its like again. We'll leave the last word to DARPA's Robert Colwell, who points out that "when Moore's Law stops, it will be economics that stops it, not physics. So keep your eye on the money."

Halpern, Sue (2011) "Mind Control & the Internet", New York Review of Books June 23.


What is cyberspace?

An attempt by humans to understand something by making it a tangible environment. The word "cyberspace" is credited to William Gibson, who used it in his book, Neuromancer, written in 1984. Gibson defines cyberspace as "a consensual hallucination experienced daily by billions of legitimate operators, in every nation, by children being taught mathematical concepts... A graphical representation of data abstracted from the banks of every computer in the human system. Unthinkable complexity. Lines of light ranged in the non-space of the mind, clusters and constellations of data" (New York: Berkley Publishing Group, 1989), pp. 128. But simply put it is the notional environment in which communication over computer networks occurs.

The video below outlines another explanation of what cyberspace consists of.

Is cyberspace real?
This depends on the definition that is applied to both real and cyberspace, but generally cyberspace can be considered as real as it is something that exists, though not necessarily as something physical, but a tangible environment of which we can create real world effects (Strate, 1999). 

Where is cyberspace? There is no physical location, but perhaps it can be considered as anywhere there is a digitally connected presence, where people can communicate beyond physical presence. Is Facebook in cyberspace? Yes. 

Cybernetics is the study of systems of command, control and communication in machines and animals.
What is an example of a cybernetic product from your own life? Computer, mobile. Is iTunes a cybernetic system? Maybe through its communication in podcast. Is the University a cybernetic system? Maybe through the communication of learning, especially online. Do cybernetics leave out the human element? Definitely not, it is concerned with the symbiotic relationships that can be determined between both humans and machines

What is an example of Cyberpunk from your own media consumption? Mostly movies and video games. Is Hunger Games cyberpunk or fantasy? What is the difference? There are elements of an elitist cyberpunk society, where a huge disparity exists between rich and poor, and where the poor people have no control and are subject to hardships from the wealthy. The technology of this environment is sophisticated, but is not used in typical cyberpunk tradition. Arguably, the wealthy element of hunger games could be seen as cyberprep

Strate, L 1999, 'The varieties of cyberspace: problems in definition and delimitation', Western Journal of Communication, vol. 63, no. 3, pp. 382-412. 

Sunday, 24 August 2014

Cyberpunk 2077

Based on the pen & paper 'Cyberpunk' series written by Mike Pondsmith and published by R. Talsorian Games, Cyberpunk 2077 is an upcoming RPG being developed by CD Projekt RED. CD Projekt is the developer behind the international successful 'The Witcher' series, and will feature a dystopian futuristic world in which ultra-modern technology co-exists with a degenerated human society, while delivering cutting-edge graphics thanks to the REDengine that was also used in 'The Witcher 2'.

Check out the trailer below or head to their website where you can sign up and get involved with the 2077 and CD Projekt community: