Paper presented to "Images of the Urban" conference,
Sunshine Coast University College, September 1997 and subsequently in the conference proceedings.
The notion of cyberspace is a contemporary urban phenomena. An observation which in the light of contemporary modes of interpretation may alternatively be heavily laden with meaning or, equally, meaningless. This paper avers the former by arguing that the articulation and construction of cyberspace has informed and redefined current formations of the 'urban'. Cyberspace, itself, is a consequence of previous and current social formations which impact upon it, including notions of the 'urban'. Of particular interest within these formations is the manner in which cyberspace forces questions regarding the solidity of 'certain' dichotomies and, in so doing, presents a theoretical and cultural environment which supports various claimed tenets of postmodernity. This paper focusses upon questions surrounding the artefactual aspects of cyberspace to indicate the extent of its urbanity and to suggest that the lack of a physical 'reality' is not an impediment to urban development.
Cyberspace provides a fertile environment for the disentanglement and interpretation of those parts of the social world notated as urban. Neither cyberspace or the 'urban', however, are obvious or essential classifications of the social world. Despite this, each phenomenon is legitimated through a tendency within popular and structuralist writings (cf. Wirth 1964, 61; Mumford 1987, 13) to order these phenomena as aspects of binary relationships. The urban is monolithically distinguished from the rural and traditional, and cyberspace from 'reality' as necessary and oppositionally orbiting binaries (Soja 1996, 5; Nunes 1995, 320; Jacobs 1972, 13). However, the continued articulation of cyberspace has done much to disturb these apparently stable and total structures to reveal the historically and culturally specific frameworks in which they are formulated. Utilising an emic accounting of cyberspace, its urban qualities are present and acknowledged as a consequence of those who possess electronic identities defining and 'building' it towards this image. Ostwald, in reiterating Benedikt, similarly claims that, "A city may exist in cyberspace, but only as a function of the actions of its inhabitants" (Ostwald 1997, 132). Rather than being an assertion of difference, this claim emphasises the commonality of virtual and ‘real’ urbanity as socially constructed articulations of experience. Nottridge quotes the advice of an unnamed resident of Yorkshire in attempting to position an understanding of the 'urban', and by extension it is also applicable to cyberspace, "Don't consider it as an area - it's a state of mind" (1972, 2). Invariably, the claims for a socially constructed constitution of cyberspace and its qualities as urban space return appropriately to William Gibson’s own, and often quoted, definition of cyberspace as a "consensual hallucination" (Burrows 1997, 241; Ostwald 1997, 131; Buick & Jevtic 1995, 4). The social imagination of future virtual urbanity is even described by Burrows as Gibsonian cyberspace (1997, 240). Cyberspace contributes to arguments regarding urban space by providing a critical venue which problematises the various assumptions made for the conceptual ‘thing’ labelled, and subsequently experienced, as the 'city'. The critique of urban 'reality', that the existence of cyberspace brings, provides a break from previous structures of late capitalism and modernity. These breaks and fragmentations are described, in some versions of postmodern thinking (Cooke 1988, 480), as the harbingers of postmodern cultures.
Hell is a city much like London
A populous and a smokey city
(Shelley 1965, p.266)
O World invisible, we view thee,
o world intangible, we touch thee,
o world unknowable, we know thee,
inapprehensible, we clutch thee!
Shall shine the traffic of Jacob's Ladder
Pitched between Heaven and Charing Cross
(Thompson 1937, p.349)
Urban space has been variously and sometimes inaccurately paired with contemporary and historical phenomena such as industrialisation, mass production and consumption, a particularly gray aesthetic, and postmodernity. The urban environment is not, and probably never has been, a homogeneously identifiable 'thing' at any level beyond that of the creatively employed, and sometimes dubious, gauge of population density and the location of contextualised urban features (Sudjic 1992, 295; Nottridge 1972, p.1-2, 37). The homogeneity and comparability that these criteria impart allows specific urban environments to become defined by difference. Los Angeles is not Paris because they are physically separated by spaces of lower population density and contain features which provide both distinguishable and conceptual distance. This distance is visually expressed through iconified monuments such as the Eiffel Tower and the Hollywood sign. These icons reduce the urban environment to transitory points of experience which permit, as Kroker observes of the fictional Moose Jaw, "passing tourists [to] stop for the obligatory Canadian Moose statue shoot and then immediately get back in their cars to zoom on to the next photo opportunity." (1992, 137). However, there is a counterpoint to the iconic distinctions of urban landscapes that is found in the conceptual proximity which can also be claimed as indicative of the largest cities of late capitalism. This proximity is observed by Sudjic in the similarities of daily experience among the inhabitants of these cities irrespective of their individual relationships to the city of late capitalism (Sudjic 1995, 5). Similarly, these cities have also shared a tendency to expand their perimeters in direct proportion to improvements in communications and transport technologies (Sudjic 1995, 9). As Mumford observes, "the original container has completely disappeared: the sharp division between city and country no longer exists" (1987, 618). This ever-expanding perimeter of the city reinforces the necessity for iconic symbols of centrality and urban identity to define its difference. Debord, too, asserts that, "this society eliminates geographical distance only to reap distance internally in the form of spectacular separation" (1994, Thesis 167). Simultaneously, the city is increasingly proven to be a primarily conceptual ‘thing’ rather than a necessarily material one. These observations lead to the conclusion that, "there is often little or no gap between the so-called ‘real world’ and the ‘virtual world’" (Ostwald 1997, 128).
Solid State Urbanity
Social complexity, including the configuration of power structures, and cultural diversity are as much definable features of urban space and urbanity as they are observable indications of an increased population density. The 'urban', however, also incorporates an accumulated and dominant series of perspectives, knowledges and discourses of power which complement and support the artefactual and material foundations of observed 'reality'. Cyberspace by providing the venue for the full articulation of simulation as 'reality' presents a challenge to the apparent necessity of collapsing the 'urban' with a physical presence. The existence of cyberspace also questions the assumptions of a dichotomous relationship between the 'real' and the 'imagined'. An association that has already been questioned in contemporary discourses to such as extent that a particular 'reality' can now more readily be understood in relationship to other 'realities'. "Reality is construed differently by different people - and perhaps differently at different times by the same person - a statement readily exemplified at various scales of the urban environment." (Pocock & Hudson 1978, 1). Cyberspace is as 'real' as Paris or Los Angeles is imagined.
This movement from the claimed certainty of physical location and proximity to the uncertainties of identity, locality and spatiality mirrors, perhaps unsurprisingly, the movement from labour intensive industrial mass production and the solidity of modernity to the heterogenous consumption practices, and technologically-enabled cottage-industry, and global awareness and plurality of experience claimed to be found in postmodernity. What is accentuated in this shift is the fluid bifurcation of perspective and understanding into different meanings and associations. In this context, where space and location were previously conflated with physicality and materiality these arbitrary, culturally-specific and socially constructed linkages can be questioned and reassessed in an atmosphere of critical uncertainty. The coupling of cultural practices with technological developments has provided a building 'site' for cyberspace and its integration into the socio-politico-economic system of late capitalism. Physical proximity, such as the near-random connections of the street, building or shopping mall, is foregone in cyberspace to be replaced by assertions for contextualised locality. The absence of physicality does not shift the types of associations that are being sought by individuals but provides a greater, global range in their choices.
The technological ability to manipulate locality in contemporary versions of cyberspace is typified in web serving software, a very particular aspect of cyberspace. With a single program it is possible to locate on a single 'physical' computer two, or more, antithetical Web sites. The visitors to a socialist feminist site may never, and need never, know that the same web server also serves pornography to paying customers or right-wing religious propaganda. Other 'impossible' juxtapositions are all equally possible, opposing political groups, or antagonistic cultural identities could all be maintained with the same web serving machine. Regardless of these physical proximities, interaction on the Web, and elsewhere in cyberspace, is undertaken through socially visible and articulated dimensions which are not premised or reliant upon directly physical connections (Mitchell 1995, 23).
The capability to determine the direction of electronic pathways beyond the constraints of 'real-life' geography has prompted the suggestion that these 'networks' of association consequently represent communities of common interest (McBeath & Webb 1997, 255). However, automatic associations such as this represent a too-utopian generalisation for what is an heterogeneous social space (Rheingold 1995, 3). "Once society has lost the community that myth was formerly able to ensure, it must inevitably lose all the reference points of a truly common language until such time as the divided character of an inactive community is superseded by the inauguration of a real historical community." (Debord 1994, Thesis 186). The notion that the formation of community within cyberspace is an inevitable conclusion misinterprets changes in the forms of social relations that are developing in response to new social and technical environments with a nostalgia for romanticised pre-industrial institutions of close, if not kin-based, affiliation (cf. Sudjic 1992, 281). The purposeful paths of context that are constructed by the 'builders' of cyberspace through web pages and reciprocated linkages can dangerously represent the electronic identities of those who utilise these linkages. Interpreting the presence of electronic identities within a discussion forum on the Internet needs to be done with the same forms of consideration that are utilised for other social spaces. Presence, however, cannot be equated with complicity, to do so would be to construct those with electronic identity as cultural 'dupes' socially defined by the 'builders' of the contextual links. Sudjic’s critique of the myth of communities within cities similarly suggests that these arguments fail "to deal with nuances that are involved in the continual movement that is an essential part of urban life..." (Sudjic 1992, 281). The presence of a form of flâneurism in cyberspace emphasises the individual, rather than communal, aspects of identity, electronic or otherwise (McBeath & Webb 1997, p250). It is, however, too simplistic to equate the flânerie of cyberspace with the contemporary cyber-'surfer' identity (Soja 1996, p.21). The two identities represent the ‘information gap’ between the poet-geographer of nineteenth century modernity and the multiplicity of identities found with the experientially-focussed consumer and web surfer of the late twentieth century.
Particular Virtual Objects
Cyberspace emphasises, through its lack of materiality, a postmodern vision of urbanity and other urban spaces. The social aspects of these previous urbanities are readily transposed, or de-materialised, into indefinite electronic space. The movement that is suggested by the transition does not necessarily diminish the locus of power away from pre-existent and institutional power structures and may actually support the status quo. As Ostwald observes, "the urban spaces of the physical world and the virtual world are intricately connected through the notion of community interaction and social formation" (Ostwald 1997, 130).
Just as "part of the image is the history of the image", (Boulding in Pocock and Hudson 1978, 23) so to do artefacts, including space itself, have political and historical meanings. This continued connection to existent forms of power contrasts with the popular and boosterist vision of cyberspace which attempts to construct cyberspace as a virtual utopia in which personal freedoms and individual choice are accentuated and unencumbered by the less desirable features of 'real-life'. These visions are apparently the exclusive domain of white and middle class men from a particularly privileged generation who can feel good about liberating the world while sustaining increased profits (Stipp 1996, 159; Woolley 1997, 133). This narrowed worldview and the particular range of desires that it promotes have consequently initiated the 'microsofting' of postmodernity.
Burrows uses the term ‘Barlovian cyberspace’ to describe the current configuration of networks and the electronic interactions that can be undertaken (1997, p.240). This form of cyberspace does not utilise total sensory immersion to convey a sense of spatality and must rely upon description and a greater range of assumptions regarding the qualities of virtual artefacts. In this sense, Barlovian cyberspace requires participants to provide the real-time processing that current computing power cannot offer. It is named for John Barlow, formerly the lyricist for the Grateful Dead but recently an advocate of individual rights and the electronic community through the medium of the Electronic Frontier Foundation (Rheingold 1995, p.253). Barlovian cyberspace closely equates with the Internet. This ‘type’ of cyberspace is defined popularly and narrowly within the techno-economic framework of late capitalism by focussing upon, and in some cases reifying, the processual aspects of electronic interactions. The participants of cyberspace are dichotomised through these processes into the traditional broadcast media roles of either audience member or producer. They are then described and understood through their use of particular tools. In its most physical sense this understanding of cyberspace is artefactual. The audience-member is positioned in their engagement with cyberspace through the manipulation of their customised communications tools. Within the extreme analysis users are reduced to being "servo-mechanisms of the technology" (Kroker 1992, 69). This emphasis constructs, and reduces, Barlovian cyberspace primarily to a new media technology and perhaps little more than a complex phone system. It also absolves the consideration for the possibilities of virtual spatiality, or, more importantly, of any social practices that are conducted 'inside' these spaces. These perspectives are formed as a consequence of the current state of cyberspace which generally fascinates and seduces academia while discouraging more critical engagements.
Gibsonian cyberspace is the full, and future, articulation of an environment which is sensorily immersive, humanly interactive and provided through massive computing power. The Internet, and Barlovian cyberspace, only convey part of the experience and interactions that are possible in this space. However, future cyberspace does not necessarily represent a larger space but, rather, one that is more intensely articulated. This intensity cannot currently be experienced except as a development of fiction and in the social imaginary although inklings of it can be found in the computer games parlours of the shopping mall and downtown arcades. Despite this impediment to its ready analysis through social science discourses Gibsonian cyberspace has already informed the development of various interfacing device and technologies including VR glasses, 3D mice and miniaturised computer systems. In a similar vein, the development and early capabilities of the Virtual Reality Modelling Language (VRML) could be claimed to have been directed and shaped, at least in part, by these visions of cyberspace. The focus upon the technical aspects in the development of this visualisation system however obscures the effect of these and other efforts to map cyberspace. Baudrillard's comment on the rise of simulation over 'reality' can be directly applied to these efforts. "It is the map that precedes the territory...that engenders the territory" (Baudrillard 1994, 1). This position also supports an artefactual sense of cyberspace which contributes to the demarcation of boundaries and differentiated experiences.
Some Histories and Futures of Cyberspace
Some perspective needs to be applied to Gibson's personal role in the building of cyberspace. As the person who is popularly identified with the coining of the term, cyberspace, Gibson's role is primarily an historical one. Cyberspace may not have possessed a coherent moniker prior to Gibson but its presence and its artefacts could still, in rudimentary ways, be experienced. The material artefacts which constitute the physical peripherals of cyberspace, while interpretable within the context of the socio-economic relations of late capitalism, arguably also hold a meaningful provenance in Gibsonian cyberspace. The contemporary meaning and utility of these artefacts relies, in part, on the ability to interpret their qualities in the context of a nascent Gibsonsian cyberspace. Artefacts which rely upon an assumed future to possess meaning can be found, for example, in the release to curiously eager computer users of 3D glasses which relied upon a rapidly flickering shutter system. In the context of their current provenance the glasses worked with few to no commercially available products and beyond the demonstration software were virtually useless. However, within the space envisaged by contemporary visions of Gibsonian cyberspace 3D glasses were seen as part of the essential kit of equipment. "Imagine the scene, as you prepare for a hot night out in the virtual village...You don the 3D glasses, and attach the earphones..." (Archee 1993, p.48). The Your Computer article follows these comments with the caution that this 'reality', "will not be for a few decades yet", and then proceeds to describe how you can produce a home brew virtual reality. These comments are even more bemusing when the author can only envisage a virtual village in the technological and social climate of 1993, when cyberspace, or the Gibsonian version of it at least, is very clearly a dense and urban environment. A curious anomaly to the 'home brew' virtual reality of 1993 was the need to bring together commercial products from the two major game systems manufacturers, Nintendo for the Powerglove interface and Sega for the 3D glasses. Such an amalgam appears antithetical to Gibson's own vision of cyberspace in which the participants in the networked dystopia observe brand-name loyalty and identification with the corporation in substitution to, and to the exclusion of, national and other identities (Branwyn in Burrows 1997, 239).
Gibsonian cyberspace is the multiple visions of the future, it does not necessarily predict or determine any particular urban form. It is a construction developed from the present social imaginary and is founded upon current interpretations of cyberspace. This construction, in turn, becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy which informs and presses current development in Barlovian cyberspace, and in the interface to it, consequently changing and redirecting Gibsonian cyberspace. The indefinite 'type' of Gibsonian cyberspace presents a caution to adhering too tightly to what is an arbitrarily selected model of social reality. Future forms of cyberspace are as indefinite as the different spaces of current cyberspace are diverse. These current and future spaces are informed by pre-existent social constructions and identities in cyberspace and elsewhere. Their variations introduce the possibility that spaces of cyberspace could be understood meaningfully with the employment of particular cultural, regional or gender based foci and a social science methodological framework. These differences are already revealed in pre-cyberspaces and historical visions of cyberspace.
Traditional and historical pre-cyberspaces and visions of cyberspace within the social imaginary are apparent with the privilege of current definitions and reflective hindsight. Gibson's own work is one such set of literary vision that is presented in this manner. The work, however, should be distinguished from the 'type' of cyberspace that bears his name. The existence of 'other' spaces is not an uncommon element of traditional understandings. It can be found in various cultures’ literature, spirituality or science. These spaces represent a form of pre-cyberspace as the interaction that occurs in these imagined environments is experienced through human mediums or in a deferred manner. Post-mortuary spaces, for example, are defined through the relayed knowledges of experts. Other forms of pre-cyberspace may only be indefinitely described, such as religious enlightenment or ritualised drug consumption.
A contemporary example of pre-cyberspace, and arguably proto-cyberspace, in late capitalism, can be found in the electronic exchange of money. The widespread ability to electronically transfer money from account to account operates under a number of premises which informs broader concerns for cyberspace. The present monetary system continues despite the primarily electronic provenance of the exchange tokens. This exchange assumes that the electronic money is readily transferable to physical tokens in a contemporary extension of the traditional exchange equivalence with gold (Taylor & Saarinen 1994, Electronomics 4). The electronic transfer of funds is based upon the movement through cyberspace of the shared meanings and qualities of a particular form of artefact. The sense of an artefact of money, while not immediately and physically present, is exchanged to produce a type of ‘artefactual credit’. This contemporary system can only be described as a form of pre-cyberspace, in part, because the secured space that it occupies operates within a narrow range of social interaction and cultural exchange. The particularity of this electronic space could also be seen as an impediment to its incorporation into Barlovian cyberspace. Simmel's observation that, "Money performs its services best when it is not simply money." (Simmel 1978, p.165) suggests that a cyberspace which utilises electronic money must not be an entirely closed systems devoid of other artefactual interference (Pyle 1996, 22). This would permit other meanings to become attached to the exchanges of virtual tokens that were once ascribed to notes and coinage. These are difficulties that financial institutions have already experienced in attempting to connect the proto-cyberspace of electronic money with the generalised Barlovian version.
Traditional cultures in which the information horizon mirrors the physical horizon may also construct 'other' spaces in a cyberspace-like framework. The Brazilian Yanomamö people, for example, have a clearly delineated four tiered cosmos which incorporates foreigners within the schema. Other recognisable environments and people are understood to live on different tiers of this schema with only minimal interaction with the Yanomamö (Chagnon 1983, 91-2). Irrespective of the extent to which a particular culture harboured, or harbours, claims for a pre-cyberspace, the claim itself serves to diminish Gibson's role as the social auteur of cyberspace. Moreover, the suggestion that experiences of pre-cyberspace may exist in cultures outside those imbued in the machinations of late capitalism posits the possibility that other culturally specific cyberspaces, that are not necessarily urban in their form, could be developed.
The pervasive global influence of late capitalism promotes the predominance of the current Barlovian cyberspace. The predominant development of a single form of cyberspace also supports the development towards particular Gibsonian versions. This promotes an homogenising effect which is legitimated at a technical level in which cross-cultural presence must abjure to the indefinite standards of the Internet. These standards also reflect the cultural influences of particular pre-cyberspaces and impede the influence of other and different pre-cyberspaces that do not share the same cultural heritage. As cultural constructions, these standards prioritise the future and adjudicate a range of acceptable interpretations within a specific social framework which further supports the current experiences of cyberspace. This support, in turn, maintains the existent beneficial relationships that late capitalism and the institutions of power have with the current forms of cyberspace. These relationships mirror the institution of planning ordinances within city councils. These, too, promote a cultural homogeneity and present a legislative barrier to the harbouring of difference. Cyberspace, in this way, provides an invisible opportunity to police and monitor cultural practices. Reducing cultural practices to technical standards allows transgression to be excised through the complete inability of a computer to serve the 'foreign' format. Differences, where they can occur, are then readily assimilable into this model while providing momentary glimpses of ‘otherness’. A reading of the Internet that pursues these issues would position technical standards, de facto or otherwise, advanced by United States commercial and standards organisations as global colonising agents. These standards confirm the privilege of particular interest groups to the exclusion of others. As an example of this development US based company, Netscape, was applauded for providing Japanese, German and Spanish versions of its Web browser. Little consideration was made for the possibility that indigenous Japanese, German or Spanish information technology companies may have already produced Web browsers that not only use the appropriate language but do so in a more culturally sensitive manner. The cultural imperialism of current cyberspace may extend beyond issues concerning the manner in which it has been implemented to the assumption that the founding principles of services such as the World Wide Web, and particularly its use of hypertext, are universal and commonly understood concepts.
Any typology of cyberspace is very much a conceptual model, the version outlined here suggests that the shifting presence of temporal and cultural factors are influential factors for delineating these spaces as urban or otherwise. Barlovian cyberspace may be better considered as permanently synonymous with the current dominant cultural constructions of cyberspace while Gibsonian cyberspace remains an extrapolation of present technology and cultural conditions onto the future that is an almost reachable possibility.
Cyberspace as Social Space
The suggestion that cyberspace is a consensual hallucination reflects a social understanding and cultural basis for the concept that is not premised upon the development of a particular 'brand' of high-technology. Similarly, the development of cyberspace is not solely, as is suggested in Cyberspace for Beginners (Buick & Jevtic 1995), the history of computer technology but is, instead, found in the development and interpretation of the social imaginary and the responses that can be generated to current social and cultural conditions. The changing form of these socially imagined constructions and the shifting social and political climate charts the 'invention' of cyberspace. Gibson's corporatised future dystopia is noticeably at odds with John Barlow's enthusiasm for a global community. Despite the association of name, Barlovian cyberspace can be contrasted with the claims made by the boosters of this vision of cyberspace, which has been 'practiced' in places such as San Francisco's WELL. The maintainence, and even definition, of a community is a fraught task regardless of whether it is on-line or in 'real-life'. The WELL's community however spreads its odds of success by also utilising the additional support of non-cyberspace and urban connections. "WELLites who don't live within driving distance of the San Francisco Bay area are constrained in their ability to participate in the local networks of face-to-face acquaintances." (Rheingold 1995, 2). Community is also described in discussions of urban change and urbanisation, such as those of Wirth, as an identity lost among 'impersonal, superficial, transitory' social relationships and which, for some, must be reasserted in the inpersonal terrain of urban environments (Nottridge 1972, 38; McBeath & Webb 1997, 249). The assertion and claim for a unifying community in these early nodes of electronic interaction presented an ideology which stressed 'their' cyberspace as a wild and unexplored place. The language was of homesteading and Barlow's major stake in cyberspace is, appropriately, as co-founder of the Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF). The emphasis upon community was drawn from American white settlement history and, particularly, the settlement of the American West (Mitchell 1995, 109). "Cyberspace...is presently inhabited almost exclusively by mountain men, desperados and vigilantes, kind of a rough bunch...to make it inhabitable by ordinary settlers. You know, move the homesteaders in." (Barlow in Woolley 1992, p.123). In such a sparsely populated space there was a need for co-operation and mutual support which outweighed the consideration of specific identities (Rheingold 1995, p.13). Mitch Kapor, the other founder of the EFF, has driven these associations further with a political call-to-arms by claiming that, "...cyberspace seems to be shaping up exactly like Thomas Jefferson would have wanted: founded on the primacy of individual liberty and a commitment to pluralism, diversity and community." (Kapor in Nunes 1995, p.323). However, just as a rising population in the United States and the arrival of urbanity permitted the reassertion of identities beyond that of the coverall and covering 'homesteader', so too Barlovian cyberspace has become more politically and socially diverse. The technical emphasis upon the inwardly focussed and affinally defined intranet and the prevalence of passworded and privileged access regimes all reassert bounded identities which are largely defined by the level of exclusion that is practiced.
The analogy of the uncharted space of settlement also reflects the technological spacelessness of cyberspace. The task of electronic homesteading was to explore and occupy unclaimed machine space that existed infinitely. However, "looking in" on these claims provides a contraposition to these cultural constructions. Cyberspace and the "Internet collapse space into one 'hyperpotential point,' which implodes all concept of distance, spacing and separation." (Nunes 1995, p.316). The expanses of unoccupied territory 'seen' by early electronic homesteaders were consequent upon the social shaping of the space in a process similar to the one which constructed the Australian continent in the eighteenth century as terra nullius. Cyberspace is devoid of indigenous inhabitants but the construction of space as a particular type of place is a consequence of the prevailing understandings of the social world of the discoverers, who are also numbered among its creators. The impact and power of colonialism in the development of industrial capitalism presents an historical precedent which mirrors many of the actions and claims for these latter-day discoveries. The focus of discovery has however shifted in the intervening periods of colonialism. The discoverers and creators of cyberspace now start with a map which becomes the territory for occupation.
Cyberspace is ‘Real’
Relating cyberspace to urban space is not simply a clever language game of analogy and signification. Instead the two concepts and experiences constitute an increasingly intertwined development of late capitalism and modernity. This development which when used to emphasise the contradictions and complexities of modernity can be described as a harbinger of postmodernity. Cyberspace is 'built' around pre-existing conceptualisations of the social world - of urban space and the social imaginary. The development of cyberspace is not premised solely upon the achievement of a particular techno-economic level of social development but also requires a previous articulation in the social imaginary of what can be described, with the benefit of hindsight, as pre-cyberspaces. Pre-cyberspaces that are formed through literature, mythology, science, religion or language shape the manner in which a cyberspace is mapped and consequently simulates 'reality'. The homesteading version of early Barlovian cyberspace while developed as a critique to the loss of community engendered through urbanism was only a brief precursor to subsequent urban development. Increasingly, with the persistence of cyberspace and its significance as a place in which forms of identity can be constructed, it has been brought into a relationship of reciprocal feedback with other urban space (Burrows 1997, p.238). Baudrillard’s charting of simulacra emphasises the complexity of this relationship, "The imaginary was the alibi for the real, in a world dominated by the reality principle. Today it is the real that has become the alibi of the model, in a world controlled by the principle of simulation. And paradoxically, it is the real that has become our true utopia - but a utopia that is no longer in the realm of the possible, that can only be dreamt of as one would dream of a lost object." (Baudrillard 1994, 122-123). The practices and artefacts, however, that are found in cyberspace cannot be construed as representative or meaningful of a generalised provenance, or a single space, requiring instead more sensitive and particular 'regional' readings. The suggestion that all urban space or cyberspace can be described with ‘meta-narratives’ and generalisations should be treated cautiously. To do so in the context of cyberspace is to fetishise the artefacts of technology and ignore the variety and versions of human dimension in what is a socially constructed and culturally diverse space.
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