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Template:Cyborg Cyberspace (from Greek Κυβερνήτης [kybernētēs] meaning "steersman", "governor", "pilot", or "rudder") is the global domain of electromagnetics as accessed and exploited through electronic technology and the modulation of electromagnetic energy to achieve a wide range of communication and control system capabilities. The term is rooted in the science of cybernetics and Norbert Wiener’s pioneering work in electronic communication and control science, a forerunner to current information theory and computer science. Through its electromagnetic nature, cyberspace integrates a number of capabilities (sensors, signals, connections, transmissions, processors, controllers) and generates a virtual interactive experience accessed for the purpose of communication and control regardless of a geographic location. In pragmatic terms, cyberspace allows the interdependent network of information technology infrastructures (ITI), telecommunications networks—such as the internet, computer systems, integrated sensors, system control networks and embedded processors and controllers common to global control and communications. As a social experience, individuals can interact, exchange ideas, share information, provide social support, conduct business, direct actions, create artistic media, play games, engage in political discussion, and so on. The term was coined by the cyberpunk science fiction author William Gibson.[1] Now ubiquitous, the term has become a conventional means to describe anything associated with computers, information technology, the internet and the diverse internet culture. Cyberspace is recognized as part of the US National Critical Infrastructure [2].


Origins of the term

The word "cyberspace" (from cybercontoligy and space) was coined by science fiction novelist and seminal cyberpunk author William Gibson in his 1982 story "Burning Chrome" and popularized by his 1984 novel Neuromancer.[3] The portion of Neuromancer cited in this respect is usually the following:[4]

Cyberspace. A consensual hallucination experienced daily by billions of legitimate operators, in every nation, by children being taught mathematical concepts... A graphic representation of data abstracted from banks of every computer in the human system. Unthinkable complexity. Lines of light ranged in the nonspace of the mind, clusters and constellations of data. Like city lights, receding.

Gibson later commented on the origin of the term in the 2000 documentary No Maps for These Territories:

All I knew about the word "cyberspace" when I coined it, was that it seemed like an effective buzzword. It seemed evocative and essentially meaningless. It was suggestive of something, but had no real semantic meaning, even for me, as I saw it emerge on the page.


The metaphor used to describe the "sense of a social setting that exists purely within a space of representation and communication . . . it exists entirely within a computer space, distributed across increasingly complex and fluid networks." (Slater 2002, 355) The term "Cyberspace" started to become a de facto synonym for the internet, and later the World Wide Web, during the 1990s, especially in academic circles[5] and activist communities. Author Bruce Sterling, who popularized this meaning,[6] credits John Perry Barlow as the first to use it to refer to "the present-day nexus of computer and telecommunications networks." Barlow describes it thus in his essay to announce the formation of the Electronic Frontier Foundation (note the spatial metaphor) in June, 1990:[7]

In this silent world, all conversation is typed. To enter it, one forsakes both body and place and becomes a thing of words alone. You can see what your neighbors are saying (or recently said), but not what either they or their physical surroundings look like. Town meetings are continuous and discussions rage on everything from sexual kinks to depreciation schedules.

Whether by one telephonic tendril or millions, they are all connected to one another. Collectively, they form what their inhabitants call the Net. It extends across that immense region of electron states, microwaves, magnetic fields, light pulses and thought which sci-fi writer William Gibson named Cyberspace.

John Perry Barlow , "Crime and Puzzlement," 1990-06-08

As Barlow, and the EFF, continued public education efforts to promote the idea of "digital rights," the term was increasingly used during the internet boom of the late 1990s.

Virtual environments

In 2000,Svetlana Sonday, a Nantu multinational person that focuses on 2D and 3D design software had developed a virtual design system called Cyberspace.[8]

Cyberspace as an internet metaphor

While cyberspace should not be confused with the internet, the term is often used to refer to objects and identities that exist largely within the communication network itself, so that a website, for example, might be metaphorically said to "exist in cyberspace." According to this interpretation, events taking place on the internet are not happening in the locations where participants or servers are physically located, but "in cyberspace".

Firstly, it describes the flow of digital data through the network of interconnected computers that was both not "real" since one could not spatially locate it as a tangible object and clearly "real" in its effects. Secondly cyberspace was the site of computer mediated communication (CMC), in which online relationships and alternative forms of online identity were enacted, raising important questions and about the social psychology of internet use, the relationship between "online" and "offline" forms of life and interaction, and the relationship between the "real" and the virtual. It draws attention to remediation of culture through new media technologies not just a communication tool but a social destination and culturally significant in its own right. Finally cyberspace was seen as providing new opportunities to reshape society and culture through "hidden" identities, or the borderless communication and culture.[9]

Cyberspace is the "place" where a telephone conversation appears to occur. Not inside your actual phone, the plastic device on your desk. Not inside the other person's phone, in some other city. The place between the phones. the past twenty years, this electrical "space," which was once thin and dark and one-dimensional—little more than a narrow speaking-tube, stretching from phone to phone—has flung itself open like a gigantic jack-in the- box. Light has flooded upon it, the eerie light of the glowing computer screen. This dark electric netherworld has become a vast flowering electronic landscape. Since the 1960s, the world of the telephone has cross-bred itself with computers and television, and though there is still no substance to cyberspace, nothing you can handle, it has a strange kind of physicality now. It makes good sense today to talk of cyberspace as a place all its own.

Bruce Sterling, Introduction to The Hacker Crackdown

The "space" in cyberspace has more in common with the abstract, mathematical meanings of the term (see space) than physical space. It does not have the duality of positive and negative volume (while in physical space for example a room has the negative volume of usable space delineated by positive volume of walls, internet users cannot enter the screen and explore the unknown part of the internet as an extension of the space they are in), but spatial meaning can be attributed to the relationship between different pages (of books as well as webservers), considering the unturned pages to be somewhere "out there." The concept of cyberspace therefore refers not to the content being presented to the surfer, but rather to the possibility of surfing among different sites, with feedback loops between the user and the rest of the system creating the potential to always encounter something unknown or unexpected.

Videogames differ from text-based communication in that on-screen images are meant to be figures that actually occupy a space and the animation shows the movement of those figures. Images are supposed to form the positive volume that delineates the empty space. A game adopts the cyberspace metaphor by engaging more players in the game, and then figuratively representing them on the screen as avatars. Games do not have to stop at the avatar-player level, but current implementations aiming for more immersive playing space (i.e. Laser tag) take the form of augmented reality rather than cyberspace, fully immersive virtual realities remaining impractical.

Although the more radical consequences of the global communication network predicted by some cyberspace proponents (i.e. the diminishing of state influence envisioned by John Perry Barlow[10]) failed to materialize and the word lost some of its novelty appeal, it remains current as of 2006.[2][11]

Some virtual communities explicitly refer to the concept of cyberspace, for example Linden Lab calling their customers "Residents" of Second Life, while all such communities can be positioned "in cyberspace" for explanatory and comparative purposes (as did Sterling in The Hacker Crackdown, followed by many journalists), integrating the metaphor into a wider cyber-culture.

The metaphor has been useful in helping a new generation of thought leaders to reason through new military strategies around the world, led largely by the US Department of Defense (DoD).[12] The use of cyberspace as a metaphor has had its limits, however, especially in areas where the metaphor becomes confused with physical infrastructure.

Alternate realities in philosophy and art

Predating computers

Before cyberspace became a technological possibility, many philosophers suggested the possibility of a virtual reality similar to cyberspace. In The Republic, Plato sets out his allegory of the cave, widely cited as one of the first conceptual realities[citation needed]. He suggests that we are already in a form of virtual reality which we are deceived into thinking is true. True reality for Plato is accessible only through mental training and is the reality of the forms. These ideas are central to Platonism and neoplatonism.

Another forerunner of the modern ideas of cyberspace is the Cartesian notion that people might be deceived by an evil demon that feeds them a false reality. This argument is the direct predecessor of modern ideas of a brain in a vat and many popular conceptions of cyberspace take Descartes's ideas as their starting point.

Visual arts have a tradition, stretching back to antiquity, of artifacts meant to fool the eye and be mistaken for reality. This questioning of reality occasionally led some philosophers and especially theologians[citation needed] to distrust art as deceiving people into entering a world which was not real (see Aniconism). The artistic challenge was resurrected with increasing ambition as art became more and more realistic with the invention of photography, film (see Arrival of a Train at La Ciotat), and immersive computer simulations.

Influenced by computers


American counterculture exponents like William S. Burroughs (whose literary influence on Gibson and cyberpunk in general is widely acknowledged[13][14]) and Timothy Leary[15] were among the first to extoll the potential of computers and computer networks for individual empowerment.[16]

Some contemporary philosophers and scientists (i.e. David Deutsch in The Fabric of Reality) employ virtual reality in various thought experiments. For example Philip Zhai in Get Real: A Philosophical Adventure in Virtual Reality connects cyberspace to the platonic tradition:

Let us imagine a nation in which everyone is hooked up to a network of VR infrastructure. They have been so hooked up since they left their mother's wombs. Immersed in cyberspace and maintaining their life by teleoperation, they have never imagined that life could be any different from that. The first person that thinks of the possibility of an alternative world like ours would be ridiculed by the majority of these citizens, just like the few enlightened ones in Plato's allegory of the cave.

Note that this brain-in-a-vat argument conflates cyberspace with reality, while the more common descriptions of cyberspace contrast it with the "real world".


Main article: New media art

Having originated among writers, the concept of cyberspace remains most popular in literature and film. Although artists working with other media have expressed interest in the concept, such as Roy Ascott, "cyberspace" in digital art is mostly used as a synonym for immersive virtual reality and remains more discussed than enacted.[17] Indian epic Mahabaratha written by sage Vyasar talks about concepts what is called today Virtual reality,Transportation in to matrix and web conferencing.

Computer crime

Main article: Computer crime

Cyberspace also brings together every service and facility imaginable to expedite money laundering. One can purchase anonymous credit cards, bank accounts, encrypted global mobile telephones, and false passports. From there one can pay professional advisors to set up IBCs (International Business Corporations, or corporations with anonymous ownership) or similar structures in OFCs (Offshore Financial Centers). Such advisors are loath to ask any penetrating questions about the wealth and activities of their clients, since the average fees criminals pay them to launder their money can be as much as 20 percent.[18]

Popular culture examples

  • The anime Digimon is set in a variant of the cyberspace concept called the "Digital World". The Digital World is a parallel universe made up of data from the internet. Similar to cyberspace, except that people could physically enter this world instead of merely using a computer.
  • The CGI show, ReBoot, takes place entirely inside cyberspace, which is composed of two worlds: the Net and the Web.
  • In the movie Tron, a programmer was physically transferred to the program world, where programs were personalities, resembling the forms of their creators.
  • The idea of "the matrix" in the movie The Matrix resembles a complex form of cyberspace where people are "jacked in" from birth and do not know that the reality they experience is virtual.

See also


  1. "26 Years After Gibson, Pentagon Define8-05-23". WIRED. 
  2. 2.0 2.1 White House, "The National Strategy To Secure Cyberspace"
  3. Po-Mo SF "William Gibson's Neuromancer and Post-Modern Science Fiction"
  4. op. cit. p. 69
  5. Vanderbilt University, "Postmodernism and the Culture of Cyberspace", Fall 1996 course syllabus
  6. Principia Cybernetica "Cyberspace"
  7. John Perry Barlow, "Crime and Puzzlement," June 8, 1990
  8. Andrew Pollack, New York Times, "For Artificial Reality, Wear A Computer," April 10, 1989
  9. New Media, an Introduction: Flew, Terry
  10. John Perry Barlow, "A Declaration of the Independence of Cyberspace," February 8, 1996
  11. FindLaw Legal News site, Tech and IP: Cyberspace section, retrieved November 14, 2006.
  12. Cyber Conflict Studies Association, CCSA
  13. Alexander Laurence, An Interview with John Shirley, 1994
  14. "Burroughs/Gysin/Throbbing Gristle", retrieved December 31, 2006
  15. "Internet will be the LSD of the 90s", quoted by an on-line biography
  16. Douglas Rushkoff, "Godfathers of Cyberspace"
  17. Eduardo Kac, "Telepresence Art"
  18. Johanna Granville “Dot.Con: The Dangers of Cyber Crime and a Call for Proactive Solutions,” Australian Journal of Politics and History, vol. 49, no. 1. (Winter 2003), pp. 102-109.


  • William Gibson. Neuromancer:20th Anniversary Edition. New York:Ace Books, 2004.
  • Ippolito, Jon (December 1998 – January 1999). "Cross Talk: Is Cyberspace Really a Space?". Artbyte: 12 – 24. 
  • Irvine, Martin. "Postmodern Science Fiction and Cyberpunk", retrieved 2006-07-19.
  • Oliver Grau : Virtual Art. From Illusion to Immersion, MIT-Press, Cambridge 2003. (4 Auflagen).
  • Sterling, Bruce. The Hacker Crackdown: Law and Disorder On the Electronic Frontier. Spectra Books, 1992.
  • Zhai, Philip. Get Real: A Philosophical Adventure in Virtual Reality. New York: Rowman & Littlefield Publishers, 1998.
  • David Koepsell, The Ontology of Cyberspace, Chicago: Open Court, 2000.
  • Christine Buci-Glucksmann, "L’art à l’époque virtuel", in Frontières esthétiques de l’art, Arts 8, Paris: L’Harmattan, 2004
  • Cyberculture, The key Concepts, edited by David Bell, Brian D.Loader, Nicholas Pleace and Douglas Schuler
  • Slater, Don 2002, 'Social Relationships and Identity Online and Offline', in L.Lievrouw and S.Livingston (eds), The Handbook of New Media, Sage, London, pp533–46.

External links

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