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The problem with “cyberspace”

Source: Robert Thompson, The Guardian, Online section, 29 March 2001, page 4. In Dodge (2008: 106)

Source: Robert Thompson, The Guardian, Online section, 29 March 2001, page 4. In Dodge (2008: 106)

Why should we be careful when we use the term “cyberspace”? That is the question I tackle in a piece I wrote that traces the history of the word, and argues that it can be unproductive to apply in many contemporary settings.

Graham, M. 2013. Geography/Internet: Ethereal Alternate Dimensions of Cyberspace or Grounded Augmented Realities? The Geographical Journal 179(2) 177-182.

The paper argues that many of the ways in which we discuss, imagine, and envision the internet rely on inaccurate and unhelpful spatial metaphors. In particular, the it focuses on the usage of the ‘cyberspace’ metaphor and outlines why the reliance by contemporary policy makers on this inherently geographic metaphor matters.

The metaphor constrains, enables, and structures very distinct ways of imagining the interactions between people, information, code, and machines through digital networks. These distinct imaginations, in turn, have real effects on how we enact politics and bring places into being.

The paper traces the history of ‘cyberspace,’ explores the scope of its current usage, and highlights the discursive power of its distinct way of shaping our spatial imagination of the internet.

Mark Graham

Mark Graham is the Professor of Internet Geography at the OII, a Faculty Fellow at the Alan Turing Institute, a Research Fellow at Green Templeton College, and an Associate in the University of Oxford’s School of Geography and the Environment. He leads a range of research projects spanning topics between digital labour, the gig economy, internet geographies, and ICTs and development.

One Comment

  1. The problem really starts with hardly anybody using the term “cyber” in its many collocations correctly. Hardly anyone has studied the works of Wiener, von Neumann, von Foerster or W. Ross Ashby (or Stafford Beer when it comes to enterprise cybernetics). They just use the term as they would use the word “fashion”. Everyone knows what fashion “is” yet would be hard put to exactly define what it means “today” or in Paris next week. So cyber has mutated into a void that can be used as a variable whenever, say, two computers are “somehow” communicating, and the more the “better”. The question really seems to be now if cyberneticians should not start using a new terminology and leave the old “cyber” ‘prefix’ for the public at large “to play with”.

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