A food-for-thought/thinking-in-progress post: does “cyberspace” still exist?
I’ve been thinking about this issue recently in connection with several law review articles I’m writing. My feeling at this point is that our earlier conception of networked communications at the dawn of “cyberspace” in 1996 (see Barlow’s Declaration of Independence of Cyberspace) is quite different from the conception we have today. In an era of social networks, smartphones, apps, and customized services, it may no longer make sense to think of cyberspace as a shared place we visit.
One way of showing this is by examining how Google treats searches for formatives of the word “cyberspace.”
1. Search for “cy”: None of the suggestions include “cyberspace.” Considering the advertising orientation of Google, I’m not surprised that “cyber monday” shows up. But “cyanide and happiness?” Disturbing, much, until I realized that it is a webcomic.
2. Search for “cyb”: Even more “cyber monday” stuff, with “cyberpower” at the end. Cyberpower makes UPS power strips.
3. Search for “cyber”: If anything should show “cyberspace,” this should. But I got the same results as for “cyb.” Maybe people just don’t think about “cyberspace” as a place anymore. I’m not sure that I should, either. (“Professor, you’re sooo 20th century….”)
4. Search for “cybers”: You’d think “cyberspace” would have shown up by now. But it still doesn’t; instead, we see “cybersource” (I had to look it up, it’s a credit card processing company), “cybersquatting” (which I’ve written about), “cyberscholar” (a/k/a, hopefully me), and “cyber security” (a hot topic). But no “cyberspace.” Interesting.
5. Search for “cybersp”: Finally, “cyberspace” is the first hit. The first hit is Wikipedia, and claims that the term is “ubiquitous.” But based on Google’s suggested searches, I’m not so sure.
Beyond the observations above, I’ll not speculate unduly as my thoughts are still forming. But as Dan Hunter wrote in 2003, “Thinking of cyberspace as a place has led judges, legislators, and legal scholars to apply physical assumptions about property in this new, abstract space.” That’s very true: the assumptions we make about things affects how we choose to regulate them.
But I suspect that we’re now moving into a post-cyberspace era, one of networked communications devoid of “place.” Indeed, I don’t think of either Facebook or Twitter–which I call “Super-Intermediaries” in one of my forthcoming pieces–as a place at all, but rather a connectivity tool. Super-Intermediaries are not thought of as metaphorical “places,” but as things that provide ever-shifting and oftentimes highly complex networks that can vary significantly between individuals (Twitter and Facebook) and sometimes between geographical regions (YouTube).
I suspect that this arguable shift away from place-ness may have a significant effect on how we conceive of the internet, how we describe it, how lawmakers try to regulate it, and how human rights are affected. I’ll demur from saying more as my thoughts are still forming, but I plan to discuss some of these themes next month at the upcoming Internet Law Work-in-Progress Conference at Santa Clara Law School.
Cross-posted to Infoglut Tumblr.