It is the amorphous, supposedly “virtual” world created by links between computers, Internet-enabled devices, servers, routers, and other components of the Internet’s infrastructure. As opposed to the Internet itself, however, cyberspace is the place produced by these links. It exists, in the perspective of some, apart from any particular nation-state. The term cyberspace was first used by the American-Canadian author William Gibson in 1982 in a story published in Omni magazine and then in his book Neuromancer. In this science-fiction novel, Gibson described cyberspace as the creation of a computer network in a world filled with artificially intelligent beings.
Cyberspace denotes the “location” in which people interacted with each other while using the Internet. This is the place in which online games occur, the land of chat rooms, and the home of instant-messaging conversations. Cyberspace has also become an important location for social and political discussion, with the popular emergence of Web-based discussion boards and blogs. Blogs are typically produced by individuals who include their personal writing and often offer running commentary and links to other locations on the Web. Blogs offer an opportunity for public discussion in cyberspace that is not available in the off-line world.
Early in the evolution of the Internet, many argued that the world of cyberspace should be free from the regulations of any national government. John Perry Barlow’s “A Declaration of the Independence of Cyberspace” proposed that national governments should play no role in governing cyberspace. He argued that the community existing in cyberspace would create its own rules and manage conflicts apart from the laws and judiciary of any particular country. However, national governments and their analysts have shown the relevance of both national regulations and international agreements on the character of cyberspace. Those bodiless actors in cyberspace access this other realm through their corporeal form, and thus they continue to be constrained by the laws governing their physical location.
The Chinese government maintains strict controls on who is able to access the Internet and what content is available to them. The U.S. government limits certain online activities, such as the sharing of digital data, through the Digital Millennium Copyright Act and other legislation. The control of cyberspace is thus important not only because of the actions of individual participants but because the infrastructure of cyberspace is now fundamental to the functioning of national and international security systems, trade networks, emergency services, basic communications, and other public and private activities.
Cyberculture or computer culture is the culture that has emerged, or is emerging, from the use of computer networks for communication, entertainment, and business. It is also the study of various social phenomena associated with the Internet and other new forms of the network communication, such as online communities, social gaming, social media, mobile apps, augmented reality, and texting, and includes issues related to identity, privacy, and network formation.
Since the boundaries of cyberculture are difficult to define, the term is used flexibly. It generally refers at least to the cultures of virtual communities, but extends to a wide range of cultural issues relating to “cyber-topics”, e.g. cybernetics, and the perceived or predicted cyborgization of the human body and human society itself. It can also embrace associated intellectual and cultural movements, such as cyborg theory and cyberpunk.
Cyberculture maybe defines as “the social conditions brought about by automation and computerization”. Cyberculture is the culture within and among users of computer networks. It may be purely an online culture or it may span both virtual and physical worlds. That is, it is a culture endemic to online communities; it is not just the culture that results from computer use, but culture that is directly mediated by the computer. Another way to envision cyberculture is as the electronically enabled linkage of like-minded, but physically or geographically distanced people.
Manifestations of Cyberculture include various human interactions mediated by computer networks. They can be activities that include a diverse base of applications. Some are supported by specialized software and others work on commonly accepted web protocols. Examples include Blogs, Bulletin Board Systems, Chat, Cybersex, E-Commerce, Games, Internet memes, Peer-to-peer file sharing, Social networks, Usenet, Virtual worlds etc.
In non-cyberculture, it would be odd to speak of a single, monolithic culture. In cyberculture, by extension, searching for a single thing that is cyberculture would likely be problematic. It “is not a monolithic or placeless ‘cyberspace’; rather, it is numerous new technologies and capabilities, used by diverse people, in diverse real-world locations.” It is malleable and shaped by the vagaries of external forces such as laws of world governments, social norms, the architecture of cyberspace, and market forces shape the way cybercultures form and evolve.
Some of those qualities are that cyberculture: 1) Is a community mediated by ICTs. 2) Is culture “mediated by computer screens.” 3) Relies heavily on the notion of information and knowledge exchange. 4) Depends on the ability to manipulate tools to a degree not present in other forms of culture. 5) Multiplies the number of eyeballs on a given problem, beyond that which would be possible using traditional means, given physical, geographic, and temporal constraints. 6) Is a “cognitive and social culture, not a geographic one.” 7) Is “the product of like-minded people finding a common ‘place’ to interact.” 8) Is inherently more “fragile” than traditional forms of community and culture (John C. Dvorak).
Cyberculture, like culture in general, relies on establishing identity and credibility. It works in two ways, with identity and credibility being both used to define the community in cyberspace and to be created within and by online communities.
In some senses, online credibility is established in much the same way that it is established in the offline world; however, since these are two separate worlds, it is not surprising that there are differences in their mechanisms and interactions.
Following the model put forth by Lawrence Lessig, the architecture of a given online community may be the single most important factor regulating the establishment of credibility within online communities. Some factors may be: • Anonymous versus Known; • Linked to Physical Identity versus Internet-based Identity Only; •Unrated Commentary System versus Rated Commentary System; •Positive Feedback-oriented versus Mixed Feedback (positive and negative) oriented; •Moderated versus Unmoderated.
Anonymous versus known: Many sites allow anonymous commentary, where the user-id attached to the comment is something like “guest” or “anonymous user”. In an architecture that allows anonymous posting about other works, the credibility being impacted is only that of the product for sale, the original opinion expressed, the code written, the YouTube video, or other entity about which comments are made. Sites that require “known” postings can vary widely from simply requiring some kind of name to be associated with the comment to requiring registration, wherein the identity of the registrant is visible to other readers of the comment. These “known” identities allow and even require commentators to be aware of their own credibility, based on the fact that other users will associate particular content and styles with their identity. By definition, then, all blog postings are “known” in that the blog exists in a consistently defined virtual location, which helps to establish an identity, around which credibility can gather. Conversely, anonymous postings are inherently incredible. Note that a “known” identity need have nothing to do with a given identity in the physical world.
Linked to physical identity versus internet-based identity only: Architectures can require that physical identity be associated with commentary. However, to require linkage to physical identity, many more steps must be taken (collecting and storing sensitive information about a user) and safeguards for that collected information must be established -the users must have more trust of the sites collecting the information (yet another form of credibility). Irrespective of safeguards, credibility is “earned rather than bought”.
Unrated commentary system versus rated commentary system : In some architectures those who review or offer comments can, in turn, be rated by other users. This technique offers the ability to regulate the credibility of given authors by subjecting their comments to direct “quantifiable” approval ratings.
Positive feedback-oriented versus mixed feedback (positive and negative) oriented: Architectures can be oriented around positive feedback or a mix of both positive and negative feedback. While a particular user may be able to equate fewer stars with a “negative” rating, the semantic difference is potentially important. The ability to actively rate an entity negatively may violate laws or norms that are important in the jurisdiction in which the internet property is used. The more public a site, the more important this concern may be, as noted by Goldsmith & Wu regarding eBay.
Moderated versus unmoderated: Architectures can also be oriented to give editorial control to a group or individual. Further, moderation may take two different forms: reactive or proactive. In the reactive mode, an editor removes posts, reviews, or content that is deemed offensive after it has been placed on the site or list. In the proactive mode, an editor must review all contributions before they are made public.
In a moderated setting, credibility is often given to the moderator. However, that credibility can be damaged by appearing to edit in a heavy-handed way, whether reactive or proactive In an unmoderated setting, credibility lies with the contributors alone. It should be noted that the very existence of an architecture allowing moderation may lend credibility to the forum being used.
The field of cyberculture studies examines the topics explained above. It discusses political, philosophical, sociological, and psychological issues that arise from the networked interactions of human beings.
Donna Haraway, Sadie Plant, Manuel De Landa, Bruce Sterling, Kevin Kelly, Wolfgang Schirmacher, Pierre Levy, David Gunkel, Victor J.Vitanza, Gregory Ulmer, Charles D. Laughlin, and Jean Baudrillard are among the key theorists and critics of studies in cyberculture. Following the lead of Rob Kitchin, in his work “Cyberspace: The World in the Wires”, cyberculture can be seen from different critical perspectives including: Futurism/Techno-utopianism, Technological Determinism, Social Constructionism, Postmodernism, Poststructuralism, and Feminist Theory.
There are two basic ways the internet tends to create division in one’s life and identity. First, people tend to separate their online lives from their offline lives. You may have online companions, groups, and activities that are quite distinct from those you have in the face-to-face world. For some people, the two worlds are worlds apart. Second, among the thousands of different groups and activities online, with each specializing in a particular topic or activity, people easily can join a handful of them. A movie group here, a parent group there. It’s fairly easy to compartmentalize our various interests and activities.
Hanging out online can be a healthy means of setting aside the stresses of one’s everyday life. Online groups with specialized interests offer opportunities to focus on that particular aspect of your identity, with information and support from other online people. As a general rule, the integrating of online and offline living and of the various sectors of one’s internet activities is a good idea. These are some of the strategies to integrate the various compartments within one’s online world, as well as within one’s offline world:
- Telling online companions about one’s offline life: Lurking, imaginative role playing, and anonymous exchanges with people online can be perfectly fine activities. But if a person wants to deepen and enrich his relationship with online companions, he might consider letting them know about his in-person life: work, family, friends, home, hobbies.
- Telling offline companions about one’s online life: If a person lets family and friends know about her online activities, she may be allowing them to see parts of her identity that she otherwise did not fully express in-person. They can give her insightful feedback about her online lifestyle and companions. When communicating only with typed text in cyberspace, it’s easy to misread, even distort, the personality and intentions of the people she meets. Offline friends and family – who know her well – can give her some perspective about those distortions.
- Meeting online companions in-person: As friendships and romances evolve on the internet, people eventually want to talk on the phone and meet in-person. That’s usually a very natural, healthy progression. The relationship can deepen when people get to see and hear each other, when they get a chance to visit each other’s environment. They also get a chance to realize the misconceptions they may have developed online about each other. That, in turn, will help them understand themselves.
- Meeting offline companions online: If a person encourages family, friends, and colleagues to connect with him in cyberspace, he is opening a different channel of communication with them. Almost everyone does e-mail nowadays, but there’s also chat, message boards, interacting with web sites, online games, even imaginative role playing. He may discover something new about his companion’s personality and interests. And his companion may discover something new about him.
- Bringing online behavior offline: On the internet a person may be experimenting with new ways to express herself. She may be developing new behaviors and aspects of her identity. If she introduces them into her face to face lifestyle and relationships, she may better understand those behaviors and why previously she was unable to develop them in the real world.
- Bringing offline behavior online: Translating an aspect of one’s identity from one realm to another often strengthens it. You are testing it, refining it, in a new environment. So if it’s beneficial to bring online behaviors offline, then it’s also beneficial to bring offline behaviors online. Cyberspace gives a person the opportunity to try out his usual f2f behaviors and methods of self expression in new situations, with new people.
In anthropology, liminality (from the Latin word līmen, meaning “a threshold”) is the quality of ambiguity or disorientation that occurs in the middle stage of rituals, when participants no longer hold their pre-ritual status but have not yet begun the transition to the status they will hold when the ritual is complete. During a ritual’s liminal stage, participants “stand at the threshold” between their previous way of structuring their identity, time, or community, and a new way, which the ritual establishes.
The concept of liminality was first developed in the early 20th century by anthropologist Arnold van Gennep and later taken up by Victor Turner. Turner coined the term liminoid to refer to experiences that have characteristics of liminal experiences. A graduation ceremony might be regarded as liminal while a rock concert might be understood to be liminoid. The liminal is part of society, an aspect of social or religious ritual, while the liminoid is a break from society, part of play. He became aware that liminality “…served not only to identify the importance of in-between periods, but also to understand the human reactions to liminal experiences: the way liminality shaped personality, the sudden foregrounding of agency, and the sometimes dramatic tying together of thought and experience”.
‘The attributes of liminality or of liminal personae (“threshold people”) are necessarily ambiguous’. One’s sense of identity dissolves to some extent, bringing about disorientation, but also the possibility of new perspectives. During the liminal stage, normally accepted differences between the participants, such as social class, are often ignored. ‘Such collapsing of classes and occupations in the new community may be of longer or short-lived duration.
Liminality has both spatial and temporal dimensions, and can be applied to a variety of subjects: individuals, larger groups (cohorts or villages), whole societies, and possibly even entire civilizations.
Cyberspace is a liminal space and the netizen a liminal being.