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<nettime> the places and spaces of cyberspace
Ana Viseu on 9 Sep 2000 04:58:46 -0000


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<nettime> the places and spaces of cyberspace


The places and spaces of cyberspace

In the August edition of the Atlantic Monthly, Jonathan Koppell writes an 
article entitled "No 'there' there: Why cyberspace isn't anyplace" 
[http://www.theatlantic.com/issues/2000/08/koppell.htm] in which he defends 
the non-existence of a cyberspace 'place'. I write to refute this position, 
arguing that, in fact, the 'place' metaphor is an adequate way of creating 
awareness to the fragile nature of the Internet.

Koppell analyses 'place' in two different ways. In the first he rejects the 
use of 'place' as appropriate because it contradicts a traditional 
geographical approach. He argues that because cyberspace cannot be seen on 
any map, it should not be considered a place. And while some would argue 
vehemently that there are maps of cyberspace [1], in fact, someone even 
wrote a book entirely dedicated to the mapping cyberspace [2]. What Koppell 
is really confusing here are the words 'place' and 'space'. Cyberspace is a 
space and, contrary to the common understanding of 'place', spaces are not 
necessarily physical. For example, we commonly say that 'we need some 
space'. Does that mean we need to have 1 meter around us? Or that this 
space should be mapped down? Perhaps, but usually it refers to having some 
mental freedom, some independence for ourselves. Seen in this way, space is 
an environment with certain embedded sets of values that allow one to act 
in a certain way. CyberSPACE seems to fit well into this category for it 
does "offer alternative ways of living" [3].

In the second line of critique he argues that this metaphor is a potential 
danger to the "wise management of the Internet". Koppell defends that 
seeing cyberspace as a "pure state beyond ordinary society" makes it seem 
as if "the introduction of law would not so much bring order as corrupt 
utopia".  This increases the uneasiness felt by both courts and 
legislatures to regulating this place.

However, Koppell overlooks two important facts. The first is that specific 
laws have been made to regulate environments other than that in which we 
live our everyday life. We have, for example, a law of the sea. Thus, that 
should not be an impediment for the creation of regulation.

The second point that Koppell misses is that arguing that cyberspace is a 
place, does not imply that it is a self-ordering, pure space, as Koppell 
seems to believe. Koppell cites Lessig's Code and other laws of cyberspace 
to reinforce this argument citing the fear to corrupt a pristine land as 
the justification for the lack of action of courts and legislature. 
However, he fails to acknowledge that the main point of Lessig's argument 
is that "cyberspace will not take care of itself" [4] and there is a need 
for more legislative action.

I do agree with Koppell's argument that many times the metaphor is used 
merely as a marketing tool, as an exploration of the need to be part of the 
'cool' place.  I also agree that cyberspace is not a "pristine and untamed 
land" that will be corrupted by the existence of law. However, these 
arguments do not invalidate the use of the place (I prefer space) 
descriptive. In fact, describing cyberspace as a place may be beneficial, 
for people are -used to fighting for the preservation of places/spaces they 
cherish. It may be useful to create awareness and the need for action, 
rather the passivity that describing it as a simple carrier or medium would 
imply.

[1] See for example http://www.cybergeography.com or 
http://www.telegeography.com
[2] http://www.mappingcyberspace.com
[3] Lawrence Lessig. (1999). Code and other laws of cyberspace, p. 191.
[4] Lessig, p. 61.


-------------------------------------
Tudo vale a pena se a alma nao e pequena.
http://fcis.oise.utoronto.ca/~aviseu

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