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<nettime> Re: the places and spaces of cyberspace
brian carroll on 9 Sep 2000 20:39:44 -0000

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<nettime> Re: the places and spaces of cyberspace

 i saw the article "No 'there' there: Why cyberspace isn't anyplace" by
 Jonathan Koppell that Ana Viseu analyzes. i couldn't read it in full,
 as to me was based upon a common and absurd proposition, namely:

> [Koppell] argues that because cyberspace cannot be seen on
> any map, it should not be considered a place.

 and while Ana states that `some would argue vehemently that there
 are maps of cyberspace' and there is `a book entirely dedicated to
 the mapping cyberspace', i think that these maps also suffer from
 the the fish-in-the-fishbowl affect.

 if one looks at maps generated by geographers or computer scientists
 or network researchers regarding mapping cyberspace, they make their
 maps electronically (as far as all that i have seen on the subject),
 based on what i imagine are pinging servers or delineating the major
 backbones and ISPs in the collective Internet cloud diagram.

 this mapping, from my point of view, is done from within the network,
 that is, inside or internally looking outside, externally, to see the
 space or the place or the domain of the electronic internetwork. to
 me, this brings up the electronic-fishbowl affect, whereby the map
 is limited by its paradigm to only see what is within the fishbowl,
 while presupposing this is the only way to see the network.

 i've been pondering this question for awhile myself, and have made
 various attempts at mapping `cyberspace' externally. rather than
 seeing-inside-the-network, seeing the artifacts which make up the
 network, as a way of rationalizing space and place.

 a misnomer is that `cyberspace' began with computer networks. the
 story of electrification begs to differ. what about the telegraph,
 the telephone, the television, the radio, the fax machine, the
 personal computer, as precedents to this internalized electronic
 space and place?

 the artifacts that literally define this cyber-space|place are
 the rational connection between the inside and outside of the
 phenomenon. the absurdity of Koppell's position, and others
 like it, is that one can, for example, understand television
 in all its complexity by just watching a television set and
 looking at its moving images and sounds, and to call this
 internally electronic space virtual or immaterial (which i
 will attempt to refute below) while forgetting that there
 is an assemblage of artifacts outside this one artifact
 which make it function. a whole ecosystem of technologies
 which ground this phenomenon in the world of facts. to
 disregard television studios, television cameras, power
 plants, amplifiers, transmitting and receiving antennas,
 and any knowledge of electromagnetics would certainly
 make it seem that this cyberspace cannot be mapped, that
 there is no there there. but physically this is untrue.
 a television and its internalized cyber-space|place does
 not function without the larger electrical assemblage,
 and therefore, any map which just uses a TV guide of
 programs to map out television space or the electro-
 magnetic spectrum frequencies for different channels
 is seeing it from within the electronic fishbowl. to
 add the transmitting/repeater/receiving antennae,
 television stations, power plants and electrical grid,
 one can begin to see both the space and the place of
 this television in the physical realm. (eg. the radius
 from the tv studio and transmission antenna to the
 receiving antenna is a physically-based connection
 which defines the space and place of the television
 as milieu). there is a there there, and electro-
 magnetically, it is everywhere. with respect to the
 mapping the `cyberspace' of television then, if you
 map from within the television box, you need to assume
 the television is a black-box, an impenetrable and
 magical device, virtual/immaterial, etc. which has
 its own special rules unique to itself that can only
 be seen from inside itself, i.e. fish-in-a-fishbowl.
 what is contradictory to this view, besides the
 fact of its physicality in other artifacts which
 help create this internal electronic space-place,
 is that, if there were indeed a disconnect between
 artifact (tv) and its assemblage (tv station, etc)
 then the outside would not influence the inside of
 the medium, which is not the case, and which is
 absurd. it may not be what Koppel is proposing but
 it is an extreme example of this vein of reasoning.
 an example to contradict this notion is that, if
 the `cyber-space|place' of a TV were indeed not
 physically connected and there was no (physical)
 there-there, then the eco/soc/pol of a culture
 would have no influence over what occurs inside
 of this electronic broadcasting medium. one could
 go on to assume that a free-speech tv program
 could air in an dictatorial country, because it
 is so disconnected from the actual world and its
 eco/soc/political reality. this same assumption
 is being made with the Internet today. that in
 a non-social capitalism, democratic or not, that
 somehow utopian public social issues and rights
 will survive intact in a privatized internetwork.

 it is meant to be a question, not an answer, but
 i am left wondering, can private power plants,
 private tv and radio stations, private tele-
 communications and ISPs support the utopian
 and democratic `cyberspace' that so many see
 vanishing before their eyes? i think an answer
 is becoming more clear, especially if you look
 at the Internet outside of the fishbowl.

 thus, by mapping `cyberspace' internally, one
 can conclude there is "no `there' there." but
 if one looks at the electrical assemblage of
 artifacts which make up this artificial electronic
 domain, one finds objects in actual space-time
 which define both electronic space and place.

 go to a power company and ask to see blueprints
 or cad-files of the local grid. go to a power
 exchange to see a map of transmission lines
 updating their power levels and switching in
 real time. in either case, one will see symbols
 which represent physical transmission towers,
 substations, distribution poles, power plants,
 all of which make cyberspace a physical space
 and place. i've written extensively about this
 in my architecture of electricity thesis, at:
 http://www.architexturez.com/ae/ i've also
 made two maps of this electronic internetwork:

architectural map of the local e-grid:

database map of the electrical assemblage:

 in sum, `cyberspace' or the Internet, if seen
 from only inside the technology, limits its sight
 of the whole. to do so, and make a conceptual
 disconnect with external artifacts and issues,
 enables a clean-room philosophy and ideology
 to promote the pure goals of the private economy
 (and its private social and political goals)
 without any sense of intellectual checks-and-
 balances. thus, one can continue to profess
 the immateriality and the virtuality of the
 Internet and the New Economy, while in physical
 reality, it is connected with and influenced by
 the old, unchanged institutional order which
 continues to disregard pollution, global warming,
 energy inefficiency, etc. these issues are absurdly
 not connected with these maps of the Internet,
 which are used to promote the ideal of a new
 utopian space-place for the new digital class,
 and its culture and eco/soc/political ideology
 which looks a lot like that of the offline world.

> 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.

 electronic place and space are defined by physical artifacts.
 everywhere there is an electrical distribution pole, a television
 or transmitter, a phone booth, a satellite dish, there is the
 potential space of the internet defined by artifacts, which,
 externally also define a place. these artifacts exist on
 every continent. there must be a trillion electrical distribution
 poles worldwide, those wooden/concrete/plastic poles which carry
 power and phone and telecom lines to people. these are the
 outside of the Internet. without them, the Internet would
 not exist as we know it today, as a global phenomenon.
 space and place, do have unique attributes internally inside
 the electronic medium, say, in a server which might be housed
 in a stack 3x3x5 feet and yet creates a place for a million
 visitors to gather at a Web site, whereas a city of a million
 people would spread out over miles and miles.

 the common myth that is `cyberspace' and the Internet is
 immaterial (and virtual) is just that, a myth, which
 continues the black-box explanation of electrical technology
 in order to promote such ideas as "there is no `there' there.'
 in fact, electrons have mass. so do photons, when in movement.
 thus, they are material, physical stuff. how do we control it
 if it is immaterial? electronic space is physical, at the
 atomic, subatomic, and molecular levels.

 discourse on the Internet and cyberspace need to be grounded
 in the science and technology which creates these mediums,
 else it is an anything-goes discourse with no checks-and-
 balances upon propositions.

 the Internet is physical. mapping its space and place only
 internally leads to a disconnect from the physical realities
 of its external artifacts and their influence upon the world.
 for example, the `cyberspace' is a leading cause of pollution
 and global warming via its connection to electrical power
 plants and inefficient technologies, amongst many other things.

the architecture of electricity

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