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Internet Governance 9 November 2012

What is the Geography of Cyberspace? – Excellent Panel

Interesting platform of panelists and the subject matter on its own is a real challenge. However this workshop makes way for an interesting discussion point which really gets everything together in a sort of synergy.

The new world of cyberspace is undoubtedly changing the role of geography in civic life. Originally, even in the Greek polis, geography was destiny, and who you could interact with was limited by where you lived. Today, in theory, there is no cyberspace barrier between you and the mayor or any civic elites. Cyberspace levels distance of space and social position. No one knows where you are logging in from, although they can often infer many things from clues you provide. A person’s email address is not a fixed point in cyberspace – it allows them to communicate from anywhere, to anywhere, like a phone number that follows you everywhere. Through synchronous communication systems like IRC or voice conferencing systems like Maven, instantaneous “face-to-face” communication becomes more a matter of time than spatial distance. It will be possible for civic leaders and the community to hold “electronic town hall meetings,” like was only previously possible.

There are already numerous stories of people logging into the Net, losing track of time, and “emerging” from cyberspace hours or even days later, realizing that they’ve forgotten to pick up their children or spouse. The clock is a convenient means of getting people all in the same place at the same time. But with people working at home, “telecommuting” in their “electronic houses,” the hours they put in a day may not necessarily be the same hours others do. There may not even need to be a physical office where people meet on a regular basis, if the equivalent exists in cyberspace. Peoples’ schedules may start being driven more by the the eatern states stock market and Mauritian radio schedule than the hourly rhythms of where they live.

The fragmentation of identity which people often claim is a feature of postmodern life seems to be amplified in cyberspace. A person need no longer be “embodied” in one self in one place. They may have any number of virtual “selves” in various cyber-locations, personae which they can adopt whenever they feel the need. You truly can be in more than one place; and it’s common for Internet users to be “multiply connected” with friends through a number of modalities, chatting on the IRC in one window while simultaneously trying to shoot down an opponent in a Doom DeathMatch. This may force cultural geographers to rethink the relationship between self and space.

For a long time, humans have been accustomed to being “rooted” in a place, either through birth or special attachment. But in cyberspace, people might find themselves multiply existent, in any number of concurrent virtual worlds.

To some, the idea of any metaphysical significance to the reality of cyberspace is all hype. Still, there can be no doubt that cyberspace is qualitatively different from any other kind of space which people have inhabited. To the pioneers of virtuality, there is a sense that this all could be a whole new phase of human evolution. All this talk about “downloading” personalities into digital form represents, in a new form, the human ambition for transcending the body and cheating death. As long as human identity is something fixed in space and time, this may not be possible. Cyberspace holds out the tantalizing possibility that this need no longer be the case. But also the terrible flip side – which is that the difference between us and our digital constructs may not be as great as we think.

People working in the anthropology of space and cultural geography have “fertile territory” to survey in cyberspace. Unlike so many other landscapes, this is one which is being built right before their eyes. Observing how people perceive, locate themselves, find meaning, and identify themselves in cyberspace, may help us understand the analogous processes of how this occurs in ‘realspace.’ However, cyberspace provides more than a testing ground for existing hypotheses about how social-cultural relations emerge in space. It is a new kind of space that is emerging, and will force the rethinking of old assumptions about place and space. Deciding how to do the cartography of a place that is nowhere and everywhere at the same time may be a very challenging task; even more so, analyzing and explaining the new kinds of identities and interactions that emerge in such a new, unforeseen place.

I would realistically argue that whether we are in the midst of a post-industrial/information-age/postmodern social revolution. No one knew during the Renaissance or the Industrial Revolution that a revolution was taking place. Still, electronic media is revolutionizing what we think of as literacy, robots etc.,may soon start taking on characteristics we reserved for ‘humanity’ alone, and various artificial life experiments are causing us to rethink the basis of life and consciousness. In the same sense, cyberspace may be erasing what we think we knew about space. What it means to be in some place and not another is changing. People may start living more and more in the “no-place” of cyberspace. So in the future, any geographer who ignores cyberspace and its impact on the human ordering of space may be doing so at their own peril.

These said we know that frontiers are no longer going to be a problem at least at this point in time because there are boundaries that no longer makes sense. I am wondering within these discussions that we would be ever makes sense of this boderless world.

People this makes sense as we know it but am wondering whether our fore children will ever realise that we used to have sovereign countries ?

We can have endless discussion on the subject matter but i am quite happy to hear the people intervening but i like the point that Vint cerf points out that the fundamental theory is we want itnernet to remain open and accessible.

That closes my take and views on this subject matter.

From Kris — Ending this blog – BAKU 9th November 2012.

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Disclaimer: Viewpoints expressed in this post are those of the author and may or may not reflect official Internet Society positions.

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