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The End of Cyberspace

I have no idea how I’d work in a citation to today’s New York Times article about subscription libraries. Though the last quote does highlight the way that libraries are social spaces as well as places to storehouses for books:

[There are] 17 membership libraries scattered through the United States, survivors of an era long before that of tax-supported public libraries, said Erika Torri, executive director of the Athenaeum Music and Arts Library in La Jolla, Calif. The La Jolla library offers its 2,300 subscribers a large circulating DVD and video collection in art, foreign film and music, among other attractions. An individual membership costs $40 a year.

Many membership libraries, like the Boston Athenaeum and the Athenaeum of Philadelphia, are housed in elegant historic buildings. The Boston Athenaeum, which has five curators and a major collection of statues and paintings, is the nation’s largest, said Richard Wendorf, director and librarian. Some 8,000 people have cards to the library, and a family membership costs $275. The library sponsors 14 discussion groups. «What people find here,» Mr. Wendorf said, «are other people who share their interest not just in books, but in discussion.»

Technorati Tags: end of cyberspace, library

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The End of Cyberspace

I’ve said before that for people my age (I’m 44), Web 2.0 is a time machine. So it’s nice to see that Newsweek has caught onto the idea (though why they had to title the article «Why Facebook Is for Old Fogies» is beyond me. Excuse me!).

  • Facebook is about finding people you’ve lost track of. [This is so true. In fact, I found the article on a college classmate’s Facebook page. We’d been out of touch for about 20 years before I friended her (though she insists she friended me first… yeah, right). Which just proves the article’s point.]
  • We’re no longer bitter about high school. [How can I be bitter about it? I can hardly remember it.]
  • We never get drunk at parties and get photographed holding beer bottles in suggestive positions. [Don’t I wish….]
  • Facebook isn’t just a social network; it’s a business network.
  • We’re lazy. [True that.]
  • We’re old enough that pictures from grade school or summer camp look nothing like us.
  • We have children.
  • We’re too old to remember e-mail addresses. [But we’re smart enough to know that we don’t have to. Our address books sync with our iPhones, we import them into Gmail, etc.]
  • We don’t understand Twitter. [We do. We just think harder about using it.]
  • We’re not cool, and we don’t care. [Well, that’s a pose.]
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The End of Cyberspace

Sue Thomas muses about a slow cyberspace:

I’ve been thinking about popular representations of cyberspace versus our actual experience of it. We know that on one level it is ‘fast’ because it can move data around at rapid speeds. But in what ways might it be called ‘slow’?

I’d never really thought of a «slow» cyberspace as something desirable. Most of the time, when you’re in front of a computer, slow isn’t a feature, but a sign that something’s wrong. A slow-running computer, slow-loading page, or slow-to-start browser are all obviously bad things: there’s no upside to an Excel file that takes two minutes to load.

Interesting.

Technorati Tags: cyberspace, digital culture, end of cyberspace

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The End of Cyberspace

I recently read Vincent Mosco’s The Digital Sublime: Myth, Power, and Cyberspace. It’s an interesting book, and it does a good job of ground-clearing of the «I read all these books so you don’t have to» variety, but I have some reservations about it.

The book has several big ideas. First, ideas about cyberspace and its impact are myths. Not myths in the sense of ideas that are «delusional and completely wrong,» but myths used by religious scholars— concepts that order our understanding of the world, that, as Alisdair MacIntyre put it, «are neither true nor false, but living or dead.» (29) Myths of cyberspace, promulgated by figures as varied as Al Gore, Thomas Friedman, and Nicholas Negroponte, helped drive the dot-com boom, the belief that the Internet would transform modern life, and predictions about the end of history, politics, and space. The digital library, information highway, e-commerce, and virtual community were all, in one way or another, representations of the myth.

Myths of cyberspace were also part of a broader discourse that developed in the years before Y2K, characterized by «a general willingness to entertain the prospect of a fundamental turning point in society and culture» (55-56). The Internet was assigned the role of driver of changes that were already under discussion. Most prominent among them were arguments about the end of history; the death of distance (something that’s been happening since at least the telegraph and railroad); and the end of conventional politics (exemplified by the arguments of the Progress and Freedom Foundation).

But it turns out that such technological myths aren’t new. When they were new, the telegraph, electric light, radio, and television all seemed to some to herald a new age in which war would be obsolete, economies would prosper, and the lion would lie down with the lamb. In each case, those predictions turned out to be false. Just as Brian Arthur argues that it’s after the boom that technologies like the railroad and telegraph really start to matter, so too does Mosco argue that «it is when technologies… cease to be sublime icons of mythology and enter the prosaic world of banality… that they become important forces for social and economic change.» (6)

It’s had some positive reviews in Technology and Society, First Monday (scroll down to the second review), SCRIPT-ed, Culture Machine, and University Affairs, among other places. Yet I find myself less impressed by the book. What’s there to object to? I think there are a couple small things, and one big one.

Technorati Tags: cyberspace, digital culture, end of cyberspace, pervasive computing, ubicomp

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The End of Cyberspace

Goodbye, virtual world. Hello, new world.

« Facebook photos and your past | Main | Local bloggers as city guides »

  • «Even now, time bends when I open Facebook: it’s as if I’m simultaneously a journalist/wife/mother in Berkeley and the goofy girl I left behind in Minneapolis. Could I have become the former if I had remained perpetually tethered to the latter?»

  • «The standard goodbye e-mail is a model of outstanding impulse control, especially considering the nonstandard circumstances that surround many leave-takings today. A lot of people are getting pink-slipped, most not for cause. That the workplace norms would still have the recently dumped omit any mention of anger or ambivalence is striking.

    «In some sense, the endurance of this extreme politeness is evidence that hope springs eternal. Many people justifiably believe that an elegant departure might help them land their next gig. But it also confirms something that cranky observers of the white-collar classes have been harping about for decades now: The system depends on forced smiles.»

links for 2009-03-16

  • «Even now, time bends when I open Facebook: it’s as if I’m simultaneously a journalist/wife/mother in Berkeley and the goofy girl I left behind in Minneapolis. Could I have become the former if I had remained perpetually tethered to the latter?»

  • «The standard goodbye e-mail is a model of outstanding impulse control, especially considering the nonstandard circumstances that surround many leave-takings today. A lot of people are getting pink-slipped, most not for cause. That the workplace norms would still have the recently dumped omit any mention of anger or ambivalence is striking.

    «In some sense, the endurance of this extreme politeness is evidence that hope springs eternal. Many people justifiably believe that an elegant departure might help them land their next gig. But it also confirms something that cranky observers of the white-collar classes have been harping about for decades now: The system depends on forced smiles.»

  • About the end of cyberspace

    Cyberspace is a «metaphor we live by,» born two decades ago at the intersection of computers, networks, ideas, and experience. It has reflected our experiences with information technology, and also shaped the way we think about new technologies and the challenges they present. It had been a vivid and useful metaphor for decades; but in a rapidly-emerging world of mobile, always-on information devices (and eventually cybernetic implants, prosthetics, and swarm intelligence), the rules that define the relationship between information, places, and daily life are going to be rewritten. As the Internet becomes more pervasive— as it moves off desktops and screen and becomes embedded in things, spaces, and minds— cyberspace will disappear.

  • This blog is about what happens next. It’s about the end of cyberspace, but more important, about what new possibilities will emerge as new technologies, interfaces, use practices, games, legal theory, regulation, and culture adjust— and eventually dissolve— the boundaries between the virtual and physical worlds.

  • Alex Soojung-Kim Pang is an historian of science and futurist.

    ping Pang

  • Part of the Corante Innovation Hub.

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The End of Cyberspace

Goodbye, virtual world. Hello, new world.

« links for 2009-03-10 | Main | links for 2009-03-16 »

From Slate:

Once you start reconnecting with people from your distant past, even if fleetingly online, your life goes from feeling like a patchwork of acquaintances and experiences to something more fluid and cohesive. This can be humbling. Or, as Caroline said when I whined to her about posting that photo: «You can never be too cool for your past.»

Facebook photos and your past

From Slate:

Once you start reconnecting with people from your distant past, even if fleetingly online, your life goes from feeling like a patchwork of acquaintances and experiences to something more fluid and cohesive. This can be humbling. Or, as Caroline said when I whined to her about posting that photo: «You can never be too cool for your past.»

  • About the end of cyberspace

    Cyberspace is a «metaphor we live by,» born two decades ago at the intersection of computers, networks, ideas, and experience. It has reflected our experiences with information technology, and also shaped the way we think about new technologies and the challenges they present. It had been a vivid and useful metaphor for decades; but in a rapidly-emerging world of mobile, always-on information devices (and eventually cybernetic implants, prosthetics, and swarm intelligence), the rules that define the relationship between information, places, and daily life are going to be rewritten. As the Internet becomes more pervasive— as it moves off desktops and screen and becomes embedded in things, spaces, and minds— cyberspace will disappear.

  • This blog is about what happens next. It’s about the end of cyberspace, but more important, about what new possibilities will emerge as new technologies, interfaces, use practices, games, legal theory, regulation, and culture adjust— and eventually dissolve— the boundaries between the virtual and physical worlds.

  • Alex Soojung-Kim Pang is an historian of science and futurist.

    ping Pang

  • Part of the Corante Innovation Hub.

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The End of Cyberspace

You never know what will serve as the source for some illuminating (or at least entertaining) metaphor. For example, Stephen Colbert’s graduation speech has made me think about one aspect of technologies and the future of cyberspace.

Colbert recently gave a commencement address at Knox College, and in the serious part of it, drew a parallel between post-graduation life and improvisational comedy:

When I was starting out in Chicago, doing improvisational theatre with Second City and other places, there was really only one rule I was taught about improv. That was, “yes-and.” In this case, “yes-and” is a verb…. [Y]es-anding means that when you go onstage to improvise a scene with no script, you have no idea what’s going to happen, maybe with someone you’ve never met before. To build a scene, you have to accept. To build anything onstage, you have to accept what the other improviser initiates on stage. They say you’re doctors—you’re doctors. And then, you add to that: We’re doctors and we’re trapped in an ice cave. That’s the “-and.” And then hopefully they “yes-and” you back. You have to keep your eyes open when you do this. You have to be aware of what the other performer is offering you, so that you can agree and add to it. And through these agreements, you can improvise a scene or a one-act play. And because, by following each other’s lead, neither of you are really in control. It’s more of a mutual discovery than a solo adventure….

Well, you are about to start the greatest improvisation of all. With no script. No idea what’s going to happen, often with people and places you have never seen before. And you are not in control. So say “yes.” And if you’re lucky, you’ll find people who will say “yes” back.

Okay, nice enough for a graduation speech. But it strikes me that «yes-and» serves as a good shorthand for thinking about one of the opportunities that ubiquitous computing technologies create.

Cyberspace had an important either/or: most of the time, you could either interact with it, or with the world, but not both at once. The personal computing model of interacting with information was socially disruptive: the keyboard and monitor require a lot of your attention. Under most circumstances, this meant choosing between things seen through a screen on your desk, or the world around your desk. To put it another way, the same technologies that made it easy for you to interact in real time with someone thousands of miles away made it hard to interaction with someone a few feet away.

What ubicomp offers is the possibility of creating devices, spaces, and interactions that don’t force an either/or choice upon their users, but rather explore the opportunities and exploit the synergies of a yes-and: combining the affordances of physical media, the familiarity of traditional workspaces, or the complexity and richness of social settings, with the speed and flexibility of bits. Some examples:

  • E-paper that looks and feels like traditional paper, but can be updated much more easily.
  • Devices like the Ambient Orb that can communicate information while staying at the edges of your attention, not forcing their way into the center.
  • Tags: VERB Yellowball uses an ID to connect the ball to a digitally-managed story about it; Semapedia is a physical wiki, a framework to «connect the virtual and physical world by bringing the best information from the internet to the relevant place in physical space;» Thinglink is a system for generating ID numbers for craft goods, which also serve as pointers to database records about those objects— a bit like blogjects, a bit like MARC records.

Technorati Tags: cyberspace, design, digital-physical, end of cyberspace, pervasive computing, ubicomp