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The End of Cyberspace

Goodbye, virtual world. Hello, new world.

« links for 2009-10-25 | Main | links for 2009-10-27 »

  • «As our surroundings have evolved over the centuries, so too have our navigational strategies and conceptions, shaped most recently by urbanization and the advent of high-speed travel.

    «We’re now on the cusp of an even more dramatic change, as we enter the age of the global positioning system, which is well on its way to being a standard feature in every car and on every cellphone. At the same time, neuroscientists are starting to uncover a two-way street: our brains determine how we navigate, but our navigational efforts also shape our brains. The experts are picking up some worrying signs about the changes that will occur as we grow accustomed to the brain-free navigation of the gps era.»

  • The brains of London cabbies have outsized rear hippocampuses, because they are required to painstakingly learn the byzantine lanes and byways of the Old World city. Not true for most of us — and especially not in the age of the GPS, writes Alex Hutchinson in the Canadian magazine The Walrus.

    Hutchinson says that with the digital navigational tool well on its way to becoming standard in every car and on every cellphone, “experts are picking up some worrying signs” about brain atrophy “once we lose the habit of forming cognitive maps.” Research is showing people, their heads in abstract spatial realms, flummoxed finding their way around in the real world.

  • «Not long ago, I started an experiment in self-binding: intentionally creating an obstacle to behavior I was helpless to control, much the way Ulysses lashed himself to his ship’s mast to avoid succumbing to the Sirens’ song. In my case, though, the irresistible temptation was the Internet.»

  • For years critics have railed against these cultural complexes as pointlessly grandiose expressions of vanity — a poisonous brew of architectural egotism and excessive wealth that was destroying America’s urban centers. Why all the fancy forms, they argued? Wouldn’t the money be better spent on something more valuable, like schoolbooks?

    Yet as the dust settles on the last of these projects, what begins to emerge is a more complex image of America’s cultural values at the birth of a new century. The formal dazzle masks a deeper struggle by cities and architects to create accessible public space in an age of shrinking government revenue and privatization. At their most ambitious, they are an effort to rethink the two great urban planning movements that gave shape to the civic and cultural identity of the American city.

links for 2009-10-26

  • «As our surroundings have evolved over the centuries, so too have our navigational strategies and conceptions, shaped most recently by urbanization and the advent of high-speed travel.

    «We’re now on the cusp of an even more dramatic change, as we enter the age of the global positioning system, which is well on its way to being a standard feature in every car and on every cellphone. At the same time, neuroscientists are starting to uncover a two-way street: our brains determine how we navigate, but our navigational efforts also shape our brains. The experts are picking up some worrying signs about the changes that will occur as we grow accustomed to the brain-free navigation of the gps era.»

  • The brains of London cabbies have outsized rear hippocampuses, because they are required to painstakingly learn the byzantine lanes and byways of the Old World city. Not true for most of us — and especially not in the age of the GPS, writes Alex Hutchinson in the Canadian magazine The Walrus.

    Hutchinson says that with the digital navigational tool well on its way to becoming standard in every car and on every cellphone, “experts are picking up some worrying signs” about brain atrophy “once we lose the habit of forming cognitive maps.” Research is showing people, their heads in abstract spatial realms, flummoxed finding their way around in the real world.

  • «Not long ago, I started an experiment in self-binding: intentionally creating an obstacle to behavior I was helpless to control, much the way Ulysses lashed himself to his ship’s mast to avoid succumbing to the Sirens’ song. In my case, though, the irresistible temptation was the Internet.»

  • For years critics have railed against these cultural complexes as pointlessly grandiose expressions of vanity — a poisonous brew of architectural egotism and excessive wealth that was destroying America’s urban centers. Why all the fancy forms, they argued? Wouldn’t the money be better spent on something more valuable, like schoolbooks?

    Yet as the dust settles on the last of these projects, what begins to emerge is a more complex image of America’s cultural values at the birth of a new century. The formal dazzle masks a deeper struggle by cities and architects to create accessible public space in an age of shrinking government revenue and privatization. At their most ambitious, they are an effort to rethink the two great urban planning movements that gave shape to the civic and cultural identity of the American city.

  • 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

Alex Reid, a literature professor at SUNY-Cortland, points out that

cyberspace was coined before the technology it came to designate was invented. The term was meant to estrange, to create a poetic vision of a sublime encounter with information that could only be acheived through flatlining, through a near-death experience. And now after two decades of commodification, cyberspace strikes us as strange once more.

Certainly the point about cyberspace evoking «a poetic vision of a sublime encounter with information» is right on; and the desire for such encounters have been a constant in the history of personal computing and networking, if you believe accounts like John Markoff’s What the Dormouse Said (which makes the point that the pioneers of personal computing did a lot of drugs, and in some ways saw the computer as another mind-altering substance) and Theodore Roszak’s From Satori to Silicon Valley (also available here). Douglas Engelbart «dreamed of «flying» through a variety of information spaces» even before his research group discovered drugs in the mid-1960s.

But was it «coined before the technology it came to designate was invented»? I suppose it depends on which technologies you think are designated by cyberspace. We’re still waiting for the technologies that Gibson describes in Neuromancer. But when the book came out, we had personal computers, the ARPANet, and a few commercial computer services— some basic pieces, but neither yet well-assembled nor widely distributed.

Technorati Tags: cyberspace, end of cyberspace, science_fiction

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The End of Cyberspace

Goodbye, virtual world. Hello, new world.

« Daniel Lyons on the iTablet | Main | links for 2009-10-22 »

  • Writing and reading — from newspapers to novels, academic reports to gossip magazines — are migrating ever faster to digital screens, like laptops, Kindles and cellphones. Traditional book publishers are putting out “vooks,” which place videos in electronic text that can be read online or on an iPhone. Others are republishing old books in electronic form. And libraries, responding to demand, are offering more e-books for download.

    Is there a difference in the way the brain takes in or absorbs information when it is presented electronically versus on paper? Does the reading experience change, from retention to comprehension, depending on the medium?

  • It’s an experiment that has made back-to-school a little easier on the back: Amazon.com gave more than 200 college students its Kindle e-reading device this fall, loaded with digital versions of their textbooks.

  • Kott and others like him are social networking refuseniks: people in their 20s or early 30s who have gone off the grid, eschewing the ecology of Facebook, Twitter, MySpace and the like. In Washington, refuseniks are not exactly operating in isolated, Luddite worlds: One is in a dance company, another is a rapper/hip-hop singer, another is a Georgetown undergraduate.

  • The report, previewed in a speech by Thomas Fingar, the U.S. intelligence community’s top analyst, also concludes that the one key area of continued U.S. superiority — military power — will “be the least significant” asset in the increasingly competitive world of the future, because “nobody is going to attack us with massive conventional force.”

links for 2009-10-21

  • Writing and reading — from newspapers to novels, academic reports to gossip magazines — are migrating ever faster to digital screens, like laptops, Kindles and cellphones. Traditional book publishers are putting out “vooks,” which place videos in electronic text that can be read online or on an iPhone. Others are republishing old books in electronic form. And libraries, responding to demand, are offering more e-books for download.

    Is there a difference in the way the brain takes in or absorbs information when it is presented electronically versus on paper? Does the reading experience change, from retention to comprehension, depending on the medium?

  • It’s an experiment that has made back-to-school a little easier on the back: Amazon.com gave more than 200 college students its Kindle e-reading device this fall, loaded with digital versions of their textbooks.

  • Kott and others like him are social networking refuseniks: people in their 20s or early 30s who have gone off the grid, eschewing the ecology of Facebook, Twitter, MySpace and the like. In Washington, refuseniks are not exactly operating in isolated, Luddite worlds: One is in a dance company, another is a rapper/hip-hop singer, another is a Georgetown undergraduate.

  • The report, previewed in a speech by Thomas Fingar, the U.S. intelligence community’s top analyst, also concludes that the one key area of continued U.S. superiority — military power — will “be the least significant” asset in the increasingly competitive world of the future, because “nobody is going to attack us with massive conventional force.”

  • 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.