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The End of Cyberspace

From a 1992 Boston Globe article on cyberpunk, a premonition that eventually cyberculture would disappear under the weight of its ubiquity:

It was nearly midnight deep inside Venus de Milo, a dark and sweaty Boston dance emporium. The Shamen, a British musical duo augmented by an assortment of digital gewgaws, was unleashing a storm of high-energy technopop that was cyberpunk through and through. «We can see tomorrow in each other’s eyes,» they sang at one point as the bouncing crowd raised its collective fist, presumably in the direction of cyberspace. But what was most interesting about the 800 or so raving souls in attendance was that they didn’t look like they’d stumbled in from the set of «Blade Runner.» Instead, they were merely members of the Lansdowne Street night shift: postpunks, Eurokids, college students, young professionals, twentynothings, geeks, nerds, Rastas, slackers and even a few bodybuilders in tank tops who appeared to have taken a wrong turn coming off the Tobin Bridge. Considerably more beer was chugged than the high-nutrient «smart» drinks that are touted as the cyberpunk libation du jour. So you are forgiven for wondering if cyberpunk is an authentic subculture or a media buzzword. Actually, it’s both. Forget for a moment that it was born as a word to describe a dark, morbid, near-future science-fiction movement of the 1980’s. «Cyberpunk» is now more commonly a handy term for combining the related cadres of techno- bohemians-primarily hackers, crackers and phreaks (see primer) — who populate the computer underground. But the word is also used to describe the trappings of this cantankerous, decentralized, and antiestablishment subset that have surfaced in popular culture. It is the hairy-eyed, obsessive wizards of today’s computer netherworld who personify cyberpunk’s foremost futuristic theme: the merging of man and machine. For better or worse, the popularization of cyberpunk has made it analogous to surfing. A handful of computer jockeys have spawned a style and an attitude. It’s no coincidence that Mondo 2000, a glossy quarterly magazine that trumpets the pop version of cyberpunk, likes to talk about «surfin’ the new edge.» Way cool.

And consider: Cyberpunk is only a corner of a much broader cyberculture- at-large, which includes an online worldwide population of middle-aged couch potatoes, wheezy academics, corporate pooh-bahs, govermnet drones, and on and one. «In the future it will be everywhere, but it won’t be called cyberculture,» says Stranger, a 17-year-old Miami high school senior who, like most hackers, prefers his computer handle to his real name. «It will just be called culture. A few years ago, people used to talk about ‘the emerging TV cuture.’ We no longer talk about a ‘TV culture’ today. It’s a given. Somdeay soon, no one will talk about ’emerging cyberculture.’ Because it will be a given, too.»

Nathan Cobb, «Cyberpunk — Terminal Chic?,» originally published in the Boston Globe (24 November 1992, pp. 29, 32), now reprinted online in various places.

(Hat tip to my former student Josh Buhs)

Technorati Tags: cyberspace, digital culture, end of cyberspace

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  • Statistics predicting that China—with India in tow—will overtake the US in science and technology, if not tomorrow, then, say, next week» overlook «the fact that China faces a problem of its own: Chinese science, many say, is too competitive.»
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The End of Cyberspace

Another data-point (from the Guardian) on how the decline of cyberspace encourages digital information to migrate from screens to streets, from planning and research phases of activities to decision-making, and from formality and permanence to informality and immediacy.

Spotted by Locals is a network of city bloggers providing up-to-the-minute local information — from a cosy London hideaway to Madrid’s best kept museum secret.

Like many great ideas, Spotted by Locals was conceived after a few beers. Dutch couple Sanne and Bart van Poll were on a city break to Brussels in 2007, and abandoned their customary guidebook in favour of tips gleaned from a Belgian blogger whose jib they like the sound of. «We went to the bars and restaurants he frequents, and walked around in the hidden local neighbourhood that was certainly not in our paper guide,» says Bart. And in one of said bars, they came up with the idea that would imminently lead to both of them quitting their day jobs.

Spotted by Locals is a network of European city blogs written by over 80 local bloggers who Sanne and Bart have met personally since coming up with the idea. Each city blog is manned by a number of enthusiastic local «spotters», ranging from 18-year old Czech medicine students to 60-year old Belgian retirees. As the bloggers are all writing in second (or third) languages, the prose can occasionally be a little clunky, but therein lies its beauty: authentically local, on-the-ground advice. And, like all good blog content, the focus is on keeping up. «All tips are always up-to-date. Our Spotters only write about places they visit regularly, and update the information in the article frequently.»

You could also do this in a more fluid fashion, if you mined Technorati for city names plus certain other terms, like vacation, travel, or a word that a service looks for.

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The End of Cyberspace

« February 2009 | Main | April 2009 »

8 posts from March 2009

How hard would it me to create a locative lost and found service— like something that would associate a digital note about a lost object with a geocode, so that when you were in a place where someone had lost something, you’d see a note about it on your mobile device.

Why other kinds of notes could be improved by geolocating them? Craigslist missed connections come to mind, especially if a service could match them up with information about you and your whereabouts. So if you’d been in the corner Peets on Friday night, you’d see a missed connection tagged to that place and date. Whether you’d talked to the person behind you about Fellini’s late version or not, only you would know.

  • Statistics predicting that China—with India in tow—will overtake the US in science and technology, if not tomorrow, then, say, next week» overlook «the fact that China faces a problem of its own: Chinese science, many say, is too competitive.»

Yet another interesting reflection on Facebook portraits, this time by Columbia architecture professor Kazys Varnelis (whose recent book I mentioned in a previous post):

The Facebook self-portrait makes everyone a superstar, famous for no particular reason, but notable for their embrace of fame. So it is that on Facebook, I see friends who I never thought of as self-conscious take photographs of remarkable humor, intelligence, and wry self-deprecation. The Facebook self-portrait insists upon mastery over one’s self-image and the instant feedback of digital photography allows us this. Not happy? Well, try again.

Long ago, when I was in high school, I read a book on the Bloomsbury group. I remember that the caption underneath a group photograph in the book (whose title now escapes me) pointed out that even in this über-hip clique, only one member was relaxed, only one understood that the right pose for the camera was a calculated non-pose. Our idea of the self can be read through such images: from the stiff formality of the painted portrait to the relaxed pose of the photograph to the calculated self-consciousness of the Facebook digital image. Each time, the self becomes a more cunning manipulator of the media. Each time, the self becomes more conscious of being defined outside itself, in a flow of impulses rather than a notion of inner essence.

So it was that in reading the first article, I felt that the author missed his friend Caroline’s point when she told him «You can never be too cool for your past.» As your images catch up to you in network culture, you have to become the consummate manipulator of your image, imagery from the past being less an indictment of present flaws and more an indicator of your ability to remake yourself.

Another data-point (from the Guardian) on how the decline of cyberspace encourages digital information to migrate from screens to streets, from planning and research phases of activities to decision-making, and from formality and permanence to informality and immediacy.

Spotted by Locals is a network of city bloggers providing up-to-the-minute local information — from a cosy London hideaway to Madrid’s best kept museum secret.

Like many great ideas, Spotted by Locals was conceived after a few beers. Dutch couple Sanne and Bart van Poll were on a city break to Brussels in 2007, and abandoned their customary guidebook in favour of tips gleaned from a Belgian blogger whose jib they like the sound of. «We went to the bars and restaurants he frequents, and walked around in the hidden local neighbourhood that was certainly not in our paper guide,» says Bart. And in one of said bars, they came up with the idea that would imminently lead to both of them quitting their day jobs.

Spotted by Locals is a network of European city blogs written by over 80 local bloggers who Sanne and Bart have met personally since coming up with the idea. Each city blog is manned by a number of enthusiastic local «spotters», ranging from 18-year old Czech medicine students to 60-year old Belgian retirees. As the bloggers are all writing in second (or third) languages, the prose can occasionally be a little clunky, but therein lies its beauty: authentically local, on-the-ground advice. And, like all good blog content, the focus is on keeping up. «All tips are always up-to-date. Our Spotters only write about places they visit regularly, and update the information in the article frequently.»

You could also do this in a more fluid fashion, if you mined Technorati for city names plus certain other terms, like vacation, travel, or a word that a service looks for.

  • «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.»

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.»

  • «[E]xperts go wrong when they try to fit simple models to complex situations. («It’s the Great Depression all over again!») They go wrong when they leap to judgment or are too slow to change their minds in the face.»

    «If you want good, stable long-term performance, you’re better off with the fox. If you’re up for a real roller-coaster ride, which might make you fabulously wealthy or leave you broke, go hedgehog.»

    «We need to believe we live in a predictable, controllable world, so we turn to authoritative-sounding people who promise to satisfy that need. That’s why part of the responsibility for experts’ poor record falls on us. We seek out experts who promise impossible levels of accuracy, then we do a poor job keeping score.»

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The End of Cyberspace

From Metropolis, an essay on «Tracking the Future» that describes a recent book on new urban infrastructures.

The 50-year arc of engines and batteries puts us right on the cusp of viable clean-power transit. The computation and flexibility necessary to make better use of the energy feeding the electric grid are already available; they’re the same technologies keeping cell phones going for days on a single charge. And telecommunications itself is slowly but steadily having a noticeable effect on how and when we use energy, whether through the reduced need for office space because of flexible work locations, the creeping advance of videoconferencing, or even the use of online social networking to buttress face-to-face interactions. It’s not as if we can’t imagine what a viable future might look like (even if it is just as easy to summon a picture of total collapse).

What’s harder to grasp is the inherent flexibility of this new infrastructure. With The Infrastructural City, Varnelis, an architectural historian and the director of Columbia University’s Network Architecture Lab, set out to update Reyner Banham’s 1971 book, Los Angeles: The Architecture of Four Ecologies. The major difference is that where Banham saw in Los Angeles’s unplanned urbanism a logic that could be instructive, Varnelis views it as a city in perpetual crisis—a victim of its own infrastructure. The freeways are perpetually clogged. The wildfires burn faster the more they are suppressed. “Infrastructure is no longer a solution,” Varnelis writes. But he really means the old infrastructure, those masterworks built according to a plan….

The emerging infrastructure is different. Varnelis describes it as something multiple and shifting: “networked ecologies,” plural “infrastructures” that are “hypercomplex” and as likely to consist of legal mechanisms and barely visible cell-phone networks as the heavy stuff of tunnels and bridges. Inherently less apparent than the infrastructure that came before, they’re also as likely to be owned by corporations as by governments—meaning these networks can’t really be controlled, only “appropriated” according to their own logic. With traditional planning made impotent by capitalism and NIMBYism, rebuilding the city now requires a “new type of urbanist,” a designer Varnelis compares to a computer hacker who reimagines a new use for the underlying rules and codes.