What does it mean to dwell in Cyberspace and why do we go there?
A look at theories and definitions
Part 2

BY SHARON A. ANGLEMAN
ARKANSAS STATE UNIVERSITY, JONESBORO, DECEMBER 2000

A Project Presented to Dr. O Dr. O. Amienyi, Professor of Radio/TV, and the ASU College of Communications in Partial Fulfillment of the Requirements of Theory of Mass Communications, November 2000

Where is Cyberspace?

"Cyberspace. A consensual hallucination experienced daily by billions of legitimate operators, in every nation, by children being taught mathematical concepts... A graphic representation of data abstracted from the banks of every computer in the human system. Unthinkable complexity. Lines of light ranged in the nonspace of the mind, clusters and constellations of data. Like city lights, receding."-

- William Gibson, 1984

Users on the Internet often have a sense of being "someplace". The use of physical-world terminology such as web addresses, chat rooms, businesses, home pages, classrooms and workshops serve to enhance this illusory concept. Websterís Collegiate Dictionary even defines Cyberspace as an "online world of computer networks." We go to or visit a site. We buy merchandise at this store or that auction. People meet and see other people in chat rooms. All of these activities give a feeling of movement through space. And if you get lost, just find the button for home or consult the site map.

The term "Cyberspace" often brings with it connotations of an imaginary world, a non-world, a simulated or unrealized space. Disregarding the conceptual idea of Cyberspace, however, one realizes an authentic, perceptual space made up of computer bases, hardware, modems, telephone lines, electrical lines, satellite stations and human beings (Strate, 1999). Within these tangible elements lie the components for a sense of space generated within the mind, a dimension we call Cyberspace.

Buzzing through real, physical wires at lightening speeds, events take place and are recognized by users who may be thousands of physical miles away from the event itself. At that near-simultaneous moment in time, the event, whether it began as typed text, a wave file or a video file, is experienced by all of those connected together in Cyberspace. Whatever emotional elements are associated with the event are experienced as well. Something real and describable has occurred. Actual data was transmitted through electronic means. The data did and does exist, though it may now be just electronic particles stored on a magnetized disk somewhere. Even deleted, it still exists on a physical hard drive. Its presence is still there, even though it may no longer be recognizable, just as a room continues to exist after one leaves. If we accept this then, we must recognize that the porthole through which we venture into Cyberspace is real and physical.

Now, consider that one event produces a reality for the participants. At the same time, through the same physical means, another event occurs for other participants. Can two completely different realities exist in the same physical space at the same time? Is this lack of rationale why we define the location of the occurrence a virtual "Cyberspace?" Think, however, of traditional communication through a telephone line. It is easily understood and accepted that more than one conversation can take place through the same phone line. People are communicating with each other in a space, independent of others in the same space, and no one denies the occurrence of any of the events. And further, no one considers time to have diverged into "cybertime" and "real time" or questions whether events have occurred in "real life" or only through telephone lines.

Then what makes communication through Cyberspace different? Strate (1999) defines the difference as the creation of conceptual space. Conceptual space is a product of "consciousness and cognition, the realm of the mindís eye, the place where we look when we turn inward." There must be an interface, however, to generate sensory input to the users. It is from this input or "raw" material, that we are able to internalize a model of conceptual space.

Dichotomous to Strateís "conceptual space", Randell Farmer (1989) explained his idea of Cyberspace as "Öa place, not just an interface or a metaphor. A place where people, regardless of location, hardware, or purpose can get together in a participatory experience to conduct business, socialize, or have a good game of SpaceCombat9.6. He writes in another article (1996) that because the computer is the host for the activities or encounters, the encounter environment can remain constant over time, even in the userís absence. A return to the analogy of the continued existence of a physical room where a conversation took place would adequately demonstrate Farmerís persistence in time. This persistence in place, he writes, is the essence of Cyberspace.

In his article, "What is Cyberspace?" Bauwens (1994) suggests that Cyberspace is a place we are in when we are involved in computer-mediated communications. Roberts, Smith and Pollock (1996) contend that Cyberspace is the "location of mediated interactions in unspecified environments."

These abstract, yet accurate definitions illuminate the difficulty in defining this strange new place where millions of people traverse every day. Regardless of the meaning or the original intent of the metaphor, computers, humans and consciousness do exist and intersect in this environment. One of Einsteinís great discoveries was that space and time are physical things. Websterís definition of space is: 1) the boundless expanse within which all things are connected 2) distance, area, etc. between or within things 3) room of something 4) an interval of time Ė to arrange with spaces between. The space we create and occupy in Cyberspace is as real as our own internal concepts of reality determine it to be. It is an arena through which all things can connect. It is within an interval of time where events occur and are remembered. It is giving, accommodating, receiving and contains substance and meaning. Cyberspace is an actualized and valid dimension of space whereby we interact and react and change our existence.

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Feel free to cite material in this study, but please provide this reference:
     Angleman, S. (December, 2000). What Does it Mean to Dwell in Cyberspace and Why do We Go There? A Look at Theories and Definitions. Unpublished manuscript, Arkansas State University, Jonesboro. <http://www.jrily.com/LiteraryIllusions/TheoryResearchPaperIndex.html> (date of access).


For information or comments concerning this study, please contact, Sharon Angleman at sharon@jrily.com Visit my home site at http://www.jrily.com/LiteraryIllusions/ for other journalistic materials.