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The death of cyberspace

Another really interesting idea from Digital Methods by Richard Rogers. He dates the ‘death of cyberspace’ as symbolically taking place with the first legal assertion of geography over virtuality. From loc 833:

The symbolic end of cyberspace may be located in the lawsuit against Yahoo! in May 2000, brought before the Tribunal de Grande Instance de Paris by two French nongovernmental organizations, the French Union of Jewish Students and the League Against Racism and Anti-Semitism. The suit ultimately led to the ruling in November 2000 that called for software to block Yahoo!’s Nazi memorabilia pages from web users located in France. Web software now routinely knows a user’s geographical location, and acts upon the knowledge. You are reminded of the geographical awareness of the web when in France you type into the browser “google.com” and are redirected to google.fr. While it may be viewed as a practical and commercial effort to connect users with languages and local advertisements, the search engine’s IP-to-geolocation handling also may be described as the software-enabled demise of cyberspace as placeless space. With location-aware web devices (e.g., search engines), cyberspace becomes less an experience in displacement than one of re-placement—you are sent home by default.

Cyberspace withers and dies as the Internet is increasingly built around a locative infrastructure. As he puts it, ‘online’ which was “once routinely thought of and mapped as placeless, now foregrounds location”: from this point onwards the online/offline distinction becomes untenable. As he points out on loc 849, this change finds reflection in the names and metaphors associated with browsers:

Consider the names of the browsers from the 1990s and early 2000s: Netscape Navigator, Microsoft’s Internet Explorer, and Apple’s Safari, all inviting navigation of the sea, space, or jungle of information. More recently, in keeping with the demise of cyberspace, these cybergeographical devices have given way to browsers (or browser names) less concerned with navigating per se, such as Mozilla’s Firefox and Google’s Chrome.

This represents a significant change from the early metaphors or browsing. From loc 881:

Generally, thinking in terms of the web as a universe (to be charted) coincided with early ideas of the web as a hyperspace, where one would jump from one site to another at some great, unknown distance. With starry night site backdrops in abundance, the early web looked as if it would “[bring] us into new dimensions.”

Categories: Philosophy of Technology The Technological History of Digital Capitalism

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Mark

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