Cyberpower: The culture and politics of cyberspace and the Internet

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9780415170772: Cyberpower: The culture and politics of cyberspace and the Internet
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This is the first complete introduction to and analysis of the politics of the internet. Chapters are arranged around key words and use case studies to guide the reader through a wealth of material.
Cyberpower presents all the key concepts of cyberspace including:
* power and cyberspace
* the virtual individual
* society in cyberspace
* imagination and the internet.

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About the Author:

Tim Jordan is Senior Lecturer of Sociology, Open University. He is co-editor of Storming the Millennium: The New Politics of Change (1998) and author of Reinventing Revolution: Value and Difference in New Social Movements and the Left (1994).

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From Chapter 1: Cyberspace now touches all lives. For some it is has become as essential as the telephone or the letter. For some it is still a fearful whisper of technological promise. Sometimes we look on bemused, uncertain why all those little addresses that begin 'http://' appear in advertisements, and sometimes we are shocked by the possibilities, when a friend sends letters instantly across the globe through their telephone. When cables and phone lines are allied to computers, the parallel world of cyberspace is created. It is often called a virtual world because it does not exist in tangible, physical reality but in the light and electronics of communications technology.

In the virtual world people live virtual lives, alongside their real lives, that may be as substantial as marriage and as insubstantial as checking a television guide. The virtual world often affects us without our knowing. An automated bank teller gives us money because its communications in cyberspace authorise it to; after we have given our password and told an atm what we want, it then uses a phone line to call a computer that decides whether our request is legitimate.

Virtuality, whether chosen by us or not, has grown parallel to reality and encompasses us all. Cyberspace and its virtual lives need their cultural, political and economic shape analysed for their social consequences and meaning.

Cyberpower provides this analysis by investigating the nature of power in cyberspace. To do this the nature of cyberspace must first be defined. Chapter two will do this by exploring the inter-relations between science fiction visions of virtuality's possibilities and the reality of networked computers. On the basis of this broad understanding of where cyberspace came from and how it works, three regions of power in cyberspace will be analysed by defining in turn the types of power typical of individual lives in cyberspace (chapter three), of virtual communities or societies (chapters four and five) and of virtual imaginations that unify dispersed individuals as members of the virtual world (chapter six).

With these three types of power defined their inter-relations will be explored to create an overall characterisation of power in cyberspace (chapter seven). Cyberpower will emerge as a complex form of power in which a digital grassroots finds and uses tools to gain greater choice of action in their lives but whose use of tools also fuels the increasing domination of a virtual elite over the nature of cyberspace and its capabilities. The power and paradox of cyberspace is its ability to liberate and dominate simultaneously.

Virtual lives are different to the lives we all know. For a start, nobody takes their physical body there. Each of us might sit at a computer screen, conversing online with others and our actions occur 'out-there' in virtuality while our bodies remain seated at the terminal. We can travel the world meeting people, yet remain forever seated in our home. Certainly, we often have to wait in cyberspace and this gives a sense of distance, of the time needed to traverse a particular part of cyberspace, but this sense of distance has nothing to do with physical distance.

Virtually meeting someone in Australia from London can be quicker than virtually meeting someone in New York, depending on the speed of the networks. And though we transgress the physical as we have known it, we do not eliminate our bodies from cyberspace but reinvent them. Nothing tells us this more clearly than sex in cyberspace. Whether someone is idling over to playboy/girl.com to see the latest 'unpublished nude photograph' or furiously typing climax after climax in online dangerous liaisons, it is clear cyberspace is not purely a realm of the mind.

We may not go there physically but we certainly have bodily desires there. There are many such transformations in cyberspace, sex and the body are merely the most often and most lasciviously discussed. Virtual space is the paradox of non-physical space. And virtual societies mean the reinvention of all that is familiar.

Every society achieves a pattern to its politics, technology and culture. Virtual societies are marked by political, technological and cultural patterns so intimately connected as to be nearly indistinguishable. For example, a virtual discussion may allow all to speak and all to be heard at once. Each participant types their contributions and places them in a centrally held discussion, accessible to all other participants.

In this way, all contributions are always available, no-one can be silenced because their voice is the quietest and no-one can be heard with more effect simply because they are more aggressive. Such distinctive forms of computer-mediated discussion give rise to the hope that, perhaps, virtual technology creates a more politically egalitarian debate. The technology, culture and politics of virtual discussions are inextricable.

Virtual societies have also become increasingly important, taking over central functions of existing societies and inventing their own. Ask yourself, 'where is my money?' If it is in a shoe-box under your bed or if you know the numbers of your gold bars in a Swiss vault, then you are exceptional; for nearly everyone else money is virtual, held electronically as numbers in computer databases.

Alchemists would look on us wistfully, as we turn plastic cards into gold at every automated teller through the magic of computer communication. Virtual societies have endured now for at least a quarter of a century and it is time their regular patterns of politics, technology and culture were described and analysed.

Many analogies between real and virtual societies have been offered to grasp the meaning of cyberspace-railroads, minds, highways-but few, if any, analyses allow the overall patterns of politics, technology and culture in the virtual lands to be made out. Some say this is because the virtual life changes so fast that perpetual change is the only pattern we can find, and this is a pattern that tells us little except that any insight we have found is useless because it is bound to change (or already has changed).

Many glorify virtuality's ability to change and believe that shifts occur so quickly that discerning patterns is a fool's game. But 'Societies exist where normative order exists.' (Barnes 1988: 44) The claim that there is perpetual change in cyberspace denies there can be a normative order, of any sort, in virtual communities and this is tantamount to saying virtual communities cannot exist, but they manifestly do. It is time to outline the normative orders of cyberspace. It is time to put aside the fear of appearing to be 'out-of-date' with virtual lives' newest playthings.

The patterns of a virtual life are clear enough to be mapped. The virtual world and its social order can be traced now in its entirety, from pole to pole. This does not mean all areas are perfectly known. Sometime in the future we will probably look back at this map and see where it has equivalents to the dragons and sea monsters faithfully represented on early maps of the world.

However, we can produce an overview of all of cyberspace's multifarious life, the first globe of cyberspace. This book is such a globe. It is a cartography of the powers that circulate through virtual lives, a chart of the forces that pattern the politics, technology and culture of virtual societies. These powers set the basic conditions of virtual lives. They are the powers of cyberspace and together they constitute cyberpower.

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