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Cyberspace is a word that began in science fiction literature in the 1980s, was quickly and widely adopted by computer professionals as well as hobbyists, and became a household term in the 1990s. During this period, the uses of the internet, networking, and digital communication were all growing dramatically and the term "cyberspace" was able to represent the many new ideas and phenomena that were emerging.
The parent term of cyberspace is "cybernetics", derived from the Ancient Greek κυβερνήτης (kybernētēs, steersman, governor, pilot, or rudder), a word introduced by Norbert Wiener for his pioneering work in electronic communication and control science.
As a social experience, individuals can interact, exchange ideas, share information, provide social support, conduct business, direct actions, create artistic media, play games, engage in political discussion, and so on, using this global network. They are sometimes referred to as cybernauts. The term cyberspace has become a conventional means to describe anything associated with the Internet and the diverse Internet culture. The United States government recognizes the interconnected information technology and the interdependent network of information technology infrastructures operating across this medium as part of the US national critical infrastructure. Amongst individuals on cyberspace, there is believed to be a code of shared rules and ethics mutually beneficial for all to follow, referred to as cyberethics. Many view the right to privacy as most important to a functional code of cyberethics. Such moral responsibilities go hand in hand when working online with global networks, specifically, when opinions are involved with online social experiences.
According to Chip Morningstar and F. Randall Farmer, cyberspace is defined more by the social interactions involved rather than its technical implementation. In their view, the computational medium in cyberspace is an augmentation of the communication channel between real people; the core characteristic of cyberspace is that it offers an environment that consists of many participants with the ability to affect and influence each other. They derive this concept from the observation that people seek richness, complexity, and depth within a virtual world.
The term "cyberspace" began appearing in fiction in the 1980s (for example, the 1980 Vernor Vinge novella "True Names", and the 1980 John M. Ford novel Web of Angels.) Yet it was through the work of cyberpunk science fiction author William Gibson, that the word became prominently identified with online computer networks, beginning with the 1982 story "Burning Chrome" and popularized by his 1984 novel Neuromancer. The portion of Neuromancer cited in this respect is usually the following:
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.
Now widely used, the term has since been criticized by Gibson, who commented on the origin of the term in the 2000 documentary No Maps for These Territories:
All I knew about the word "cyberspace" when I coined it, was that it seemed like an effective buzzword. It seemed evocative and essentially meaningless. It was suggestive of something, but had no real semantic meaning, even for me, as I saw it emerge on the page.
Don Slater uses a metaphor to define cyberspace, describing the "sense of a social setting that exists purely within a space of representation and communication . . . it exists entirely within a computer space, distributed across increasingly complex and fluid networks." The term "Cyberspace" started to become a de facto synonym for the internet, and later the World Wide Web, during the 1990s, especially in academic circles and activist communities. Author Bruce Sterling, who popularized this meaning, credits John Perry Barlow as the first to use it to refer to "the present-day nexus of computer and telecommunications networks." Barlow describes it thus in his essay to announce the formation of the Electronic Frontier Foundation (note the spatial metaphor) in June, 1990:
In this silent world, all conversation is typed. To enter it, one forsakes both body and place and becomes a thing of words alone. You can see what your neighbors are saying (or recently said), but not what either they or their physical surroundings look like. Town meetings are continuous and discussions rage on everything from sexual kinks to depreciation schedules. Whether by one telephonic tendril or millions, they are all connected to one another. Collectively, they form what their inhabitants call the Net. It extends across that immense region of electron states, microwaves, magnetic fields, light pulses and thought which sci-fi writer William Gibson named Cyberspace.—John Perry Barlow, "Crime and Puzzlement," 1990-06-08
As Barlow, and the EFF, continued public education efforts to promote the idea of "digital rights", the term was increasingly used during the internet boom of the late 1990s.
Although the present-day, loose use of the term "cyberspace" no longer implies or suggests immersion in a virtual reality, current technology allows the integration of a number of capabilities (sensors, signals, connections, transmissions, processors, and controllers) sufficient to generate a virtual interactive experience that is accessible regardless of a geographic location.
While cyberspace should not be confused with the Internet, the term is often used to refer to objects and identities that exist largely within the communication network itself, so that a website, for example, might be metaphorically said to "exist in cyberspace". According to this interpretation, events taking place on the internet are not happening in the locations where participants or servers are physically located, but "in cyberspace".
Firstly, cyberspace describes the flow of digital data through the network of interconnected computers: it is at once not "real", since one could not spatially locate it as a tangible object, and clearly "real" in its effects. Secondly, cyberspace is the site of computer-mediated communication (CMC), in which online relationships and alternative forms of online identity were enacted, raising important questions about the social psychology of internet use, the relationship between "online" and "offline" forms of life and interaction, and the relationship between the "real" and the virtual. Cyberspace draws attention to remediation of culture through new media technologies: it is not just a communication tool but a social destination, and is culturally significant in its own right. Finally, cyberspace can be seen as providing new opportunities to reshape society and culture through "hidden" identities, or it can be seen as borderless communication and culture.
Cyberspace is the "place" where a telephone conversation appears to occur. Not inside your actual phone, the plastic device on your desk. Not inside the other person's phone, in some other city. The place between the phones. [...] in the past twenty years, this electrical "space," which was once thin and dark and one-dimensional—little more than a narrow speaking-tube, stretching from phone to phone—has flung itself open like a gigantic jack-in-the-box. Light has flooded upon it, the eerie light of the glowing computer screen. This dark electric netherworld has become a vast flowering electronic landscape. Since the 1960s, the world of the telephone has cross-bred itself with computers and television, and though there is still no substance to cyberspace, nothing you can handle, it has a strange kind of physicality now. It makes good sense today to talk of cyberspace as a place all its own.
— Bruce Sterling, Introduction to The Hacker Crackdown
The "space" in cyberspace has more in common with the abstract, mathematical meanings of the term (see space) than physical space. It does not have the duality of positive and negative volume (while in physical space for example a room has the negative volume of usable space delineated by positive volume of walls, internet users cannot enter the screen and explore the unknown part of the internet as an extension of the space they are in), but spatial meaning can be attributed to the relationship between different pages (of books as well as webservers), considering the unturned pages to be somewhere "out there." The concept of cyberspace therefore refers not to the content being presented to the surfer, but rather to the possibility of surfing among different sites, with feedback loops between the user and the rest of the system creating the potential to always encounter something unknown or unexpected.
Videogames differ from text-based communication in that on-screen images are meant to be figures that actually occupy a space and the animation shows the movement of those figures. Images are supposed to form the positive volume that delineates the empty space. A game adopts the cyberspace metaphor by engaging more players in the game, and then figuratively representing them on the screen as avatars. Games do not have to stop at the avatar-player level, but current implementations aiming for more immersive playing space (i.e. Laser tag) take the form of augmented reality rather than cyberspace, fully immersive virtual realities remaining impractical.
Although the more radical consequences of the global communication network predicted by some cyberspace proponents (i.e. the diminishing of state influence envisioned by John Perry Barlow) failed to materialize and the word lost some of its novelty appeal, it remains current as of 2006.
Some virtual communities explicitly refer to the concept of cyberspace, for example Linden Lab calling their customers "Residents" of Second Life, while all such communities can be positioned "in cyberspace" for explanatory and comparative purposes (as did Sterling in The Hacker Crackdown, followed by many journalists), integrating the metaphor into a wider cyber-culture.
The metaphor has been useful in helping a new generation of thought leaders to reason through new military strategies around the world, led largely by the US Department of Defense (DoD). The use of cyberspace as a metaphor has had its limits, however, especially in areas where the metaphor becomes confused with physical infrastructure. It has also been critiqued as being unhelpful for falsely employing a spatial metaphor to describe what is inherently a network.
A forerunner of the modern ideas of cyberspace is the Cartesian notion that people might be deceived by an evil demon that feeds them a false reality. This argument is the direct predecessor of modern ideas of a brain in a vat and many popular conceptions of cyberspace take Descartes's ideas as their starting point.
Visual arts have a tradition, stretching back to antiquity, of artifacts meant to fool the eye and be mistaken for reality. This questioning of reality occasionally led some philosophers and especially theologians to distrust art as deceiving people into entering a world which was not real (see Aniconism). The artistic challenge was resurrected with increasing ambition as art became more and more realistic with the invention of photography, film (see Arrival of a Train at La Ciotat), and immersive computer simulations.
American counterculture exponents like William S. Burroughs (whose literary influence on Gibson and cyberpunk in general is widely acknowledged) and Timothy Leary were among the first to extoll the potential of computers and computer networks for individual empowerment.
Some contemporary philosophers and scientists (e.g. David Deutsch in The Fabric of Reality) employ virtual reality in various thought experiments. For example Philip Zhai in Get Real: A Philosophical Adventure in Virtual Reality connects cyberspace to the platonic tradition:
Let us imagine a nation in which everyone is hooked up to a network of VR infrastructure. They have been so hooked up since they left their mother's wombs. Immersed in cyberspace and maintaining their life by teleoperation, they have never imagined that life could be any different from that. The first person that thinks of the possibility of an alternative world like ours would be ridiculed by the majority of these citizens, just like the few enlightened ones in Plato's allegory of the cave.
Having originated among writers, the concept of cyberspace remains most popular in literature and film. Although artists working with other media have expressed interest in the concept, such as Roy Ascott, "cyberspace" in digital art is mostly used as a synonym for immersive virtual reality and remains more discussed than enacted. Indian epic Mahabaratha written by sage Vyasar talks about concepts what is called today Virtual reality, Transportation in to matrix and web conferencing.
Cyberspace also brings together every service and facility imaginable to expedite money laundering. One can purchase anonymous credit cards, bank accounts, encrypted global mobile telephones, and false passports. From there one can pay professional advisors to set up IBCs (International Business Corporations, or corporations with anonymous ownership) or similar structures in OFCs (Offshore Financial Centers). Such advisors are loath to ask any penetrating questions about the wealth and activities of their clients, since the average fees criminals pay them to launder their money can be as much as 20 percent.
In 2010, a 5-level model was designed in France. According to this model, cyberspace is composed of 5 layers based on information discoveries: language, writing, printing, Internet, etc. This original model links the world of information to telecommunication technologies.
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