Hand, M (2008) Hardware to everywhere: narratives of promise and threat, chapter 1 of Making digital cultures: access, interactivity and authenticity. Aldershot: Ashgate. pp 15-42.
A classic example of what I think Hand identifies as the ‘dystopian narrative’:
I post this because I’ve been reading Douglas Rushkoff’s ‘Cyberia‘, from 1994 and James Harkin’s ‘Cyburbia‘, released this year. It’s impossible not to notice how similar the language of Rushkoff’s ‘Cyberia’ is to that of The Matrix movies, which came five years later.
Rushkoff pulls together a pallette of ideas, narratives and artefacts from early internet counter-culture, detailing a movement who wanted to use virtual reality, house music, video games and a shed load of psychadelics to hack ‘the matrix’ of reality, reshaping the world into something new. You can make up your own mind if they did it or not, but it’s a fascinating read: there’s more than a hint of the beginnings of what we now call social ‘media’. Rushkoff would later coin the phrase ‘screenager‘ and claim that ‘social media caused the credit crunch‘.
But whereas Rushkoff’s book is all breathless energy and enthusiasm, James Harkin’s 2009 book, ‘Cyburbia’, paints a picture of an altogether more paranoid, dislocated space. ‘Cyburbia’, as Harkin depicts it, is a world of twitching virtual windows, bitchy gossip, facebook politics and a thousand mundane distractions too trivial to mention. Its citizens, he seems to suggest, have become enslaved to Norbert Wiener’s ‘cybernetic loop’.
I have no idea who is more on the money, but it’s great to get two such contrasting lenses on the same subject.
Rushkoff is fond of quoting Alfred Korzybski’s observation that ‘the map is not the territory‘, but I wonder if we can’t tag two towns on the Map of the Internet [2009 edition]: Cyberia and Cyburbia. The former a small, but still lawless corner of the internet, and the latter a larger space, but a bland, 1950’s American, picket-fence town.