SOCIAL ANALYSIS Issue 45(1) April 2001

CYBER-SPACE; OR CYBER~TOPOS: The Creation of Online Space!

John Marshall


This paper argues that communicative and behavioural patterns used online together with the intersection of these patterns with offline conventions (particularly those about the roleregulatory and interpretive functions of locale, and the distinction between public and private), give people their sense of the 'space' in cyberspace. Cyber 'space' is deeply irnplicated by the use and categorization of offline spaces.

I take it that space does not simply exist neutrally as a container, to be filled by things, but that the particular quality of space, and the space itself, exists in feedback with human usage, both present and past. Whatever the accuracy of this position ill general, humans clearly open up and create cyberspace. The kinds of space opened up then influence the qualities of the events and processes occurring 'within'. Cyber 'space' does not hold objects but is created by the processes initiated by people in social interaction, or in the hope of social interaction. which are affected by conventions and forces in offline life. Consequently, the experience of space and of 'virtual community' might differ radically between those networks which have participants who live in a local area and those which have participants located in many different areas. 2

Space in the offline world has many different social functions, such as: organising production, distribution, display and consumption; indicating or enforcing status; influencing the type of communication probable; separating people and gathering them together; representing cosmic truth or 'social ideology'; allowing openness or secrecy, and so on. Not all organisations of space, or representations of space, have to serve all of these purposes all the time. Consequently these functions may not all be served by the space of cyber'space', and cyberspatiality may not be uniform, The kind of space perceived may depend upon the kind of social actors representing and using the space. It is not necessary to assume that everyone brings to a place the same expectations of space - some social dynamics occur because people have different interpretive schemas. There may also be difference in the use of representations of space, for persuasive purposes.

In brief, when considering the construction of cyberspace it is necessary to bear in mind at least three factors. all of which interact.

1) Constructions and use of space in the embedding society. Internet space is configured by economic, political and technical factors. It must be remembered that MOOs, Mailing Lists and Web sites all require a located computer to operate from, just as people access the Internet from a located place. Ease of access, speed and reliability, are not socially or geographically uniform, Offline social partitions such as language and identity 'ghettoization' can also be introduced.

2) The experience of space generated when using the Internet.


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3) Uses of spatial metaphors as tools of persuasion, and as ways making cyberspace like other offline spaces, which can then be dealt with in particular ways.

Space in the Embedding Society

In much analysis of the Internet there is a tendency to inflate the importance of the representations of a particular set of users, namely those we might call sociable users, over, say, the representations of technical, State or corporate users. Thus, it is common to argue something similar to:

the Net negates geometry .... it is fundamentally and profoundly antispatial .... You cannot say where it is or describe its memorable shape and proportions or tell a stranger how to get there (Mitchell 1995:8)_3

However, even for sociable users, this antispatiality is problematic, not only for their conception of the Internet and the 'places' they frequent, but in their offline positioning. Most people I know use one or two computers to access the Internet. These computers are sited, and the siting often affects the kind of Internet use engaged in, and perhaps the kind of 'space' opened out. Eventually, many people may use portable net connections but even then they will use them in particular locations, or patterns of locations, which enable such interactions.

A technician might be much more aware of offline spatial factors such as: the specific territorial siting of computers; the network paths between computers; the delays in transmission due to bad lines or site failures. They may know that certain offline areas have few or bad connections. A corporate planner might be aware of: the cost of the ground over which cables travel; the need to placate or overcome local people who object to cabling or broadcast towers in their area; the need to provide better services to areas, or between companies, which can afford them; the physical layout of machines and their users in an office; regulation of users, and so on. In purely cyberspatial tenus they might be interested in: protecting transmissions from interception; 'firewalls': increasing access to their Web 'portals'; diminishing the time-distance between different markets and so on. These matters of connection and boundary, contrary to Mitchell in the remarks above, are matters of geometry. To some extent this space is organised around flows of money and the protection of secrets. Similarly, States may try and control the messages entering and leaving their territory, and attempt to influence the technical structure of the network to make this possible. States may try to use cyberspace to derail the economies, or military, of other states in a continuance of struggles based firmly in place and territory.

Information Technology has increased the speed with which economic transactions can be conducted over geographically disparate areas and, in fact, made high speed an essential factor for economic success under capitalism. Such speed produces what Harvey has called time/space compression (1989:240-2, 284ft.). More generally, if we think of power as, at least partially, about the ease or difficulty with which patterns of behaviour can be activated, then the speed with which these patterns are activated becomes important. All things being equal, a faster response will have more options than a slower response, and likely overcome it. The reach and extent of speedily activated patterns via computer networks may well change the geopolitical influence of states and other organizations. Inequalities in the distribution of access to speed may also lead to further increases in the

inequalities of distribution of power and access. •

These relationships between CMC and space/time then feedback into each other. Areas poor in communications systems become ignored (as Castells suggests of Africa [1996:135J), which increases their unattractiveness to those who supply such systems - which in tum influences the nature of the place.

Information Technology allows, simultaneously, the development of new forms of centralization and decentralization, concentration and dispersion, difference and sameness, globalization and localism and so on.' Capital has become largely nomadic and some centers of power have diffused," This changes the relationships of States to each other, their residents, and to these semi-migratory corporations - giving States less control over revenue. As well, it has rendered certain people internationally mobile, and weakened the internal defenses of States against information warfare, and other forms of hostility.' It is harder to defend than to attack. The apparently easily activated patterns of behaviour, which we use to illustrate the activities of power, have shifted from the territorial to favour the motile - though there is little to imply that the territorial is of no importance. However, despite the attraction of Deleuze and Guattari's nomadism as an analytic tool, social users of the Internet are generally not that nomadic: hackers are caught in their bedrooms (Sterling 1994}.8

Likewise, arguments that the strength of nationality (place as identity) will be weakened by online communication do not seem evidenced at the moment. Nationality, like other offline identity factors, frequently seems to focus, or create, hostilities online. The Cybermind mailing list burst into flames when the question of "why all the non-Americans, were 'anti-American'" was raised in response to a German member's remarks that the group frequently assumed everyone was familiar with U.S. culture. At other times some Australian list members felt that the U.S. readers ignored any comment not on America and, as a result, they formed something of an independent subgroup'

It is also standard to claim that with the development of capitalism or modem science, space . became abstract, passive and uniform, rather than variegated and active as, for instance, in the precursors of Aristotle. 10 Such abstract space is open to exploitation as it is interchangeable with any other space and does not require the things which occupy it." Abstract space cannot be destroyed.

Despite the claims of this kind of analysis, there have always been fierce loyalties to place. Residence patterns along class lines, show that not all space is considered equal. The distribution of those events defined as rubbish and pollution is not entirely even. Arguments rage over whether places should be protected, and so on. Cyberspace, like offline space, is not abstract and uniform, it emerges from the text or images which constitute it, and is thus varied with the types and organisation of these features.

Despite motility in relation to offline place, there is a great concern about place in popular and academic discourse. People worry about decline in local contacts or local community, the change in kinship and residence patterns, the change from full time to temporary work places and so on. Such worries have been present for much of this century, but seem to intensify over its course (Stacey 1991: 18). Perhaps, as a result, people nowadays form temporary groups - friendship approaches kinship in importance for support, people use the Internet and other forms of IT to find others for support or friendship and so on. Dispersion and distancing of people's contacts and relationships are


enabled and, to some extent, forced by information technology 12

Some of the anxiety about place and 'community' may arise because, in the absence of much official status and role division, locale acts as one of the determinants of temporary roles and behaviour between people who do not otherwise know each other. The locale, whether it is a residence, bank, shop, park, etc., gives us cues towards expected behaviour, allows us to interpret actions, and renders the supposed variation of simplex behaviour routine.'? As Donath writes:

In the real world, we associate specific places with particular types of discourse: conference rooms, writer's bars, kitchen tables all lend themselves to different tones and topics of discussion (Oldenburg 199]). The physical space shapes the conversation both by attracting a particular group of participants and by creating a particular atmosphere, whether of formality or casualness, intimacy or openness, etc. (nd:#4.4).

As well as informing people of the roles expected from them, and keeping these roles separate, the locale provides, at least part of, the context which enables people to interpret the actions and speech of each other - though, again, such interpretations need not be identical. Frequent allegations of a postmodern play of multiple identities on the Internet, may well derive from the role-limiting format of the locale. This behaviour appears different from its occurrence in offline life, because cyberspace has been conceived of as a uniform single place, rather than as a collection of very separate locales. In my experience, people do usually aim for consistency and non-multiplicity in particular net-locales.

Giddens also argued that locales give the experience of "the • fixity' underlying institutions" (1984:118). Sadly, he seems to have abandoned the idea in his later work because "locales are thoroughly penetrated by and shaped in terms of social influences quite distant from them .... the 'visible form' of the locale conceals the distanciated relations which determine its nature" (1990:19). Giddens also discusses "disembedding" and writes that by this term he means "the 'lifting-out' of social relations from local contexts of interaction and their restructuring across indefinite spans of time-space" (ibid.:21). Despite the probable accuracy of these statements it does not follow that locale is not used to structure local contexts of interaction, but simply that some of these locales are more widely distributed than they used to be. It also seems to be going beyond the evidence to imply that even those locales (such as ATMs or airports), which have been called "non-places" (Auge 1995), are not influenced by their situation at all, or by the status/class of the people involved. J4 Giddens is simply taking one half of the local/global dialectic and ignoring the other.

Giddens also points out that locales are often internally structured (or "regionalized") by time, though he implies that this is becoming less common or routine (1984:119). However, social Internet users, do tend to access their Internet groups at particular times, and this may influence the regular others that they interact with and thus influence their sense of the group's space. Thus, on a MOO, the rooms a user frequents and the patterns of room use they experience will depend upon those online at the same time. With mailing lists, some members may be able to have almost 'real time' conversations on the list because of simultaneous use - this may influence list members' sense of the list as place. Furthermore, the division of the world into time zones, often means that people of similar nationality are in the group together. It can prove difficult to organize meetings on a MOO


involving significant numbers of people from Britain, Australia and the U.S. simultaneously. In my experience most such meetings tend to involve people from only two of these locations. Thus, to some extent, spatial divisions in the offline world continue to influence the experience of online space.

One of the big divisions in Western locales is that between private and public locale, though there are intermediary forms. Private space is usually enclosed. This division detennines the appropriateness of intimate or more 'casual' bonding behaviour - though we should not ignore the way the public can become private relative to other publics and vice versa. Finding the nature of the locale is also important in law, and in determining the regulation of capitalist enterprise. Lawyer James Boyle argues that in U.S. law people are supposedly equal within the public sphere (Le. before the State) but unequal in the private sphere of civil society and commerce and that pro-capitalist political theory must exalt equality while confining this to a particular sphere. Justice differs depending upon whether it is a matter of public or private law. "Controversial political and moral issues often resolve themselves into questions of placement in the public or private realm" (1996:26-7). In a sense, capitalism moves to appropriate or penetrate all non-ownership based spaces and behaviours (Schiller 1989}." It is commonly claimed that the Internet increases the ambiguities present in this distinction as, for example, it brings strangers 'into' the private/intimate home. It is also commonly claimed that the Internet will transform the public sphere of politics. Derrida gives the conventional opinion:

electronic mail today. even more than the fax, is on the way to transforming the entire public and private space of humanity, and first of all the limit between the private, the secret (private or public), and the public or the phenomenal .... [This] must inevitably be accompanied by juridical and thus political transformations (1996:17).

Meyrowitz, in an important book written before widespread use of the Internet (1985), argued that systems of communication and conveyance of information influence the possible uses of locales for the construction of social roles. Performance and maintenance of roles often requires 'back stage' areas in which people can plan or recuperate from the demands of the role while excluding the role others and communicating with role similars, perhaps exchanging advice on role techniques." Locales can allow control of information flow, thus functioning as perceptual fields which reveal only some things about participants. Television programs directed to a general audience, revealed at least some of these back stage events to role others, changing the knowledge, expectation and experience of the role others, which then lead to changes in roles (l985:92). Change in the conveyance of information can lead to different locales merging to produce middle regions that are neither front nor back stage. Meyrowitz goes on to discuss how this has influenced Western politics (ibid.:164ff., 268ff.) and particularly Western feminism (ibid.: 1 89ff.}. In what way the new media of the Internet changes locales and roles is not yet clear, though it is common to argue that it is now possible to impersonate a role other and gain some experience of their back stage experience and their views of one's own role. However, this is not simple, not only because of the interpretive context of nationality. which has already been mentioned, but because of the overriding associations of gender and intimacy which reinforce gender roles symbolically. People may also gain access to middle grounds which would otherwise be hard to encounter and they may also worry that those with socially



unacceptable behaviours will be able to argue their case, appear less inhuman, or better organise their activities,"

There are also distinctions between public and private operating within the Internet itself, which may also be subject to contestation. Thus, Newsgroups are usually considered more public than Mailing Lists, though the research of Witmer suggests that, at one time, people regarded Newsgroups as private and unlikely to impact upon their professional lives - perhaps because of the volume of 'news' and its disposability (1998:140). However, the current presence of archives may further strain privacy - leaving casual words preserved for all who search your address, forever.

Group Experience and Construction of Space

The primary experience of people when using computers and the Internet, is largely immobile and alone; movement is provided on the screen, which may be thought of as a window through which the person looks."

Usually when we move, we do so in a space that appears relatively still, the sense is that we move. TIlls may tend to convince us that a change of visual field apparently initiated by us is equivalent to movement." Likewise, in ordinary movement, time is related to effective distance and the speed of response. Rather than comparing distance by use of a measuring rod, it is probably more useful to compare effective distances, in terms of accomplishable action.

However, it might be argued that apparent representations of cyberspace as space are linguistic accidents. That when people say they are 'going somewhere' online, they are not actually thinking in spatial terms at all but using a casual metaphor. TIlls may well be the case, but it is clearly not true at all times. Thus in the first week of the list Cybermind's existence, one person wrote quite deliberately:

I now step into this new space, created by two net.persons I have come to admire and respect .... I have hopes for this space as I always have when I enter a new room.

People frequently and casually write of Cybermind as a 'place' or as a place where they can do something in particular, such as 'express themselves'; they also speak of 'going to' various MOOs and so on. It often appears that the identity of online groups is expressed in terms of place. However, not all Internet usage is equally spatial. Shirky suggests that successive approximations to space might be seen to occur in the following order from less like space to more like space: 20

a) Email,

b) Mailing lists and newsgroups,

c) IRe,

d) MOO.

Increased sensations of spatiality follow as we introduce persistence, group dynamics, borders, simultaneity and internal partition (Shirky 1995:60). As these features are introduced by the ways communication is organised, we can conclude that representation of spatiality online, are influenced by the organisation of communication, MOO space may not be simply more intense than List space, but different from it.

In this paper I focus primarily upon Mailing List space, MOO space, and Web space.


Mailing List Space

With a mailing list the prime determinant of list space is volume of mail. It might be hypothesized that unless a certain level of mail is reached, then not only will the list effectively not exist but it will not appear as a place to its users. At the same time if the level of mail creates an 'inappropriate' or 'overwhelming' space then people will either leave or attempt to control it. Control, as it involves more mail, can further destabilise the attractiveness of the space to others and so on. Mail effectively opens the space of the list. Cybermind member Rose points out the social nature of cyberplace, writing (8 Aug.95):

"This 'space' creates loves, hatreds, libidinal flows - and since it creates them, it must consist of them".

For all. lists of which I have experience the majority of the posts come from a very small proportion of those who post and from an even smaller proportion of those who subscribe. On Cybermind, roughly one third of the total number of posts came from 5% of those members who posted - the next third of the total number of posts came from a further 15% of posters. This sets up, by feedback, a prestation hierarchy so that, roughly speaking, those who post the most are also those of highest status. Violations of the prestation hierarchy are often cause for struggle, or taken as signs of hostility. For example, when a member of Cybermind posted 25 mails in a row - all replies to other mail - this was perceived by other members as an act of aggression, or even colonisation and he was firmly told to consolidate his posts.

These 'spatially dominant' people, by the volume of their posts, determine the general. characteristics of the list as locale: setting the style, topics and mood which demonstrate appropriate behaviour, and the ways in which people should go about interpreting the mail of others. Despite this, the mood of posts is usually relatively fragmented and reiteration of mood, when it occurs, produces a powerful linking experience; as with flame, or on the rare incidences of mourning or sympathy; for example, on the death of the well liked Cybermind co-founder (see Argyle 1996). Mood functions as an interpretive frame. It is also difficult for people to escape such reiterated moods if they do not like them, there is no other 'space' for them to go to where the mails cannot be perceived, without leaving the list.

It may also be that List or Mailbox configuration affects a person's perception of List space - whether mail from the lists is grouped by the poster's name or by the group name. If the latter then personal mails are clearly distinct from group mails, and the volume of the group is represented iconically - making its relative importance or burden, more obvious.

There may also be a relationship between amount of mail and the perception of passage of time. As a correspondent wrote: "Elapsed time seems dependent upon message volume, to some extent". It would often seem, when people did narrate history, that threads or events which occupied a fair amount of list space would appear to them to take more time in days, than those events which had less amounts of mail, even if these other events actually lasted for a longer period of offline time. Time is discovered by a perceptible succession of change - which, in this case, is related to change within place.

Further, as mail is usually deleted after reading, time obliterates both presence and the nature of the locale, there is nothing other than current postings to portray the space, which means that continual effort to maintain the properties of the locale is required or people can feel displaced.


MOO Space

On a mailing list, it is difficult to have explicit subgroup formation because there is only the distinction between onlist and offlist - and offlist communication is only easily dyadic and thus tends towards becoming private, or intimate, in line with embedding society expectations of public and private. MOOs are, however, more complexly spatial as they are partitioned - with different channels of communication on the same MOO being defined as different rooms. On MOOs the formation of subgroups and use of hidden behaviour is standard. The partitioning also means that reinforcement of mood over the entire MOO is unlikely. Harne wars are rarer on MOOs than on lists, seem to only involve a few people, or groups of people (unless others can be organised to become involved), it is easier to 'go elsewhere' or to continue MOO life without being involved in, or aware of, the struggle.

MOO rooms frequently have a textual description that affects the kind of behaviour usually manifested in that room, in accord with the role of locale in the embedding society. As Martin writes: "You talk differently to me on my Roof Garden than you do in a sex room" (1999:11).21 Occasionally people will program their room to produce pieces of recurrent, or random, text which interrupt the conversations but reinforce the room's presence.

Rooms serve further functions in that they express the person's persona. 'Ownership' of a room, or rooms, may count as a mark of status (how much 'quota' one has) or affiliation (who one knows). Mutual occupation of a room usually marks a MOO relationship of intimacy (MOO lovers), linkage between rooms (though less common) usually marks friendship - thus, when Jim opened the 'Cybennind Lounge' on PMC-MOO many other members of the List who had rooms on the MOO linked their rooms to it. Therefore, the conceptual map of MOO space corresponds to patterns of association, intimacy and group formation, Conceptual 'MOO maps' will vary with individuals and subgroups, there is no reason to assume a uniform mapping. Differentiation between rooms may mean that events can be associated with different spaces - rooms aquire a unique history in comparision with other rooms in the MOO - and, thus, it might be the case that MOOs have more recalled History than lists, which might further be increased by the more formal status divisions.

Movement within MOO rooms is textually described and is usually expressive in accord with embedding society expectations. Thus, movement might be described as 'up, or 'down', or as 'towards' or 'away from' another character, to display feelings or attachments. Movement between rooms may vary depending upon whether the MOO is primarily social, or whether it is an adventure MOO. If it is social then it is unlikely that people will traverse the MOO to get from one room to another, they are more likely to use @go or @join conunands to travel the space directly - rending MOO space similar to Sennett's description of Urban Space, which is transited as quickly as possible to avoid contact with the alien. In such an environment order means lack of bodily contact (1994:18-21). Such instantaneous transit, together with the fact that the described size of a room has no correspondence to the number of characters it may contain, and that it is usually impossible to interact with described components of the room, tends to increase perceptions of the magical and supposedly immaterial nature of MOO bodies.


Web Space

The World Wide Web seems to produce a sense of spatiality, through the illusion of movement discussed earlier but, if that is so, then why doesn't moving through a database produce a similar effect? Partially this difference may result because people know that what they observe is in different parts of the offline world - that it is elsewhere - and perhaps this is reinforced by variations in page format, which act as locale indicator.

The Web is frequently described as a labyrinth and a place of endless or unorganised 'wandering' (e.g. Boyer 1996:49·50; Burnet 1996:69). Though this is certainly possible, use is often radially organized by current pursuit - wandering is more likely without a focus. Search engines become recurrent centre points to any such radial 'exploration' of the web. Commercial interests seek to establish themselves as these recurrent centre points, and to influence the priority of the selection of their web sites by already established search engines. This is partly the reason for the phenomenal share market value of Yahoo and Excite (in 1999). The purpose of this Web space is as market or advertising. 22

Each different page on the Web is specified by a different URL (Uniform Resource Locator) which is usually arranged in a hierarchical order of directories and files. For example:

http://www.domain-name/directory lIfile l.html

As such the domain name serves two different functions. Firstly, to indicate status or trustworthiness of information in that, say, a University domain name implies that the user has some academic ability and their documents may be reliable, while a domain name associated with free, unrestricted, users (such as geocities) may be seen as only promising trivia. Valuation of domain names may change with audience; for example, corporate users may generally value information on .com sites more than on .edu sites. Secondly, domain names may indicate a particular corporation or subject, and thus appear easily in searchengine searches or be easy to remember - distinguishing particular sites out amongst an otherwise unwieldy number. The number of possible domain names may be almost infinite, but the number of memorable domain names is not.

'This second function, together with the commercialization of the Web, means that memorable domain names can become valuable in themselves. People have been registering domain names in order to sell them, and companies have formed to broker the sale of these names. It is particularly those domain names ending in '.com', which indicate commercial usage which have become valuable. As the New York Times writes (beginning with a real estate space metaphor which suggests private ownership, investment and so on and indicates a mode of treating cyberspace):

the supposedly limitless World Wide Web is running short on real estate .... Jeffrey Tinsley .... explains: " .... is the Internet's Rodeo Drive" .. :. Even rnisspelled versions of famous addresses - like amazom.corn and can tum a profit, since they guarantee a certain amount of traffic based solely on typing errors. No niche market is too obscure to attract speculators (Sydney Morning Herald, April 24, 1999:28).

Space in the Web is generally 'resistant' space. On Lists or MOOs users can attempt to influence the space by their participation, on the Web visitors can rarely do anything to the space, the most they can do is download property which has been created to be down-


loaded, purchase something, or perhaps submit a message." A person's horne page reflects this private/public access division. The home page becomes a display item, a one-way prestation, rather than an interchange. It may attempt to establish status: by definitive

, listing; display of technical prowess; the technical requirements of the browser needed to observe it; by displays of web awards, or parody awards; and by attracting people to write in 'guestbooks'. Links from a Web page tend to either portray the 'owners' interests or their social connections - thus, they refer to other offline 'spaces', for their meaning. On MOOs people frequently seem to refer to their web pages to advertise their attractiveness to potential friends or partners and, so, though usually phrased as private and intimate, these web pages are also public displays and recognised as open to deceit,"

It is possible to build Web based bulletin boards, sometimes called Weblogs.25 The Web site explicitly determines the locale, and the owner of the Web site can control exactly what messages appear upon the Weblog, which reinforces this as their ownership/private domain. Indeed the owner may run the Weblog as a broadcast media, with the messages from others as work from unpaid journalists, or like 'letters to the editor'. Many Weblogs seem to focus on particular products or on the web site itself, as a product (for advertising revenue), resulting in more commodity-based groupings.

These Weblogs, and Web sites generally, are also dependent upon offline world places for their existence and address, and have thus been subject to territorial modes of governance.

Boundaries in Cyberspace

Having now discussed some specific features of Lists, MOOs and Web sites, we can return to more general spatial factors such as the vagueness of online boundaries. Though it is the case that group boundaries are reasonably well defined in MOOs, there is always the possibility that there are participants in a conversation who remain unknown to other participants and it is easily possible for one person to be engaged in several different conversations simultaneously - the gaps in 'space' are hidden by the lag of communication. The potential always exists for hidden action and the group boundaries remain insecure. On a Mailing List or Newsgroup boundaries are even more imprecise, it is almost impossible to tell who may read or not read your contributions and when they may do this reading. Mail may remain unacknowledged when a person expects support - perhaps because the expected people are not reading the list at the time and this absence is not indicated. As a result, community may feel fragile. The Web, despite occasional blockages due to site failure or the need for passwords, feels as if it has no boundaries - like abstract space it goes on forever - even if, as Nunes complains, "one never discovers on the Internet; one only uncovers .... what is online has always already been mapped" (1997: 167). However, it is unlikely that people will ever map, or experience large 'sections' of it the same way - routes are always variable.

When people are questioned about their experience online, it seems to be relatively common them to express a degree of extension of their body (their fmgers coursing through the wires, taking them to places, and so on) and a degree of vagueness to the borders of their bodies. Thus, it might be that the vagueness of group boundaries and personal boundaries are mutually reinforcing - the space one occupies feels uncertain and always


needs to be resolved. Partly the problem here is that boundaries tend to be conceived as hard, either/or factors (as with the modem Nation State), when they are usually 'fuzzy' or blend into each other. These vague boundaries may lead to feelings of being overwhelmed, and to uncertainties about those one is communicating with and thus to attempts to determine the genuineness and correct meaning of their statements by relating them to offline spaces and events.

Some people deal with this vagueness by rigidly attempting to separate the online and offline, making fum boundaries between the person and the persona, and arguing that the two are essentially unconnected. Things which happen online which do not affect a person's computer do not affect the person (MacKinnon 1998). This is not an attitude that is universal. Most people appear to believe that person and persona are linked, through conventions of authenticity. 26

One of the ways in which people attempt to reduce ambiguity and indicate authenticity is through reference to body and gender. Thus, emoticons act as body references usually used to indicate irony, or the underlying truth or fiction of a particular statement. Much has been written about online gender fluidity and uncertainty - which indicates people's worries about this issue - but it is most often treated by people online as a problem to be dealt with, rather than a potential to be celebrated. Most people seem to aim to reduce any gender uncertainty they may have about others - often by magnifying gender stereotypes.

In mailing lists gender may also relate to the distinction between enlist (public) and offlist (private) behaviour. Dominance of one gender onlist may force the other offlist, or make offlist interactions more likely. Usually, of course, lists are dominated in number by males. In this case the common association of the private sphere with the feminine in the embedding society may reinforce this activity. Certainly some women conduct most of their list activity offlist. Therefore, the more that offlist correspondence inclines to intimacy, the more it will involve at least one female (it is probably different in gay male groups). Offlist correspondence or private MOO talk is usually considered to involve far more accuracy than onlist public talk. People try to ensure that their offlist conversation involves an accurate representation of the other. Truth is to be exchanged for Truth. The offlist can also become important in onlist struggles, people can try to undermine others secretly, or defend themselves or the list, working out strategies of behaviour in private.

Space in Internet Politics, Rhetoric and Persuasion

A problem arising when trying to analyse the construction of space in English, is that the language is replete with spatial indicators and metaphors, and it is easy to fall into the trap of explaining one spatial metaphor by another. Linguistic factors may vary from simple prepositional modifiers which indicate spatial relationships, such as the words 'in' and 'on', through the use of phrases like 'field of activity', 'arena of thought', 'place to speak from', 'social distance', 'no room for that kind of behaviour', 'getting somewhere', 'situating an argument', 'ontological grounds', and so on. Similarly. the division into nouns and verbs, may lead us to think that nouns must always be located or contained in some space. It might be that this use of spatiality is not confined to English, and arises because of the importance of contiguity both in perceptual, imaginative and categorational linkage, and in movement. However, this is not something to be settled here." Variations in linguistic

creations of space on the Internet need cross cultural research?'

One obvious effect of language is that the name of the group creates the space of the group in which people can insert themselves. Like a locale the name provides something of an indication for the behaviour and contents expected within the group. It also provides the continuity and linkage between messages that might provide a connection between otherwise independent, non-narratively linked events.

Though it uses a spatial metaphor constitutively, the concept of topos is of interest.

Topos is Greek for place, and Aristotle in the Art oj Rhetoric uses the term to refer to a non-syllogistic strategy for persuasion." From this term we eventually get the English word 'topic'. In a way topoi are collective thoughts, some of which are common to many subjects, and some of which pertain to specific subjects. They are judgments made without reflection (Goetsch 1995:53-4). In Cyberspace these topoi, (which may be implicit in the topic of the online group through reference to the conventions and disputes surrounding that topic in the embedding society), possibly determine the method of persuasion employed by participants which then determines the nature of place which in tum feeds back to the topos. Therefore, the place is not independent of the modes of persuasion employed within it. As has already been suggested, the concept of place or locale, is a fundamental organising principle in Western society and is thus easily used as a metaphor which functions as a topos - persuasively and apparently inevitably - stabilizing 'sensory flux' while providing orientation, meaning and a way of acting. A topos of place could cause problems, as occurs with expectations about boundaries and the use of bodies, as has also been suggested. The distinction between public and private functions as another topos. Topic and topos also affords a measure of recruitment, the types of person attracted by the topic can be reasonably uniform in their positions or counterpositions (and modes of persuasion), which gives a further semblance of unity. In Cybermind, for example, those new members who responded to surveys had similar political views to those of most list members, even though the subject of the list was not explicitly political and the subject of politics was not particularly present at the time of the surveys. Topics also separate lists into different places. Kirshenblatt-Gimblet gives an example of a person who confused the 'places' of two different lists because they simultaneously had a similar debate (1996:53).

In particular, metaphors of space become explicit in discourse about the regulation and control of the Internet, or about the Internet as utopia, just as use of metaphors of 'real estate' occur in discussions of commercial use and control of the Web. Here, space is literally used as a rhetorical topos. If the Internet can be shown to be a particular type of locale then the actions, or attitudes, we should take appear clear. The idea of the Information Superhighway, as shown by Rohrer (1995), acts as a template helping to justify certain kinds of action such as; increasing bandwidth (widening highways), Slopping highway robbery or dangerous driving, and diminishing other valuations such as the conventions of non-commerce which are 'native' to the net. This topos also suggests that the Internet is the Highway to the future - implying that the future is already determined and the highway (which usually is a road from one place to another) can only take us to a limited number of destinations, and probably will bypass some places. Such topoi usually originate from Government or Corporate speakers, and can be fiercely mocked by other users.

The political discourse of John Perry Barlow, co-founder of the Electronic Frontier


Foundation, presents different examples of the use of spatiality. He consistently refers to Cyberspace as a permanent frontier beyond State control. The implication of this topos is that if cyberspace is like the 'Wild West', beloved of US White discourse and apparently empty of previous settlement. Therefore, the supposed 'wild and anarchic' behaviours of net users become more acceptable as evidence of this similarity. A mythic locale is applied to familiarise the new:

There is a cycle of frontier inhabitation which has usually gone like this: Misfits and dreamers, rejected by or rejecting society, are pushed out into the margins .... Despite their usual haplessness, they discover resources and start exploiting them. Burghers and boosters back in the civilized regions hear of these discoveries. Settlers, a milder sort, come in with their women and children and are repelled by the savagery and license of their predecessors. whether mountain men, prospectors, or Indians. They send for troops, they elect representatives, they pass laws. and, pretty soon, they've created another civilized simulation of certainty ....

But don't come to this wild place expecting to civilize it, as I once did. This frontier may well be permanent. And. finding bedlam, please don't send for your troops. They will only get in the way of a future which you will have to invent yourselves (Barlow 1994).

We may note in passing the view of the original net inhabitors as male and of females as advocates of restriction.

He goes on to argue that because Cyberspace has "no national borders", the U.S.

Government, which had territorial legitimacy over the 'Wild West' has no legitimate authority over cyberspace - cyberspace is a separate space from that of the territory of the State. He downplays corporate incursions and the effects of commercial exploitation of resources, or the fact that the US State provided the funds to build the Internet to further its own military/territorial ambitions. In another, more famous piece (1996), "The Declaration of Independence of Cyberspace". he elaborates this view of cyberspace as a separate place/locale:

Governments of the Industrial World, you weary giants of flesh and steel, I come from Cyberspace, the new home of Mind.30 On behalf of the future, I ask you of the past to leave us alone." You are not welcome among us. You have no sovereignty where we gather .... Cyberspace does not lie within your borders.

The same metaphoric topoi is demonstrated by Johnson (nd), who also portrays cyberspace as a separate territory with its own rules of locale. Further this space is private. it does not incur on others. He writes:

I think we can reduce the intensity of the debate, and find some real solutions to the new quandaries posed by complaints about obnoxious content on the net, if we take seriously the idea that cyberspace is a separate place. We should stop thinking about most of these issues as if they involve the sending of a message from party A to party B (or to parties C through Z), and instead fully absorb the fact that most communications on the net amount to the joint creation of a new shared space allowing the assembly of like-minded individuals. (Even opening an e-mail is a consensual entry into a space created by the author, if the nature of the message and the identity of the sender, or lack thereof. is fully disclosed). In short, if we think of the reader of electronic messages as less of a passive "recipient" and more as an



active "traveller," to a new shared space, much will immediately become clear.

It is doubtful that people in cyber'space' are any more unified than those in any other space, though these tOPOI imply the space is uniform - perhaps like abstract space. It is, in practice, unusual for different cybergroups to co-operate, although it is slightly less unusual for groups to try and invade another group - even though need for cyber-territory is not an issue.

These topoi of separate space also seem to fit in with the idea of Virtual Reality, which usually involves the proposition of two separate 'spaces', with an artificial online place replacing, or being radically different to, a 'real' offline space and often as 'spiritual' or 'immaterial'. Wertheim not only compares representations of Virtual space to representations of the Christian heaven but writes: "Because cyberspace is not ontologically rooted in .... physical phenomena, it is not subject to the laws of physics and hence it is not bound by the limitations of those laws" (1999:228). "This statement might surprise the engineers and programmers who build and maintain the Net. Such virtual space is sometimes represented as more satisfying than offline space (as in the Barlow and Johnson arguments) and sometimes as a dangerous diminishment"

Mark Slouka, for example, suggests that the offline, real, or 'physical', world is being devalued because an artificial online and synthetic world can be sold to people, with the result that "life itself is turned into a commodity" (1995:75). When this online world has substituted for the offline world then "the computer becomes our window onto the world, and the bandwidth the door by which our friends come to visit. We naturally do everything (buy anything) to keep that window open" (ibid.:76). We accept this substitute world because we are frightened of the apparent dangers of the real world, and because our residential communities are not usually planned to intersect with a non built, non commercial world (ibid.:78-9). We are always inside anyway. Slouka takes the idea of the virtual world as a replacement, or alternate, world in a negative sense - not to indicate independence but diminishment and to suggest that we abandon it.

On Cybermind we can also see the use of offline place as part of a rhetoric of persuasion involving locale. Thus, when one person began to disturb the list, they claimed the locale was public and he should be able to do anything he wanted, other members claimed the space was like a private lounge room, a club room, or a public bar in which the publican could throw out troublesome non-regulars. In general, the online space as topos, as way of persuasion and of generating propositions and type of arguments, determines the kind of identity the group has for its users.


Having briefly considered the production of space in western English speaking societies, it appears that space, both online and offline, can serve many different functions and be of many different types. Cyberspace may be everywhere but it is not uniform, Cyberspace is influenced by geopolitical, historical, developmental and economic factors; by the expansion and intensification of capitalism; by access factors and by its use. Not only does the offline world affect cyberspace, but cyberspace changes the way offline space is used. Representations of cyberspace are also influenced by language, by common metaphors, by offline social organisational factors such as locale and public/private divisions, and the


politics around these factors. The organisation of communication and possible action influences people's perceptions of cyberspace as space - changing the spatiality of Lists, MOOs and the Web, just as the organisation of communication in the offline world influences the effect of the Internet upon place. Cyberspace can further function to extend interactions ('social space'), or to extend the reach of work, and it can possibly provide a heterotopic compensation for perceived social restrictions (Foucault 1998: 175-85), being either a, to some extent hidden and conservative, 'ritual of rebellion' (to use an old anthropological formulation), or a semi-magical exploration of a new society. Organisations and representations of online space exist in relation 10 organisations and representations of offline space even when these connections are denied. In an experiential sense, for sociable users, online space (as locale or topos) both expresses and reflects the status and reception of participants and produces a 'mood', or mode of being, which can apparently reduce the inherent divergence of meaning, and help the formation of commonalities, which may help the survival of a particular class of individuals in an uncertain world.

1. This paper, though abstract, is based on fieldwork conducted on the Mailing List Cyberrnind between 1995 and 1998. Members of the List also frequented PMC-MOO, situated at the University of Virginia, and some interacted offline. For a description and history of the List, see Marshall (2000).

2. Some writers have argued that the only 'good' Internet community is that which is based in local community (i.e. Doheny-Farina 1996). In the conference discussion, it was proposed that it might only be valid to do ethnographies of local networks, as that was the only way we could guarantee that biographical information was true. Not only might this give us a rare and specific type of 'virtual community' but the position probably underestimates the amount of social fiction people engage in anyway.

3. This comes from a book that recognises online embeddedness in the offline world. Mitchell goes on to argue that:

In the standard sort of spatial city, where you are frequently tells who you are .... But the Net's despatialization of interaction destroys the geocode's key. There is no such thing as a better address. and you cannot attempt to define yourself by being seen in the right places in the right company (1995: 10).

Both points are simply not true. For a long while [personJ@aoLcom or [person] were bad addresses and bearers of such addresses were often considered uncultured morons by established users from more traditional Internet addresses (a point recognized by Mitchell in a footnote). Likewise, 00 MOOs people do attempt to gain status by hanging out near recognized characters.

4. "We are seeing a spatialization of inequality which is evident both in the geography of the communications infrastructure and in the emergent geographies in electronic space itself. Global cities are hyperconcentrations of infrastructure and the attendant resources while vast areas in less developed regions are poorly served. But also within global cities we see a geography of centrality and one of marginality. For instance, New York City has the largest concentration of fiber optic cable served buildings in the world; but they are mostly in the



center of the city, while Harlem, the black ghetto, has only one such building. And South Central Los Angeles, the site of the 1993 uprisings, has none" (Sassen 1996:np).

5. Commonly, writers emphasize only one of these counterpositionary factors but they are usually simultaneous. Thus, Castells posits an opposition between the space of flows and the space of places, the latter is destroyed by the former (1996:4] 2ff.) but, in fact, the latter may be a fertile source of innovation which depends upon the former and influences it. This opposition may lead Castells into seeing CMC as essentially negative (ibid.:363).

6. Critical Art Ensemble discuss this in the context of the problems of protest, when occupying streets and buildings has become almost irrelevant (1994:chp.2, 1996:chp.l).

7. It is usually argued that Information Technology will end Nation States, but see Everard (2000). Ruggie and Anderson suggest that the boundaries of States may develop overlapping zones of influence, as in the medieval period, rather than firm borders as in the modern period (Flanagan 1999:# IVa).

8. Other issues arising from discussions of the difference between Deleuze and Guattari's smooth and striated space (occupied by nomads and the State respectively), may be important, particularly in deciding the kind of 'freedom' involved in using the World Wide Web but it is doubtful whether this actually involves issues of space. However, it does show the pull of the concept of space as a way of understanding the online world (see Nunes 1995, 1999).

9. Mitra describes, an apparently ongoing attempt by people on soc.culture.india and soc.culture.pakistan to post abusive posts about each other to both newsgroups (1997:67-8). Nationalism, creation of difference and deliberate incitement are joined together.

10. See Aristotle's description of previous philosopher's views of place (Physics 208b; 1952 vo1.1:287). He himself does not separate space (chora), in the abstract sense used today, from place (tapas). Topos is the boundary of the containing body. Abstract space, such as a void, or place deprived of body, cannot exist (Physics 212a, 214; 1952 vol.l :291, 293-4). Some of the problems raised by the void might be made relevant if we ask whether abstract space is nothing (i.e, non-being) or whether it unfolds out from object/events and is thus always 'placed'. For a general history of Western ideas of 'void space', see Grant (1981) and for changing relations between the ideas of place and space, see Casey (1997).

11. For examples of such analysis see Heidegger (1996:49ff. (cf. Zimmerman 1990:209-12)), Jameson (1991:410); Lefebvre (1991:50).

12. That many people's relationships are justified in terms of liking/love, or 'self development' may also help this fluidity.

13. Gluckman proposes that in small scale societies many relationships are 'multiplex' - the relationship serves many purposes, and a person has a number of separate roles with respect to the same audience, some of which may be in conflict. Ritual may be used to mark the role in current use and to regulate this conflict (1962:26-7). In cities, relationships are 'simplex', in that the audiences for different roles are more likely to be separate, and conflicts are more likely to be isolated without other ties, or rituals, 10 prevent splitting (ibid.:35, 38·9).

14. Auge defines a 'non-place' in ways which suggest it cannot be a locale. It is "a space which cannot be defined as relational, or historical, or concerned with identity" (1995:77-8). The "word 'non-place' designates two complementary but distinct realities: spaces formed in relation to certain ends (transport, transit, commerce, leisure) and the relations that individuals have with these spaces. As anthropological places create the organically social, so non-places create solitary contractuality" (ibid.:94). However, non-places are locales - they do provide


contexts in which to interpret and regulate action, and they are linked into a particular set of near global class structures. People with high status do not have to line up for customs with everyone else. There are separate business lounges with extra services. People of a certain class may rarely or never use A TMs, etc. In any case there are routine expected behaviours at non-places, which might vary with the embedding culture, things like queuing, and maintaining distance. Non-places could be thought of as a set of locales connected with 'international capitalism', born of transport and information technology.

15. According to friends in the computer industry, there is also a race to patent techniques that have been common property for years.

16. There is no necessary implication that the 'backstage' is somehow more genuine than the public, or a site for the expression of 'real feelings'. The 'audiences' simply have different information or expectations.

17. See Thompson in this volume for a description of such a middle region, which requires a firmly placed, and controlled, locale.

18. Clearly the screen itself is often spatially organised with icons, and windows.

19. Or as Harraway writes: "our machines are disturbingly lively and we ourselves frighteningly inert" (1989b: 152). Unlike many societies where the landscape is seen as like a human body, in analyses of cyberspace the human is often perceived as permeated or penetrated with wires - becoming cyborg. The cyborg body is the counterposition to the other common representation of online bodies as 'immaterial'.

20. Shirky does not mention the World Wide Web.

21. Going by Odzer's descriptions of sex rooms on MOOs (1997:45ff.), they are almost overdetermined, everything in the description serves only the purpose of suggestion or ambience. However, the room description is rarely repeated in the encounter, so it acts as a prologue more than a continuing reinforcer - the act is maintained by the participants, or by programmed objects which are triggered by the typing of particular words.

22. Comparing Netscape 1.1 with 4.5, one of the most obvious differences is the obtrusiveness of advertising displays in the later, 'improved', version.

23. This probably increases the propensity to wander; there is little else a person can do.

24. Serenssen (1996) draws attention to people modelling their 'personal' home pages on a house, though I'm not sure how common this is. Barrett states, somewhat dogmatically, but drawing attention to the private aspect of the home: "Home pages are places where you put pictures of your family and your cats. It's a place to distribute information to a close circle of

family and friends" (l999b). .

25. I am using the term Weblog as [understand Katz to be using it. However, in the writings in Katz et al. (1999), there is some confusion over what the term might be naming. Some sites labelled Weblogs are not interactive at all; they are simply regularly updated lists of interesting websites with some commentary. Barrett. a Weblog owner, writes: "Typically, a weblog is a small web site, usually maintained by one person that is updated on a regular basis and has a high concentration of repeat visitors" (1999a). Barrett's Weblog also features a mailing list for discussion of items featured on the site. Such vagueness probably helped fuel the discussions over whether any 'community' could be associated with web logs in the Katz et al. writings.

26. Displays of strength of feeling or the underlying body become indicators of authenticity. Hence 'rudeness' can indicate authentic feeling and be seen as genuineness. Harne, likewise,


becomes an indication of lack of pretence. And its invocation indicates recognition of the person invoking it, which lessens uncertainty of presence and reinforces action (cf. Marshall 2000:chps. 7 and 8).

27. Lefebvre (1991:5-6 and passim) and Kirby (1996) discuss the effect, or necessity, of the casual use of space and spatial terms in the analysis of non spatial processes, particularly among the theorists usually called postmodem.

28. See Levinson (1996) for some discussion of language and the creation of offline space in different cultures.

29. For example, the topos of opposites would be an argument of the form "self control is good, as lack of self control is harmful", and the topos of the 'more and less' would be an argument of the fonn "if the gods cannot know everything, neither can humans" (Aristotle Rhetoric 1397a 10, 1397b 12; 1926:299,301; 1952 vol.Z: 645 trans. modified).

30. Note the etherealization - if cyber 'space' is separated from 'earth space' then bodies become irrelevant as well, despite the fact he is arguing against sanctions imposed on bodies which are sited in a governmental territory.

31. It appears Cyber 'space' is not only separated in space, but in time.

32. For example Virilio says: "As I see it, new technologies are substituting a virtual reality for an actual reality .... The day when virtual reality becomes more powerful than reality will be the day of the big accident" (Wilson and Virilio 1996:323).



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