Cyberspace has become a safe harbour; a welcoming place for most, where the possibility of anonymity facilitates the expression of desires, needs or actions which are too hard to express or simply prohibited by society or law in real life. This ‘safety’ can cause problems for lawmakers and gatekeepers, whose traditional view of networks and their regulation still bases themselves upon the communications networks which came before computers; telegraphy, telephony, television, and radio. The Internet, the bare bones supporting cyberspace, is a space that is incredibly difficult to police, due to its intentionally scattered, decentralized nature, born from a need for a network which would ‘…operate while in tatters’ (Sterling 1993). The net, and its nodes and connections, has evolved so far from its original conception as a military precaution during the Cold War, that virtually all human interaction has grown to rely on digital information networks, at least in the Western World (Stalder 2005).
This is jokingly, but profoundly, realized by a recent site which has been created by Australian graduate Alex Haigh, StopPhubbing.com. The site is a commentary on the tendency of modern society in the age of digital convergence to be constantly attached to their smartphones. Our tendency to ‘snub’ those that we our with physically, while on a date, at a party, in a restaurant etc, by being absorbed in what is happening in cyberspace on our net-integrated smartphones has led to a decline in one-to-one interaction, as demonstrated by the website. The site uses comedic infographics and statistics, voting and gallery widgets, an ‘intervention’ submission form to send to known ‘phubbers’ (phone snubbers), and downloadable content, to demonstrate how people may be using social media more but being ‘social’ less. Seward Hamilton, Associate Professor of Psychology at Florida Agricultural and Mechanical University, says he finds his students disconnecting from real life “because they cannot build relationships among their immediate peers”. Jessica Scott, editor at The Collegian of Houston Baptist University, claims that
‘modern technology has defaced the art of communication.”
The Internet promotes the flow of information, the strengthening of coordination and the freeing of information from matter (Mitew 2013). Before the Internet, knowledge and the spreading of news and ideas was bogged down in the possibilities of the technology at hand; even during the advent of the telegraph, all messages had to be relayed to the receiver by paper note, and newspapers, big and bulky, were one of the only ways to get consistent news from outside your suburb or town.
Telephony and the Internet has “freed information from matter” (Mitew 2013). We can communicate news in seconds, faster than ever before, broadcasting our own information, as well as the information of others, to help each other, discuss issues, report news, and share updates on our lives (Williams 2009). Tools such as Twitter, Facebook, Skype, and Google Hangouts, are just a few of the networking platforms which have extended our ability to connect with individuals and groups across the world. As a current Australian election candidate for the Senate, Julian Assange is using these tools, and others, to conduct an election campaign remotely from the Ecuadorian Embassy in London, his own ‘safe harbour’, by speaking to his party, his followers, the media and voters via video conference and social media, demonstrating the power of the Internet (Miller 2013).
So what will happen next in the story of cyberspace? Direct message tweets from brain to brain? Video conferences between the Curiosity Mars Rover and Kevin Rudd in space? We’ll see.
Stalder, F. 2005, ‘Information Ecology’. In Open Cultures and the Nature of Networks, pp. 62-66,
Sterling, B. 1993, ‘A Short History of the Internet’, in The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction, February, Yale Divinity Library