Saturday, June 03, 2006

Cyberspace, meatspace and reality

I've been thinking a lot lately about the online/offline dichotomy... it seems to me that many people believe you cannot have a real relationship online, and that anyone with an extensive online persona and life cannot have a real life.

The trigger for this was several people commenting to me that they couldn't get online because they were busy with, I quote, 'real life stuff'. I'm guilty of saying that too. At least one other person told me that a mutual acquaintance no longer plays Habbo because he's 'got a life now'.

The thing is that in this world, our 21st-century, developed nation, Internetworked world, is it fair to say that the meatspace* is the 'real' world? Many people have active online lives now, and it seems to me to be vaguely wrong to say that all this time and interaction with online communities and people somehow isn't real, or is less than what happens face-to-face.

I'm much more comfortable with the term 'face-to-face', come to think of it. :)

I've been on the Internet for years, since before I entered university. I have friends of many years' standing that I've never met face to face. I've met at least one, whom I was introduced over the Internet through an old school friend. (Safety caveat: I was an adult by the time I met him, and I trust him at least partly because he's one of my best friends' ex-boyfriend, plus I'd literally known him for years by the time I met him.)

In any case, many of my friendships must necessarily be maintained over instant messenger, email and the phone, because a large percentage of the people I love and care about most don't live where I live. Even if we live in the same country, often we're so busy our schedules don't let us meet. I'm not entirely happy with that - I'd love to see my friends more - but with everyone's work schedules and different interests, I'm not sure there's an alternative.

Our relationships feel genuine. The emotions are the same as in the physical world. We all have reasonably active 'real life' social lives and interests. Even if we didn't, who's to judge and say that what happens online isn't as real as what happens offline? The term 'real world' implies a value judgement I don't think I like. It's as if what happens online isn't concrete enough to be real, and it's thinking like this that allows us to hurt people online and disregard the impact of what we say and do. I can't comprehend thinking that since it's online, it's not real and therefore has no consequences.

Read more about the meatspace concept here:
Wikipedia: Meatspace - meatspace.asp
The Jargon File on meatspace
Wikipedia: Real life

and about cyberpunk here:
Wikipedia: Cyberpunk
Comprehensive article from the University of Glasgow's Humanities Advanced Technology and Information Institute

And if you haven't read William Gibson before, why not check out some of the work of the godfather of cyberpunk today? I know the libraries in Singapore will have some copies of his novels and stories.

William Gibson blows my mind. Many concepts that originated in his work, like the matrix and ICE, are massively influential on modern science fiction. Most of all, Gibson was responsible for the term 'cyberspace' too; it first appeared in his 1984 story Burning Chrome. (Although admittedly people argue about the 'real' meaning of cyberspace all the time...)

More on this to come, when I've had more time to think on it.


Anonymous said...

oh the grow games are intresting :P

hi Appledoe!

Anonymous said...

Oh Appledoe, amazing true story about this. Cyberspace is actually known for research, but people tend to abuse them for evil. BTW syazeon... GO ENGLAND!

Appledoe said...

Ha. I'm not rooting for any one team; it's more fun to watch if you're not! But if I had to pick one, I'd pick Brazil. I've always had a soft spot for the Seleção.

Actually, the point of the essay wasn't so much about Internet safety as it is about how authentic the online is. The problem is that an online life is a reality for many people today, and the younger you are, the more likely you are to have a lot of online friends. It's inevitable that you'll form strong relationships online. One question then is... how do you keep that and stay safe? And I was also thinking that people, especially adults, need to realize that online doesn't equal not real.

Cyberspace isn't just for research these days. The Internet of today is largely about the social and the personal.

Anonymous said...

So apple! Do you think cyberspace is safe? Or is it just a stereotype that it is not safe to have strong relationships online. My personal stand is that you just have to know your limits. You may be great friends and all, but should the friend ever request to meet, its a definite no-no.

Appledoe said...

I think the online world is an extension of the 'real' world. The danger online is that people are not who they claim to be. On the other hand, you could meet someone in real life that isn't quite who they claim they are either. The difference is that, in many ways, it's easier to conceal who you are online.

Also, many people take advantage of being online and 'anonymous' to abuse and bully others. But I don't think that's an issue that's specifically related to being online. It's just a medium. It's just that being online makes it easier. I think that many of these people would be abusive and unpleasant offline too; it's simply that they may not have as many chances to.

Personally, my stance on it is to do your best to be yourself, wherever you are. But that's my offline philosophy too, so... And of course, be sensible. :) Protect yourself first! Ain't nobody gonna be able to do it for you, in the end.