chapter
14 Pages

WHY CYBERCULTURE?

This is a book about cyberculture theorists; its aim is to introduce a small handful of key thinkers and their ideas, with two discussed in more detail, to provide a kind of overview of cyberculture theory.This has been a phenomenal growth area in terms of academic work, as scholars across a range of different disciplines from computing to philosophy, cultural studies to geography, have sought to understand and explain the world we now live in. Now, we have to call this enterprise something. There has been a huge debate about names in relation to this topic, big arguments about the best and worst words to use. I have chosen to stick with certain words, words like cyberspace and cyberculture, and I hope to be able to explain why here. Let’s ask some more questions…

How are we going to talk about the world we now live in? Who is ‘we’ (or, as Sherry Turkle (1996) cutely asks, ‘Who am we?’), what counts as living, where is this world? Although many would disagree with me, I still like to talk about cyberspace. I think there is something expansive about this term, this metaphor for an imaginary space that exists in, on and between ‘computational devices’ (another of Turkle’s useful terms). I like to corral all kinds of things together in cyberspace; not just computers

the computing science realities of what was then emerging as cyberspace were little-known to Gibson; nevertheless, the term and the way cyberspace was depicted in Neuromancer have had a profound influence upon its development and its representation – an influence even Gibson admits he didn’t foresee when he cobbled the word together. He writes in the short essay ‘Academy Leader’ (1991) about the setting loose of such neologisms, about how terms and concepts take on their own life, and spread and mutate, like a virus or a ‘meme’ (a kind of thought or idea virus that spreads through culture):

This conceptualization, fleshed out into what some commentators named ‘Gibsonian cyberspace’, was not only mapped out in cyberpunk, of course. Computer scientists, theorists of all sorts, hackers and others, were among

This, however, is a somewhat narrower definition than I shall be utilizing here, and what Dery describes above I have previously labelled ‘cybersubcultures’ (Bell 2001). My more expansive definition of cyberculture, the one that informs the shape and scope of this book, uses the term to denote a number of things simultaneously, as reflected in the breadth and diversity of topics and emphases stretched across the subject. For me, cyberculture is a way of thinking about how people and digital technologies interact, how we live together – so the suffix ‘culture’ is used in that elastic way that one of the founding fathers of British cultural studies, Raymond Williams (1976), uses it, to talk of ways of life. This view of the ‘culture’ in cultural studies is also drawn on by Frow and Morris (2000: 316), who define culture neatly as ‘a network of embedded practices and representations (texts, images, talk, codes of behavior, and the narrative structures organizing these) that shapes every aspect of social life’. Cyberculture therefore refers here to ways of life in cyberspace, or ways of life shaped by cyberspace, where cyberspace is a matrix of embedded practices and representations.While cyberculture is certainly a ‘contested and evolving discourse’ (Bell et al. 2004: xiii), one that is hard to keep up with, if we keep in mind the most expansive definition, as offered here, then I think we will get along just fine.