chapter  3
People
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In William Gibson’s famous descriptive definition from Neuromancer (1984), although the hallucination of cyberspace was massively distributed, “consensual,” shared by billions, the imagined space itself was eerily empty. A graphic representation of data as lines of light, like city lights, but barely any avatars, very little or no communication among the billions of users, legitimate or not. Partly inspired by the outer-space settings of earlier science fiction (Gibson has said he needed a place to set the story that would replace the rocketship), this network as Gibson pictured it was sublime, inhuman, a vast and empty nonspace. This is one of the more striking discrepancies between cyberspace as Gibson and others first imagined it and the network as it’s now actually experienced daily by perhaps over two billion “operators.” Especially since the changes described at the time as Web 2.0, around 2004-2006-which used modest technology developments to promote a shift in emphasis from what the network had been, but were accompanied by many small shifts in software, services, platform, and architecture-there has been an increasing focus on the fact that the network is peopled, and, in a fundamental sense, is people. Sometimes the people are merely harvested for their data, or as data, it’s true, but often at the same time they contribute in various ways as curators, and even sometimes as producers. Their very awareness of one another’s presence as the basis for being online has changed

overall expectations for the network. In that difference is a context, and arguably a calling, for the digital humanities.