The following entries help to introduce and contextualize the emerging field of cyberculture. While some of the entries explore how cyberculture came to be, others examine how it could be. Unlike so many popular, hype-driven essays and articles (or what Mark Dery calls "cyberdrool") written about the Net, the entries included in this section are more historically, politically, and/or theoretically grounded.
Taken together, the following books, essays, and articles represent a spectrum of perspectives regarding the Internet. While Negroponte and, to a certain extent, Benedikt celebrate its existence, Besser, Boal, and Shapiro question its application(s). Somewhere in between lie cultural critics such as Bruckman and Hayles, scholars less interested in celebrating or rejecting cyberculture than in defining its potential and parameters.
Benedikt, Michael, "Introduction," in Cyberspace: First Steps, ed. Michael Benedikt (Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, 1991): 1-25.
As the introduction to the first book-length treatment of cyberspace, Benedikt's spiraling, esoteric essay is a must read. The author, a professor in the School of Architecture at the University of Texas at Austin, begins by waxing poetic about the term cyberspace, revealing it as, at once, an empty signifier and a seed for brave new worlds. Next, he situates cyberspace within four separate contexts: language, the history of media technologies, the history of architecture, and the history of mathematics. Impressionistic and flighty, the essay encapsulates the excitement found in early theorizing of the Net. Energetic and daring, it also reflects the boldness of the anthology's subtitle: First Steps.
Besser, Howard, "From Internet to Information Superhighway," in Resisting the Virtual Life: The Culture and Politics of Information, eds. James Brook and Iain A. Boal (San Francisco: City Lights, 1995): 59-70.
A visiting professor at University of California at Berkeley's School of Information Management & Sciences, Besser demonstrates the need to get beyond the rhetoric and into the reality of cyberculture by deconstructing two extremely different concepts: the "Internet" and the "Information Superhighway." By analyzing the two entities in terms of content, access, privacy, and technological infrastructure, Besser makes an excellent case for replacing hyperbolic predictions with pragmatic assessments. Among the essay's many thought-provoking sound bites is Besser's not-so-rosy depiction of the Information Superhighway: "a ten-lane highway coming into the home, with only a tiny path leading back out -- just wide enough to take a credit card number or to answer multiple-choice questions" (63).
Boal, Iain A., "A Flow of Monsters: Luddism and Virtual Technologies," in Resisting the Virtual Life: The Culture and Politics of Information, eds. James Brook and Iain A. Boal (San Francisco: City Lights, 1995): 3-15.
As the introduction to an interesting yet sporadic anthology, Boal's essay challenges the traditional celebratory response to digital technologies by situating them within a larger historical context. Boal is especially concerned with what he perceives to be "virtual experience" and its effects on society. This questioning is largely informed by a particular brand of neo-Luddism, a concept Boal unfortunately traces all-too-briefly. Although the author offers a critical, grounded analysis of the potential perils of cyberculture, his argument strays and veers, resulting in a somewhat disparate and oftentimes desperate call to "just log off."
Bruckman, Amy, "Finding One's Own Space in Cyberspace," Technology Review 99:1 (January 1996): 48-54.
In this fascinating essay, Bruckman challenges notions of Internet violence (cyberporn, sexism, flames, to name a few forms), by putting forth a number of ways to create new and diverse virtual communities. The author, a doctoral student in the M.I.T. Media Lab and founder of two virtual communities (MediaMOO and MOOSE Crossing), uses her experience as both a critic and constructor of virtual communities in order to discuss a variety of sites, including MediaMOO and the New York-based ECHO (East Cost Hang Out) bulletin board system. Drawing from her case studies, Bruckman suggests a number of elements which can help foster a communal atmosphere: user identification, active participation, and admissions policies.
Hayles, N. Katherine, "The Seductions of Cyberspace," in Rethinking Technologies, edited by Verena Andermatt Conley on behalf of the Miami Theory Collective (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1993): 173-190.
In this thought-provoking essay, Hayles traces the history and social ramifications of virtual reality (or VR) technologies. Although her discussion has little to do with the Internet, it is valuable in two ways. First, it is quite possible, if not inevitable, that within the next few years, VR will be integrated into computer-mediated communication technologies such as the Internet and the World Wide Web. In other words, tomorrow's MOOs and MUDs may resemble the VR Body Zone described by Hayles. Second, many of the questions raised by Hayles to examine virtual reality are more than applicable to cyberculture. Thus, students of cyberculture can gain from Hayles' discussion of contemporary society's transformation from biomorphism to technomorphism and the subsequent cultural changes such a transformation brings.
Negroponte, Nicholas, Being Digital (New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1995).
It is difficult to compile an annotated bibliography on cyberculture and not include the musings of Nicholas Negroponte. As Director of the M.I.T. Media Lab and columnist for Wired, Negroponte is perhaps cyberspace's greatest salesman. Presenting the future not so much as what may be but rather what will be, the author's unofficial title of The cyber visionary produces reader curiosity and reader insecurity. At the same time, considering his position, his vision of tomorrow may very well arrive.
The major thesis of Being Digital is simple yet profound: "the change from atoms to bits is irrevocable and unstoppable" (4). Accordingly, Negroponte devotes much of the book to discussing the world of immaterial bits, from ATM cards and ski lift tickets to digitized video and online newspapers. Along the way, he raises questions of digital ownership, censorship, and distribution. Much of the rest of the book reads like Wired; Negroponte woos and wows readers by introducing briefly the newest developments from M.I.T. and other leading research institutions. Yet instead of examining in depth each technology, the author quickly skips to the next. We are left with a plate full of tomorrow's technology and a hunger to know what it all means.
Shapiro, Andrew L., "Street Corners in Cyberspace," The Nation (July 3, 1995): 10-14.
Thought-provoking and politically loaded, this essay takes on the all-too-familiar claim that the Internet is an inherently democratic technology. Shapiro, a writer and a frequent contributor to The Nation, supports his argument by introducing two models of cyberspace. The first, Cyberkeley, reflects an active public sphere, a virtual place where "most people are just passing through, though you and they can't help but take notice of the debaters, the demonstrators, even the leafleters" (10). The second model, Cyberbia, is marked by the absence of a vibrant public space, a place where "you can shape your route so that you interact only with people of your choosing and with information tailored to your desires" (10). Shapiro continues by lamenting that today's Net resembles more Cyberbia than Cyberkeley. The author concludes by arguing for government intervention to insure public discourse in place of the virtual shopping malls offered by the likes of AOL and Compuserve.
Shields, Rob, "Introduction: Virtual Spaces, Real Histories and Living Bodies," in Cultures of Internet: Virtual Spaces, Real Histories, Living Bodies, edited by Rob Shields (London: SAGE Publications, 1996): 1-10.
Like the anthology it introduces, Shield's essay examines cyberculture through four distinct lenses: "policy problems and cultural challenges," "histories and localities," "crisis of boundaries," and "re-enchantment and cool media." Although the author's primary purpose is to situate the works contained within the anthology, Shields, a lecturer in Culture and Communications at the University of Lancaster, does attempt to establish some of the key questions surrounding online culture. Some of these questions include the following: do online communities constitute what Hakim Bey calls temporary autonomous zones? what influence has the history and development of the Internet been on its current decentralized state? what and where are the multiple crises in boundaries produced by the Net?
Cyberspace is a social space. Whether emailing a friend, exploring a MOO, surfing the Web, or posting to a listserv or newsgroup, users interact with one another. This communication -- often random and sporadic, often prolonged and regular -- fosters a sense of community and can help to generate what Howard Rheingold (see below) calls virtual communities. According to Rheingold, virtual communities are "social aggregations that emerge from the Net when enough people carry on...public discussions long enough, with sufficient human feeling, to form webs of personal relationships in cyberspace" (5).
Yet what kinds of communities are formed when participants do not interact face-to-face but rather online? How are these communities different from traditional, geographically-based ones? How are they similar? These are some of the questions raised by the following essays, articles, and books.
Baym, Nancy K., "Interpreting Soap Operas and Creating Community: Inside a Computer-Mediated Fan Club," Journal of Folklore Research 30:2/3 (May-December, 1993): 143-176.
Setting up much of the material she covers in "The Emergence of Community in Computer-Mediated Communication" (see below), Baym, an assistant professor of communication at Wayne State University, focuses on the notion of creating community within the Usenet group rec.arts.tv.soaps. Yet unlike the latter essay, this article spends more time defining crucial terms (lurking, posting, and threads, for example), a useful addition especially for those less familiar with cyberculture jargon. Further, the article discusses in greater depth matters of methodology, which, in this case, involve an interesting appropriation of traditional quantitative analysis.
Baym, Nancy K., "The Emergence of Community in Computer-Mediated Communication," in CyberSociety: Computer-Mediated Communication and Community, ed. Steven G. Jones (Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage Publications, 1995): 138-163.
Similar to the authors of "Standards of Conduct on Usenet" (see below), Baym explores the nature of community emerging from Usenet. Yet instead of looking briefly at a number of online groups, Baym examines in depth a single Usenet group, rec.arts.tv.soaps. In order to investigate the kinds of communities which emerge, the author analyzes the communicative practices in terms of three contexts: "the Usenet environment, the environment through which the participants gain Usenet access, and the external environments from which participants draw group-related resources" (141-2). The article continues by tracing users' creative appropriation of the medium to 1) experiment with new forms of communication, 2) explore new identities, 3) create unlikely social relationships, and 4) construct new communities.
Hafner, Katie, "The World's Most Influential Online Community (And It's Not AOL): The Epic Saga of the WELL," in Wired (May 1997): 97-142. Online version here.
Staying true to its title, this essay traces the at once rough and romantic history of "the world's most influential online community," The Whole Earth 'Lectronic Link, or WELL. No doubt one of the longest features ever run by Wired, the essay begins where Rheingold's The Virtual Community (see below) leaves off and provides a deep account of the Bay Area-based online community. Hafner, a technology correspondent for Newsweek and coauthor (with Mathew Lyon) of Where the Wizards Stay Up Late: The Origins of the Internet, weaves together a concise institutional history, technical considerations, and personal online histories to create perhaps the most humane published narrative of a virtual community.
The essay differs from other accounts of virtual communities in two significant ways. First, unlike so many other essays which depict online communities as digital utopias, Hafler's account digs deeper. By describing at length a number of WELL controversies -- the ones surrounding Tom Mandel and Mark Ethan Smith in particular -- the author exposes not-so-utopian characteristics such as greed, manipulation, destruction, and anti-social behavior. The second difference is the way that Hafler substitutes "users" with real, fleshy people (Howard Rheingold, Maria Syndicus, and David Gans, to name a few) or, at times, their login names (nana, tex, maddog, mo...).
Harasim, Linda M., "Networlds: Networks as Social Space," in Global Networks: Computers and International Communication, ed. Linda M. Harasim (Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage Publications, 1995): 15-34.
As one of the earliest published discussions on the topic of virtual communities, this essay is a bit outdated and more than a bit too celebratory. According to Harasim, a professor of communications at Simon Fraser University, virtual communities, or what she calls "networlds," offer "a new place for humans to meet and promise new forms of social discourse and community" (34). The key word here is "place" and Harasim emphasizes this element by comparing electronic mail networks to cocktail parties, bulletin board systems (BBSs) to townhalls and shopping malls, and telework to electronic cottages. Harasim continues by describing a number of attributes of virtual communities, including group interactivity and multimedia messages, along with what she calls anyplace and anytime communication. Although overly descriptive at the expense of deep analysis, the essay is helpful in laying out the key forms, terms, and dynamics of virtual communities.
Jones, Steven G., "Understanding Community in the Information Age," in CyberSociety: Computer-Mediated Communication and Community, ed. Steven G. Jones (Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage Publications, 1995): 10-35.
Jones, associate professor and chair of communication at the University of Tulsa, begins by introducing a number of familiar narratives regarding electronic communications in general and the Internet in particular. Thus, we encounter James Carey's "rhetoric of the electronical sublime," Edward Soja's "postmodern geographies," and, of course, William Gibson's "cyberspace." He then continues by situating such narratives within the more traditional field of community studies, leading to an interesting negotiation between the latter's insistence upon the importance of shared space and the former's celebration of community in spite of shared space. The result is twofold: a quick primer on the tenets of communities and a helpful set of questions with which to map, investigate, and interrogate virtual communities.
The second part of the essay uses Beniger's notion of pseudocommunities as a model for virtual communities. Redefining communities in terms of shared communication not space, this model affords interesting insights into online communities. Relying heavily on the work of Howard Rheingold (see below) and Allucquere Rosanne Stone (see below), Jones puts forth a series of questions and observations regarding the nature of community and identity in an age of the Internet. Although the work contains few new ideas, the organization and breadth makes for an excellent primer for the field of virtual communities.
McLaughlin, Margaret L., Kerry K. Osborne, and Christine B. Smith, "Standards of Conduct on Usenet," in CyberSociety: Computer-Mediated Communication and Community, ed. Steven G. Jones (Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage Publications, 1995): 90-111.
The article's three authors, a professor and two doctoral candidates in the Department of Communication, Annenberg School for Communication, University of Southern California, Los Angeles, argue that the discussions taking place on Usenet constitute communities. By examining "on-line interactive management of conduct" and the ways in which such conduct generate social structures, the authors formulate "a preliminary account of Usenet community standards" (95). What follows in a seven part "Taxomony of Reproachable Conduct on Usenet," including such categories as "bandwidth waste," "violation of newsgroup-specific conventions," and "inappropriate language." Although the article unfairly simplifies the complex notion of community to a group of people loosely arranged around a set of sometimes-followed rules, it is valuable in that it attempts to work out an interesting methodology for studying online communities. Namely, the authors combine quantitative and qualitative analysis on a set of postings from a select number of newsgroups during a limited duration of time.
Reid, Elizabeth, "Virtual Worlds: Culture and Imagination," in CyberSociety: Computer-Mediated Communication and Community, ed. Steven G. Jones (Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage Publications, 1995): 164-183.
This article serves as an excellent introduction to MOO- and MUD-based virtual communities. Drawing largely from one such MUD, LambdaMOO, Reid, a doctoral student in the Department of Communication Studies at the Royal Melbourne Institute of Technology, Australia, examines issues of scenery and speech to conclude that "MUD users share not only a common virtual environment but also a common language and a common textuality" (172). Next, the author explores social experience on MUDs, commenting on the various ways in which users' anonymity and lack of inhibition are played out in (virtual) social settings. Finally, Reid addresses the topic of the "self-made" user and briefly comments on issues of gender and sexual representations. Although this work says little that Sherry Turkle and Allucquere Rosanne Stone (see below) do not explore in greater depth, it provides in both clear and succinct terms the fundamental tenets and issues surrounding MUD-based virtual communities.
Rheingold, Howard, "A Slice of Life in My Virtual Community," in Global Networks: Computers and International Communication, ed. Linda M. Harasim (Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage Publications, 1995): 57-80.
Essentially a brief introduction to his book-length treatment on the same topic (see below), this essay introduces readers to the dynamic and social potentials of one early virtual community, the WELL (the Whole Earth 'Lectronic Link). Although a bit simplified for the experienced Net user, the essay sheds light on what one does within virtual communities, whether it is arguing over politics in one of the conference rooms or trading recipes within a cooking newsgroup. Rheingold, a writer, editor, technophile, and all-around 1990s hippie, frames his topic with an overly generalized yet useful discussion of the notion of social contracts, reciprocity, and gift economies and draws upon the work of Ray Oldenburg, Sara Kiesler, and ARPANET grandfather JCR Licklider. He concludes with a set of questions that today constitute much of the field's ongoing research: where is the line between political empowerment and disinfotainment? who controls the network, who censors, and what is censored? what is the role of government and industry?
Rheingold, Howard, The Virtual Community: Homesteading on the Electronic Frontier (Reading, MA: Addison-Wesley Publishing Co., 1993).
Published over three years ago, Rheingold's book continues to serve as the bible for the emerging field of virtual community studies. As the first book-length work on the subject, The Virtual Community not only put forth a working, generally-agreed-upon definition of the term, it also established some of its key parameters and sites of study. Despite being overly anecdotal and optimistic, the book is an excellent primer for students, instructors, and researchers.
According to Rheingold, "virtual communities are social aggregations that emerge from the Net when enough people carry on...public discussions long enough, with sufficient human feeling, to form webs of personal relationships in cyberspace" (5). Herein lies two crucial Rheingoldian themes. First, virtual communities are social networks based not on geographic proximity, but rather common interest. Second, virtual communities represent human agency at its finest; by "taking to the wires," common people have transformed a once-militaristic computer network into an online public sphere, or, to use Rheingold's words, "an electronic agora."
Besides establishing a working definition for virtual communities, the book explores various sites to study them. These include a chapter on the WELL (a Bay Area-based Internet conferencing system), Usenet, MUDs, and IRCs (Internet Relay Chats). In addition to investigating such virtual communities, Rheingold also provides an overly-simplified history of the Net and a chapter on the Net in Japan.
The Virtual Community covers a lot of (digital) ground. Unfortunately, the ground covered is too often explored at surface level. Further, although the book's final chapter attempts to approach the topic with a critical lens, it comes across as an afterthought, a token piece of skepticism lost within a sea of techno-optimism. That said, the book continues to be an appropriate starting point for those interested in virtual communities.
Besides questions of self and community, the topic of place has become integral to the study of cyberculture. While so much of cyberculture exists without shared geographic space, a large segment does indeed exist within and for shared spaces. One example are community networks, place-specific, computer-networked websites devoted to a particular city, town, or village. Here, community members come together -- not face-to-face, but rather online -- to discuss local issues, browse through city council minutes, order a dozen roses, or a pepperoni pizza.
One of the fascinating aspects of community networks is the way they attract interest from so many fields: Advertising, Architecture, Community Studies, Sociology, and Urban Planning and Design, to name a few. Accordingly, they have been sites of interdisciplinary study. From one side, they represent perfect target markets, online sites where advertisers are led straight to waiting, interested audiences. From another side, they symbolize a new era of community activism. As Douglas Schuler (see below) notes, they "are generally intended to advance social goals, such as building community awareness, encouraging involvement in local decision-making, or developing economic opportunities in disadvantaged communities" (25).
Mitchell, William J., City of Bits: Space, Place, and the Infobahn (Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, 1995).
William Mitchell, Dean of Architecture at MIT, has a clear goal: to investigate how changing technologies can, have, and will effect architecture, cities, and life in the city. In the author's words: "the texts that follow reimagine architecture and urbanism in the new context suggested by these observations -- that of the digital telecommunications revolution, the ongoing miniaturization of electronics, the commodification of bits, and the growing domination of software over materialized form" (5). This reimagining takes place primarily within the book's four core chapters: Electronic Agoras, Cyborg Citizens, Recombinant Architecture, and Soft Cities.
In Electronic Agoras, Mitchell employs a series of dichotomies (spatial/antispatial, corporeal/incorporeal, synchronous/asynchronous, etc) to describe the unique "space" constituted by and within digital technologies. Clearly written yet overly generalized, the dichotomies are then used in the next chapter, Cyborg Citizens, to illustrate the countless ways in which digital technologies are currently part of our everyday experiences. Here, Mitchell employs the term cyborg not as some Gibsonian mutant or Harawayian theoretical construct, but as everyday human beings attending wired MIT lectures, enjoying virtual reality rides in Las Vegas, and communicating online.
In Recombinant Architecture, the author discusses how many civic institutions -- bookstores, banks, schools, and museums to name a few -- are undergoing profound structural changes, resulting in online shopping malls, ATMs, virtual schools and museums. Hardly critical of such developments, Mitchell continues by examining how such alterations effect work life, being at home, and about the community. These questions are explained in greater length in the next chapter, Soft Cities. Here, Mitchell describes a number of soft cities (Mitchell's term for a combination between virtual communities and community networks) including bulletin boards and electronic forums, Websites, MOOs and MUDs, and community networks such as the Blacksburg Electronic Village.
Like Negroponte's Being Digital (see above), Mitchell's book covers a lot of territory at a somewhat shallow level. Too often, Mitchell (like Negroponte) prefers to describe what will be in place of what should be or what can be. The result is not unlike AT&T's "you will" commercial campaign, leaving readers fascinated with the possibilities, unenlightened about the consequences, and oblivious to the cultural and economic negotiations within such developments.
Schuler, Douglas, "Community Networks: Building a New Participatory Medium," Communications of the ACM 37:1 (January, 1994): 39-51.
As the precursor to his book New Community Networks (see below), this essay puts forth the basic tenets and dimensions of community networks. Although written for a largely technical audience, the essay reads both clearly and succinctly. Schuler, a founding member of the Seattle Community Network and the current chair of Computer Professionals for Social Responsibility, begins by introducing a number of community networks, including the Cleveland Free-Nets and Big Sky Telegraph, to illustrate the diverse services of and approaches to community networking. Next, he discusses five aspects for effective community networking: 1) community cohesion, 2) the informed citizen, 3) access to education and training, 4) strong democracy, 5) and an effective process. Finally, Schuler situates the five aspects within larger social and technological contexts, resulting in a grounded and non-technologically deterministic argument for the need and possibility of progressive social computing. Although the essay serves as an outstanding primer on the subject of community networks, interested readers will want to explore Schuler's book-length treatment of the same topic.
Schuler, Douglas, New Community Networks: Wired for Change (New York: ACM Press, 1996).
As indicated by its title, Schuler's book focuses primarily on a single aspect of cyberculture: community networks. As much a toolbook to build community networks as it is a critical reader to analyze them, New Community Networks puts forth six core values for successful community networks: 1) conviviality and cultures, 2) education, 3) strong democracy, 4) health and well-being, 5) economic equity, opportunity, and sustainability, and 6) information and communication. Lengthy discussions and useful examples of these values constitute the book's first six chapters. In the next three chapters -- Social Architecture, Technological Architecture, and Developing and Sustaining Community Networks -- Schuler offers a number of clear strategies to invest community networks with the six core values.
One of the most interesting aspects of cyberculture is the changing notion of selfhood. How do we represent ourselves within online spaces and how is this representation different from the 'real' self? Where are our bodies when we negotiate through electronic spaces? How much of our online persona is a product of self-representation? How can -- or do -- we tweak this persona?
The following essays, articles, and books explore some of these questions. Well before the now-famous New Yorker cartoon ("On the Internet, no one knows you're a dog"), the included scholars were busy examining issues of gender, sexuality, and race in and on the mediated space of the Internet.
Bromberg, Heather, "Are MUDs Communities? Identity, Belonging and Consciousness in Virtual Worlds," in Cultures of Internet: Virtual Spaces, Real Histories, Living Bodies, edited by Rob Shields (London: SAGE Publications, 1996): 143-152.
Although the work's title suggests a discussion revolving around online communities, this essay is largely concerned with notions of identity and consciousness within IRCs and MUDs. Beginning with a brief literature review of the Net and claims of transcendence, Bromberg, a graduate student in the Departments of Sociology and Anthropology at Carleton University, continues by suggesting that users of IRCs and MUDs do so to combat the "malaise and inconsistency of what is currently called the 'postmodern condition'" (147). This use, according to Bromberg, serves four social functions: solace for lonely users, identity play for pleasure and exploration, erotic appeal, and mastery over one's environment. The essay ends with a tempered conclusion that life on the Net constitutes an altered state of consciousness.
Miller, Laura, "Women and Children First: Gender and the Settling of the Electronic Frontier," in Resisting the Virtual Life: The Culture and Politics of Information, eds. James Brook and Iain A. Boal (San Francisco: City Lights, 1995): 49-57.
In this fascinating and all-too-brief essay, Miller, a San Francisco-based writer, examines the ways in which popular media representations of the Net as an environment hostile to women, coupled with the tendency to employ the frontier myth on cyberspace, has produced both sexism and dangerous threats to free speech on the Net. Drawing initially from the now-famous Newsweek article entitled "Men, Women, and Computers" (May 16, 1994), Miller continues by exploring the particularly American fascination with the frontier: an expanse of infinite potential and ever-present danger. Miller concludes by noting that "the idea that women merit special protections in an environment as incorporeal as the Net is intimately bound up with the idea that women's minds are weak, fragile, and unsuited to the rough and tumble of public discourse" (57).
Stone, Allucquere Rosanne, "Will the Real Body Please Stand Up?: Boundary Stories about Virtual Cultures," in Cyberspace: First Steps, ed. Michael Benedikt (Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, 1991): 81-118.
As one of the earliest attempts to theorize cyberculture, this article mirrors in form its subject; like cyberspace, it is as dynamic and thought-provoking as it is disheveled and sporadic. Yet while the author, an assistant professor in the Radio-TV-Film Department and Director of the Advanced Communication Technologies Laboratory at University of Texas at Austin, dabbles into a number of cyber-related topics, her primary focus is on definitions of self within virtual communities, those "incontrovertibly social spaces in which people still meet face-to-face, but under new definitions of both 'meet' and face'" (85). Interestingly, the article's strengths -- its broadness, its diverse range of resources, and its multiple sites of study -- are also its weaknesses. Too often, the article resembles a collection of sound bites rather than a source of substance. Luckily, Stone returns to the topic at greater length and with more detail in her 1995 book The War of Desire and Technology at the Close of the Mechanical Age (see below).
Stone, Allucquere Rosanne, The War of Desire and Technology at the Close of the Mechanical Age (Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, 1995).
The War of Desire and Technology is certainly engaging. Written with a mind-dazzling blend of heavy academic jargon and first person anecdotes, the book resembles both academic analysis and cyber fiction. As Stone notes, the book is "about the everyday world as cyborg habitat. But it is only partly about cyberspace. It is also about social systems that arise in phantasmatic spaces enabled by and constituted through communication technologies" (37). It is also a book length extension of her article length essay "Will the Real Body Please Stand Up?: Boundary Stories about Virtual Cultures" (see above). Thus, we visit once again some of Stone's familiar cyber characters: Julie, the crossdressing psychiatrist, the legion of phone sex workers, and the participants from The CommuniTree Group, an early 1970s BBS.
Although much of the material is recycled, the book format allows Stone to explore her characters in greater detail. Here lies the true gems of the book. Stone has an incredible ability to locate, depict, and extract the community out of virtual communities. In addition to her rich descriptions, the book also offers an interesting pair of concluding chapters, The End of Innocence, Part I and The End of Innocence, Part II. Here, Stone describes the people and communities surrounding the Atari Lab and Wellspring Systems.
Turkle, Sherry, Life on the Screen: Identity in the Age of the Internet (New York: Simon & Schuster, 1995).
In her pioneering work, The Second Self: Computers and the Human Spirit (1984), Turkle took an ethnographic approach to explore computer users' multiple relationships with their machines. In Life on the Screen, Turkle, a licensed clinical psychologist and professor of the Sociology of Science at MIT, expands this exploration by researching users' identities within networked computers, or, to be more specific, the Internet. A product of the rich data gleaned from her ethnographic methods and her more than accessible writing style, the book is an outstanding contribution to the field of cyberculture.
The book is divided into three sections: "The Seductions of the Interface," "Of Dreams and Beasts," and "On the Internet." The first section explores the implications of contemporary society's shift from (in Turkle's words) a culture of computation toward a culture of simulation. Using the contrasting environments of DOS and Macintosh interfaces, the author notes that we have become accustomed to opaque technologies and asks what are the repercussions of taking things at an interfacial value.
In the book's second section, "Of Dreams and Beasts," Turkle examines various elements of computer culture, including artificial intelligence, early applications such as ELIZA, and advanced programs like SimLife, to explore the role of computers of society. More importantly, she studies how users interact with these programs. This theme of interaction is elevated in the book's final section, "On the Internet," when Turkle examines how computer users interact with one another via MUDs and MOOs. As a trained psychologist and a Net veteran, Turkle's observations regarding online identities, multiple personas, and virtual sex are grounded, fascinating, and provocative.