Cyber-Utopia or Dystopia?
The reading by Barlow (1996) speaks about the freedom and independence of cyberspace. He holds a cyberlitertarian view that users may express your beliefs without being coerced into silence. He says that all may enter irrespective of race or gender. As the lecture highlighted, in this cyber-utopian view, all nodes are created equal and all nodes can broadcast to the rest without being filtered. There is no authority or regulation and the State is irrelevant. As the reading by Castells (2004) says, “power does not reside in institutions, not even in the State or corporations”.
This may be largely true in the Western world but if you were to look at users in China or North Korea you would see that their access is much more restricted. In China, Facebook and Twitter were blocked in 2009 due to riots in Xinjiang and since then, this ban has only been lifted for a small area in Shanghai in 2013 (Woollaston 2013). In speaking about participation, originally only roman characters could be communicated by users. This meant that some cultures were unable to participate as they didn’t use these characters.
The cyber-utopian view of the internet mirrors the words of Barlow. In this view, the internet is seen to have no governing force, encourages freedom of expression and will change the world as we know it. The same was thought of the telephone as it was believed that people across the world would be able to communicate leading to peace. This did not happen and with the introduction of the internet, this still has not happened.
Ulises Mejias, an assistant professor of new media at State University College of Oswego, believes that “as digital networks grow and become more centralised and privatised, they increase opportunities for participation, but they also increase inequality, and make it easier for authorities to control them”. We are moving on from our cyber-utopian celebration of cyberspace. We are moving into a moment of disenchantment and disillusion where we are recognising the full story.
Barlow, J 1996, A Declaration of the Independence of Cyberspace, Electronic Frontier Foundation, viewed 13 August 2014, <https://projects.eff.org/~barlow/Declaration-Final.html>.
Castells, M. 2004, ‘Afterword: why networks matter’. In Network Logic: Who governs in an interconnected world?, pp. 221-224.
Mejias, U 2012, ‘Revolutions are made by people, not Twitter’, viewed 16 August 2014, <http://blog.syracuse.com/opinion/2011/02/ulises_a_mejias_revolutions_ar.html>.
Woollaston, V 2013, China lifts ban on Facebook, Daily Mail, viewed 15 August 2014, <http://www.dailymail.co.uk/sciencetech/article-2431861/China-lifts-ban-Facebook–people-living-working-small-area-Shanghai.html>.