Lost in Cyberspace

In television commercials, on the news, and in newspaper articles, we are constantly being told about the dangers lurking in “cyberspace”. These days it appears to be a land that is populated almost exclusively by terrorists and identity thieves, where the wary traveller must tread carefully.

Cyberspace is one of those terms that is used by the media when talking about the Internet, without actually ever defining it. A quick trawl through cyberspace itself reveals nearly as many definitions as there are web sites defining the term.

My favourite is probably from Whatis.com : ‘Cyberspace is the total interconnectedness of human beings through computers and telecommunication without regard to physical geography.’ Nice.

Cyberspace as a phrase is actually older than the Internet and comes from a strange far off country, the 80’s. The term was apparently coined by the author William Gibson, in his 1982 novelette ‘Burning Chrome,’ and was taken to a wider audience through his seminal novel ‘Neuromancer.’ The term itself is a portmanteau of cybernetics and space, hence cyberspace.

The 80’s were an interesting time, when women’s attractiveness was measured by the size of their shoulder pads, when your dream girl might be called Fallon or Crystal, and when you’d pester the record shop to know when the next Howard Jones twelve inch was to be released.

It was also a time when the UK’s biggest selling computer was the ZX Spectrum, and 48K was considered to be more memory than you could possibly require. The Internet was not only in black and white (or more likely black and green,) but was also text based and wasn’t really called the Internet yet, usually going by such early catchier names like ARPAnet or JANet.

Gibson’s cyberspace was a complete virtual reality realm where avatars of human operators could project themselves. The concept proved attractive and has since been taken up by various other science fiction authors (notably Dan Simmons in the Hyperion series ) and of course in the Matrix series of movies.

The inspiration for Gibson’s vision of Cyberspace might itself have come from the movie Tron where Jeff Bridges is sucked into and trapped inside a computer. Tron at the time was considered a bit of a failure, especially when compared to that year’s star attraction at the cinema, ‘E.T.’ The film’s influence, though, has undoubtedly been very far reaching.

Cyberspace is a term that appears to falling out of favour somewhat these days, which does appear to be a bit of a shame, especially as we’re now getting closer to realising the reality that comes from Gibson’s fantasy.