The intro to Strate’s Communication and Cyberspace is very technical. The computer and new media related definitions provided in the intro do an excellent job of summarizing the development of telecommunications and where we stand in the electronic environment. This book aims to explain the ways in which communication and social interaction is mediated by computers and apply forms, functions, and meaning to cyberspace. In addition, this book attempts to explain how cyberspace functions as alternatives for traditional locations and how cyberspace differs from their real-life counterparts.
The contributors of this book seem to struggle with defining the terms they present, but do an excellent job of providing multiple definitions from various sources that also tried to define these terms. The term that still puzzles me after reading through the first half of this book is how to define cyberspace. What is cyberspace? Of course, this term puzzled the authors most too. This is my take on cyberspace: Telecommunications led to a convergence of media which then led to computers. Computers led to the idea of cyberspace, but the internet can also be used to define cyberspace. I believe the best way to define cyberspace is not through technological terms or social interactions, but simple through the space itself. Let's examine the word CYBERSPACE itself. I define space not in a physical or social way, but as the absence of something physical or social. Space is just there and it's empty until something or someone occupies it. I picture cyberspace as a vacant parking lot. The space of the lot is already there and empty. It simply just exists and when we add cars or buildings the space becomes filled. I see cyberspace in the same way. This “cyberspace,” though it doesn’t have any physical existence, is already there and was empty at some point. However, we have occupied this space with the addition of websites and we continue to take up more space through the addition of more websites everyday. In turn, due to the linking of these websites, cyberspace then becomes an interconnection among different computers and closed networks. I'd also like to point out, though I'm not sure if this is correct or not, that the Electromagnetic Spectrum is real and plays a large part in the way technologies are distributed to companies, governments, and the military. I would guess if one had to point to something real and call it cyberspace, then the Electromagnetic Spectrum would be that vacant parking lot I was talking about. It is safe to assume that no matter how one attempts to define cyberspace, new media effected our idea of physical space.
As humans we like to control and manipulate content and we use this information to control and govern our environments. This is one of the benefits of digital technology. Following that logic and figuring that almost every new sector of our lives use computers, which incorporates digital technology, it begs the question of whether we have total control of our environments or not. Also, what environment are we in control of? If you are referring to our actual environments in reality, I doubt we are ever in complete control of that. We are never in complete control of our electronic environments either because computers can always be hacked, tweaked by others, or prone to viruses. In fact, at any moment a computer can break down. There's no reason for it other than the physical technology wearing out over time. My brother bought an HDTV 3 years ago and the store that sold it to him said the HDTV has a lifespan of an estimated 10,000 hours. Who determines that number and how do they determine something like that? It's like telling a patient in a hospital he has cancer and only 6 months to live. Anyway, if hardware is being designed so the user is more distant from his computer, then software seems, or should seem, to be doing just the opposite. Relating back to Bolter, one of the benefits of appreciating the interface is so that we become designers of our own environments. In turn, we become less distant from our hardware as we create our own perceptual space and try to control our own electronic environments.
Also as humans, we have needs and desires. In fact, one branch of communications (and even psychology), called Uses and Gratifications, is devoted solely to explaining how technologies aid in fulfilling our own desires. This approach was developed in the 1940s to study the gratifications that attract and hold audiences to the kinds of media and the types of content that satisfy their social and psychological needs. This theory assumes users of media take an active part in the communication process, are goal oriented in their media use, and users have alternate choices to satisfy their needs. One of our biggest needs, and indeed for some this becomes a fear, is the need to be with, among, or connected to people. No one really ever wants to be alone. Therefore, we have adopted technologies to fulfill our own needs and desires and have advanced so far in these technologies that we use cyberspace to function as an alternative for traditional reality and locations. For example, instead of going on an actual date or to a real zoo, people can now go on virtual dates or to a virtual zoo. No one ever has to be alone anymore as they can just sign on, enter a random chat room, and start babbling away. Obviously, these virtual gimmicks come no where close to their real experiences, but the goal of the designers of these gimmicks is to design an interface so convincing and interactive you feel as if you are actual on a date or at the zoo. Another example, is social networking sites. In fact, I can not think of a better site than Facebook to prove technology satisfies our need to be connected and never alone. Through cyberspace, we acquire social lives and go to virtual places and this becomes a substitution for public life. In fact, for most people, we have developed such a dependency for social interaction in cyberspace that one of the first things people do when they wake up is check and update there Facebook as if it has become part of their everyday, morning routine. Whether this should be the way we conduct our social lives is the result of online networking and interactive sites and at this point, it seems more of a psychological question than a communication's one.
I certainly believe there is a digital divide, especially during these economic times, not only in this society, but in the world at hand. The gap between who can use technology and gain access to information is large and growing. The very worst case scenario is that possibly in the future, those nations that are not currently or do not become technologically advanced will ultimately die out because communicating with them through our sophisticated media will be difficult, forcing those nations to become more distant and eventually isolated. This is like Darwinism, except it's the Darwinism of technology. To illustrate this point further, think about the way HDTV has revolutionized television. If one did not buy an HDTV or a converter by now, he is not able to watch television or become informed of the outside world, unless he buys a newspaper or goes online. However, if he can not afford a converter box, then he probably can not go online either. Also, dial-up modems used to be fantastic, but if one does not switch over to the faster DSL and cable modems, then he will have difficulties online and become frustrated accessing websites, talking online, and downloading large file sizes. How can a teacher of grammar school expect kids to do research and homework online when possibly not all of the kids can get access to a home computer? I have noticed this in my own life. Though I still watch television, use the internet, and talk on the phone since grammar and high school, I was forced to upgrade the technologies behind all the electronic media I use for speed and convenience purposes and the reason for this is that I had to adapt to the changing times otherwise I would have become left behind as far as communication is concerned. I wasn't aware of this change as a kid, but I am now.