Chapter 1: A
Place Called Cyberspace
"There was something amazingly enticing
about programming. You created your
own universe and you were the master of it."
Vinton Cerf 
can still remember how cool I thought I was in the late 1980s
when I first connected my home computer to the Internet. I
would often brag to my friends at work that I stayed up most
of the night "jacked into the Matrix." Those were
exciting times for computer professionals who were just beginning
to gain entry into the mysterious world of networked computers.
We now had access to seemingly unlimited amounts of information
that could be found on thousands of computers all around the
globe. As the song goes, " . . . those were the days,
my friend." Back then the Net was a lot harder to navigate.
To go from computer to computer one had to use what is known
as a command
line interface. In plain English, that means all interactions
between a person and a remote computer take place by typing
a long string of alphanumeric commands, pressing the ENTER
key, and then reading a textual response sent back from a
distant computer. There were no pretty pictures, no mouse,
and no pointing and clicking. By today's standards, it was
a boring and complicated way to access the Internet-all text
and no graphics.
Then, in the early 1990s, the
technology we call the World Wide Web was introduced. By January
of 1993 there were over 50 web servers
online. Already, many of us were wondering where we would
ever find the time to check out each new web site that appeared,
as this was in addition to the millions of files already available
on the Internet. Few people realized at the time that the
World Wide Web was about to change the Internet forever. 
Within seven years there would be almost five million Web
servers providing a combined total of more than one billion
unique documents online.
 No longer
was the Net to be the exclusive domain of us geeks
(who, by the way, sometimes still get a thrill out of using
the old command line interfaces). Text-based interfaces were
out and graphical
user interfaces, with their simple point-and-click
metaphor, were in. Hundreds of millions of people flocked
to the Web, and cyberspace experienced its first population
explosion. The genie was out of the bottle.
What is Cyberspace?
In 1984, when William Gibson
coined the word "cyberspace," he said, among other
things, that it was a "consensual hallucination."
then, the concept of cyberspace has been defined in a multitude
of ways, including:
- Cyberspace is the total interconnectedness of human beings
through computers and telecommunication without regard to
physical geography. 
- An artificial world formed by the display of data as an
artificial three-dimensional space, which the user can manipulate
and move through by issuing commands to the computer. 
- A metaphor for describing the non-physical terrain created
by computer systems. Online systems, for example, create
a cyberspace within which people can communicate with one
another (via e-mail), do research, or simply window shop.
While these and dozens of other
definitions of cyberspace all have some validity, there does
not seem to be any agreed-upon, all-inclusive, concise definition
of the word "cyberspace." In fact, the concept of
cyberspace itself appears to be constantly morphing between
related but slightly dissimilar meanings.
In the preceding definitions,
the one that I find least agreeable calls cyberspace a metaphor.
Perhaps it is due to the fact that cyberspace is a non-physical
reality that some see it as only a metaphor. However, to those
who inhabit the online virtual worlds we will encounter later
in this chapter, cyberspace is much more than a metaphor,
it is a very real place. As you see, our attempt to describe
cyberspace is already on thin ice; "How can a non-physical
reality be called a place?" There is no simple answer
to that question. I find it interesting, however, that whenever
I ask someone if he or she thinks cyberspace is a "place,"
almost everyone answers, "Yes." When asked why they
believe that to be so, a common answer is, "Because it
feels like a place."
My informal surveys also revealed
some other common, but again very subjective, aspects of cyberspace.
For example, people seldom have a sense of feeling alone when
they are in cyberspace. Even when not using an interactive
environment, such as a chat
room, people often report a sense of being in the
midst of a large crowd in some public space. Many have reported
that this large, invisible crowd of strangers feels like a
friendly group. Perhaps this is because the majority of people
in cyberspace are there voluntarily. Although I am not willing
to go along with Gibson's definition of cyberspace being a
"consensual hallucination," I do find it to be a
Another approach to defining
cyberspace is to look at it from the bottom up, beginning
with its substrate-the minds, computers, and networks that
support it. If we consider the human mind, we see that the
brain is the physical substrate that supports the ethereal
mind. The substrate that supports cyberspace is different.
It has both physical and mental components, for it consists
of computers, networks, and human minds. What has evolved
out of this substrate is cyberspace. Perhaps we would be better
served using the word "cybermind" instead of cyberspace,
but that too can be misleading, as we will see in the next
Today, the word "cyberspace"
has largely come to represent a synergistic collection of
concepts about where one's mind is when involved in mental
activities that are leveraged by technology. In essence, being
in cyberspace is comparable to an out-of-body experience that
has been activated by some form of technology. Bruce Sterling
captured this idea best when he wrote:
Cyberspace is the "place" where a telephone conversation
appears to occur. Not inside your actual phone, the plastic
device on your desk. Not inside the other person's phone,
in some other city. The place between the phones. The indefinite
place out there, where the two of you, human beings, actually
meet and communicate. 
It is in this sense that the
word "cyberspace" is used in this book. It is the
limitless place one's mind finds itself in when applying technology
to communicate with or to receive information from others.
Therefore, your mind is in cyberspace when composing email
or designing a web site. As Mark Pesce says, "Imagination
in the context of the Internet is known simply-and powerfully-as
As used in the context of this book, it is not necessary for
one to be actually sitting in front of a computer, which is
connected to the Internet, in order to be in cyberspace. Minds
can actually be projected into a cyberspace-like place simply
by thinking about an e-mail received earlier, or by working
out a design for a web site while driving to work. 
It is the location of one's mind that determines whether or
not one is in cyberspace. A mind that is in cyberspace is
a mind that is altered from its normal, walking around state.
This may not resonate with everyone who reads it, but it is
what I mean when I speak of being in cyberspace.
This definition implies that
cyberspace is not a material realm. No part of your physical
being ever can be in cyberspace. Only your nonmaterial essence,
your mind, or mind/spirit, can enter cyberspace. Therefore,
by definition, cyberspace is a place of spirit, a spiritual
place. This does not mean, of course, that cyberspace is always
reverent. Cyberspace is a reflection of who we really are-for
in cyberspace our minds are more willing to explore new ideas,
taste forbidden delights, and meet some very interesting people.
The topic of virtual communities
is so broad that it would take an encyclopedia to even begin
to scratch the surface. 
Ultimately, the emergence of virtual communities, gatherings
without geographical boundaries, may be the single most important
outgrowth of the Internet. For the first time in human history,
people from around the globe are organizing into actual communities
through the use of e-mail, chat rooms, mailing lists, newsgroups,
web sites, and combinations of these and other technologies.
Some have even begun to colonize cyberspace by building the
Inhabited Virtual Worlds that are discussed later in this
There do not appear to be any
areas of human activity in which online communities have not
formed. For example, senior citizens have formed online communities
whose interests may focus on a particular geographic area,
finances, politics, health, spirituality, and other issues
as they relate to their age group. Communities have formed
around hobbies, favorite vacation spots, raising children,
and a seemingly endless array of other broadly defined and
narrowly circumscribed topics of interest. What is more, most
people consider themselves to be members of more than one
online community, each one representing a different facet
of one's personality and interests.
The importance of these newly
evolving collections of consciousness cannot be overestimated,
for they just may be the best hope yet for our species to
come to an understanding of the fact that we are all directly
connected to one another. When a school child in Palestine
joins an online gaming community he or she immediately begins
to interact with others, young and old, who share a similar
interest. It may be that this interest is initially focused
on some shoot-em-up action game, but it is not uncommon for
this involvement to lead to direct interactions with other
gamers outside of the environment of the game that first drew
them together. Gradually, these interactions lead to a discussion
of real world events, and often this leads to a greater tolerance
for ideas that are not a part of the culture in which one
A Global Culture
Is it possible that the Internet
has become the cornerstone of what will one day become this
planet's first truly global culture? If we are to consider
the word "culture," unadorned by our emotional attachment
to what it implies on a personal level, it seems that the
answer to this question is a resounding "Yes!"
The dictionary defines "culture" as:
- Development of the intellect through education and training;
- The arts, beliefs, customs, institutions and all other
products of human work and thought created by a people or
group at a particular time.
Whenever I hear the word "culture"
my mind first springs to France and its high culture of art
and music and poetry. Some people believe that anything which
falls short of a strict adherence to the formal structures
of high culture does not even deserve to be called culture.
While the beauty of high culture is widely accepted, it seems
to me a very restrictive environment in which a creative mind
must live. And, quite frankly, those people who remain set
in their belief that only one form or another of artistic
expression is worthy of being considered cultural are going
to be left behind as human consciousness continues to expand
into the new millennium.
Taken in a broad sense, it
appears that a truly global culture has begun to blossom forth
on our planet. Using the Internet as its seedbed, this new
culture is changing our societies more rapidly than anything
we have experienced before. The rate at which the technology
of the Internet is being adopted by such a large number of
people throughout the world is entirely without precedent.
In fact, political debate has already begun in several countries
as to whether a person actually has a right to use the Internet.
We are entering new territory here, one that presents a grave
threat to the established order, those who preserve our cultures.
Of course, transformations
like these raise some important questions. Just what is this
new global culture that is evolving? What does it represent?
What is its shape? How is this evolution/revolution taking
place? Is this an elitist culture, or will persons in less
technically developed countries also be able participate?
How are these revolutionary developments going to affect you?
These are some of the questions that will occupy us for the
remainder of this book.