Tuesday, May 13, 2008

When Worlds Collide – Part 1

Following on from yesterdays post regarding the file sharing conflict, today I thought to reflect on the context in which it takes place and the implications which arise from the solutions adopted to address the problem. This requires a conceptualisation of the differences between real or physical space, and the internet, which is sometimes referred to colloquially as the digital environment.

Considering more specifically the way these environments interact and alter the production (reproduction) and reception of music it is possible to see that changes taking place are a form of evolution not unlike biological transformations seen in real space. In the first post on this topic I will consider the nature of cyberspace compared with real space and in a following post will reflect on the evolution of culture (music) over time.

How intangibles are produced, live and thrive is the essence of this inquiry.

The Space of the Place
Writings at the time of the emergence of cyberspace provide an insight into the initial reaction to its introduction and perceptions held at that time as to its potential - some of which have been realised but many of which remain elusive. In the introduction to the text Cyberspace First Steps, Michael Benedikt describes a number of ways that this space can be conceptualised. He describes cyberspace as the realm of pure information which decontaminates the natural and urban landscapes; he likens it to a series of corridors where intelligence and electricity meet; and he refers to it as a parallel universe. Furthermore he contends that cyberspace is:

A common mental geography, built in turn, by consensus and revolution, cannon and experiment; a territory swarming with data and lies, with mind stuff and memories of nature, with a million voices and two million eyes in a silent, invisible concert of enquiry, dealmaking, dream sharing; and simple beholding. [Ed. Michael Benedikt, Cyberspace First Steps (1993) 2]

Benedikt specifically refers to Sir Karl Popper’s proposition that there are three interconnected worlds to contend with – the first being the objective world of natural tangible objects with qualities such as energy, weight and motion; the second being that of the minds of individuals and subjective consciousness. This includes, for example, calculations, thoughts, feeling and dreams. The third world consists of largely accidental objective products of collective minds, arising through their interaction with the tangible world – these include things such as language, philosophy, the arts and religion. Bendekit suggests that world 3 manifests in the form of patterns whether they be of ideas, expression, data, information or another. He contends that cyberspace is the most recent evolution of world 3 patterns arising from interactions between worlds 1 and 2. He also suggests that cyberspace will never replace the pre-existing elements of world 3 but will only ever displace them [Ibid page 3-4].

There are a number of differences between real space and cyberspace with respect to the form and nature of the environment, the way people take part in these spaces and the inherent properties of the content.

Relative to each other, real space is finite with a limited capacity where as cyberspace is essentially limitless. Real space is divided by national borders while cyberspace has borders based more on commercial desires with many globally accessible open spaces. In each location in real space there is a period of time over night when there is a significant reduction in activity. Cyberspace however never sleeps with the constant movement of intangibles and global nature of its operation. Cyberspace consists of a collection of multiple forms and structures each with their own preferences, weaknesses and benefits. Each person that interacts in cyberspace adopts the structures in cyberspace which most enhance their lives but at the same time can often expose their vulnerabilities as well.

Just as the form of the environment contributes to our understanding of it, so do qualities specific to people. Naturally, humans must take physical form and we therefore have no option but to exist in a constant state within real space. In contrast, human participation in cyberspace is optional and intermittent. The relative ability to interact anonymously is also an important difference with an arguably far greater opportunity to do so in cyberspace.

There are also inherent differences between the content of real space and cyberspace. While real space content takes many forms including artificial and natural physical forms, as well as expression; in cyberspace all content must be intangible and there is a proportionally far greater concentration of expressive communication than other types.

In the next post I will go on to consider more specifically how technology has shaped the development of music and how Popper’s theory of refutation can be used to help evaluate the choices we make, the results that follow and their implications.

Further Reading
Ed. Michael Benedikt, Cyberspace First Steps (1993)

No comments: