Having read a passage from a book, I then …. Rereading Benedikt’s “Cyberspace”


I’m rereading some books from my bookshelf, on the theory that it’s easier to make sense of the static texts that I own than to try to dip into the infinite stream of the internet and be enlightened or entertained by it.

So far, so good; I pulled out a copy of Polya’s “How to Solve It” (1945), David Sucher’s “City Comforts” (2003), and Michael Benedikt‘s anthology “Cyberspace: First Steps” (1991/1992), and enlightened myself with each.

The challenge of books in a digital age is that they want to be a part of your every day reference use, so that you could rummage through them whenever you wanted to and have some sense of what was in them that could be used or reused. Books – unlike tweets – have gravity. They need space well beyond what the microchip could be used to store them, and they demand a certain carefulness so that you can’t simply throw a dozen of them into your book bag.

One nice thing about books is that they live on a bookshelf; and by doing so they are near their neighbors which helps you understand the next work you might want to read. Consider only one of these, Benedikt’s “Cyberspace”. It’s a wonderful book written at the very beginning of the era of the World Wide Web, yet it is completely untouched by The Web As We Know It Today. If there’s anything of common use that defines it, it’s the more fanciful and imagined virtual worlds of the MUD and MOO systems of its generation. In its uncommon manifestations its all about the otherworldly architecture of a generation of imagined but unbuilt online human-computer environments.

I read Cyberspace, and I want to put my stamp on my cyberspace to show that I have read it and to increase the chance that if I’m stumbling upon the same ideas again that I will find it again. How to do this, in a way that’s true to the work?

One simple technique is to anchor this essay with the words that will let me find it again. A Google search for “vielmetti benedikt cyberspace” should, by all expectations, find this again. That helps, but only if I remember the exact incantation.

A more elaborate technique would be to note my interest in this book in various social reading systems, like Goodreads (which helpfully saves what page you are on) and Librarything (which helpfully tags the work and suggests related). I could review it on Amazon, though Amazon is most helpful for me in noting that if I ever lose my copy, that I can have another one for a penny plus postage and handling.

For every work, there’s some chance that an echo of it will be online too; IEU in Turkey has the introduction, as a reading for a Media Culture and Technology class.

What I want to know, though, is what are the contemporaries of this work, and its descendants. What was next to it on the shelf at Borders Store #1 when I pulled it off the shelf to buy it? Who will nod knowingly when I pull it out of my bookshelf, dust it off, and flip through to find some passage that I might remember? What should go next to it on my own shelves, real or imagined?

I’ve carried around some of these texts for a long time. In some real world of the current cyberspace, I want to embed them so that I can find them again (so they can find me again) when I need them. What’s more, they are not just ever-scrolling words on the infinite Internet scroll; they are real and unique objects that take up space and weigh something and that have bookmarks and notes in the margins.

noted as well:

An interview with Benedikt in AIGA

At the same time I was also lamenting that cyberspace—that wonderful, phantasmagoric three-dimensional alternative reality imagined by William Gibson—was not actually shaping itself on-line as I and many others thought it surely would. What Mosaic, then Netscape, then Explorer delivered was mostly the content of your local drugstore newsstand, but worse: delivered more jerkily, more shallowly, and more resolutely two-dimensionally—like paper flyers blown against the back of the computer screen. (99% of it still looks that way, Flash graphics notwithstanding.) Set aside the code-writing required: by 1993 it was clear that the transmission and processing speeds required to sustain cyberspace were going to be long in coming. They are still not here. To this day, only advanced intranet gamers have a foretaste of Gibsonian cyberspace: a real-time, shared, virtual space seamlessly mixing useful data, personal presence, and real-world, real-time connection.


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