is mainly perceived as another kind of space to
be conquered, civilized, and colonized. If it were,
the overpowering diffusion of the best backed-up
cultural forms could be taken for granted. This
is precisely what the champions of political correctness
fear most--to see the entire cyberspace invaded
by, and subjected to, the dominant Western pop-culture.
"For a much too long time, the Internet's default
culture has been U.S. culture," said Bram Dov
Abramson (reported by Damien Cave in salon.com,
February 28, 2000). Overtaxed by a monotonous cultural
menu, this research analyst from TeleGeography
would like to find the picturesque and colorful
diversity of real-life relief on the web. He finds
some comfort at the news of some newly developed
software products (e.g. TraceWare from Digital-Island.com,
or the yet un-named item of iCrave.com),
that can determine the physical location of any
logged-on PC with high reliability (i.e. 96% for
TraceWare). This would allow the geographic
bordering of the Web. The persistent association
of each region could be centered with a specific
cultural style. A cybernaut from Singapore would
never see any advertisements for Viagra (the reliable
sex potion is prohibited over there), a Québec surfer
would be politely directed to francophone sites,
the European Union would be in the position to digitally
enforce its option for l'exception culturelle.
Moreover, the authoritarian or totalitarian regimes
would cease to fear the freedom of e-communication.
The cultural filters would soon be put to work according
to the local Big Brother wishes. In Abramson's view,
implementing geolocation forces content providers
to think about other defaults than the American
way. In my view, this would only bring back local
idiosyncrasy, censorship, distortion and manipulation.
enough, we are not in the position to choose between
local abuse and global uniformity. Cyberspace is
not merely an easily permeable space, wherein distances
are irrelevant, so that dominant cultural forms
are over pervasive. It is a collection of interconnected
cyber-places, each one of them being the outcome
of a time-space synthesis. The spatial aspect of
a place is determined by the fact that one can access
it, explore it and use it as a start for a new journey.
The temporal aspect is provided by the author's
history, which is converted into an informational
artifact--the cyber smith, upon building his site,
turns his time-rooted cultural attitude into a meaningful
cyber-environment. The differences, as far as personal
timelines are concerned, account then for the stylistic
diversity of the places.
promenade on the Web in search of samples of cyber-images
offers the diversity of a curiosity shop, not the
monotony of a suburb. In spite of cyberspace being
detached from real world territory, the symbolic
integration of the sites in their specific, time-matured
cultural backgrounds is impressive. See, for example,
Masaki Fujihata's image proposal at www.flab.mag.keio.ac.jp/light/.
The site presents an array of 7*7 icons of electric
bulbs, which can be activated individually, according
to the commands on a spreadsheet. At the Softopia
Center, Gifu, Japan, a real life replica of the
array is exposed, the on/off state of each electric
bulb being the same as the one of the corresponding
icon from the site. The effect is clearly related
to the traditional Asiatic culture. The panel, as
well as the array from the site, is an interactive
game of Go, extended in cyberspace. Unlike the agonistic
Western games, here there are no either winners
or losers, but connoisseurs who contemplate the
refined patterns of their own interactions.
Mojca Pungercar lives in the ex-communist Slovenia
and remembers vividly the daily life in a police
state. Her site, "The Mojca Case", from the address
http://mila.ljudmila.org/scca/mojca, is the
ironical and playful development of a cyber-CV as
a homepage, while programmatically undermining all
the accredited strategies of self-marketing. The
artistic conception takes as a reference a police
file. The main page contains the personal data of
the "wrong-doer" Mojca and the description of the
"case": "The indicted uses real historical events
in order to distort them according to the free play
of her imagination. Her multimedia narratives turn
against their own sources, which are altered, distorted
and ridiculed." The artist feigns to plead guilty:
"I purposely got into ambiguous and compromising
situations, I committed the crime to reconfigure
according to my own ideas the fragments of the scattered
reality. I used the imagination to mediate between
the event and the document, and sometimes I lost
the document itself."
most successful example of an identity well marketed
by cyber-images is offered by the phenomenon Mahir.
The young Turk made up a very simple site (http://members.xoom.com/mahiractive/)
from some commonplace photos and scarce personal
data in broken English. However, he managed to hit
upon a still unexpressed collective yearning for
an unsophisticated, happy-go-lucky identity, sort
of a playboy with limited resources, who likes to
play the accordion, wants to kiss everybody and
"invitates" women to share his tiny apartment from
Izmir. The success of the site transformed Mahir
into a cyberspace celebrity. Fan clubs develop the
initial symbolic offer, parody-sites add-up zest
and humor; jokes, interviews, studies continue to
proliferate. A cyber-subculture is about to be structured,
the subculture Mahir. Like in the case of
other outstanding, although un-similarly famous,
personalities (Shakespeare, Homer etc.), many claim
that Mahir does not exist; he is just the playful
creation of a hacker. Possibly a Turk hacker with
the same name.
Internet has never been placeless," says Abramson.
"It's always been a virtual overlay on top of the
real world, anchored there by architecture, which
is very physical indeed. Now the two worlds are
merging. Real geography exists in the physical world;
it had to show up on the Internet sooner or later."
However, he misses an important point--cyberspace
is related to the physical world, but it is certain
that the two do not merge. It is not physical geography
that shows up on the Internet, but real-time history.
© 2000 Adrian Mihalache All Rights Reserved
N. Mihalache is a professor at the "Politehnica"
University of Bucharest, Romania. Presently, he
is a Fulbright Scholar at Western Michigan University,
Department of Anthropology where, together with
Professor Arthur Helweg, he is working on the book
"Ethnology of Cyberspace".