The expanding lexicon of the Internet … is not only replete with, but actually constituted by, the use of geographical metaphors’.
Stephen Graham (1998) The End of Geography or the Explosion of Place?
Such a statement had some resonance twenty years ago and many still argue, or assume, that spatial metaphors are at least an important factor in the way we perceive and use the internet. But is this right? Certainly, a term such as ‘cyberspace’ is still used by institutions such as government bodies, but in everyday practice are different geographical metaphors relevant anymore? The often rather condescending argument is that ‘we’ need these all-encompassing spatial metaphors as well as those related to the architecture of computers (EG windows), to help us understand, or come to terms with, the complexities of a new phenomenon (computers, the web, the internet) or that these metaphors hide the complexities of these devices and ensure our ignorance.
The general term we seem to have settled on for now is ‘internet’ or ‘net’, with a much lighter spatial reference and a more literal sense. Words like ‘surfing’ or ‘navigating’ are not part of everyday discourse. We go on it, use it, find out on it, by clicking, tapping, switching, sharing. Virtual games are a different matter, but with Snapchat, Facebook, Twitter, Wiki, Google ….do we really think spatially? Isn’t it more about time? We don’t look through the screen; we look at it and operate it as a local and global communication and exchange device and an information resource.
These are some points I am exploring just now, considering arguments that the internet does not offer new forms of heterotopia and may contribute to the demise of heterotopias. In contrast, see previous posts for those arguing for the importance of spatial metaphors and links between heterotopia and the internet.
19 February 2018