↳ Title || 23 Years in Cyberspace || In Collaboration with Embassy of Internet

↳ Information || In collaboration with Embassy of Internet, James Wrigley and Public–Source as acting Ambassador of Internet from inital start dates 29.04.2019 - 12.05.2019. We are looking for people to take part in the inital section of this case study by answering the questions available to download in the documents section on this page. If you would like to offer any further research, writings or imagery towards this case study, please email us with your intentions.

↳ Publishing Stage ||

Ongoing

Published

↳ Date Start || 29.04.2019

↳ Date End || Ongoing

↳ Reading Lists ||
● Criticism of Social Networking
● Amplification: Alternative Publishing

↳ Documents ||

DOCX

PDF

RTF

23 Years in Cyberspace:
A Declaration of the Independence of Cyberspace by John Perry Barlow.

Introduction

On February 8th, 1996 cyber24.com was the platform for what was at the time, the largest one-day online event, 24 Hours in Cyberspace. The project brought together the world’s top 1,000 photographers, editors, programmers and interactive designers to create a digital time capsule of online life, the goal was to not simply showcase websites and technology, but rather, focus on those whose lives were affected by the use of the growing internet, within the 24 hours that the site was active the project received more than 4 million hits. Commissioned for the pioneering project, John Perry Barlow, founder of the Electronic Frontier Foundation wrote A Declaration of the Independence of Cyberspace, a widely distributed paper on the applicability (or lack thereof) of government on the rapidly growing internet. This declaration set out, in sixteen short paragraphs, a rebuttal to government of the internet by outside force, creating a powerful picture of the internet, not as a network controlled by giant corporations, but instead, as a free and open space, an alternative to old systems of politics and power.

“Governments of the Industrial World, you weary giants of flesh and steel, I come from Cyberspace, the new home of Mind. On behalf of the future, I ask you of the past to leave us alone. You are not welcome among us. You have no sovereignty where we gather.”

But what did the future hold. This case study seeks to explore the everyday use of the internet by looking back to look forwards, examining the issues that surround our use of the internet today, the worries we have for the future and how, if possible, we can change the future of the internet. This particular case study will take a long form approach and was started in collaboration with Embassy of Internet, our lead researcher for this project, and acting Ambassador of Internet is James Wrigley of Public–Source.

What are our early memories of the Internet? How do we use it now, and what issues do we believe to be most important about our use of the Internet? John Perry Barlow’s decoration was not successful, and for many, it was seen as a fantasy and bore no relation to was what really emerging online. In 2004, Barlow himself reflected on his work, specifically regarding his optimism. His response was that “we all get older and smarter”. If you visit cyber24.com now, you are visiting a site dedicated to Royal Jelly, beauty treatments and skin care products, a stark contrast to the original domain of February 8th, 1996.

The common internet of today are giant networks of information, data and consumerism. New technologies have allowed us to upload millions of images and videos onto the internet, in contrast to Barlow’s statements, the web now beings to look and feel like the real world, filled with videos fo animals, personal moments of experience, extraordinary events and horrific terror videos, but above everything, our personal web spaces have become a way for people to present themselves as they want to be seen. In the early days, the web felt like a space to explore and get lost, but with the rise of social media came the rise of filter algorithms, hyper-consumerism, influencers and the production of personal and information echo chambers. These new forms of guidance are always watching, listening and guiding your hand on the mouse. The internet has been compared to that of the dystopian “cyberspace” of William Gibson novels many times, that networks are used to spy on everyone, controlling ideological limits of popular discourse by selling ourselves back to us, if you liked that, you’ll love this.

Facebook Group, Censorship, Walled gardens & Observations

There were three strategies in gathering initial information that aimed to use the Internet as a form of communication, collaboration and discussion from public communities online, similar too that of John Perry Barlow’s vision of cyberspace. The first strategy was to simply speak with acquaintances and friends who would ideally reply and answer the six questions within the initial two week deadline; it is important at this point to remember that these questions are not focused on any particular group of people, rather the more that answer these question, the broader and more reliable the information is.

The second strategy was to reach out to individuals on a personal level, the people contacted here are those whose relationship with the internet would be a more involved and critical response, such as data analysts, engineers and programmers. The third and final strategy was to focus on the giant landscapes of social media, specifically individual Facebook groups, asking anyone wanting to give their opinion the opportunity to do so. The groups that the post appeared in ranged from photographic communities, design and website groups, developer and programming groups to social history and community groups.

Non of these strategies are particularly unique in their process, however, they each represent a targeted form of questioning. The first two techniques only rely on those who are personally known and obviously limited in the response. By creating a system whereby choosing those who to email in the second strategy already means that there would be a form of censorship. In an attempt to remove subconscious censoring of information, the questions and a small informational statement were released into as many Facebook groups as possible over the course of the initial two week process.

During this time the questions received extremely diverse reactions between each group, in most cases they were positive responses, however, during this time, the post also received a number of negative comments from a number of groups, most notably a Darkroom group containing over 22k members. The common phrase was “I don’t see what this has to do with …. [insert group theme]”, and so the questions went unanswered, one commenter raised the point that, these groups are for a specific purpose, the only thing to be discussed within these group are that of what each group represents, each Facebook group with its own theme and topic should only maintain the conversation of that theme and never stray. These questions for many groups went outside the remit of typical conversation, but what was most interesting about the reaction from many commenters was that the Facebook group was a walled garden of conversation, not to be distracted by any other topic or theme and members would defend this aggressively when a post arrived that was not part of this subject.

Observing the reactions within these walled gardens has raised more areas of discussion relating to this case study, that the users of Facebook group will actively censor their own feed and attack group posts that they do not wish to see. Has the idea of social filtering become an ingrained attitude across the internet and social media, that the very notion of conversation outside of a group allows for aggressive responses? The relationship to this kind of reaction online and the stark contrasts that would occur IRL are massively different, imagine for a moment that you have arrived at group meeting for a hobby of interest, for this we will imagine that this meeting is a metaphor for a Facebook group. At this group you meet many new faces and you start to discuss a range of topics, some relating to the groups purpose, others not. It would not seem unnatural for the conversation to dip in and out of the groups original purpose and yet online, the notion of the conversation leaving the groups purpose is considered against group rules. Understandably, these groups, as mentioned, have a specific purpose, they are set up for those to connect and discuss about a theme or topic and admins delete conversations or posts based on the relevance of that groups theme. This case study will begin to observe the reactions of people online. How we use social media, the direction we are heading and the relationship in our own form of identity online. Do we all play a part in the censoring of conversations, filtered down through social interaction in groups and newsfeed? And how do we change the internet to create a space that is truly equal for all? It may be that there are no true answers to this, and that naturally the Internet is designed to have specific spaces of inclusion and exclusion.

Questions & Study

The initial research for this case study it to explore nostalgia online and to gather a broad sense of the issues we all face or are concerned about. This case study and all the questions and group inclusion will stay open permanently, as to constantly evolve alongside the fast paced movement of online culture. It will cover many topic over the years, and in will inevitably change forms. If you would like to take part in these questions and case study as a whole please get in touch.