Cyberspace and Utopia: frontiers and non-places

presented at the 6º SOPCOM/4ºIBÉRICO congress at Universidade Lusófona, Lisbon

A reflection on the conceptualization of cyberspace as independent from “real space”, and to what extent this spatialization allows speculation on its utopian potential.

In most utopian writing about this theme cyberspace acquires an almost geographical consistency, though it is clearly separate from physical space. Taking as a representative example one of the foundational texts of the cyberspace debate – the Declaration of Independence of Cyberspace by John Perry Barlow – I analyse how this text reinforces spatialization through a reading of the concepts of “utopia” and “frontier”, as well as the fictional origin of the term “cyberspace”. Utopia is meant to be read as much in its original sense of “no place” as in its current sense of “ideal society”, and I seek to demonstrate how, in the case of cyberspace, the conditions of possibility for the second meaning arise from the applicability of the first, as well as with its closeness to the notion of “frontier”, a hitherto unexplored territory. William Gibson’s cyberspace is the first model for a navigable space, and Barlow’s is substantially different, though they have some points in common.

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