What does it feel like to be an alien in your own land? To be outside while others are inside? To know that other worlds lie just beyond your reach, as if beyond a locked door, and visible only through a tiny keyhole. Do you remember what it was like to be a child who could not read? The books lay there, the ones without pictures, a Rosetta stone of your life to come. Like an immigrant seeking entry across the borderland, I desire to be within, to be a member of this community of tap-writers, of silent conversations and timeless travel in cyberspace. I have not left the limits of my room, but I am an alien in a new land.
Whether ancient mariner or cybernaut, the explorer must have a vehicle. To sail to unknown ports or to travel the byways of the electronic community.
As I stare at the panels of my space-ship, a blue screen for horizon, I am like a boat in dry dock, marooned, disconnected, and longing to travel.
To the Yurok people of the Pacific north coast, the Klamath River is the center of the world. It is both heaven and earth. From the river, everything is begotten and to the river everything returns. In Yurok social space there is no west or east or south or north or left or right. There is only the flow of water upstream or down. Without a river, they would not be Yurok but some other people.
Socially constructed spaces are as varied as humans themselves. They may be literal or literary. Dante's Inferno is a social space hierarchically constructed by bad deeds. They may be essentially exclusionary as is Amish social space, visually separating themselves from others in the style and construction of their vehicles, their dress, and their speech. The Village Square, The Zocalo, The Plaza, The Common are historic social spaces, organized geographically at the center of settlements where people meet to socialize and conduct business.
Today in western culture, the most significant social space is the Office -- the social space of work. Here possession of space, of views, of equipment, and of staff signify status. Communication is formalized, by memos, and by mastheads on letters, and yet interaction among office-inhabitants may be extremely informal. Friendships and enemies are made, secret negotiations and public alliances, trivial talk and important communications take place.
Social space is a dynamic realm where individuals make decisions, act and interact with each other. It is the realm of exclusions and inclusions, membership and boundary where people and their cultural institutions collide and intersect. Here are democracy and slavery, ritual and law, taboo and anarchy. Here also are creative acts and communication, reaching across barriers, and evolutions of thought and perception.
Then, as the dusk settles into Friday evening, a curious procession begins. From the outskirts of the city, leading donkeys laden with baskets or simply carrying bundles on their heads, the farmers and potters, weavers of cloth and hatmakers wend their way along the dirt lanes leading to the marketplace. A rising sun washes color on the stragglers from more distant villages and farmlands who reach the city just as the Saturday market begins. It has appeared as if by magic, an endless tent city filling the narrow streets with vendors, wares, and crowds of people. The people who have come to sell and to buy, to browse and to gawk, to talk and to flirt, to argue and laugh.
The first step into the cybercommunity is a screen. This screen facing us is a slate for our thoughts. It can be a private confessional, only reflecting back to us what we have written. But it can also be a window on the world, revealing to us texts from a thousand libraries, or a missive from a friend.
Window. Highway. These two metaphors are helping me to imagine the world I am about to enter where my hands speak a metaphorical language and I communicate within a hierarchy of signs and symbols all rendered electronically. Where once we struggled to span the planet by foot, asea, airborne, now we tag our messages to each other on an invisible kernel of pure energy. This unseen highway could someday be travelled by every one of us. This small blue screen would then truly be a window on the world.