Cyberspace is an invisible realm occupied by electronically mediated communication. Coined by science fiction writer William Gibson as a tool to describe a global computer network, the term cyberspace closely identifies with the age of the information revolution. Derived from the Greek verb Kubernao (to steer), the term commonly refers to the perceived freedom afforded users by the Internet and can involve any form of communication that involves computers or networking, ranging from text to multimedia and machine-generated data exchanges.
Computer-mediated communication can be thoughtful, edifying, and unifying, bringing far-flung families together and bridging continental divides. But cyberspace does not always carry positive connotations. Web sites supporting racial, gender, and religious stereotypes engender hatred and encourage social instability. E-mail has replaced traditional mail in many sectors, and legitimate e-mail is overwhelmed by unwanted “spam,” which clogs in-boxes and has the potential of carrying destructive viruses. In addition to spreading computer viruses, malicious coders have used computer networks to generate denial-of-service attacks that can cripple Web sites and businesses.
Governments have used cyberspace to violate the civil rights of citizens and also have been victimized themselves. Some countries have censored what digital content is available to their citizens, and others have been accused of spying on citizens in the name of national security. Cyber sleuths suspect both China and Russia of backing a series of attacks on U.S. government and corporate sites in espionage cases known as “Moonlight Maze” and “Titan Rain.” The potential for social, political, and economic conflict resulting from cyber espionage is daunting.
Cyberspace can involve both the positive and the negative. U.S. workers protest that cyberspace allows jobs, which once provided domestic employment, to be outsourced to Asia, where the process dramatically improves the lives of workers, their families, and the economies of those nations. Whereas this instance of communication in cyberspace has caused dislocation in one sector, it has brought prosperity to another, highlighting the ambiguous nature of the tool.
- Gibson, William. 2004. Neuromancer. 20th anniv. ed. New York: Ace.
- Heylighen, Francis. 1993. “Cyberspace.” In Principia Cybernetica Web, edited by F. Heylighen, C. Joslyn, and V. Turchin. Brussels: Principia Cybernetica. Retrieved March 29, 2017 (http://pespmc1.vub.ac.be/CYBSPACE.html).
- Sterling, Bruce. 2002. The Hacker Crackdown: Law and Disorder on the Electronic Frontier. New York: Bantam.
- Suler, John. The Psychology of Cyberspace. Retrieved March 29, 2017 (http://users.rider.edu/~suler/psycyber/).
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