The internet is something of a paradox. A parallel-universe which is ever expanding, interactive and provides a realm for users to communicate in yet something which is not tangible. A “nowhere-somewhere” (Robins, K., 1995). An idea where, in 2009, over $450billion was exchanged  and where currently 1,966,514,816 different people around the world explore, bid, buy, sell, meet, post, like and fall in love ; the convergence between reality and cyberspace is rapidly increasing and shaping the world we live in.
Andrew McStay references Kevin Robins regarding the question of whether cyberspace is “an alternative society or an alternative to society” . I would argue that, in its current state, cyberspace is a convergence between the public space and the online realm where the interactions between the two have become so complex – both from a business perspective as well as an emotional one – that the two concepts have been intrinsically linked.
Cyberspace could be compared to a negative number in the sense that it is not real in the traditional sense but its interaction with other numbers, sums or situations causes it to have a profound and measurable effect upon them. The same can be said between cyberspace and the real world. Digital communications allow for our world to be expanded and reengineered to a completely different and almost unrecognisable level.
As Condon (n.d.) states “we had discovered a new frontier. We found a way to reach beyond the physical limitations that constrained others and share information, viewpoints and form friendships,” . The internet, in my view, is a celebration of people connecting together in order to achieve the unachievable; defying geography, culture and the linguistic perimeters that constrict our lives.
I recently posted here about the cultural documentary phenomenon that was ‘Life in a Day’ which saw 80,000 people coming together from around the world to upload their stories to YouTube and have their work united in a motion picture time capsule that was beyond anything ever achieved so far online . It was a testament to the power of people and clearly highlighted the convergence between reality and its connection with the idea that is cyberspace.
Many used to view the internet as a threat to the public space where its allure became more habitually consuming rather than complimentary and where people would be locked away in their virtual worlds for hours on end. However, as Blair Kamin suggests, “social media and public space can be complementary, rather than conflicting” and the two can work constructively in harmony to complete tasks that could not and would be achievable without that interaction .
On 11th February 2011, President Hosni Mubarak stepped down from his 30 year reign as a dictator in Egypt . His resignation concluded 18 days of protests catalysed predominantly by the younger and more digitally-literate generations of Egypt.
This revolt began with a man named Khaled Said. The aforementioned 28 year old businessman was grabbed from an Internet café in June 2010 and beaten to death by two plainclothes police officers . His crime was possessing evidence of police corruption and an opposition to President Mubarak . Five days afterward, a Facebook page was created entitled “We Are All Khaled Said” which was joined by over 130,000 people “to get and share updates about the cause” . Currently, the membership figure stands at in excess of 753,000 individuals with 22,540+ photo uploads 61 user-uploaded videos and 5000+ discussion topics; a UK version written in English has over 76,000 members . Members were asked to translate the Facebook page’s core message which was posted online to promote and incite activism across multiple countries. The Facebook community obliged and 20+ translations were created explaining the cause and how people from all around the world can get involved and show their support. The message was spread through blogs and tweets and posts and statuses online and this began to have an effect on the real world. The internet made activating a specific voice possible and, through various online tools, people were able to connect to support a common cause.
During the concluding 18 day protests, the government shutdown all internet access in parts of the country to “combat social media” but some got round this using proxies to continue communicating and bypass the block. However, as Parvez Sharma, “a documentary filmmaker on Middle Eastern culture”, points out “These people are not Twittering and Facebooking and e-mailing. They’ve never even heard of the damned internet, most of them…“Calling and text messaging is how most Egyptians keep in touch” . This led some groups to post telephone numbers online that Egyptians could phone in order to get their message put out on the web when they might not have access.
Those who could use the internet were able to text the numbers onto contact who continued to pass them on further and further. The initiative was dubbed “speak to tweet” and gave protestors the ability to share what was really happening with the world. Moreover, these messages were re-tweeted and reposted making one individuals voice much louder than it ever could have been.
Online amalgamated with reality and became a prominent tool in communicating and binding the two together to achieve what many may have previously denounced as being unachievable.
It’s quite profound to think how one simple idea can become so expansive within the realms of cyberspace and then reemerge in the real world as a far more powerful, far more emotive notion than it ever could have been; how one simple idea can overthrow a three-decade dictatorship.
1. Robins, K., 1995. ‘Cyberspace and the World We Live In’. In: Featherstone, M., and Burrows, R., ‘Cyberspace, Cyberbodies, Cyberpink: Cultures of Technological Embodiment’. London: Sage
4. McStay, A., 2010. ‘Digital Advertising’. Great Britain: Palgrave Macmillan
5. Condon, C. (n.d.) ‘Why I’m Called Fuzzyman. Nethistory. [referenced from McStay, A., 2010. ‘Digital Advertising’. Great Britain: Palgrave Macmillan]