The Materiality of the Digital

One thing that intrigued and frustrated me about a lot of new media theory was the way ‘cyberspace’ was put forward as a completely new and distinct space, unconnected from physical space. Populist synthesiser (love that term thank you Gillian – has a real disco ring to it) Margaret Wertheim compares cyperspace to the ‘space’ of heaven in her ‘Pearly Gates of Cyberspace: A History of Space from Dante to the Internet‘. Until Newton, we saw Heaven as a very real space, distant from but somehow contiguous with own, having its own nature. When Newton argued that everywhere in the universe had to obey the same physical laws, and we had to remove heaven from our universe altogether.

With ‘cyberspace’ we again have a realm that seems to be completely unconnected to our own in the way it operates, and yet you can get there from here. Works like Neuromancer (and more recently The Matrix) suggest that this transition will become increasingly more experiential.

I wrote The Materiality of the Digital to explore the fact that while cyberspace seems disconnected, it is nothing more than a complex interpretation of computational states that are absolutely real. In the simplest sense, if you were to destroy every computer on early, cyberspace would also cease to exist. What implications does this have for th e’nature’ of cyberspace and our experience of it?

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