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Cyberspaces of Everyday Life

Mark Nunes
University of Minnesota Press, Minneapolis, 2006
280 pp., Trade, $22.50
ISBN: 0-8166-4792-5.

Review by John F. Barber
Digital Technology and Culture, Washington State University Vancouver


The notion of an immersive, virtual-reality space within vast computer networks evolves from speculative and theoretical work ranging from Vannevar Bush to Marshall McLuhan to Verner Vinge to William Gibson to Neal Stephenson to Jay David Bolter. This computer mediated-space, cyberspace as Gibson named and others have theorized it, possesses a topographical quality capable of fostering and sustaining interaction among those who use the medium in order to communicate in various ways. Massive multi-player online games and virtual reality interactive worlds are testament to the belief that real things can and do happen in these environments. Cyberspace, the place behind the computer screen, the space between networked computers, has always been considered a separate space, a place one visited via computer-mediated communication. But, as more and more communication contexts have gone online–working, banking, dating, checking the weather or news, and, indeed, socializing–users have begun to interact with network technology as much more than a computational device.

In fact, as Mark Nunes argues in his book, Cyberspaces of Everyday Life, computer networks and computer-mediated communication now penetrate the spaces of everyday life, outside of cyberspace, at fundamental levels to form a "networked social space, articulated through a zone of interaction marked by a human-computer interface" (xvi). As Nunes argues, this interface travels with us, rather than we to it, through wireless laptops and web-enabled cellular telephony. As a result, a private and personalized zone of interaction with global networks takes a significant part in the production of social space(s) that define and determine our lives.

Nunes bases his own theorization on the work of Henri Lefebvre whose work on analyzing space required an understanding of any social space as a dynamic process involving material forms, conceptual structures, and lived practice. Recapping Lefebvre, Nunes argues that cyberspaces of everyday life are not things, devoid of characteristics or significance, but rather social processes defined by the necessity for dynamic analysis. For example, Nunes asks of the cyberspaces of everyday life, are we engaged in the production of new spaces and social relations, or merely simulating social structures in hyperreality? How does our experience of the public and private, the local and global change in a network-created social space? What is the significance of outsourcing and online education in the production of this social space?

Nunes says answers must come from an analysis of the context of everyday life. The focal point is no longer where we go and what we do with regard to computer-mediated communication, but rather how we respond to and interact with the social spaces created for us by networked-technology. Furthermore, he argues that these spaces do not coordinate into an overall system, but rather "interpenetrate each other, producing spaces in conflict" (xxvi).

From this theoretical base, Nunes examines, in a chapter titled "Virtual Worlds and Situated Spaces," how web sites enact spaces of control for users and in doing so participate in a history of conceiving the world as a comprehensive, comprehendible whole. In contrast, one can identify web sites that situate everyday life as aberrant or highly situated accounts that alter perceived relations between the "global" and "local" in networked societies. In another chapter, "Student Bodies," Nunes addresses corporeality and everyday spaces enacted through computer-mediated communication in the university, through both distance education and computer-aided instruction, to better understand online learning as an event involving bodily and discursive dispositions.

In his afterword, "Digital Dis-strophe," Nunes focuses on how the relation between networked and everyday life spaces were affected by the bursting of the "Internet bubble" in March 2000 and the toppling of the World Trade Center in September 2001. He argues that the networked structures of computer-mediated communication have become more dominant in the production of social space and that, as distributed networks become a more common feature of everyday life, so does distributed control. For example, implementation of the Patriot Act and its emphasis on surveillance and control brings into question the role of virtual space and its role in the offline world.

In the end, Nunes provides an interesting and compelling critical framework for understanding how networked technology takes part in the production of social space. As networks pass more and more unnoticed into and through daily life and culture, Cyberspaces of Everyday Life emphasizes the mapping of theory onto lived practice, the lived embodiment of culture, foregrounding that cyberspace is no longer a place we go with network technology, but how we live with that same technology as it permeates our daily lives.



Updated 1st June 2007

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