Saturday, October 09, 2004

Levy, Cyberculture

The text makes some major assertions:

Far from being a sub-culture of Network fanatics, cyberculture expresses a major mutation in the very essence of culture. Ubiquity of information, interconnected interactive documents, reciprocal and asynchronous telecommunications within the group and between groups: the virtualizing and deterritorializing character of cyberspace makes it the vector of an open "Universal".

Indeed, cyberculture expresses the rise of a new Universal, different from the cultural forms that preceded it insofar as it is being built on the non-determination of any global meaning. The more extensive cyberspace grows, the more "universal" it becomes, the less the world of information is totalizable. The Universal of cyberculture has no centre and no guideline. It is empty, without any particular content, or rather it admits all contents, since all it does is put any one point in contact with any other, regardless of the semantic load of the entities concerned. This does not mean that the universality of cyberspace is "neutral" or without consequence, since its major manifestation, the general interconnection process, is already having and will continue to have immense repercussions in economic, political and cultural life. This fact effectively transforms the conditions of life in society. However, it is an indeterminate Universal, with a tendency to remain indeterminate, since each new node on the constantly expanding Network of networks can become a producer or transmitter of new, unpredictable information, and reorganize part of global connectivity for its own purposes.

Cyberspace is setting itself up as the system of systems, but for that very reason, it is also the system of chaos. Although it is the ultimate incarnation of technical transparency, because of its irrepressible teeming activity, it is open to every opacity of meaning. It traces and retraces the shape of a mobile, expanding labyrinth, without any possible plan, a universal labyrinth unimaginable even to Dedalus himself. This universality devoid of central signification, this system of disorder, this labyrinthine transparency Levy calls the Universal without totality, is the paradoxical essence of cyberculture. It can only be fully understood in the perspective of previous changes in the pragmatics of communication.

In oral societies discursive messages were always received in the same context in which they were emitted. Then writing came on the scene, detaching texts from the living context in which they were produced. You can read a message written five centuries ago, or five thousand miles away, and this can often pose serious problems of reception and interpretation. To overcome these difficulties, certain types of message were then specially designed to preserve the same meaning whatever the context (place or time) of reception: they are the "universal" messages (science, book-based religions, human rights, etc.). This universality is built on a certain "closedness" or fixity of meaning. The Universal based on static writing is therefore of a "totalizing" nature. Levy argues that cyberculture revives the co-presence of these messages with their contexts that existed in the days of oral societies, but on another scale, on a completely different orbit. The new universality is no longer the result of any self-sufficiency of the text, any fixity or independence of meaning, since immersion in the networks has made this less necessary. It is growing and spreading through the interconnection of messages with other messages, through their permanent connection to emerging virtual communities, which infuse them with varied and constantly changing meaning.

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