January 25, 2006

"cyberspace" is dead?

Congratulations to IFTF researchers Alex Pang and David Pescovitz on getting an article into the latest Wired ("Cyberspace" Is Dead, Wired 14.02, February 2006). Good on you, gents! This is an outgrowth of the research Alex has been blogging about over at The End of Cyberspace, which you should definitely be reading. In the Wired piece, they asked various thinkers and doers to come up with a better term than "cyberspace" to describe the "world of smart objects, always-on devices, and perpetually open information channels" that we live in. Here's what they got, along with my own snarky editorial commentary:

Steve Jurvetson: "Augmented reality. In competition with virtual worlds and AIs, we will coevolve and internalize­ technologies to augment reality and our intelligence."
Me: Huh? Okay, so it's a cyberspace (oops!) tag team smackdown pitting us Borg against The Architect and the Tessier-Ashpool cores? Whoa. Anyway AR means something already, and as street jargon it just doesn't roll off the tongue.

Vint Cerf: "I still like [Xerox PARC researcher] Mark Weiser's term ubiquitous computing. It's a world in which the computer would melt into the walls and furniture."
Me: Big, big fan of Weiser's vision. Ubicomp is definitely part of it, but it doesn't cover all the stuff that happens "inside" the network, like MMOGs. Plus, anything that has the word "computing" in it is a non-starter for everyman.

Paul McFedries: "The combination of ubiquity and necessity makes the Net analogous to an atmosphere. I think the replacement word ought to be a play on that: infosphere."
Me: Good effort by the neologist behind wonderful Word Spy, but no cigar IMHO. "info" is too narrow, at least in its common usage, and it misses the physical component entirely. Anyway, just try to say infosphere three times fast, bleah.

Katy Borner: "A global brain, dominated by implants that merge biological creativity with digital resources and speed."
Me: Katy, meet Steve, sounds like you would be good together. But I don't think we're talking about the singularity here, at least not yet.

Neil Gershenfeld: "I'd vote for calling it the world. Information technologies are finally growing up, so we can interact with them in our world instead of theirs."
Me: Ah, Neil you brilliant dreamer. I really like the sentiment, but for most of us plain folk technology is not yet a normal, invisible, accepted part the world we live in. Besides, what fun is it if there's no cool new jargon to describe our cool new existence?

Ross Mayfield (from the EoC blog): on, catalink.
Me: I love "on", because it works really well with "onject"! But I think it falls short because it mostly describes the state of presence ("I'm on") and not the rest of the stuff (flickr, ambient displays, MMOGs, sensornets, etc). Catalink is superbly well-intentioned but esthetically catatonic, sorry.

Notably, Gibson said that the term he originally coined is now "past its sell-by", but he couldn't come up with a better one either.

Okay, so it's easy to be a critic and hard to come up with great neologisms. I'll get to work on that next. In the meanwhile, thanks to Alex, David & their luminarians for stirring the pot with this thought-provoking piece.

Posted by Gene at January 25, 2006 07:10 PM


High praise, coming from you.

And I'll expect equally informed-- or at least funny-- commentary when I post the responses we got from Kris Pister, Andy Clark, JSB, Luke Hughes, David Sifry....

My REAL fear is that one of these terms will actually catch on, and David and I will get blamed for helping bring another piece of jargon into an already overcrowded world!

Posted by: Alex Soojung-Kim Pang at January 25, 2006 08:14 PM
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