cybersociety

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cybersociety The mesh (‘space’ or ‘virtual reality’) of electronically based communications created by the world-wide network of computer users. Although it is conventional to distinguish between ‘information technology’ (the term applied to any computer-based application or process, such as is found in the case of office automation), on the one hand, and ‘telecommunications technology’ (for example fax machines or video conferencing), on the other, the multi-media integration of almost all technologies of communication via computers has effectively made this distinction redundant. The newer terminology of cyberspace refers to both developments.

Computer-mediated social interaction has become increasingly prominent in the organization of everyday life in the late twentieth century. Electronic mail and the creation of the Internet have made possible such things as on-line shopping, Web-based ‘chat-rooms’, and personalized video pornography in the home. The implications of this explosion in communications for work, leisure, and politics are a matter of controversy among sociologists (see, for example, Steven G. Jones ( ed.) , CyberSociety, 1994
).

Curiously, one of the most thought-provoking statements about the possible sociological characteristics of a thoroughgoing cybersociety is the novel The Naked Sun, written by the prolific science-fiction author Isaac Asimov and first published (in 1956) while computer-development was still in its infancy. The story features a distant world in which people ‘view’ each other remotely via ‘trimensional images’ and are only exceptionally involved in direct face-to-face physical contact. It also contains a good deal of speculation about the role of sociologists in this and other no less abnormal societies (in Asimov's novel, people on Earth, by contrast, live underground in vast over-populated caves of steel, and are terrified of open spaces and contact with fresh air), and includes the immortal line, spoken in response to the need to send an Earthly representative to other planets in order to save the human species, that the ruling authorities ‘had better send a sociologist’.