These days you just might hear someone say, “I am, therefore
I surf.” PCs and the Internet that links them are becoming so
central to our way of life that they’ve spawned whole new
schools of thought.
Internet philosophies with imposing names such as
cyberlibertarianism, cyberutopianism, technorealism, technohedonism,
cyberfeminism, and cyberunionism have emerged into the light of
Delving into the isms of cyberspace might not seem as practical
as learning to be efficient when doing a Web search. But, as with
philosophy in general, it can help you see the big picture and put
matters into context. This can be profitable in all kinds of ways,
whether you approach the Internet from a business or consumer
A Central Principle:
If there’s one school of thought that’s key in
understanding the mindset of the Net and its denizens, it’s cyberlibertarianism, which was born during the time when
academics and hobbyists dominated the bitstream and which still
pervades the commercial Internet today. Advocates believe in freedom
from interference by government and other institutions. They want to
surf and speak unfettered, and they extol the mantra: “Information wants to be free.”
Cyberlibertarianism is a core reason that precious few Web sites
can charge for access and still attract visitors, and why
advertising has become so prevalent as a revenue source. It’s
also why, in order to succeed, Web sites should cede control to
surfers, by providing such features as multiple navigation routes,
personalization and interactivity tools.
You can read more about cyberlibertarianism at the Cato
Institute, at http://www.cato.org/research/telecom-st.html.
Though some netheads critically view today’s Web as an
overcommercialized strip mall, others see it as a virtual utopia. Cyberutopianism holds that the Internet, as the pinnacle of
scientific and technological achievement, subverts hierarchy,
revitalizes democracy, reduces racial and national conflict, and
leads to planetary interconnectivity, unity, and holism.
In his book Technoromanticism: Digital Narrative, Holism, and
the Romance of the Real, University of Edinburgh professor
Richard Coyne discusses and disputes these assumptions and places
them in the context of 18th- and 19th-century romanticism.
Technorealism is a name that has been coined for thinking
critically in general about the role that information technology
plays in history and society. It’s a middle ground between technoutopianism, the belief that technology is all good, and neo-Luddism, the belief that it’s all bad.
At the Web site Technorealism, at http://www.technorealism.org,
you can read about its principles, including the need for anybody
using the Net as a resource to convert information into knowledge
and knowledge into wisdom.
Just as some approach reality in general from the perspective of
how much pleasure they can squeeze from it, some approach cyberspace
the same way. Technohedonism encompasses a range of Net
activity, from the virtual debauchery of porn sites to the immediate
gratification of instant messaging programs such as ICQ and AOL
A related note: For better or worse, people on the Net have
little patience for delayed gratification. Creators of e-commerce
and other Web sites should heed these sentiments by keeping
speed-killing graphics and multimedia gewgaws to a minimum,
eliminating broken links, and providing accurate stocking and
Women may have once been a small minority on the Internet, but
today they comprise fully 50% of the online population, according to
the latest numbers from Nielsen/NetRatings. It behooves everyone to
respect the role of women online and their thinking. At Switch, at
http://switch.sjsu.edu/web/v4n1/toc.html, you can immerse yourself
in the nuances of cyberfeminism.
Cyberunionism, as the name indicates, is about the
intersection of unions and cyberspace. In his book Cyberunion:
Empowering Labor Through Computer Technology, Drexel University
professor Arthur B. Shostak discusses how unions are using
information technology and how other groups can apply the same
If the above all seems like the activities of a strange new breed
of humankind, surfing and communicating disembodied, free from the
historical boundaries of time and space, you might be interested in cyberanthropology. At Cyberanthropology.org,
http://www.cyberanthropology.org, you can read about recent research
and participate in online discussions.
And then there’s technoblatherism, which presents
the counterpoint that new Net schools of thought are just
regurgitated twaddle. Check out Technoblatherism by Gerard Van der
Leun, at http://earthportals.com/blather.html, for a look into the
mind of a quintessential, if more eloquent than most, nethead.
For more about technology philosophies, there’s
Dictionary.com’s Philosophy of Technology at
The Ultimate Question
Finally, if you’re wondering about the meaning of your
existence, the Web can fuel your thinking. Meaning of Life at
http://www.colliercom.com/meanlife.htm provides three new answers
Reid Goldsborough is a syndicated columnist and author of the
book “Straight Talk About the Information Superhighway.”
He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or