Posted on | May 3, 2007 | 4 Comments
A key objective of Mark Nunes’ Cyberspaces of Everyday Life is to stipulate that cyberspace is heteromorphic. Drawing on Lefebvre, he wants to demonstrate that these “virtual topographies do not coordinate into an overall system, but rather interpenetrate each other, producing spaces in conflict” (xxvi). For instance, in one passage he writes:
As a space of everyday life, cybercafÃ©s interpellate a wired middle class—not the digerati of a global elite but, rather, a subject-position articulated by access to and control over a global networked urbanism. Few of the cybercafÃ©s I contacted reported a significant homeless clientele. The “disenfranchised” who make use of cybercafÃ©s are merely away from their own computers. We might, then, tentatively suggest that rather than serving as places of gathering, cybercafÃ©s function as “spaces of elsewhere” in which the potential for displacement becomes a mode of membership in a wired middle class. What we share is our nomadism. (p. 115)
The use of “we” in this paragraph is telling, and somewhat justified: I feel like I know this condition well. Only a couple of weeks ago I found myself ridiculously caught adrift having checked out of my hotel early only to realise that the Broadway internet cafÃ© didn’t open until 8am. I’d opted not to take my laptop to Sydney to save my back and shoulders some stress and to downsize on luggage. As I loitered on a bus stop seat, eating my breakfast with some hastily abandoned coffee cups and the smell of urine, I wondered how it came to be that so much of my life lies in a computer screen. Reading Nunes’ passage in relation to other things – the remarkably eerie Twittervision, or the intermittent updates my dear friend Catri continues to lob into the abyss as she embarks on her own experiment with nomadism – makes me pretty uncomfortable about my own implication in this globally networked urbanism. Then again, maybe the description only sounds right precisely to the extent that it addresses an audience of readers who can or might wish to see themselves in its image – fellow academics, and/or those who are unlikely to tread very far from travel routes already staked out by Visa and Virgin.
In the following paragraph, however, Nunes takes the example of a cybercafÃ© in Belize to show how this wired middle class is only one group among others claiming an identity and a stake in cyberspace. For another “truly disenfranchised class”, the cafÃ© was used to communicate with relatives “who, as a body of labor, have been carried to North America in the flows of transnational capitalism” (p. 116). This brief description glosses the complexities of immigrant labour as much as the previous section avoids specifying who the wired middle class might be, perhaps because a (North American) academic readership can be assumed to have a working knowledge of both. But it makes me wonder whether it’s possible to understand either group as any more or less affected by “the flows of transnational capitalism”? This is where some more understanding of what “everyday life” entails for each group would be useful, to come to terms with how “flows” are actually lived and experienced by real people. Knowing what kinds of material constraints and blockages come in to play, when, and how often – knowing how they differ, not simply that they differ – would seem a significant step towards changing the inequalities that might exist between them. In any case, I’m sure that in each instance, we’d find the physical space of the cafÃ© plays host to a myriad of other worlds, filled with personal stories of love, hope, sacrifice and desire. Spaces within spaces, intimacies within cursors: the literacies of communicating nomadism.