Virtual space and the internet

The best way to characterize my generation would be the generation that witnessed and came of age during the transition into the age of the Internet. In contrast, many of the younger adults I have met do not know what it was like back when connecting to the Internet meant dialing into the network using a modem. In reading Robert M. Kitchin’s article titled “Towards geographies of cyberspace,” the concept of the geography of cyberspace and virtual space is juxtaposed with social and economic geographies. I found it extremely interesting and relevant to issues that still occur.

Despite having been written in 1998, more than a decade ago in real time and several times that in technology time, Kitchin brings up several points that still hold water today. Cyberspace has changed the face of global economics, as well as society, culture, and politics. Cyberspace as a term itself, however, is much outdated and may not accurately encompass all of the virtual space in the realm of the Internet. The Internet and the spaces related to it have now morphed into a range of things that integrate even more with physical spaces than they did before, especially with the adoption of smartphones and apps that make a larger range of interactions and processes possible.

The discussion on economic geographies of cyberspace is intriguing and it is interesting to note that not all industries have transitioned into a virtually dominated workspace. Decentralization has occurred and still occurs, but it is still the case that urban centers are growing in population size and much business still is based from those areas. In the technology sector, it is even more noticeable with certain urban areas being the main clustering of the largest players in the field (e.g. Microsoft and Amazon in Seattle, Google and Facebook in Palo Alto).

In addition to an urban-regional restructuring, it could be argued that there is also rural-regional restructuring. For example, the leapfrogging in Africa of landline telephones to mobile phones, which are now nearly ubiquitous, is inherently a different trajectory than what occurred elsewhere in the world. The hurdles that were present for the development of landlines were easily avoided by the uptake of mobile and satellite technology. News can travel through text messaging, bills can be paid, and transactions negotiated. The trajectory of telecommunications in Africa follows a distinctly different path than that of the Western world, which is another critical indication that globalization is a matter of being ahead or behind.

Kitchin concludes with thoughts on what areas require more research. There is also much debate on freedom of the flow of information, especially with governments getting involved with the regulation of how businesses conduct themselves online. Also, having spent much time in China where Internet is not free flowing, I wonder about the possible implications for freedom of speech and information. In particular, I find it interesting to think about the possibility of virtual justice such that unequal access to cyberspace will further divide groups.


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