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The Net and Netizens

Ten years ago, Michael Hauben wrote The Net and Netizens: The Impact the Net has on People’s Lives. It begins:

Welcome to the 21st Century. You are a Netizen (Net Citizen), and you exist as a citizen of the world thanks to the global connectivity that the Net makes possible. You consider everyone as your compatriot. You physically live in one country but you are in contact with much of the world via the global computer network. Virtually you live next door to every other single netizen in the world. Geographical separation is replaced by existence in the same virtual space.

That simple description of netizenship has held up fairly well, although living in the petri dish for the last 10 years has revealed unforseen structure in Hauben’s homogeneous “virtual space”. I may inhabit cyberspace along with everyone else, but my neighborhood is determined by my social network(s). I can direct my computer to get information from a web site in Finland, but that doesn’t make the owner of that site my next door neighbor.

Hauben based his musings on a paper by J.C.R. Licklider and Robert Taylor called The Computer as a Communication Device which is worth a read as well.

Reader comments

Maciej CeglowskiMay 12, 2003 at 3:30PM

It's worth mentioning that the barriers of language are as high as ever, even if distance no longer matters. For all our ability to move information and ideas around, getting them over the hump of translation remains very difficult. As a result, no matter what language community you're in, there will always an invisible majority that you can't reach. Somehow that seems un-Web-like to me.

Come on, machine translation people, chop chop! How hard can it be?

JohnMay 12, 2003 at 4:28PM

Virtual space is no different than physical space -- only the scale is changed. Our experience in it is shaped by those that we experience it with. What is so wonderful about the web is that my potential group of friends has increased exponentially... it's now my responsibility to get to know them.

Jerry KindallMay 13, 2003 at 4:44PM

The last few months have demonstrated pretty conclusively that we don't consider everyone on the Internet our compatriots, nor do we exist as citizens of the world.

This thread is closed to new comments. Thanks to everyone who responded.