Goodbye Cyberspace, Hello Eversion

I was really researching the Text Encoding Initiative, but have since been distracted – when it comes to TEI, distractions are unfortunately all too plentiful – by Tumblr extracts from Steven E. Jones’ recent book The Emergence of the Digital Humanities.  Particularly fascinating to me is the concept of eversion he discusses in the first two chapters.

Eversion is the act or state of being turned inside out – the obverse of inversion, if you will.  The process of eversion that Jones highlights is that of the digital into the real.  Eversion is the new cyberspace.

William Gibson, the father of cyberpunk, originally coined the term ‘cyberspace’ in the short story ‘Burning Chrome’ and later entrenched it in popular culture with his 1984 novel Neuromancer.  Cyberspace is – was? –  a spatial definition for the global information network, a separate plane one jacks in and out of, escaping the body – the ‘meat’, to borrow Neuromancer’s phrase – for the higher consciousness of the virtual.

Shifts of perception since the 1980s have meant that we are no longer able to so easily distinguish the digital and the physical.  The former is no longer a place apart from the latter, but a part of its infrastructure. The term ‘cyberspace’, as a way of understanding our relationship with the digital, is outdated. Gibson himself has readily admitted this in a 2010 New York Times interview:

‘Cyberspace, not so long ago, was a specific elsewhere, one we visited periodically, peering into it from the familiar physical world. Now cyberspace has everted. Turned itself inside out. Colonized the physical.’

To us, the virtual network is no longer an ‘elsewhere’ but mundane to us; it is still invisible, but it is the very real data-grid through which we must move in our physical world.  This is epitomized by our  ‘ubiquitous connectivity’, to quote Gibson again in 2009; this connectivity has become our ‘Here’, and the disconnected space that occurs when we lose signal or can’t get WiFi is now ‘There’, the ‘elsewhere’.

For Jones, the most apt visualization of this digital eversion is Kelly Goeller’s Pixel Pour, a 2008 street art installation in New York, in which what seems to be a spurt of 2D pixelated water gushes out of a 3D spout.  This, to quote James Bridle of the New Aesthetic movement, represents an ‘irruption of the digital into the physical world’.  It effectively juxtaposes the mundane nature of the digital – how we take it for granted, like water – with that sense of alterity we still associate with the old notion of cyberspace, an alternate dimension waiting to explode into ours.

Image

There is far more I could say about eversion here, but I have neither the time nor space and in any case Jones does it far better in his book.  Nevertheless, I feel it is a good concept to keep in mind when we confront the eternal problem of digital dualism – physical books versus digitized copia, traditional scholarship versus digital – eversion has happened and is happening, messily but inexorably, and perhaps we should not view the digital and the physical as being in opposition but as being inherent to each other.

  • Gibson, William.  Neuromancer.  New York: Ace, 1984.
  • Jones, Steven E.  The Emergence of the Digital Humanities.  Routledge, 2013.

The image used is of Kelly Goeller’s Pixel Pour.

 

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