Theories and Metaphors of Cyberspace- Abstracts

Is Cyberspace for Individuals or for Teams & Communities?

by Dr. Laurence J. Victor

Work-in Progress: The symposium theme, "Theories and Metaphors of Cyberspace", labels an embryonic domain of knowledge. It is premature to debate on the best or standard models and metaphors. This presentation is designed to open inquiry and stimulate dialog. Please view the passages that follow as only a few beads extracted from a multi-dimensional mosaic of networked beads. I attempt to link the abstract philosophical with the short-term pragmatic.


Queries & Choices:

* How significant are the choices and decisions we make the next few years and decades on the multi-millennial directions of human evolution?

* How chaotic is the whole; how sensitive is our future to our present (initial) conditions and actions?

* Will the specifics of what we do, now, (e.g: in influencing the evolution of the human/cyberspace interface) be critical or will they be washed out by driving forces and turbulence?

* What are the alternative forms of human social organization in relation to the evolutionary emergence of cyberspace?

* Is cyberspace a system of tools, a new environment, part of ourselves emergent, or all three?

The study of human-human interactivity in teams interfacing with cyberspace is of highest priority.

We must elevate the human mind/brain and the human team/community to parity with the global network of hardware & software & accessible data.

Metaphor: Nu_amphibians <==> Mammals Colonize Cyberspace

Change is accelerating, exponentially. YET, we must place this punctuational emergence in a longer temporal context. I propose consideration of a metaphor/model of mammalian emergence_into/creation_of cyberspace, in analogy with the movement of life from water to land, where the transition beings are called "nu_amphibians". "NU" is a term I coin to represent the novel in the "here & now" that is "defined" in terms of its emergent potential, and not in terms of what was.

With cyberspace manifesting in the material world of networked computers, we have externalized what may be equivalent to "the DNA-PROTEIN information system for biological cells", for socio-cultural systems of multi-cellular biological beings. Yet, we must caution not to glorify cyberspace. We remain as mammals, as well as creators/navigators of cyberspace; we humans will determine "the code" (cyberspace is the orchestra, not the composition). We are nu_amphibians, and as such, have need to organize in (at least) two domains. Our organization in the real-spacetime domains of bio-psycho-socio-cultural systems is now co-dependent with our organization in emergent cyberspace. The domains of the individual mind/brain and the dynamic viability of human teams and communities are still beyond (in complexity and potential) the newly emergent computer-linked networks. There remain many options we can take in our co-evolution with cyberspace. Consider but one option: should the basic human system working at a cyberspace node be an individual or a team/community?

Models: What Will Be The Basic Unit Of Telecommuting?

Model I: Individuals In A Box -- Virtual Corporations

WIRED (Oct'95, pp 68) cites experts giving a range of 1999 to 2010 when one-fifth of US Workers are Telecommuters, with the same range for "Universal Desktop VideoConferencing". The usual image one has for this is one "worker" per "worksite", linked by desktop videoconferencing and "distance" access to more centralized databases and special equipment. These individual worksites could be located at a common "office", or more widely distributed, as in the homes of the workers. It is assumed that, for the functioning of the organization, it will not be necessary for workers to frequently interact with each other at a common physical location.

An extreme form of this model totally eliminates all need for workers to ever share a common physical location. Even the shipment of new worktools can be automated, and installations and upgrades of software can be performed online. Workers could be recruited, tested & interviewed, hired, monitored & supervised, paid -- all online and at a distance by the "virtual corporation". In this extreme model, all organizations of humans in the workforce, from teams to departments to divisions, etc., will be "virtual". Face-to-face interactivity in a common physical location of humans will not be a factor.

It can be argued that all of significance in human inter-relations can be "virtualized" (we are autopoietic systems structurally coupled, even in an intimate embrace); and that life may be even more exciting if we each were wired into the ultimate input/output interface, with all body needs automated and monitored, having access to worlds of information and others to interact with, electronically. Although such a fate may be possible (we could seek arguments to refute its possibility), I propose an alternative that is not so drastic and can bring the benefits of cyberspace to the human population more quickly.

Model II: Teams/Communities As Primary Nodes In Cyberspace

I propose, that once the integration of the human species with the emergent cyberspace technology is "complete", the basic unit of interactivity will be spatially bounded human communities, sharing many characteristics of our earlier "tribal" cultures, before the Era of Civilization. In these "communes" we will move synchronously with respect to each other, in an intelligent-interactive environment. We will collaborate in "realtime" through very complex interfaces - as teams and communities.

As individuals, we will not be restricted to our communities. We can travel freely, as well as interact online with anyone else on the planet. There will be many "virtual" organizations, eco-holarchically organized. Individuals will not be limited to interactivity within their community, or planetary networks of similar communities ("tissues"). However, most of REAL LIVING will occur in the close physical presence of others, in synchronous communication, cooperation, coordination, and collaboration.

The primary unit or cell of the organism-of-humanity has been, and will remain, the co-evolving individual/community. It is this unit that experiences natural selection. For various reasons, the Era of Civilization saw a breakdown of viable communities and the growth of mechanistic control systems of societies, through hierarchies and bureaucracies composed of interacting individuals. There has been little development in improving community-community interactivity and co-evolution with emergent societies. Cyberspace has the potential to better facilitate community-community interactivity than person-person interactivity.

The complexity of modern life is now well beyond the competencies of any individual to comprehend or manage, no matter how talented or how highly educated. This has always been the case, but the myth of the individual distorted our historical interpretations. Teams are rapidly becoming the basic unit of business corporations. The team, as a whole, has specific responsibilities to the corporation; however, the internal organization of individuals within the teams is autonomous. Teams can propose and contract work with different corporations. One can speculate that teams will become the basic unit of the work force. Individuals will no longer be hired, rather teams will be subcontracted. Individuals will become members of teams, and teams will be educated (not individuals -- other than as members of teams).

It is cybernetically impossible for individuals to keep up with the emergence of cyberspace. If we permit a cyberspace architecture to evolve where the individual is the primary node, not only will we (humanity) not gain from being symbionic with cyberspace, but may become enslaved to it, yet retaining our delusion that "we are in control". On the other hand, contemporary human institutions may dominate the nodes, and the potential for cyberspace becoming the liberating medium for new human organization will be defaulted because of our blind individualism.

R&D Implications

If teams are to be the users of interfaces with cyberspace, we need more R&D on tools and training that augment team interactivity.

Hardware & Software

Humans are mobile, and enjoy large muscle movement and physical interactivity. Interfaces with cyberspace should permit persons-in-teams to move about among themselves, interacting with each other and their common interface. Metaphors of dancing, and of coordinated actions in the construction of a house, or the erection of a large tent, illustrates. Person-Person interaction should be recorded, processed, and entered into the database. Instant replay of past activity should be possible, with the ability to link new activity to points in the record of prior activity. What is recorded is both the inputs & outputs re the interface, but also the motions and sounds of the persons in realtime. Advanced systems may include physiological data, both as input and output. Some persons, or other teams, may also electronically participate. We must caution not to wait for virtual reality technology to enable all this for individuals physically isolated from each other in boxes.

Levels Of Training

For all complex tasks, there is a very wide range of competencies, from novice to expert. Consider skiing and playing the violin. Using computers, and even specific programs, have many levels of competency. Individuals thrown together as a "team" to collaborate with a hodgepodge of equipment can hardly be expected to perform beyond the novice level -- although, their performance may be awesome to behold. When there are only novices, who can accurately imagine mastery and advanced expertise?

R&D into the study of human-human interactivity in teams interfacing with cyberspace is of highest priority. Training protocols and processes are never as profit gathering as marketable hardware and software, and thus seldom attract adequate resources. We must elevate the human mind/brain and the human team/community to parity with the global network of hardware & software & accessible data.