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Orientation in Cyberspace

(a flight of the imagination)

Bernd Nurnberger


The world of electronic media is a novel way of viewing the environment we live in. Represented by digital symbols, displayed through specialized communication machinery, it is yet a collection of descriptions and pictures of the "real" world around us.

Come to think of it: reality is what we can agree on, and new realities are created daily, by artists, scientists, politicians and numerous other people with varying levels of creativity. The author of every article (this one, too) creates new things people may choose to agree with. May you, dear reader, enjoy creating a duplicate of the realities of a new world outlined here. I can only provide a brief glimpse, the great discovery is up you. This glimpse peeks in various directions, much the same as the typical surfer does on the Internet hypertext library called the World-Wide-Web.


Computers are only thinking aids, servo-mechanisms for the mind. As I write this text on a hand-held PC, I suddenly realize I do not use the first of all computers, paper and a writing instrument. Like the paper, this computer has a memory the contents of which I can control. Like the paper, I can show my text to others. Like the paper, I can make copies and send them through space and time, to be received and understood by a distant fellow with whom I have an agreed-upon vocabulary.

I like to call my machine a com-puter with "com" as in common or communication - what am I writing for, if not to communicate? Sharing of viewpoints, propagating knowledge through space to others, that is what writing, making movies or any other communication is all about, is it not?


Now, for the concept of cyberspace, back to the "real world", with a "real life" example. Have you noticed how perception of your whereabouts changes with the speed you travel? Compare the impressions you pick up while walking through the neighborhood versus using a bicycle, traveling by car, train or airplane.

Assuming the time on the trip is comparable, we can set up a frame of reference:

Walk RideFly
ViewpointWide perspectiveFocused inwardOverview
Perception All senses
Much detail
Selected detail
ExperiencePart of itPassing byDetached
FamiliarityWith areaWith the wayWith end points

We can now transfer this analogy to cyberspace, because that space is just a representation of what we call our "real world". (Here, I refrain from going into speculation or philosophy what our "real world" may be the cyber-representation of. ;-)


In cyberspace, there are also different speeds of travel. These do not depend on our modem speed, but rather on the rate with which we acquire new data and knowledge. By the way, data and knowledge are not the same, they relate to each other like information relates to certainty.

In the material world, the speed of travel and much of the fun associated with it depend on the vehicle we use and on our skill to control this vehicle and to keep it on the desired course. The faster vehicles require great skill for starting and landing, but amazingly little for most of the time on the way. Ask a pilot.

The faster cyberspace vehicles are similar, they require skill to set up, the older vehicles more, the newer vehicles less, present software has become rather easy to set up (but is harder to get rid of). Once you get a good cyberspace vehicle like a World-Wide-Web browser going, it is a fast ride to locate and get information you are looking for. Operator error or even a crash is not fatal at all. In worst case, simply dial again and start over.

Assuming the time on the trip is comparable, you get another frame of reference:

In world spaceOn networkDimension in Cyberspace
TimeSame timeThe time it takes,
data may have time shift
DistanceDistanceRemoteness of data
does not matter
Area, VolumeAreaAmount of data, volume
SpeedData speedRate of acquiring data
and knowledge
Newness--Divergence of new data
to current knowledge

I admit, I had to warp dimensions to make the analogy fit, but it is fun to behold the implications. The tortured term "information super-highway" is one-dimensional, it describes only the communication line and reeks of government subsidy and control. Cyberspace, on the other hand, implies freedom of information and travel, much like the concept of space, which is three-dimensional (free and dimensional :).


Here a frame of reference for capacities and features.

World SpaceTravel by:A NetworkPaper StorageCyberspace
HouseWalkingMailBook1 computer
VillageBicycleLANLibrary100 computers
CountryCar, TrainWAN Many libraries10,000 computers
PlanetAirlineInternet All librariesMillions of computers

As I evolve it, I am looking at this puzzle and draw a few conclusions. Viewing paper storage versus cyberspace, I notice I can give no numbers for the paper. I feel it is a factor of 1000 from one level to the next. This would give us billions of books on the planet, which is about right.


Remember the wisecrack when asked whether he wanted a book for his birthday present: "I don't need a book, I already have one." If cyberspace information is bound to be as popular as books we will end up with billions of computers to access it and have to invent a new joke.

One major difference between books and cyberspace media is the resulting information flow, bidirectional. With books (or newspaper and other broadcast media) the information flows from author to reader, with usually very little returning communication. In cyberspace, the return flow can be very easily achieved and may swell to enormous volume for the author who gets people active and elicits a large number of responses. Poor guy, if he just gets hit with an e-mail writing campaign.


Expanding cyberspace entails another major shift - to paperless information flows. Emerging standards promise to bridge the gaps between today's competing software data formats. Electronic data interchange will swiftly sweep much paper out of offices. This may save large numbers of trees, but we will pay forthis by the energy it takes to build and to run the computers.


Save energy, switch off your monitor for the lunchbreak. Thank you.


For the concept of cyberspace, I am grateful to the Progress and Freedom Foundation ( I am also indebted to a few of the millions of communicating "users" and their "access providers" of the Internet.

Useful insights were also obtained with the help of:

Copyright 1995 by Bernd Nurnberger ( Copyleft follows:

All parts of this text (the complete text only) may be reproduced or transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic or mechanical, including photocopying, recording, or any information storage and retrieval system, without permission in writing from the author. I would be glad to hear where you post this text, though.

For easy-to-digest information on copyright, see (in descending order of simplicity):

© Algorithmica Japonica Copyright Notice: Copyright of material rests with the individual author. Articles may be reprinted by other user groups if the author and original publication are credited. Any other reproduction or use of material herein is prohibited without prior written permission from TPC. The mention of names of products without indication of Trademark or Registered Trademark status in no way implies that these products are not so protected by law.

Algorithmica Japonica

January, 1996

The Newsletter of the Tokyo PC Users Group

Submissions : Editor

Tokyo PC Users Group, Post Office Box 103, Shibuya-Ku, Tokyo 150-8691, JAPAN