“The ‘real world’- an idea no longer of any use, not even a duty any longer. An idea grown useless, superfluous, consequently a refuted idea; let us abolish it! …We have abolished the real world: What world is left? The apparent world perhaps? …But no! With the real world we have also abolished the apparent world!” (Nietzsche, 1888, pp 40-41)
Since the invention of modern communicative tools, the inter-personal relationships have undergone major alterations. Perhaps when Descartes imagined himself as someone without any human senses or in other words, a human being without flesh and blood: “… that my memory tells me lies, and that non of the things that it reports even happened. I have no senses. Body, shape, extension, movement and place are chimeras.” (Descartes, 1984, p 16) or when Nietzsche assumed a ‘real world’ which would revoke the ostensible world that human beings were living in (Nietzsche, 1888, pp 40-41), they could not imagine someday the idea of the ‘real world’ becoming a virtual world of nodes and wire(less)ness which embraces man’s everyday life.
Cyberspace is a virtual space (world) which has been created since 1960s as a result of computer networks joining up together. During the 1980s and 1990s, cyberspace became a considerable phenomenon in social interactions and furthermore, a topic for discussion among sociologists (Nusselder, 2009). The term ‘cyberspace’ was first used by William Gibson in his 1984 book Neuromancer. Although Gibson’s description of cyberspace was a sort of dystopia, what today is conceived by this term bears both positive and negative connotations in itself (Lyon, 2001). In other words, the pros and cons of living in the era of cyberspace and moreover, the effects of it on human society from social communication to the economy, politics, education, art, science and etc have been discussed from different perspectives. For instance, the cyber society is considered to be a post industrial society from sociological perspective. Many recent sociologists have described the dimensions of cyber society. The most famous one is Daniel Bell who invented the new term of ‘cyber society’ as post-industrial society in western societies; a society in which the theoretical knowledge and innovation are at stake (Armitage & Roberts, 2002, p17). Since the concept of subjectivity has been changed through the virtual interactions in social networks such as Facebook, Twitter, MySpace and so on, in the following paragraphs by providing a definition of the term cyberspace from philosophical, sociological and psychoanalytic perspectives, the communication between subjects in cyberspace will be evaluated in order to discuss how it has been affected by introduction of cyberspace.
The term cyberspace bears two concepts in itself: virtuality and space. The term ‘virtual’ has root in ‘virtue’, ‘morality’ and ‘power’. Moreover, it can stand for ‘physical power’ and ‘sexual purity’ or in other words, masculinity and manliness (Wilbur, 1997, p 9). As can be seen, the word ‘virtue’ has connotations of physicality and non-physicality. What Mirzoeff as a cultural theorist provides us for the meaning of the word ‘virtual’ is something unreal that apparently exists (Mirzoeff, 1999).From a philosophical perspective, virtual can be found in the classical notion of Aristotle indicating that the effect already exists in the cause. In fact, this presence of the effect in the cause is a virtual existence which differs from what we can find in an actual effect resulting from a cause (Nusselder, 2009). In other words, virtuality in classic notion of philosophy is a sort of potentiality, whereas in its modern definition as Peirce assumes, virtuality is not the potentiality of something but a meaning which cannot be lessened to the actual existence of an essence (Peirce, 1902). Pierre Levy claims that virtualization, as a fundamental function of human reality, is a process of internalizing the outside world and furthermore, externalizing the internal, private self. He compares the virtualization process to the Moebius strip whereby the inside and outside of it are not distinguishable. In other words, there is no clear boundary between reality and virtuality. Levy concludes that the basis of a society is formed by virtualization while the extreme aim of virtualization is getting away from ‘fragility’ and weakness or in other words, an escape from devastation and deterioration (Levy, 1998, p 99). From a Lacanian perspective, virtualization can be explained by the notions of Symbolic and Real orders. Language mediates the subject’s interactions in the Symbolic order in which the signifiers get their meaning from the other signifiers and furthermore from their relation to the Other (Lacan, 1955-56). As such, it can be said that the Other is the context in which an actual event takes place, whereas the reality of that event is virtualized (Nusselder, 2009) or in Lacanian term, has become Real.
By providing an overview on the concept of virtuality, the concept of space as the second dimention of cyberspace will be elaborated. In fact, the concept of space has both physical and psychological dimensions. The physical aspect of space in the classical definition of it as in Newton, Copernicus, Descartes and so on refers to a boundless and definite thing while in the modern conception of space, it is a structure based on relation. The space in Leibnizian definition includes a wide range of places while does not have a definite reality (Nusselder, 2009). From a psychological point of view, space does not have a fixed meaning as in the physical concept, since it depends on human perception (Nusselder, 2009). In the mirror stage, Lacan formulates a ‘virtual unity’ between man and its image in the mirror which will be the premise of self identity in future. According to Lacan, the mirror which reflects the image of the subject is a virtual space which gives an illusion of wholeness, mastery and independence (Lacan, 1954-5).
“The entire dialectic which I have given you as an example under the name of the mirror stage is based on the relation between, on the one hand, a certain level of tendencies which are experienced – let us say, for the moment, at a certain point in life – as disconnected, discordant, in pieces – and there’s always something that remains – and on the other hand, a unity with which it is merged and paired. It is in this unity that the subject for the first time knows himself as a unity, but as an alienated, virtual unity. It does not partake in the characteristics of the inertia of the phenomenon of consciousness under its primitive form, on the contrary, it has a vital, or anti-vital, relation with the subject.” (Lacan, 1954-5, p 50)
According to Lacan, psychological space can be considered as the mirror which reflects the subject’s image or in other words, cyberspace is made of many mirrors reflecting our virtual images (Nusselder, 2009).
As mentioned earlier, cyberspace has introduced a new form of communication between subjects which differs from face to face form of interactions. Communication through the web has offered the users more facilities and at the same time has reduced the limitations of face to face communication. As Serge Tisseron in his book ‘Virtuel, Mon Amour’ indicates, who could ever imagine someday be able to contact his friends while he is all alone by himself. Even more, it used to sound as something magic to have privacy and experiencing public interactions at the same time. Tisseron points out to a communicative tool invented before the dawn of cyberspace (the telephone) which creates the virtual space as well as online communication (Tisseron, 2008). As Tisseron refers to the human being’s aspiration for having one’s own privacy (being in one’s private place all alone) and being in touch with others at the same time, Curtis looks at the issue from a different perspective. She claims that the privacy of people is thoroughly invaded by having a close contact with others by using internet facilities such as constant emailing, chatting and texting. As such, she criticises the new form of communication as being too intrusive to the privacy of people (Curtis, 2000). Zizek by applying Lacanian concepts to communication in cyberspace, claims that the distance of all people we know are equal (from the screen) to us in cyberspace and the geographical distances have been removed and it does not matter how far people we know are from us, they can contact us only by one click. In other words, the Other situates in the realm of the Real and its presence and proximity to us when is perceived as intolerable and annoying, that is the time “we experience his or her mode of jouissance as too intrusive.” (Zizek, 2004, p 803) As can be seen, communication in cyberspace is a controversial issue that not only has changed the form of the inter-personal relationships, but has influenced on the intimacy between subjects. Robert Young argues that the Web is a virtual space of intimacy and even he states that people can show their intimate feelings on online interaction which cannot be expressed in a face to face form of communication. He asserts, particularly, that those whose problem for having intimacy is relating with part-objects are considered to benefit the most from virtual communication through the net, as online interactions facilitate making intimate relationships for them (Young, 1995).
Although other modern communicative tools such as telephone, fax, instant message or in general any other communicative tool, creates a virtual space for communication between subjects, the narrow focus in this dissertation is on the virtual space existing in cyberspace or in other words, through the net and online socializing. In the following chapters, by providing an introduction of cyberspace as a virtual civilization whereby subjects experience new forms of inter-personal interactions, the phenomen of identification and intimacy experienced in cyber communication with other subjects will be discussed. Furthermore, the identity of subjects as users in online social networks will be assessed. In the final chapter, the reasons which cause subjects to desire for online relationship in today’s world will be evaluated from a Lacanian psychoanalytic perspective.