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Cyberpower: The Culture and Politics of Cyberspace

Tim JORDAN <t.r.jordan@uel.ac.uk>
University of East London
United Kingdom


An overall understanding of the Internet and cyberspace from an integrated sociological, cultural, political, and economic perspective would be a key resource for understanding and developing virtual life. This paper proposes such an understanding by defining the nature of power in cyberspace. Cyberpower has three intertwined levels, each of which is permeated by a different type of power. First, when cyberspace is understood as the playground of the individual, then cyberpower appears as a possession an individual can use. Here can be found the obvious and typical forms of cyberpolitics such as privacy, encryption, censorship, and so on. Second, when cyberspace is understood as being a social place, a place where communities exist, then cyberpower appears as a technopower in which greater freedom of action is offered to those who can control forms of cyberspatial and Internet technology. The three linked figures of Kevin Mitnick, Bill Gates, and Linus Torvalds exemplify this form of cyberpower because they are all, in different ways, "powerful" because of their ability to manipulate virtual technologies. The conclusion of this form of cyberpower is that what appears from the individuals' perspective to be an empowering medium is, from the social perspective, dominated by a technologically empowered elite. Third, when the Internet and cyberspace are understood as being a society or even a digital nation, then cyberpower appears as an imagination through which individuals recognize in each other a common commitment to virtual life. This imagination is structured by opposed obsessions with the heaven that cyberspace may bring, with immortal, godlike life on silicon as its ultimate goal, and the hell cyberspace may bring, with the total, minute surveillance of all virtual lives made possible by cyberspace. These three forms of cyberpower are closely interrelated because the imagination is the medium in which cyberpower of the individual and of society exist and because these two powers feed each other through individuals' demands for better tools which leads to greater elaborations of technology and so feeds the power of a technopower elite. The final conclusion from this analysis is that cyberspace and the Internet are riven by a sociological, cultural, economic, and political battle between the individual and a technopower elite.



The patterns of virtual lives are clear enough to be mapped. The virtual world and its social order can be traced now in its entirety from pole to pole. This does not mean that all areas are perfectly known. Sometime in the future, we will probably look back at this map and see where it has equivalents to the dragons and sea monsters faithfully represented on early maps of the world. However, we can produce a cartographic representation of the powers that circulate through virtual lives, a chart of the forces that pattern the politics, technology, and culture of virtual societies. These powers set the basic conditions of virtual lives. They are the powers of cyberspace, and together, they constitute "cyberpower." The aim of this paper is broad, and to achieve it, a certain amount of detail must be left to one side. Examples are used where appropriate, but in this paper, the mapping of power in cyberspace remains largely a theoretical exercise.

Power is a complex notion in social theory and will be taken here to mean the various ways in which different individuals have different possible actions they may be able to take. Such an interpretation is open to a voluntarist reading (an individual initiates social actions) and a structuralist reading (certain networks enable an individual to act). It is also open to different interpretations of the moral or ethical meaning of power around two poles: (1) power as the name for that which creates social order and (2) power as a form of domination. This interpretation of power is derived principally from theories developed by Max Weber, Barry Barnes, and Michel Foucault. The legitimacy of this interpretation lies in the fact that this paper seeks to define power in cyberspace, and not in the nature of power itself. This definition of power is taken from a broad reading of social theory because of its usefulness in helping to define cyberpower, and not because it answers the complex question "What is power?"

To begin this mapping, it is useful to start with a mundane, everyday, and universal experience of all who enter cyberspace: logging on.

The individual

We usually begin our journeys into cyberspace as individuals. In front of a computer screen, reading the glowing words, we confront our singularity before building a sense of others in the electronic world. There is a double sense of individuality here. First, people must simply connect to cyberspace by logging in, which almost certainly involves individuals entering their online names and secret, personal passwords and then being rewarded with their little homes in cyberspace (usually consisting of such elements as their e-mail or their list of favorite websites). Nearly everyone spends his or her first moment in cyberspace in individualized places. Second, moving from this little home to other virtual spaces usually involves further moments of self-definition, for example, in choosing an online name, choosing a self-description, or outlining a biography. The experience of logging on occurs not only when entering cyberspace; it is repeated as we enter name and password again and again across cyberspace. The three key areas in which being an individual in cyberspace allows actions to be taken that are different from those in offline life can be called identity fluidity, renovated hierarchies, and informational space. These areas are briefly explored in turn.

Identity fluidity is the process through which online identities are constructed. It remains true that in all sorts of online forums, an individual's offline identity cannot be known with any certainty. In the reasonably well-documented instance of a conservative Jewish, teetotal, drug-fearing, low-key, sexually awkward, male, able psychiatrist convincingly posing as an atheistic, sexually predatory, dope-smoking, hard-drinking, flamboyant, female, disabled neuropsychologist, we are in the presence of a potential disconnection between online and offline identities. (Stone, 1995; Turkle, 1995) However, it would be a misconception to conclude that identity disappears online. Identities that constrain, define, and categorize us exist online, but these identities are made with different resources than are used for offline identity. Broadly speaking, online identities are constructed out of two types of indicators: identifiers and style. Neither of these mandates that someone's offline identity must reappear within their online identity, although there are many ways in which a repressed offline identity may return in the midst of online fantasy.

Identifiers are the addresses, names, self-descriptions, and other data that designate contributions to cyberspace. E-mail addresses are the most common form of identifier and can illustrate the resources provided by identifiers for the construction of virtual identities. Imagine receiving e-mails one morning from the following two addresses:



Before you even read the content of the e-mail, certain preconceptions will be forming. Perhaps you are informed enough to know that the Hack Tic is a group of Dutch hackers, as confirmed by the top-level domain name .nl for the Netherlands. Perhaps "billg" from a company (indicated by the top-level domain name .com) called Microsoft is also someone special. The point of these examples is that the content of any message from such addresses would be understood differently, depending on the reading of the identifier, even if an identical message were received. The identity of the sender of an e-mail can be read, in part, from their e-mail address. All sorts of identifiers abound in cyberspace, and there is no restriction against having more than one -- in fact, there is almost a compulsion to create several identifiers. Identifiers include the signatures people place at the bottom of their e-mail; the often lengthy self-descriptions allowed by MUDs and some discussion groups; the various names we might choose or have imposed on us for various lists, newsgroups, and so on; and even the visual avatars that are being developed for three-dimensional shared virtual places. All these function as long or short, more or less freely chosen names; they are the virtual equivalent of seeing someone's face and being able to think male or female, black or white, old or young, and so on.

The second type of resource for identity is style. Many virtual places have resident celebrities whose styles are instantly recognizable to other participants, and anyone who participates repeatedly will eventually come to have his or her style recognized. Groups also provide certain stylistic resources. Abbreviations are common in the typed world of online discussions, such as "btw" for "by the way," and groups sometimes generate their own specific abbreviations. Donath notes from the newsgroup misc.kids.pregnancy that "onna" stands for "oh no not again." (Donath, 1998) These abbreviations can then be used to establish not only individual styles, but also group styles, marking as outsiders those who do not use or understand them. Style consists of the way someone interacts online. Although style usually goes hand in hand with an identifier (which helps stabilize the belief that certain interactions are coming from the one identity), it can become sufficiently well established to be recognized regardless of what is said in the attached identifier.

The resources used to construct online personalities are different from those used to construct offline personalities, which prevents the use of many offline tactics for discovering identity. Online characters are constructed and judged through a number of markers that replace offline ones: addresses, handles, signatures, self-portraits, and styles. Offline, we might look at someone's face and think "old," but online, we look at their address and think ".edu, student or teacher?" Offline, we might examine clothes, but online, we look at what is written and learn a personality from a style. Identity is both present in cyberspace and different from non-virtual space. The only mistake would be to assume that powers surrounding offline identities -- such as those of gender or race -- are absent online; instead, we should discover the particular forms of identity that exist in cyberspace and on which power takes hold.

Renovated hierarchies are the processes through which offline hierarchies are reinvented online, with many online resources undermining offline hierarchies while also defining new hierarchies. The second component of online life that appears obvious to the individual online is that it seems inherently anti-hierarchical. Attempts to censor or restrict access to parts of cyberspace can often be simply bypassed, allowing unrestricted access to online information. Furthermore, communication from many people to many people is close to the norm in cyberspace. This opens participation in decision making, creating the potential for conclusions to be reached in more egalitarian ways than are available offline. Three ways in which hierarchies are affected are noted: (1) identity, (2) many-to-many communication, and (3) anti-censorship.

Identities are one of the key building blocks in offline hierarchies, but if no one knows you are black or disabled online, then you cannot be placed in a hierarchy on that basis. This seems undoubtedly true, and to the extent that individuals can keep their offline identities separate from their online ones, offline hierarchies based on identity can be dislocated. However, identity does not disappear online but is remade according to the rules of identifiers and styles. This means that specifically online hierarchies can be expected, such as that noted by Branwyn, who was told be an online sex enthusiast that "in compu-sex, being able to type fast or write well is equivalent to having great legs or a tight butt in the real world." (Branwyn, 1993, p. 784) All of the various resources available for the construction of online identities also function to create online hierarchies. Someone's witty and knowledgeable posts to a newsgroup -- their style -- may result in their claims being treated more seriously than those of a newcomer, and we can be reasonably certain that many may treat an e-mail from "billg" as being more important than many other e-mails they receive.

The second way hierarchies are dislocated is through many-to-many communication and its ability to include people in decision making. The inclusion of people in offline decision making is limited by the need to meet together, to speak only one at a time, to overcome the hierarchies of identity, and so on. The work of Sproull and Kiesler is fundamental in establishing that electronically mediated discussions are distinct from one-to-one or one-to-many discussions in that they are more inclusive, are more equal, require more time to reach decisions, and are more prone to abuse. (Sproull and Kiesler, 1986, 1993) Second, offline hierarchies can be undermined through the broader access to information that cyberspace offers. In the U.K., over the last few months, there has been a debate over the ability of patients to research their illnesses and treatments over the Internet and whether this is undermining the authority of physicians. Without entering into this particular debate, we can note that it is one sign of the way the hoarding of information as a means of generating a more powerful position in society, particularly by professional bodies, can be undermined by cyberspatial communication.

The third way in which offline hierarchies are undermined in online life is by the censorship-evading properties of the Internet. Not only is a greater pool of expertise available, but information that governments or courts might have restricted is almost impossible to hold back once it is free in cyberspace. The global nature of cyberspace is important here, because it requires only one country connected to the Internet to allow the publication of some information and for that information to be let loose in cyberspace. Information restricted in an offline nation-state then becomes available in cyberspace, subverting the national boundaries that have helped in the past to control access to information. A global informational space undermines regional and national attempts to restrict access to information.

While it is untrue to say that hierarchies are absent in cyberspace, it is true to say that hierarchies there are made according to rules that differ from those of offline hierarchies, and that at their best, these rules in cyberspace make someone's ability to write creatively and knowledgeably the basis of attaining higher positions in the hierarchy. Many offline hierarchies are undermined by the powers of cyberspace. Taken together, identity fluidity and renovated hierarchies can also be seen to rely on the third component of cyberspace from the individual's viewpoint, because both rely on cyberspace's nature as an informational space. Sharing information allows the construction of identities; self-descriptions, signatures, and styles are all constructed out of the words that pass between people. The renovation of hierarchies in offline life by cyberspatial communication results from different methods of sharing information and different access to expertise in cyberspace. When individuals experience cyberspace, they come to the third recognition that life in cyberspace is constituted fundamentally by information.

If identity fluidity, renovated hierarchies, and informational spaces constitute cyberpower from the viewpoint of the individual, then power at this level must be understood as belonging to individuals who can use the various abilities offered by these three components to impose their will. If we pause and reflect on what cyberspace and the Internet seems to offer us as individuals, then the ability to remake our identities, and to renovate the hierarchies we are caught within, make cyberspace appear as a place offering various powers. These powers can be used by individuals to take various actions that had not been possible previously, as in the case of a woman who desires to have gay sex with men, or that of a parent who needs to understand the treatment a doctor is recommending for his or her child. From this perspective, we can understand the enormous hopes and commitment cyberspace sometimes draws from people, because the main effect of cyberspace, viewed as a space based on individuals, seems to be that it offers various powers to act. It is from this perspective that the most hopeful visions of cyberspace derive. Also, this perspective is based on the repeated and ongoing experience shared by everyone -- that of entering cyberspace and being marked as an individual. It is not a naïve perspective, but one reinforced by the daily experience of millions who have virtual lives. Cyberspace is understood as the land in which individuals are empowered and in which identities are reinvented out of thought.

The social

Many people report a transformation, often slow, in their perception of online life. From an initial combination of bewilderment, glee, and skepticism, many come to accept the online world as normal -- from MUD dragons to e-mail. With stable online identities, in whatever forum they exist, people begin to have ongoing conversations and to meet the same people and learn their peculiarities. The particular rules of different corners of cyberspace become clear and normal, but then it is often realized that the individual is no longer the final cause of online life, for communities have emerged. The transformation is not magical but sociological. Even communities that begin by assuming that the sovereign individual is primary soon come to realize that collective responsibilities and rules appear, created by many and over which no one person has control. The idea of one person constituting a language or creating a society is, strictly speaking, absurd; anyone can invent a word but to have it understood means having a community. This transformation to seeing cyberspace as inhabited by collective bodies is not a simple opposition between individuals and collectives but an inversion of the relationship between these two. Individuals possessing cyberpowers can produce collective bodies, but individuals are here understood as being the fundamental cause of community in cyberspace. What is often realized in contradiction to this individualism is that collectives may create the conditions under which certain forms of individuality can be realized. The collective becomes the fundamental cause. At both levels of cyberpower, both virtual individuals and virtual communities exist, but their relationships are reversed. Cyberpower of the social derives from the belief that individuals have their possible actions defined by the collective bodies of which they are part.

All of us who use the Internet and enter cyberspace rely on a range of technologies. Many of these technologies will be better understood by others at this conference than by a sociologist like myself. What I want to emphasize, however, is a fact that we take for granted: we have to rely on technology. Any action we take in cyberspace, from buying and selling stock to changing our gender in a MUD, can occur only because we have entered an electronic space created and maintained by various technologies: Internet Protocol, routers, personal computers, optic fibers, modems, and so on. Our individual powers in cyberspace are defined by the technology we are using and the capabilities this technology offers. The fundamental realization that cyberspace is not only about powers individuals can use but also about the things that create those powers for all users is essentially the same realization as that there are collective bodies in cyberspace that both create and restrain the nature of individuality in cyberspace. This is because the communities that provide the basis for virtual individuals are essentially constituted by technologies. For example, the nature of Usenet communities is primarily defined by the fact that Usenet technologies create discussion groups made out of posts. The nature of individuality in Usenet is constrained by the nature of its discussion group software and hardware. Different forms of individuality are possible in MUDs, (e.g., in the building of virtual homes) and on the Web (e.g., in the use of graphics). All of these powers that cyberspace offers the individual are based on communally created and experienced technologies.

If you assume cyberspace is the realm of societies and collectives, then a form of technopower becomes visible. Technopower is the constant shifting between objects that appear as neutral things -- keyboards, monitors, e-mail programs -- and the social or ethical values embedded in these objects by their designers and producers. Each questions the other. If e-mail software allows many-to-many communication, we can ask the questions, Why? Who made the software do this? What results come from this? In asking, we go beyond the inhuman appearance of the program to find that humans embedded their ethics or ideals in the program. Technopower underpins the social structures of cyberspace through a constant shape-shifting between seemingly inert technology and seemingly live values. This does not mean that every piece of technology was created with a form of technopower in mind. Not every technological object we encounter or rely on has been purposefully designed to constitute the social life it actually constitutes. The unexpected result is always possible, such as the emergence of Teflon from the space race. However, what will be found behind each object are humans in social spaces, making decisions within institutional and technological contexts. Dead technology always opens on the living, just as it is the living who create technology. Technopower is constituted like an infinite series of Chinese boxes, each opening onto another little model of itself, and each layer composed of the same elements -- inert-seeming technology and live-seeming values. Technopower can also be seen in offline life. We live surrounded by technological artifacts that leak social values from every crevice, from car engines (why are they made to be so powerful?) to ice cream. The difference between online and offline social forms is that online social forms are constituted fundamentally, if not totally, from technopowers. When we adopt the perspective of the social in cyberspace, we lose sight of individuals and their powers and bring into focus impersonal technopowers that constitute the very possibility that cyberspace exists in the first place.

At the level of the social, cyberpower is a technopower. There is more to say, however, in that a particular direction of technopower can be defined. Technopower in cyberspace is governed by the ever increasing reliance by users on technological tools, which time after time appear as neutrally pointing the way to greater control over information but time after time result in different forms of information constituted by the values inherent in the new tools. Information is endless in cyberspace and creates an abstract need for control of information, which will never be satisfied. The direction of technopower in cyberspace is toward greater elaboration of technological tools to more people who have less ability to understand the nature of those tools. Control of the possibilities for life in cyberspace is delivered, through this spiral, to those with expertise in the increasingly complex software and hardware needed to constitute the tools that allow individual users to create lives and societies.

What can be called the technopower spiral consists of three moments. First, there is the ongoing and repeated sensation of information overload in cyberspace. Cyberspace is the most extreme example of a general acceleration in the production and circulation of information. For example, cyberspace encourages people to produce more information rather than passively consume it. Information moves faster and in greater quantities in cyberspace than in other space. Most powerfully, cyberspace increases information by releasing it from material manifestations that restrict its flow and increase its price. Ideas embodied in books have inherent costs and restrictions on the number that can be produced and the speed at which different people can obtain them. Information is largely freed of its material form in cyberspace. This constant increase in the sheer amount and speeding up of information leads to the experience of information overload. While the notion of having too much information might seem paradoxical, it is also the case that only a certain amount of information can be dealt with at one time. As early as 1985, Hiltz and Turroff estimated that computer-mediated communication resulted in what they called superconnectivity, whereby individuals' connections to each other increase tenfold. (Hiltz and Turroff, 1985, p. 688) Too much information or information that is poorly organized leads to information overload. How many of us have signed on to an e-mail list and then found that the constant flow of e-mails required us to delete messages without reading them, so that we ultimately resigned from the group? How many of us search the Web for a particular topic only to end up with megabytes of files or piles of printouts destined never to be read because there is simply too much material? Cyberspace increases the velocity and size of information to such an extent that information overload is a constant experience in virtual life.

The second moment in the spiral in technopower is the attempt to master whichever moment of information overload has occurred. This mastery can be accomplished simply by switching off, but doing so removes all the powers from which the individual might feel he or she benefits. Instead, information overload is constantly addressed by new technologies. Various solutions to the glut of information produced by cyberspace have been created, from news services that e-mail news bulletins once daily to ticker tapes that produce a constant flow of stock prices or news flashes across a browser. Maes lists intelligent agents that schedule meetings, filter Usenet news, and recommend books, music, and other entertainment. (Maes 1994) All of these agents share a number of traits. First, they interpose some moment of technology between user and information. This is always simultaneously a moment in which technopower is manifested and articulated because some technological tool, appearing as a thing yet operating according to values, is the method of controlling information overload. Second, the devices themselves produce information problems because they need to be installed and used properly. No matter how sophisticated such a device is, the user needs to understand how to manage the device or risks being controlled by it. Third, new tools nearly always make more information available and cyberspace easier to use, tending to create a new overload. This seems too paradoxical to be true, in that the goal of many tools is to reduce the amount of information received by focusing or managing it in some automated way. However, the very success of any such tool tends to produce more information because it makes the process of gaining information more efficient, and there is always more relevant information out there in the infinite reaches of cyberspace. Problems reemerge when devices that have become essential to information management themselves produce too much information. For example, having a browser showing a ticker tape of stock prices means being connected to your stock portfolio (assuming you have one) and to your possible wealth, every minute. "Sell or buy" becomes a permanent state.

The technopower spiral is completed and reinitiated with the emergence of a new problem of information overload. This spiral of overload, tools, more overload, and more tools is fundamental to technopower in cyberspace. It means that as individuals pursue their powers in cyberspace, they constantly demand more technological tools to master the seemingly infinite amount of information at their disposal. Technopower is constantly elaborated to meet the demands to control and manage information in cyberspace, thereby ensuring that the complexity of cyberspace constantly increases. This, in turn, means that the ability to act in cyberspace is constantly elaborated, either personally by those who have technological expertise, such as computer hackers, or indirectly by people such as Bill Gates or Linus Torvalds, who manage individuals with expertise. Accordingly, cyberpower of the social is a power of domination, through which members of an elite with expertise in the technologies that create cyberspace increasingly gain freedom of action, while individual users increasingly rely on forms of technology they have less and less chance of controlling. If the cyberpower of the individual was a hopeful form of power, pointing as it does to the increasing range of actions cyberspace can help an individual to take, then cyberpower of the social is pessimistic because it reveals networks of interactions that increase the ability to act only for an expertise-based elite.

Cyberpower encompasses the perceptions both that cyberspace offers power to the individual and that societies are defined by an expertise-based elite with ever-increasing class power. To complete this mapping of cyberpower, a third level needs to be outlined, for cyberspace exists not just in virtual lives and communities but also in dreams.

The imaginary

People are part of imaginary relationships that define societies and nations. A nation can be thought of as "an imagined political community -- and imagined as both inherently limited and sovereign." (Anderson, 1991, p. 6) It is imagined because it is impossible for all members of the community to meet -- they must hypothesize their commonality. It is limited because there are always borders, and beyond those borders are other nations. Finally, it is a community because regardless of actual inequalities between members of a nation, it is always conceived as a "deep, horizontal comradeship" in which all are equal as members of the nation. (Anderson, 1991, pp. 6-7) A similar imagined community exists in cyberspace. A further recurrent characteristic of imaginaries is that they offer hopes and fears that appear as real projects just one or two steps away from completion. Much of the urgency people draw from imaginaries stems from this sense of being nearly but not quite completed, meaning people feel a need to act quickly either to prevent the imagined disaster or to bring on the imagined benefit. Cyberspace's imaginary is driven by this compelling feeling that change is near (the future is in beta). The content of cyberspace's imaginary is structured by a twinned utopia and dystopia that both stem from the claim that everything is controlled by information codes that can be manipulated, transmitted, and recombined through cyberspace.

On the one hand, cyberspace gives rise to many hopes, including the oldest human fantasy -- the hope of immortality. Some people believe that within our lifetime we will be able to separate our "consciousness" from our body and upload it onto silicon. If the essence of the self can be made virtual, then what better home than cyberspace, where all the immortals would be able to meet? In addition, some believe cyberspace is becoming the one organic mind that will constitute a higher consciousness akin to god; a hope that has haunted the hippie mind at least since John Lennon declared everyone to be a god. On a less metaphysical plane, many see the cyberspace-based cyborg as the figure who will lead us beyond the oppressions of this world -- gender, class, race, sexuality, and other -- because the cyborg transgresses the oppositions between nature and culture, human and animal, and man and machine and, in doing so, helps to destroy the binary oppositions on which oppression is based. Whether this "heaven" is a selfish one of personal immortality, a spiritual one of godlike hive mind, or a materialist one of postrevolutionary utopia, cyberspace offers the possibility that this heaven is coming into existence.

On the other hand, cyberspace gives rise to many fears. Cyberspace is seen by many as the ultimate tool of surveillance. If repressive power operates according to the principle "visibility is a trap," then cyberspace may make even our smallest interactions visible. A world is foreseen in which all interactions in the realms of government, education, shopping, and all other institutions will be carried out by electronic means, and cyberspace will allow all these interactions to be linked, collated, and examined. People will be considered guilty until proved otherwise because all interactions will be examined to see if they meet the expected pattern, and investigation will be triggered when that pattern is not met (e.g., when a welfare recipient banks large sums of money). More insidiously, information will be collected from everyone in the guise of serving their interests, such as with supermarket reward cards that offer special deals or money back in exchange for connecting the nature of our purchases to our socioeconomic identity. We might also be implanted or tagged; cameras on public streets now constantly survey facial heat images in search of a wanted suspect, and the U.S. and U.K. governments are thought to record and examine all fax, telephone, and Internet communication in Europe. All of these nightmarish possibilities can be made real because cyberspace provides the perfect medium for collecting and transferring the phenomenal amounts of information that are necessary for this hellish vision of a totally supervised society.

Both radical hopes and fears in cyberspace result from a belief that everything can now be manipulated through information codes. We may become immortal by turning our "self" into an information code that can live in cyberspace, or we may become prisoners in an open society because our "self" can be defined by the information cyberspace draws together. Certain visions are collectively imagined from the realization that everything, even life itself in DNA, is an information code. This form of power operates not (as might seem obvious) by managing to create or resist the imagined heavens and hells, but by providing some of the unifying thoughts that allow individuals in cyberspace to recognize each other as members of the same community. As different people come to grasp some parts of both sides of the imaginary, they come to recognize themselves as part of something larger than the individuals they meet or the communities in which they participate. People come to see that they are part of a project, like a nation, in which they will never meet everyone else but in which they can be sure that there are people they will never meet who are also part of the same project. (Anderson, 1991) Whereas cyberpower at the level of the individual offers possessions that enable people to take wider actions, and cyberpower at the social is a network that creates increasing power for a techno-elite, cyberpower at the imaginary constitutes the broad social order of cyberspace by providing dreams and nightmares through which individuals and communities come to recognize that they are part of something greater than themselves.


Power is the condition and limit of politics, culture, and authority. Cyberpower aims not at the immediately obvious forms of politics, culture, and authority that course through cyberspace but at the structures that condition and limit these. A certain complex form of power that operates on the three levels of the individual, the social, and the imaginary now careens through the virtual lands, directing conflict and consensus toward certain distinctive issues and social structures.

No one level of cyberpower determines or dominates the others. In particular, the powers of the individual and the social are in constant battle. The powers the individual gains in cyberspace, such as cryptography, may contradict the domination of a technical elite, just as the technopower spiral may lead individuals to increasing reliance on technological tools whose metaphorical bonnet they cannot hope to open. We can expect these two levels to swing back and forth, with individuals gaining powers against an elite only to find they have given birth to another part of the elite. Libertarianism gains its special place as the political discourse of cyberspace here because it emphasizes both individual liberty, speaking to individuals and their powers, and that cyberspace that produces the best possible outcomes through free markets, speaking to the elite as a justification for their growing control. Libertarianism on the net has at its core a doubly articulated concept that fuses individual liberty with free markets, allowing the one ideology to speak to both the elite and the grass roots. This means not that libertarianism will be universally celebrated on the Internet but that it is a uniquely equipped ideology through which politics on the Internet will be played out.

Cyberpower points not to the ultimate dominance of the elite, although it clearly identifies the burgeoning power of an elite, nor does it predict the libertarian ideal of individual empowerment, although it makes conspicuous the ongoing creation of powers for individuals in cyberspace. Cyberpower points to these processes continuing, driven by dreams and nightmares. When examining cyberpower, we must always be aware of the roar of battle and the complex conflicts that define virtual lives, elites, and dreams.


1. However, this is an exercise that has been pursued in ample empirical detail in Jordan, 1999a. Although this empirical support cannot be offered in this paper, anyone questioning any of the claims being made should address themselves to this lengthier discussion.

2. For introductions to the nature of power, see Barnes, 1988; Clegg, 1989; Lukes, 1986; and Foucault, 1977.

3. It is also an explanation for the main forms of cyberpolitics as practiced by organizations such as the Electronic Frontier Foundation or the Centre for Democracy and Technology, because cyberpolitics focuses on the rights of cyberspace users. (Jordan, 1999b) If cyberspace offers power to the individual, then protecting and enlarging those powers in cyberspace through the typical cyberpolitical issues of privacy, censorship, encryption, and so on, are the obvious political priorities. The second axis is the constant concern for access, because access opens the possibility of using cyberspace's powers.

4. I have told this story as one in which the daily perception of online life leads from individuals to the collective. However, it is not so much the direction of this change from individual to communal that is essential to my argument, but rather the recognition that there are at least two powers in cyberspace: one of which leads to seeing cyberpower as the possession of individuals, and the other of which leads to seeing cyberpower as a technopower fueling the dominance of elites.

5. For discussion of the three utopias, see Moravec, 1988, and Hudson, 1997; for discussion of immortality, see Barlow, 1994; for discussion of hive-mind gods, see Kelly 1994; and for discussion of cyborg revolutions, see Sandoval, 1995, and Haraway, 1991.

6. For discussion of these sorts of visions, see Poster, 1990; Davies, 1996; and Lyon, 1994. For discussion of the claim about U.S./U.K. surveillance of cyberspace, the "echelon" program, see Wright, 1998.


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