In , during their annual Word‐of‐the‐Year vote, the American Dialect Society announced cyber as one of the 1994 words of the year.
The ADS glossed cyber as |
pertaining to computers and electronic communication.
The other word for that year—it was a tie—was, perhaps presciently, morph,
to change form.
As someone who was born in , I have witnessed the evolution of this term firsthand, alongside my own personal development.
As such, it seems only fitting that I should be the one to write this now.
For most of my life, the word cyber has seemed largely an anachronism, evoked for a sense of 90s‐era nostalgia, recalling a time when the Internet and computers were considered an exciting new world of untold possibilities rather than a ever‐present, integrated (and often troubling) part of our day‐to‐day lives.
In stark contrast are the ways the word has persisted in the common vernacular, through phrases such as cyberwarfare, Cyber Monday, and cyberpunk—signalling militarism, capitalism, and dystopia, respectively; instead of the naïve optimism of the 90s, the cyber of the present‐day connotates all of the fraughtness and danger that our interconnected technological networks have the potential to contain.
When Donald Trump made his viral remarks about
the cyber in the first presidential debate, and as concerns about Russian hacking and botnets took hold, some prescient commentators on Twitter remarked that might well end up being
the year of the cyber.
And indeed, over the course of the past year we certainly have seen an increase in discussion and rhetoric pertaining to:
- Social media (especially: Facebook, Twitter)'s influence on public opinion
- The complacency of technological institutions with hostile (white‐supremacist) political thought
- The violation of digital privacy, both by state governments, and by corporations
- The continued, unending lack of diversity in the tech sector
- Harrassment, toxicity, and oppression online
Certainly, these topics carry with them a threat of risk and danger to the people of the world.
However, when analysing the reactions that these situations have invoked (fighting cyber with cyber; the continuïng lack of accountability of large corporations for the content they distribute or their encroachments into their users' lives; the continuïng rise of online hate and harrassment campaigns—with no end in sight), one begins to wonder whether they are indeed the threat to the social order that they have been made out to be, or if they are, in fact, symptomatic of and integral to the present shape of power in modern society.
We are told cyberwarfare puts our lives in danger, but that the only solution is more cyberwarfare.
We are told social media has an undue influence in our lives, but this only produces more social media coverage.
We are told white‐supremacy is a threat, but it is allowed to run rampant across our digital networks.
We are told privacy matters, but states and corporations take further and further action to encroach upon it.
We are told diversity is a priority, but we have yet to see it meaningfully materialize in any form.
We are told that harrassment is unacceptable, but sites and algorithms remain designed to help it grow.
The words do not line up with the facts.
Far from a threat to society, these unsavory aspects of cyberspace seem to be part‐and‐parcel with its normal operation and expected functioning.
And—at the same time—other stories are not being told.
The indie artists and musicians struggling (and, often, succeeding) to find audiences amidst the massive centralization, appropriation, and commodification of virtually every artform.
The networks of trans folx providing each other with care and support sorely lacking in society at‐large.
The communities of friends, activists, and lovers, working together, in their spare time, for little‐to‐no pay, to design and implement systems which will help to liberate them from capitalism's hold.
Some of these are not stories so much as sensations.
The warmth of a screen on a long, darkened road.
The buzz of your partner after an anxious night alone.
We must consider the consequences of conceiving of the digital landscape as one of pure capitalistic exploitation and military expansion, in which the lives and needs of its inhabitants are supernumerary and inconsequential (except as subscribers, customers, or subjects) to the machinations of power at play.
If this is indeed the shape that cyber space takes on today, might we not need a new kind of fraughtness, one which challenges this social order and reässerts the value of life and community in our day‐to‐day interactions online?
To put the question another way:
Is this (capitalism, militarism, exploitation, oppression) all that
computers and electronic communication can be?
Or are there other landscapes imaginable?
Pursuïng this question is what cybre theory is all about.
It is a queering of conventional cyber discourse to shed light on the personal, the intimate, the community, the many and varied bonds which tie us together through technology outside of pure capitalistic norms.
It is also a call to action against those systems and structures which seek to oppress, control, and ultimately erase these bonds from existence.
CYBREMONDAY is a casual webzine aimed at elucidating conversations and ideas, questioning existing narratives, and promoting discussion regarding life and culture in (cyber/cybre)space.
This is its zeroth issue.
Seizing the Means of Knowledge‐Production
Over the past few years, the landscape has shifted dramatically in terms of how we talk about the internet.
In one sense, this is to say: we talk about it at all.
Twitter, Facebook, et al receive mainstream treatment in the daily news as questions arise regarding everything from their use by government officials to their role in the US Presidential election; bugs like Heartbleed and Spectre become issues of international concern; hackers and botnets and those damn emails have now dominated political discussions for over a year.
Created by mass media for an (inter)national audience, these stories typically centre on big businesses, large governments, or—occasionally—one or two problematic individuals who have managed to make something difficult for the aformentioned.
Gone are the days of talking about internet communities and digital uprising—acknowledging the radical transformative potential of cybre movements like
#ArabSpring ceased quickly once
#BlackLivesMatter showed that it could happen in the States too.
Instead, internet spaces are construed as political in the worst way—a politics of pure, empty strucutres, devoid of life and material consequence, interacting like clockwork according to the forces of power at play.
How far do we have to stretch
the human texture?
While woefully inaccurate, speaking about the internet as though it were devoid of inhabitants serves the interests of those who seek to exploit it, ethical concerns—and even personal agency—fading into the distance on such a broad scale.
As an (to varying degrees) open publishing platform, there is nothing which can be done to directly inhibit the publishing of counternarratives or the recognition of individual or collective life, voice, and agency online.
However, these things can be easily dismissed so long as they can be classified as offtopic or irrelevant—and in an age where the relevance of knowledge is largely determined by corporate algorithms (à la Bing, Twitter, Facebook, Google), this is no small matter.
In an internet which overflows with information, we have given up the means of producing our own knowledge—and it is well past time to take those back.
Consequently, it is imperative that we not only concentrate our efforts on the publishing of cybre narratives, but that we also repeatedly and unrelentingly affirm these narratives as important, topical, and meaningful, at least as much as those being published on a grander scale.
As content which runs counter to the normative gaze of relevance, such stories will by definition be difficult to discover through conventional means—and, in many ways, this is desirable.
But it means that we must develop a practice of actively promoting, sharing in, and involving ourselves, on the community level, with these conversations, and create other passages through which they might be seen or heard.
The goal here is not to push radical narratives into the mainstream discourse so much as it is to decentre the mainstream discourse as the be‐all and end‐all of what matters to us, our loved ones, and our communities.
The (inter)national politick will always be of concern to the people, but this does not imply that the people should be solely concerned with the (inter)national politick.
Cybre shops local.
And so it goes.
I was only 14 when Yahoo announced that GeoCities in the United States would be shut down—as my internet history at the time consisted almost entirely of RuneScape and Wikipedia, it's safe to say that the event hardly registered on my radar.
I didn't even really learn what GeoCities was until much later, through websites like One Terabyte of Kilobyte Age Photo Op and browsing the collection in the Internet Archive.
This discovery came roughly synonymously with my decision to switch to a Gender Studies major, and so naturally I found my self wandering the streets of WestHollywood, browsing the homepages of an LGBT community of years gone by.
Some of what I discovered there, I had expected to find:
The home‐wrought, old‐fashioned look and feel of the pages;
the inconsistent (often within the same page) rhetoric and terminology;
the frequent fetishization and sexualization of queer—especially trans—bodies;
the stories of struggle and queer oppression;
the vibrant—if somewhat under‐the‐surface—community, using the tools they had available to persist through it all.
Other things, perhaps betraying my naïveté, caught me completely by surprise; for example, the long, legalistic introductory pages which demanded that visitors be a legal adult before even beginning to look at information on being trans or gay.
In modern times, of course, the situation has—at least on the surface—changed.
Tech corporations across the board openly celebrate gay pride and LGBT communities.
Mainstream online press features explicit queer sections, and queer media is promoted to users through services like Spotify and Netflix.
From a cursory glance at these websites, it seems the fight for cybre queer representation has already been won.
Under the surface, though, things are much the same.
Queer—especially trans—users are frequently mistreated or banned from social media; queer content and resources continue to be restricted, especially from younger users.
And there are newer problems as well.
The ever‐increasing focus on a white and/or privileged gay experience; the emphasis on allies and showing support over providing material help or change; the appropriation of queer narratives and trauma for clickbait income.
In fact, despite appearances, when it comes to connecting people with resources or accurately reflecting the queer experience online, things might be worse than ever.
The steady encroachment on personal and nonprofit websites by Google, Facebook, and Amazon—as well as the post‐web internet of Alexa and Siri—have restricted both the amount of information available and the kind of community structures allowed to only that which those providers see fit to approve or design for.
As one particularly drastic example: The International Foundation for Gender Education website was once one of the best resources on the web for trans information—now it is little more than a poorly‐formatted blog.
IFGE has offered a Web site containing information for transgender people since 1998. The site was very heavily used by transgender people seeking information on the Internet in the late 1990s and early 2000s, with respondents to a 2002 survey identifying the site as the "best source on the internet," (p. 102) preferring the site to Google and Yahoo for trans-related information seeking.
Placing gay cybre culture in the hands of companies whose workforces are primarily straight, white, and male simply doesn't make sense.
Consequently, we must reclaim and reposition cybre pride as something which is created under our own authorship, within our own communities.
It is not enough to merely denounce corporations' gesutres towards LGBT acceptance as hypocritical—we must provide a counternarrative which demonstrates and reäffirms queer pride and community—in all its forms and complexity, outside the boundaries of what is normative or deemed acceptable in the public sphere.
This means doing more than just protest (although, by all means, continue to protest).
It means finding reason to celebrate and making queer culture our own.
The Message is not the Message;
or, Virality is not the Cure
It is easy, when considering and discussing the fraught nature of modern cybrespace—perhaps, when faced with a Manifesto—to think that the message of cybre is its message; that the message is self‐justifying, so to speak, and the purpose of cybre discourse is to promote cybre discourse and not some higher aspiration or aim.
Given this, virality seems the obvious tack to take, spreading and sharing content among friends and peers and social networks, arguïng points and jumping into mentions and doing all of the work that propagating a message entails.
This impression is deceiving, and it is wrong.
The message of cybre—the imagining of a new digital landscape which respects life, community, and our many and varied relationships of support, in all their diverse complexity—is not something which can be spread via discourse or social media post, but through decades of work to develop the structures from which these forms might evolve.
Indeed, insofar as it diverts queer energies away from making progress and into defending positions, and insofar as it centralizes discussion inside the normative structures whose dismantling is our ultimate aim, discourse is our opponent in this journey forward.
We need fewer well-intentioned essays addressed to bros with good intentions about why sexist language might seem good but is bad. In the tech feminism community, we’ve been writing these essays for most of a decade. The systematic use of abuser tactics to control conversations and shut down criticism continues. These conversations go on and on, and happen over and over, each one seemingly unencumbered by the lessons of the previous one — what’s happening isn’t a conversation at all, but rather, a power struggle.
Far from a quick path to success, virality has proven itself over the past few years to be a source of violence and harrassment in exchange for little or no material gain.
Almost by definition, in order to reach a viral state, a message must first be reduced and reformatted into something which is palatable to the mainstream.
In doing so, the fundamental urgency and nuänce of the original is invariably lost.
Viral moments are ephemeral, burning quickly and then vanishing as the next takes centre‐stage.
But the cybre project is persistent, ongoing, continual, reaching back to the very first days of networked connectivity and forward into futures unknown.
As separate spectacles, we are less threatening.
In some ways, the project of discourse is doomed from the start.
How to describe the feelings of hurt and precariousness which accompany everyday life for marginalized queers in the modern connected world?
How to explain that these are not just numbers for us (40% of trans respondents attempting suicide at some time in their lives, 30% experiencing homelessness, 47% being victims of sexual assault, 10% in the last year, 13% while in K–12, 58% reporting harrassment by police in the past year alone, 30% facing mistreatment in the workplace, 15% now facing unemployment, 29% living in poverty, and all of these numbers increasing dramatically when componded with other forms of marginalization—according to the 2015 U.S. Transgender Survey), but our lived experiences, and those of our friends, our lovers, our families, and our communities?
How to argue and debate over the fundamental value of a life, its right to exist in a space, its right to the resources and support that it needs to survive and to flourish, despite whatever forces might seek to oppress and control?
There are no words, and there never will be.
And so our goal must be something more than merely seeking understanding or spreading a message.
It must be to assert value, change the landscape, press ever forward into this cybre realm.
It must be to embrace the fraughtness at hand, turn it into something meaningful, undo the structures which constrain us and support each other into tomorrow and beyond.
This is the cybre mission.