Cultural & media studies

When wimps turn into cyborgs

An Introduction to Cybercultures. First edition

Good news for men who wear glasses. We are no longer bespectacled wimps but cyborgs - Woody Allen's brains in Arnold Schwarzenegger's body, sensitive terminators if you like.

All right, David Bell does not actually say this; what he says is something even more outré: "Everyone is a cyborg," meaning that because our lives are increasingly dependent on technology we are becoming half-human, half-machine. The chip on our shoulders will soon become a silicon implant turning us into bionic beings. If the chip were already in place, we would see clearly what now we see through a glass darkly, that cyberculture is all around us.

Bell squeegees our bins so we can get a better view of this parallel world, which may be home to our descendants. He is a bit reluctant to define cyberculture, saying that it is the sum of stories we tell about it. But he describes it as a global network of computers, the space between them where we might build new selves and new worlds.

Here, indeed, is the rub, for my overriding impression from this book is that cybercultures do not herald a brave new world but merely speed up the existing one. It is business as usual with, to paraphrase the text, global corporations making extensive use of cyberspace technologies to exploit peripheral economies.

Moreover, why does Bell apply the concepts of cultural studies to cyberspace instead of trying to understand it on its own terms? Cyberspace may have spawned terms such as "jacking in", "uploading consciousness" and leaving the "meat" of the body behind, but this is just argot grafted on to the tired discourse of cultural studies to give it attitude. Surely there is more to cyberculture than having virtual sex in chat rooms?

Don't get me wrong. There is lots to praise in this carefully written and beautifully balanced book - not least Bell's constant reminder that most people in the world not only have no access to the internet but also live two miles away from the nearest telephone. And its appearance is timely. We have recently learnt that living rats can be controlled like robots. Bell's book will be a valuable resource in interpreting such signs of the times.

Gary Day is principal lecturer in English, De Montfort University.

An Introduction to Cybercultures. First edition

Author - David Bell
ISBN - 0 415 24658 X and 24659 8
Publisher - Routledge
Price - £45.00 and £12.99
Pages - 246

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