Cyberculture: From Plato to The Virtual Universe

The Architecture of Collective Intelligence

Research Paper (undergraduate), 2012
23 Pages

Free online reading



Research Methodology


From Information Society to Knowledge Society

Concept of do Cyberculture

A Post-Modern Culture

Cyberculture in Education

Acknowledgments - Financial Support



Cyberculture history dates back to the beginning of 1966, when Alice Mary Hilton states in “Logic, computing machines and automation” that “In the era of cyberculture, all the plows pull themselves and the fried chickens fly right onto our plates” (p.16), thus recognizing Oxford English Dictionary pioneering. The following year, Marshall Macluhan makes public the “Global Village” concept, declaring that the technological advances were turning the planet into some kind of a village, where everybody knows and talks about other people’s lives. That is to say that technological progress has a direct influence on social changes in a world where we think globally and act locally. At that time, with the newly arrived Internet, the international academic scene was favourable to the formulation of concepts and “cyber” terminology extended itself to a wide variety of meanings.

Lemos & Cunha (2003, p.11) perceive cyberculture as “the sociocultural way resulting from a symbiotic relationship between society, culture and microelectronic new technologies that emerged with the convergence of telecommunications and computer science in the 70’s”. In due course, in 1985, William Gibson publishes the science fiction novel «Neuromancer» in which he describes cyberspace as an electronic universe where billions of people get together, establish relations and interact through communication devices connected to the worldwide network. Since then, “Cyberculture & Cyberspace” has been a prologue of sociability in a network communication in the virtual world, such as the knowledge socialization phenomenon that occurs at a global level in an environment of sharing experiences, information, entertainment, business and collaborative learning.

In general terms, by going over Lemos & Cunha’s (2003) literature, we realize that we cannot understand cyberculture without a historical perspective, without understanding the social, historical, economic, cultural, cognitive and ecological outspreads of the relationship between man and information, and communication technologies. In this sense, this handbook is based on the historical contextualization of cyberculture as a sociocultural movement of contemporary society in various fields of human activity.

Research Methodology

This empirical descriptive study is guided by a literature review about cyberculture, and it was developed in the second half of 2012. Thus, we researched in books, masters and PhD theses, scientific papers and on the Internet, so that we could reach the historical precedents that predate its etymological concept.


The term “Cybernetics” stems from the Greek “kubernetes” (steersman, that who steers, who controls, who governs), which was designed by the philosopher Plato[1]. Historically, the conceptual prelude acknowledged by the international scientific community is credited to Norbert Wiener in his “Cybernetics: Or Control and Communication in the Animal and Machine”, published in 1948. However, Wiener (1984) recognizes that the word had already been used by the French physicist André-Marie Ampère (Cybernétique, in 1834), in a Science Political context. Laclau & Luhmann (2006, p.52) are categorical in asserting that Wiener’s connotation was different from Ampère’s one, because he defines cybernetics as “the scientific study of control and communication in the animal and the machine”. Chiavenato (2004) states that as well as an applied science, it was limited to the creation of machines of self-regulating behaviour with similar aspects to human or animal behaviour (such as a robot, a computer - which was called “electronic brain” - , and a radar, based on bats behaviour; a plane autopilot, etc). Subsequently, according to the same researcher, cybernetics applications were extended to other scientific areas, such as Engineering, Biology, Medicine, Psychology, Mathematics, Sociology and Computer Science.

At this time, Cyber Era sprang up, thus becoming the parent of cyberspace, cyberschool, cyberdemocracy, cyberpunk, cyberpolitics, cyberlaw, cybercommunication, cybersociety…, which are, in Norman Lee Johnson’s perception, prodigal elements of symbiotic intelligence, and which are also so much discussed in the literary works of Douglas Hofstadter, Peter Russell, Jean Baudrillard, Gottfried Mayer-Kress, Howard Bloom, Steven Johnson, Pierre Lévy, as Collective Intelligence (synonym for cyberculture). Nevertheless, robots, computers and their electronic components preceded modern cybernetics, and they were responsible for the evolution from mass society (industrialized and mediatised) to the network society (communitarian and globalized).

In the 60’s and 70’s, computing was developed in research universities and labs, which were a privilege for a few ones. Thus, in these research centres, some selective visionary and enthusiast programmers groups were established, such as Robert Noyce, Steve Jobs, Steve Wozniack and Bill Gates, the so called Silicon Valley residents[2]. In 1960, Theodor Holm Nelson brings about the computing “eureka moment”[3] through the Project Xanadu (theoretical basis to the World Wide Web and network communication). Inspired by Memex[4], a work by scientist Vannevar Bush, in 1963 Ted established the terms “hypertext” and “hypermedia”, which were published in 1965 in “Complex information processing: A file structure for the complex, the changing and the indeterminate”. In the hypertext, he clearly paraphrases Memex ground basis in order to make up for human memory limitations through informational trails interrelated by association in words, terms, acronyms and ideas in a non-linear way. In its turn, hypermedia, as an extension of the hypertext concept, is a combination of multiple media elements (text, audio, video and image) sustained by a computational structure and mediated by synchronous and asynchronous digital communication systems. In the following years, the terms “link” and “hyperlink” emerged to refer to an electronic hypertext document or to a specific element within another different document.

In 1970, the counterculture movements interpreted hyperlink principles as a way of unite people through communication by preaching non-violence (caused by Vietnam War). At the same time, the international Oil Crisis and the Watergate scandal[5] motivated media technological development and, once again, the global communication for the exchange of information and news between geographically dispersed countries. Coincidentally, Barbosa & Canesso (2004) point out that at this time a civic motion arises aiming at the creation of network communities in North America.

From 1972 to 1974, some movements sprang up in Berkeley and San Francisco (California), such as “Computers for the People” and “Community Memory”[6], respectively. The latter was intended to create a network of shared information, similar to an electronic bulletin board without a central control, where people could enter information (Wiki prototype)[7] or read it in the most convenient way to each of them (Torres, 2011). To do so, they used a terminals network spread throughout the Pacific States[8], i.e. Alaska, California, Hawaii, Oregon and Washington. This project represented the development of alternative media that could be used by the community to produce information related to their common needs and interests, i.e. an attempt to use computer communication effectiveness to serve the community (ibidem). In addition, as pointed out by Barbosa & Canesso (2004), it became a model for network communities around the world, usually established to make easier the free exchange of information, such as libraries and philanthropic entities, which exchanged information through e-mails, forum debates and texts writing (collective authorship). Cyberculture flourishes in this scenario, being its genesis influenced by the first network communication movements.

From Information Society to Knowledge Society

In the late 80’s and early 90’s, a new sociocultural movement, originated by young professionals in big American cities and universities, reached a global dimension, and with no agency to limit that process, the different computer networks developed in the 70’s joined together, while the number of people and computers connected to the network grew very fast (Vanassi, 2007). Thirty years of continuous growth of society and collective intelligence virtualization led to the Millennial Generation (or Generation Y), going from the operating system ENQUIRE development, by Timothy John Berners-Lee, and following Ted Nelson’s Xanadu and Hypertetx principles to culminate in the World Wide Web, in 1989. Progressively, the Web evolved from a static guideline (1.0) to a collaborative one (2.0), and after that to a guideline of contents portability, information connectivity and programming languages integration (3.0). Experts already talk about an artificial intelligence Web (4.0), as foreseen by Anandarajan & Anandarajan (2010). At the same time, numerous interactive resources are developed for the Internet and media digitalization.

But such a phenomenon, as Jean Baudrillard writes in his “Simulacres et Simulation”, does not necessarily represent the techno-cultural-communicative excellence. According to this work, reality does not exist anymore, and we are now living its representation, widespread by the media and mass media in post-modern society (Super, 2005). Being ironic, but well-reasoned, Baudrillard stands for the theory that we live in a time in which symbols are more important than reality itself. This phenomenon leads to the so called “simulacra” – bad reality simulations that, contradictorily, are more attractive to the audience than the imitated object itself (Ibidem) -, what, in the words of Haesbaert (2004), causes feelings of dispossession and multiterritoriality. Baudrillard’s philosophical critique particularly falls upon the consumer society and the media overvaluation, and he also rejects the Global Village concept, which he thinks is a distant and utopian reality.

Paralelly, Mark Bauerlein goes further in his “The dumbest generation: How the digital age stupefies young Americans and jeopardizes our future”, by accusing the digital era of stupefying and idiotizing American young people through anomy, isolation, addiction and cognitive overload. Other authors, like Oliveira (2011), do not agree completely with Baudrillard or Bauerlein, arguing that the digital generation has its pros and cons, as well as past generations and the current generation Z (the connectivity generation). Relations between humans, work and intelligence itself depend on the constant metamorphosis of information devices of all kinds: writing, reading, watching, hearing, creating, learning are captured by a more advanced informatics, and it is no longer possible to conceive scientific research without a complex tool, that distributes old divisions between experience and theory (Lévy, 2010).

In fact, the need of new sociability behaviours promoted new ways of technological development, changing, shifting and creating unusual relations between Man and information and communication technologies (Lemos, 2003). This was exactly what happened at the turn of the 20th century to 21st century when many revolutionary network communication electronic devices were developed. As a consequence of globalization and technological growth, the subsequent multiculturalism established a new social structure, consisting of different kinds of people and corporations, guided by interactions, collaborations and knowledge exchange in the newly adult virtual universe. On this matter, Paul Virilio calls attention to the temporal dispersion and the loss of sense of reality in cyberspace, some kind of an atopy to the digital natives, deeply absorbed by a great amount of endless information. On the other hand, Howe (2009, p.10) writes that, raised on the basis of social media and always connected to the Internet, digital natives are simultaneously engaged in numerous projects; they easily and spontaneously work together with people they have never seen in their lives and, above all, they create media with the same enthusiasm that previous generations consumed them: “It is a crowdsourcing community, a crowd perfectly adapted to the future in which online communities will overcome the conventional corporations”. Therefore, it is almost impossible to bring the digital natives to a “less virtual or technological” life, as they were already born in an information and knowledge society. Based on the historical timeline, we are able to understand Alex Primo’s Cyberculture Mind Map:

illustration not visible in this excerpt

Cyberculture Architecture

Source: «»

By analysing Primo’s scheme, we found a conjecture of factors that enabled cyberculture, although there is no agreement among scholars relating to the variety of definitions the word may suggest.

Concept of Cyberculture

The lack of an explicit meaning in literature leads us to the roots of the word “cyberculture”, in an incessant search for the causes and conditions of its formation process (already discussed in previous topics). Thus, in a strict sense, there is the prefix “cyber” (from “cybernetics”) + culture (system of ideas, knowledge, techniques and artefacts, of behaviour standards and ways of acting that characterize a given society).[9] However, this ambiguous concept suffers variations within the etymological referential, as each author expresses an own ideological and descriptive connotation which is not always shared by their peers. Consequently, we selected those which are dedicated to the study of techno-social practices of contemporaneous society and its new sociability habits, transferred from the real world to the virtual one.

Probably, as Macek (2004) supposes, the most primordial concept refers to the first debates about new media, cyberpunk movement, hackers’ subculture, the first computer (and its users). He also comments on the fact that the early theorists - Douglas Rushkoff (1994), “Cyberia” author, and Mark Dery (1996) in his “Escape Velocity: Cyberculture at the End of the Century” – perceived it as the beginning of some kind of a futuristic renewal of society, based on utopian visions emergent from the academic world, though also inspired by an information and knowledge culture, similar to an Welfare State with a technological nature. Relating to this period of time, we can also refer to the intense and endless online debates in the Future Culture Manifesto (also known by the Bubble Manifesto or FUTUREC)[10], which was centred on the impact that new technologies were causing in social and individual identities and which was remarkably present in Manuel Castells’ studies about a new technological-informational paradigm. Under this paradigm, a new culture appears in which human expressions and creativity are standardized and (hyper) linked through a global electronic hyperlink that substantially modifies the social forms of time and space: from the space of places to the space of flows, from real watch time to the networks “timeless time” (Ruiz, 2002).


[1] Etymologically, the term dates back to VI century B.C., when, according to the Greek mythology, Theseus travelled to Crete on a boat steered by two steersmen (Chiavenato, 2004). To glorify this successful trip, Theseus organized a party to the “cybernetics”, the pilots of the sea. Later, Plato (427-347 B.C.) used the word “Kybernytiky” in his dialogues “Alcibiades” and “Gorgias”, meaning “the art of piloting a ship”, in “Clitophon”, meaning “the art of leading men” and in “The Republic”, meaning “the art of ruling, in general” (ibidem). Following Plato’s rhetoric, Ampère gives to this ancient word a socio-political meaning (control, government, leading). For decades, these meanings kept a considerable influence in different areas of knowledge, such as mathematics, physics, electronics, medicine, psychology, chemistry, mechanics and computer science (especially, if related to artificial intelligence).

[2] The Valley is situated in California (USA), which is home to many of the world’s largest technology corporations and manufacturers, since the 50’s.

[3] Famous term used to refer to an important finding or an accomplishment of great relevance. The credits for the origin of the word are attributed to the Greek philosopher Archimedes.

[4] In 1945, Bush published in The Atlantic Monthly magazine the paper “As We May Think”, in which he wrote about a machine (Memex - Memory Extension) that would have the task of helping human memory to store knowledge. He suggested a structure to organize contents in a non-hierarchical way and of non-linear access based on a mechanic device for individual use, to save texts, registers, communications and books, in order to make the search for information easier and more flexible (Gosciola, 2003).

[5] A political scandal that occurred in the United States in the 70’s and which led to President Richard Nixon’s resignation.

[6] It was brought into existence, under Project One, by Efrem Lipkin, Szpakowski Mark and Lee Felsenstein, in San Francisco in 1973.

[7] It allows Internet users to create and edit text on a specific Web page using any Web browser.

[8] North American States which are bounded by the Pacific Ocean on the West.

[9] Retrieved March 6, 2012, from « index.php?lingua=portugues-portugues&palavra=cultura»

[10] Debate list created in 1993 by Andy Hawk in Unix operating system. In 1994, influenced by FUTUREC, the music festival South by Southwest, in Texas (USA), turns into one of the major world’s technology events, focusing on debates about Internet future and the impact of ICTs in the network society. SXSW, as it is known, became a paradise for Nerd and Geek Cultures (i.e., people addicted to the Internet, videogames and all that relates to technology), thus gathering millions of fans every year in the American city of Austin. On the other hand, it also became a model for other events, such as Campus Party, in Spain, Brazil, Mexico, Colombia, Chile, Equator, Venezuela and the United States.

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Cyberculture: From Plato to The Virtual Universe
The Architecture of Collective Intelligence
University of Minho  (Institute of Education)
Educational Technology
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ISBN (Book)
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cyberculture, from, plato, virtual, universe, architecture, collective, intelligence
Quote paper
Marcelo Mendonça Teixeira (Author), 2012, Cyberculture: From Plato to The Virtual Universe , Munich, GRIN Verlag,


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