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Living in Cyberspace: Myths and Realities

Living in Cyberspace: Myths and Realities
Report of a meeting
26th January 1999
Goring Hotel, London

This report comprises the Rationale for the meeting; one page statements from each of the three projects presented; and a brief overview of the Discussion.


An initial tranche of 22 research projects was designed to address the central question of the Virtual Society? Programme: are fundamental shifts taking place in how we behave, organise ourselves and interact as a result of electronic technologies? The answers will have a crucial bearing on the quality of life, on commercial and business success, and on the future of our society.

The early indications from some of these projects suggest we need to revisit a number of widely held assumptions about the nature and prospects of "virtual society". Electronic technologies seem not always to effect us to the extent or in the direction we imagined. Popular declarations that technologies will substitute for major social functions, contrast with the finding that they more often augment existing practice. Can these kinds of contra-finding help us make more realistic assessments of the advantages of the new technologies, for work organisation, public access, and social inclusion? Can we now enjoy a period relatively free of cyber hype? Even Nicholas Negroponte recently declared that the digital revolution was over. What are the implications for the much vaunted impacts on society? How best can we distinguish between the promise and the reality of life in cyberspace?

To discuss these issues a meeting was held on Tuesday 26 January 1999 in London. The first aim of the meeting was to introduce and discuss initial findings from a sample of three projects in the Programme: Gateways to the Virtual Society: innovation for social inclusion (Dr Sonia Liff and Dr Fred Steward); Social Contexts of Virtual Manchester (Dr Penny Harvey); and The Virtual Market Place? Implications from the financial services (Professor David Knights).

The second aim was to consider how best to take this work forward. The current portfolio of projects addresses a wide range of different technologies and distinct applications areas. Yet it is evident that current social science capacity merely scratches the surface of the vast range of technologies and the speed with which they come on stream. So a key task is to identify the priority areas for social science attention. What areas and technologies should we be researching next?

The Programme is already committed to building strong relations with its various audiences and "users". We believe these audiences should play a significant role in helping shape the research. So it is important to identify the kinds of fruitful partnership which can drive future work. What forms of user-researcher relationship work best in this area?

In sum, the meeting aimed to: