and the Evolution in Utopian Thought
"Audition du Journal" [Listening to the Newspaper]
Visions de l'an 2000,1910
BNF, Département des Estampes et de la Photographie*
the advent of the Internet and the blank slate offered by the "new
world" of cyberspace, utopian thought seems to have come full
circle. Indeed, the brief history of the Internet contains many parallels
to developments in utopian thinking, which are alluded to here and
discussed in more detail in other portions of this online exhibition:
Worlds, and Utopia in History
explore utopian thinking from its earliest sources in Antiquity and
the Bible through the end of the nineteenth century; Dreams
and Nightmares considers utopias and dystopias of the twentieth
century. As we look both backward to previous notions of utopian thought
and forward to the possibilities of the Internet, the question is
whether the urge to attain the ideal society will persist and yield
fruit in the centuries to come.
sources of utopian thought, a metaphysical transformation was
needed to enter an ideal place such as Paradise or the City of God;
this transformation was achieved through death, intellectual or spiritual
transcendence, or otherworldly intervention. A metaphysical transformation
also takes place in cyberspace, but, being only a mouse click away,
is achieved more expeditiously.
has built the Internet, and who lives there? More's Utopia was an ideal
place constructed and inhabited by humans, rather than a celestial
city peopled by the blessed or the virtuous. Like More's
Utopia, the Internet has been built for and by ordinary individuals.
While the Internet's existence is less fictive than More's Utopia, its
location and inhabitants remain equally ethereal.
does the Internet look like? In the belief that a more orderly, more
smartly designed environment based on idealized human proportions
could improve society, architects
of the Renaissance devised model cities as perfect circles or
squares with streets constructed in a grid pattern. Programmers, web
architects, and designers similarly work to build an e-topia link
by link via the World Wide Web whose architecture can be quickly learned
and easily navigated. Unconfined by physical space, the Internet is
expanding rapidly and organically, and the perfect metaphor, rather
than the perfect shape, has been sought to define and comprehend it.
are people drawn to the Internet? Utopias in the past have appealed
to those dissatisfied with certain aspects of real life. So, too,
Internet users claim that the technology offers a respite from the
pressures of everyday life and a sense of well-being and kinship.
The resulting proliferation of assumed identities, online communities,
and micronations is reminiscent of the growth
of utopian communities in the nineteenth century and again in
the 1960s, formed by like-minded individuals disengaging themselves
from society and starting life anew. Like eighteenth-century
American and French revolutionaries and religious
and secular reformers of the nineteenth century, cyber revolutionaries
and pioneers of the late twentieth century have sought to break with
the old regime of big corporations and government and bring liberty,
equality, and justice to every netizen.
in technology and the attempt to improve all aspects of society via
global networking continues to gain in momentum, then it remains to
be seen whether the Internet, and the consequences of life lived increasingly
virtually, will, like so many of the utopian
experiments of the twentieth century, in years hence be subject
to intense scrutiny and reassessment.
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