The cyberspace, the cyber world, is meant to be a place outside of jurisdiction, borders and law of the conventional world. But increasingly, the internet is becoming restricted and controlled, both by who can access it and what you can access. These restrictions are coming from the western world, and are increasingly influencing the shape of cyberspace. This discovery, that I am becoming more and more American, came to me very recently.
The video game, Sleeping Dogs, is set within Hong Kong. It is open world, and features much driving across the large city, which was British in rule for a period in time. As such, the people of Hong Kong drive on the left, much like here in Australia. But after every car I ‘acquire’, I instinctively pull onto the right side of the road and speed into a head-on collision, forgetting that many cities worldwide don’t drive on the right. So what has happened?
I assume it has been the countless hours I have put into many other games, where I have been taught that I drive on the right, if the car is digital. When I was CJ in San Andreas, my tank drove on the right, if I was chasing robbers in APB: Reloaded, the sidewalk is to my right. Every online space, I knew where to drive.
And this trend, of Americanisation of the web continues. Many online shopping companies are US based, and some don’t deliver to the shores of Australia. The users of Runescape had to beg and plead for an Oceanic server, being forced to connect to the far off US servers, only to be killed in the wilderness due to latency issues. Australia often comes second, third and even further down the list when it comes to importance in the cyberworld. Doubled with poor infrastructure, the issues become larger and more complex, giving Australians a huge step down in the online world.
But, being American online comes in more than one form of driving wrong. It comes to spelling, following news stories, use of currency and the types of rules you apply to yourself operating in the cyberworld. Australia has no constitution, and no law about the freedom of speech, but every Australian feels they must bring it up, in online and real life arguments. Australia has no precedent, and the cyber world has even less, with no precedents whatsoever existing.
So by operating under American ideals of Freedom of Speech, trading primarily in US currency on popular platforms, and adopting the lifestyle of many Americans by taking on their norms. But what does this mean for the cyber-world itself?
Many countries do not operate by an American code of life, and show the same respects online. China operates with many restrictions, and it’s cyber space is unlike the our more Western one. A fractured cyberspace is starting to form, with different operating protocols from different regions, who use different sites with different rules. But will these cyberspaces ever meet like at the dawn of the internet, or will they continue to drift apart, making sites and people once again foreign to each other.
Maybe it is in our nature to adopt the major cultures that surround us, but also to rebel and form our own identities. But in a space where we are all meant to be equal, and have no governing bodies to define who we are or what we do, how can this be possible? The cyberspace is a whole, but the people themselves are not. We are defining who we are, from where we are and what we like. And it might possibly tear the internet apart, as we try to define ourselves and separate ourselves. Despite advertised as a world with no physical borders, geographical location plays a large part in how much you can interact in the cyberworld. So, what can you do in the world?
You can either take part in the larger community and try to ignore the fact you are gonna be left out or consumed by a larger culture. Type away, spell ‘colour’ wrong, trade in $USD, follow American news. Or, create a sect, keep your identity, push away other cultures and ideas to remain who you are.
I am attempting to deal with this in my own work, which will hopefully be a short film. By setting it in a Western world, I run risk of over-Americanising the script. But if I carve a uniquely Australian script, it may be lost to many viewers, as what I view as Australian may not be to many people in Australia. The fine line between cultures blur more and more, and I must take care that I set the film up in a way that it isn’t lost culturally.