Bell, David. An introduction to cybercultures. London: Routledge, 2001. 246 p. ISBN 041524658X. £45.00. (Hard back); ISBN 0415246598. £12.99 (Paperback)
A companion volume to The Cybercultures Reader, An Introduction to Cyberculture introduces students to all the major themes and concepts in this rapidly-growing field.
My interest in cyberculture in most cases is rather intermittent because the subject stays on the edges of my direct professional interests. So, I read the book by David Bell as a person for whom the book is meant - a beginner. From this particular point of view, the book is definitely useful. It has a logical structure that helps one to understand a variety of discourses approaching the subject of the cyberspace as "a product and a producer of culture". Chapters 2 and 3 provide an introduction to technical and economic developments of the Internet, Web and cyberspace, cover the images of cyberspace in popular culture and art, overview how people experience the advent of various means of communication technologies and appropriate them or incorporate in their everyday life. The actual cultural issues are covered in chapters 4-9. The methodological approaches for cultural studies of cyberspace are presented in chapter 4. Further chapters explore communities, identities, bodies (or disembodiment) and subcultures in cyberspace.
Each of these chapters follows more or less the same outline: definition of the basic concepts, introduction to the central theories used by the different authors (and/or by Bell), and development of the theme. I liked best the chapter on embodiment and disembodiment issues in cyberspace. It takes into account the hopes and threats that new technologies bring into our life and discusses it from a variety of points of view. Evidently the topic is closely related to identity and consequently to community issues. However, this separation of the chapters is justified in a textbook-like work. The ninth chapter focuses on the problems and threats of conducting research within cyberspace. I found it interesting in the light of my own research experiences. The demand for more thoughtful and ethical, conscious and conscientious research behaviour is timely with regard to cyber- and real-space.
The structure of the book is helpful and definitely provides an organised framework for thinking through the whole range of ideas, approaches, concepts, philosophies and what not underpinning the fuzzy concepts of cyberspace and cybercultures. Moreover, the language of the book is conversational, easy to understand. A reader will find plenty of real-life and cyber-life stories and anecdotes illustrating various phenomena and issues. Personal experiences are used with good sense of timing and appropriately. A good glossary is provided at the end of the book together with the reference lists of articles in The Cybercultures Reader, further reading, and web-sites.
Having said all that, one has also to state that the book does not provide anything beyond initial introductory material. In some cases it definitely needs better historical coverage (e.g., the technical story of cyberspace), wider and deeper insights into methodological approaches or literary discourses. Baudrillard, Foucault, Virilio and others are introduced disappointingly briefly. Cyberpunk definitely is something more than just William Gibson and the controversy of the hacking culture is much more complicated than one would believe after reading the book. I would have preferred that all chapters were more like "Community in cyberspace" that explores the topic in a broader historical context. Besides, it seems from my information science position that the book is already lagging behind recent developments in intellectual property ownership, electronic security developments, or actual "hot" pleasures provided by VR and other technologies (beyond MUDs). It seems that writing books about cyberspace is a hopeless race against time. You have to start revising your text even before you finish writing it. The same has happened to The Cybercultures Reader. It is rather lucky that a paperback version of the book is available, so that readers can get access to this clever book while waiting for a better version of it.
How to cite this review
Maceviciute, E. (2003) Review of: Bell, David. An introduction to cybercultures. London: Routledge, 2001. Information Research, 8(2), review no. R077 [Available at: http://informationr.net/ir/reviews/revs077.html]