A Future in the Clouds

By Kate Botterill

Charles Leadbetter appeared on Newsnight last week to discuss the future of the Internet. He is the author of a report entitled ‘Cloud Culture: The Future of Global Cultural Relations’ which describes the next phase of digital technology where the users of the World Wide Web are becoming its makers through collaborative creativity and ‘clouds’ of cultural expression. Such creativity is manifest in blogs such as this one, through community resources like Wikipedia and other forms of open source software, removing the need for fixed space servers. Many hope these ongoing developments in web technology or ‘cloud computing’ will pave the way for greater expression for more people through a decentralised, remote space blurring the boundaries between the ‘amateur and professional, consumer and producer, grassroots and mainstream’ (Leadbetter, 2010).

Yet there are threats to such freedom of expression through surveillance and censorship, particularly concerning are those imposed by authoritarian governments to monitor national online content (See http://www.greatfirewallofchina.org for a response to the Chinese government’s censorship activities). Moreover, the management and organisation of the digital cloud has generated a new force of ‘cloud capitalists’ like Google, Facebook and Twitter and there are concerns over ownership of private data, encroachments in personal space and battles between old and new media forces.

And what of geography in this virtual, remote space?

In an article for Geography Compass Mark Graham (2008) examines geography and the Internet through discourses of economic development and asserts that the “Internet has by no means been freed of its spatial chains, and interactions and content in cyberspace continue to be both socially produced and shaped by geography” (774). Graham compares theories of economic development and ‘modernization’ to emerging theories about the ‘Internet revolution’ and ‘digital divide’ (Castells, 2003; Selwyn, 2004) suggesting that while some see a potential to eradicate poverty and reduce inequality through increasing interconnectedness and empowerment in Cyberspace, others view the Internet as ‘a tool of oppression and economic slavery with the power to disrupt goals of self sufficiency and displace traditions’ (784). It is this dichotomy that begs the question how global is cloud culture?

Watch the interview with Charles Leadbetter on BBC Newsnight here

Read more about Cloud Culture or Join the debate

Read Graham (2008) Warped Geographies of Development: The Internet and Theories of Economic Development

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