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A Flag for Nowhere
by Darren Wershler-Henry

Home is a page on the World Wide Web.

IRL (In Real Life) I have moved nine times in twelve years. My phone numbers and addresses flash by with the relentlessness of the LED readout on a clock radio. I replace my computer every two-and-a-half years, as Moore's Law predicts. The only constant identifier in my life is my Web Site's URL (Universal Resource Locator), www.alienated.net.

There's no reason to be nostalgic about trading the suburbs for the Net. People who cite William Gibson's description of cyberspace ("There's no there there") usually forget that he was directly quoting Gertrude Stein's description of Oakland. Long before we built cyberspace to enrich it, meatspace was already badly drained of vitality. What we regain through digital connection is an immediacy and ubiquity that is sorely lacking in our processed and packaged daily lives. Nowhere is pronounced "Now/Here".1

All my friends live in Nowhere. I know people in cities thousands of kilometers away better than you know your next-door neighbours.

Why do we live in Nowhere? Partly because social and economic pressures leave us fewer choices. We break down our IKEA furniture, fold up our laptops and follow the jobs and the cheap rent. This is the flipside of the digital divide - some people can't afford to be online; others can't afford anything else. I'll never have access to much real estate, but virtual estate is another matter.

On the sunny side, Nowhere is very easy to renovate, and we'd be happy to "cruft together"2 a room for you. What's more, as the population of Nowhere increases, it's growing its own politics, based on the ethos of radical openness that was established by the creators of the very software on which the Internet is built. As Richard Stallman of the Free Software Foundation writes in Why Software Should Not Have Owners3, "cooperation is more important than copyright". My friend Brian Kim Stefans (a poet and artist who lives at www.arras.net) recently wrote the following:

I am on the verge of believing that, in politics, one can point to the presence of virtual countries - not just communities - that are already operating in a fashion directly contradicting the legal fashions as laid out by the government-entertainment complex, and that these people will be able to behave in unison, in a coordinated fashion, regardless of how the governments of the members of these virtual "countries" are constructed.

That's right: another word for Nowhere is "Utopia". Utopias often fail, but when they do, we have a marker for the precise limits of what's currently possible. And when we find them, we will build beyond them.

Darren Wershler-Henry is a writer, critic, editor, and author of two books of poetry: NICHOLODEON: a book of lowerglyphs (Coach House Books: 1997) and the tapeworm foundry (Anansi: 2000). He is also the co-author of Commonspace: Beyond Virtual Community(with Mark Surman; Prentice Hall: 2000). His most recent book is The Original Canadian City Dweller's Almanac (with Hal Niedzviecki; Penguin: 2002).

Notes :
1. I'm not interested in abandoning the physical through technological transcendence, though - that's a boring, elitist fantasy for old rich white men. And, as author Pat Cadigan wrote in her cyberpunk novel Synners (Four Walls, Eight Windows Press, 1991), "If you can't fuck it and it doesn't dance, eat it or throw it away."

2. For a definition of this phrase see New Hacker's Dictionary. [http://www.jargon.8hz.com]

3. See www.gnu.org

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