These days you just might hear someone say, "I am, therefore I surf." PCs and the Internet that links them are becoming so central to our way of life that they've spawned whole new schools of thought.
Internet philosophies with imposing names such as cyberlibertarianism, cyberutopianism, technorealism, technohedonism, cyberfeminism, and cyberunionism have emerged into the light of intellectual discourse.
Delving into the isms of cyberspace might not seem as practical as learning to be efficient when doing a Web search. But, as with philosophy in general, it can help you see the big picture and put matters into context. This can be profitable in all kinds of ways, whether you approach the Internet from a business or consumer perspective.
A Central Principle:
If there's one school of thought that's key in understanding the mindset of the Net and its denizens, it's cyberlibertarianism, which was born during the time when academics and hobbyists dominated the bitstream and which still pervades the commercial Internet today. Advocates believe in freedom from interference by government and other institutions. They want to surf and speak unfettered, and they extol the mantra: "Information wants to be free."
You can read more about cyberlibertarianism at the Cato Institute, at http://www.cato.org/research/telecom-st.html.
Though some netheads critically view today's Web as an overcommercialized strip mall, others see it as a virtual utopia. Cyberutopianism holds that the Internet, as the pinnacle of scientific and technological achievement, subverts hierarchy, revitalizes democracy, reduces racial and national conflict, and leads to planetary interconnectivity, unity, and holism.
In his book Technoromanticism: Digital Narrative, Holism, and the Romance of the Real, University of Edinburgh professor Richard Coyne discusses and disputes these assumptions and places them in the context of 18th- and 19th-century romanticism.
Technorealism is a name that has been coined for thinking critically in general about the role that information technology plays in history and society. It's a middle ground between technoutopianism, the belief that technology is all good, and neo-Luddism, the belief that it's all bad.
At the Web site Technorealism, at http://www.technorealism.org, you can read about its principles, including the need for anybody using the Net as a resource to convert information into knowledge and knowledge into wisdom.
Just as some approach reality in general from the perspective of how much pleasure they can squeeze from it, some approach cyberspace the same way. Technohedonism encompasses a range of Net activity, from the virtual debauchery of porn sites to the immediate gratification of instant messaging programs such as ICQ and AOL Instant Messenger.
A related note: For better or worse, people on the Net have little patience for delayed gratification. Creators of e-commerce and other Web sites should heed these sentiments by keeping speed-killing graphics and multimedia gewgaws to a minimum, eliminating broken links, and providing accurate stocking and delivery information.
Women may have once been a small minority on the Internet, but today they comprise fully 50% of the online population, according to the latest numbers from Nielsen/NetRatings. It behooves everyone to respect the role of women online and their thinking. At Switch, at http://switch.sjsu.edu/web/v4n1/toc.html, you can immerse yourself in the nuances of cyberfeminism.
Cyberunionism, as the name indicates, is about the intersection of unions and cyberspace. In his book Cyberunion: Empowering Labor Through Computer Technology, Drexel University professor Arthur B. Shostak discusses how unions are using information technology and how other groups can apply the same organizational principles.
If the above all seems like the activities of a strange new breed of humankind, surfing and communicating disembodied, free from the historical boundaries of time and space, you might be interested in cyberanthropology. At Cyberanthropology.org, http://www.cyberanthropology.org, you can read about recent research and participate in online discussions.
And then there's technoblatherism, which presents the counterpoint that new Net schools of thought are just regurgitated twaddle. Check out Technoblatherism by Gerard Van der Leun, at http://earthportals.com/blather.html, for a look into the mind of a quintessential, if more eloquent than most, nethead.
For more about technology philosophies, there's Dictionary.com's Philosophy of Technology at http://www.dictionary.com/Dir/Society/Philosophy/Philosophy_of_Technology.
The Ultimate Question
Finally, if you're wondering about the meaning of your existence, the Web can fuel your thinking. Meaning of Life at http://www.colliercom.com/meanlife.htm provides three new answers each week.
Reid Goldsborough is a syndicated columnist and author of the book "Straight Talk About the Information Superhighway." He can be reached at email@example.com or http://members.home.net/reidgold.