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Assignment B

Question 1

Perceptions of time and space have drastically changed over the centuries, due to societal and cultural developments, creating a shift from an emphasis on history and time to the new focus of space and “the site.” Michel Foucault describes in “Of Other Spaces” a new age of spaces where the idea of faraway places coming together in one site and the creation of a “place without a place” are found in modern societies, and daily life is now accustomed to these new spaces. Foucault describes this concept as “heterotopias;” real, physical sites in human society that are simultaneously lying outside of societal spaces. Early examples of heterotopias included the prison, the boarding school, the hospital, and the cemetery. Each site can be classified as a specific type of heterotopia, such as the “crisis heterotopia” and the “heterotopia of deviation,” and Foucault has formulated several principles of these other spaces to explain their appearance and purpose in society. By analyzing Foucault’s concept of the heterotopia and pairing it with other works, such as Baudrillard’s “Simulacrum and Simulation,” one can point out the main heterotopias in modern society, and can understand the importance of these modern spaces. Baudrillard describes modern societies’ adaption of “copies without originals” and simulations of real-life structures as new, relevant realities. Beginning in the late twentieth century, and following in to the twenty first, the development of cyberspace can be seen as an ideal form of Foucault’s heterotopia, and also contains Baudrillard’s simulacrum and simulations of reality. Cyberspace follows almost all of the principles of heterotopology, such as juxtaposing various places, an enclosure of all forms of history and time while existing independent from time, and the capability of being an open space but also selective in its admittance of the public. The new “virtual reality” is a space out of the boundaries of normal reality, but nevertheless exists and functions as an integral part of human life. Foucault also highlights the importance of the heterotopia as a “dream place,” an escape from repressive society, which is a key component of cyberspace and how it is now viewed as a place of limitlessness and expression.

An important aspect of Foucault’s definition of heterotopia is the idea of this place as “a kind of effectively enacted utopia in which real sites, all the other sites that can be found within the culture, are simultaneously represented, contested, and inverted.” This statement can also be used to describe internet and cyberspace as well. Cyberspace is a site where all other aspects of human society and culture can be found, and discussed. The virtual world and its content is an open space where all aspects of society and the physical world can come together, and be found in this one utopian-like site. This definition of the heterotopia seems to be an ideal match for describing cyberspace, therefore emphasizing the relevance of Foucault’s formulations in modern society. Heterotopias make up a large amount of today’s physical life, and now dominate human’s non-physical lives in cyberspace. Foucault continues describing the heterotopia by using the metaphor of the mirror; “the mirror is, after all, a utopia, since it is a placeless place. In the mirror, I see myself there where I am not, in an unreal, virtual space that opens up behind the surface.” Not only is this a description of the mirror’s function but, it also describes the purpose of the computer screen, and its action of allowing user’s virtual lives to be viewed behind the surface of the screen. Human’s now have a presence in cyberspace where they can see themselves and have interactions, but they are not physically present in this new place. The internet is a real place, but it is separate from the physical world, making it a kind “counter-site,” like the heterotopia.

Describing cyberspace as a form of simulation and a collection of modern simulacrum can be just as beneficial as seeing cyberspace as a heterotopia. Baudrillard’s concepts can be seen as similar to Foucault’s work with modern space and its importance in society, and both theorists can use cyberspace as the model example for their ideas. Human’s experiences in cyberspace are seen as simulations of reality, and the content of the internet contains forms of simulacrum. The virtual world is the prime example of modern simulation and hub of simulacrum because of its ability to make the real, physical world less meaningful in regards to the understanding of human life. Human society now revolves around this new form of media, and it has the ability and accessibility of virtual manipulation, creating simulacrums that follow the steps that Baudrillard has formulated. Simulacrum starts as a basic reflection of reality, it perverts reality into and “evil appearance” of itself, it creates an absence of the original reality, and then finally, the simulacrum becomes a simulation of reality, completely taking over. The content of the internet can be seen as the product of this process, which now creates a new artificial truth and experience that disregards the original, non-cyber reality. This fourth step is also a creation of the “hyperreal,” and cyberspace is the culmination of hyperreal content slowly taking over human’s perception of reality. The term “virtual reality” has grown to be a common part of human life, and has created the simulation and heterotopia of the internet life.

Just as Baudrillard uses the example of Disneyland as one of the iconic forms of simulacrum and simulation, cyberspace and the internet can be just as exemplary in modern society. Cyberspace follows the idea of both Baudrillard and Foucault, making it one of the most common heterotopias of the twenty first century. The heterotopia can be seen as synonymous for the term “cyberspace” because the experience of the virtual world is just as Foucault describes the heterotopic ship; “the boat is a floating piece of space, a place without a place, that exists by itself, that is closed in on itself and at the same time is given over to the infinity of the sea… the ship is the heterotopia par excellence.” Cyberspace is the modern day ship in terms of heterotopic traits, and is this place without of place that can combine multiple aspects of human society and culture in one, separated site.