In his account of the creation of the World Wide Web, Weaving the Web (1999), Tim Berners-Lee speculated that ‘a single hypertext link could lead to an enormous, unbounded world’. Certainly, the act of navigating that world has deeply affected the way we think about ourselves and our place in the universe. For many years I’ve been fascinated by questions like ‘where are we when we’re online?’ and, perhaps more importantly, ‘who are we?’. I tried to answer some of my own questions in Hello World: travels in virtuality and took a stab at it again in parts of Technobiophilia.
But this week I found another entry point in a quote from Rebecca Solnit. I’m a big fan of her writing but have only just come across A Book of Migrations, her 1997 account of discovering her Irish identity. In the very first pages I was struck by her remark that ‘travel offers the opportunity to find out who else one is’. She wasn’t writing about virtual life of course, but the observation is very relevant to cyberspace because it is there that you can wander in Tim Berners-Lee’s enormous unbounded world and experience parts of yourself beyond the fairly familiar person that you think you are.
I don’t believe Solnit has ever written about cyberspace in the same wonderful way she describes her journeys through the physical world, and I suspect that she’s probably not very interested in life online, but her work has been hugely influential on my own thinking on virtuality and I’d love to read her thoughts on the subject if and when she does approach it.