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Randal Walser

Autodesk Research Lab Autodesk, Inc. 2320 Marinship Way Sausalito, CA

January 31, 1990

Forthcoming in Proceedings of National Computer Graphics Association
'90 Annaheim, March 19-22, 1990


Until recently, computer interface designers have regarded human beings
as "users" of computers, and computers have been regarded as tools for
the human mind. That view is now being challenged by an emerging
paradigm that redefines the relationship between humans and
computers. One manifestation of the new paradigm is an exciting new
medium, called cyberspace, that provides people with virtual bodies in
virtual realities that emerge from simulations of three dimensional
worlds. Building on a conception of cyberspace as a form of theater,
I sketch out the elements of a cyberspace playhouse, a new kind of
social gathering place where people go to participate in three
dimensional simulations. As a specific example, I consider how a
playhouse might be organized for sports and fitness.


Cyberspace is a medium that gives people the feeling they have been
transported, bodily, from the ordinary physical world to worlds purely
of imagination. Although artists can use any medium to evoke
imaginary worlds, cyberspace carries the worlds themselves. It has a
lot in common with film and stage, but is unique in the amount of
power it yields to its audience. Film yields little power, as it
provides no way for its audience to alter film images. Stage grants
more power than film, as stage actors can "play off" audience
reactions, but still the course of the action is basically determined
by a playwright's script. Cyberspace grants ultimate power, as it
enables its audience not merely to observe a reality, but to enter it
and experience it as if it were real. No one can know what will
happen from one moment to the next in a cyberspace, not even the
spacemaker. Every moment gives every participant an opportunity to
create the next event. Whereas film is used to show a reality to an

Currently cyberspace is the subject of much discussion and excitement,
and not only for academic reasons. Just as industries grew up around
radio, telephony, film, television, and computers, an industry is
likely to grow up around cyberspace. Understanding its nature and
envisioning its applications can have significant practical
consequences. The trouble is, the technology of cyberspace is
immature, the art scarcely exists, and the economics are
problematical. While it is easy to see that something important is
taking shape, it is too early to tell quite what to make of it (for a
discussion of some possibilities see [19]).

The premise underlying this paper is that cyberspace is fundamentally
a theatrical medium, in the broad sense that it, like traditional
theater, enables people to invent, communicate, and comprehend
realities by "acting them out." This point of view has been expressed
beautifully by Brenda Laurel [8]. Acting, under this view, is not
just a form of expression, but a fundamental way of knowing. To act
is to become someone else, in another set of circumstances, and
thereby to know and experience a different reality. By giving his
body over to a character, an actor enters a character's reality, and
he can be said to embody (that is, provide a body for) the character.
The character lives through the actor but so, too, does the actor live
through the character. An actor in cyberspace is no different, except
that the body she gives to her character is not her physical body, but
rather her virtual one. She embodies the character but she,
personally, is embodied by cyberspace.

A group of people is the first ingredient of theater, so some way must
be provided for cyberspace patrons to gather in one place. Of course,
in principle there is no need for patrons to assemble in the same
physical space, as high speed data communication channels can be used
to bring them together in imaginary places. The day may come when
people can enter cyberspace from their own homes, or perhaps from any
location at all (just as it is now possible to place a phone call from
any vehicle within a cellular phone grid). Meanwhile, the
infrastructure of cyberspace is bulky and expensive enough to warrant
a physical gathering place. In this paper I sketch out some possible
elements of such a place, a new kind of social center, called a
cyberspace playhouse, where people go to play roles in simulations.

While I expect that playhouses will be used for many purposes,
including drama, design, education, business, fitness, and fun, here I
describe a playhouse which emphasizes sports and physical
conditioning. I have focused on sport because I think it epitomizes
the application areas for which cyberspace will turn out to be best
suited; namely, social activities that engage not just the mind but
the whole body and the whole spirit. Cyberspace has barely begun to
evolve as a medium, and of course no one can hope to understand it
fully until it has fully matured. Yet we can try to imagine what it
might become, and try to make it as grand as we can imagine. Sport
is an ideal area in which to sharpen our vision. Sport is related to
theater in that both are refined forms of play. Whereas theater
evolved out of the human impulse to pretend, and thus to plan, sport
evolved from the human impulse to assert one's self, and thus to
survive. Actors perform in order to be someone else. Athletes act in


If one were to dissect the elements of cyberspace technology it might
appear that cyberspace offers nothing really new. Indeed, many of the
key elements, most notably computer graphics, have been around a long
time. What is new about cyberspace is not so much the technologies
that underly it, but the way the technologies are packaged and
applied. Cyberspace is a medium that is emerging out of a new way of
thinking about computers and their relationship to human experience.
Under the old way of looking at things computers were regarded as
tools for the mind, where the mind was regarded as a disembodied
intellect. Under the new paradigm, computers are regarded as engines
for new worlds of experience, and the body is regarded as inseparable
from the mind.

The new perspective on human/computer interaction is due in part to
recent advances in computer graphics and simulation, and in part to
reductions in the cost of key user interface technologies. The new
perspective was precipitated, though, by the growing realization in
the scientific community that the basis of rationality is not in the
world, as had been supposed, but in the human body. The essence of
this new view is expressed eloquently in five words, in the title of
Mark Johnson's book, THE BODY IN THE MIND. In the introduction,
Johnson lays out the fundamental tenets of the emerging paradigm, as

"We human beings have bodies. We are 'RATIONAL animals,' but we are
also 'rational ANIMALS,' which means that our rationality is
embodied. The centrality of human embodiment directly influences what
and how things can be meaningful for us, the ways in which these
meanings can be developed and articulated, the ways we are able to
comprehend and reason about our experience, and the actions we take.
Our reality is shaped by the patterns of our bodily movement, the
contours of our spatial and temporal orientation, and the forms of our
interaction with objects. It is never merely a matter of abstract
conceptualizations and propositional judgments. [5]"

In another time or in another society, Johnson's comments might seem
obvious, even trivial. But in a society built on a philosophical and
scientific tradition that elevates mind over body, his point of view
is heresy of the highest order, for it challenges the presupposition
that the world is inherently rational, the basis for the very notion
of a mind apart from a body.

Under the classical scientific view there is no need to give a place to
the human body in any account of human reason because the classical
view presupposes the existence of an objective reality with a rational
structure. Reason is treated as a purely abstract system for
converging step by step on the one correct description of the world.
Under the new view, however, the world is not assumed to have a
rational structure, and there is no sense in trying to find one.
Instead, there are many possible worlds, as many as sentient beings
can invent and experience. Nothing, under the new view, is meaningful
until it has been experienced, either by the body, or by the "body in
the mind" (that is, the body-related "schemata," in the mind, that
organize and guide behavior).


Until now I have spoken of cyberspace as a medium, but there is another
sense of it. There is cyberspace the communications medium, and then
there is cyberspace the phenomenon. Cyberspace the phenomenon is
analogous to physical space. Just as physical space is filled with
real stuff (so we normally suppose), cyberspace is filled with
virtual stuff. Cyberspace, the medium, enables humans to gather in
virtual spaces. It is a type of interactive simulation, called a
CYBERNETIC SIMULATION, which gives every user a sense that he or she,
personally, has a body in a virtual space. Just as a cybernetic
simulation is a special kind of interactive simulation, a CYBERSPACE,
the phenomenon, is a special kind of virtual space, one that is
populated by people with virtual bodies.


Visionaries have discussed and promoted the essential aspects of
cyberspace, under various names, since the sixties. The roots of the
field are generally traced to Ivan Sutherland and his seminal work on
"Sketchpad," the first widely known interactive computer graphics
system [15]. Sutherland described a head-mounted three dimensional
display as early as 1968 [16]. Another evolutionary line can be
traced to the same period, to Douglas Engelbart and his efforts to
augment human intellect [2]. Much later, Papert spoke of
"microworlds," Krueger of "artifical reality," Brooks of "virtual
worlds," Fisher and McGreevy of "virtual environments," Nelson of
"virtuality," and Walker of "the world in a can" [12,7,1,3,11,18].
Indeed, the notion of projecting one's self into a virtual space is
familiar to hackers throughout computerdom, from Unix masters who
"move" deftly around the Unix file hierarchy, to adventure gamers who
"fight" the forces of evil in imaginary worlds. The term "cyberspace"
was f

Today the emerging field is variously referred to as cyberspace,
artificial reality, and "virtual reality," the term favored by Jaron
Lanier, one of the most visible of the field's advocates [6].
Whereas Lanier would use "virtual reality" to refer both to a virtual
space and experiences within the space, I distinguish a special kind
of virtual space, a cyberspace, which promotes experiences involving
the whole body. The distinction might seem obtuse, at first thought,
but it is no different in principle from the distinction between film,
say, and the apparent realities expressed through film (i.e., between
"filmic space," on the one hand, and "virtualities" communicated via
film on the other).

Theatrical Conception

As a form of theater, CYBERSPACE can be regarded as a computer-based
medium that enables groups of people to play the roles of characters
in cybernetic simulations of three dimensional worlds; crucially,
cyberspace gives the role players the ability to sense a virtual
reality from the point of view of the characters they play. I use
the term WORLD in the ordinary sense to mean a three dimensional
euclidean space in which objects obey certain fundamental and
predictable laws of behavior and organization (as in "laws of
nature"). A VIRTUAL REALITY is a consensual reality that emerges from
an interactive simulation such as SIMNET [17] or Maze Wars+ [10] (as
contrasted with a consensual reality that emerges from the ordinary
physical world). By CONSENSUAL REALITY I mean the world, or a
simulation of a world, as viewed and comprehended by a society.

A CHARACTER is a being with a virtual body in a virtual reality. The
role of a character is played by an INTELLECT, either a human (called
a PATRON or sometimes just a PLAYER) or an artificial intelligence
program (called an AI). A virtual object that embodies an intellect
is referred to as a PUPPET, to emphasize that it is directed by a role
player. Since an intellect plays the role of a character, a character
can be said to be embodied by a puppet (which is to say, a puppet
embodies both an intellect and a character). A puppet that embodies a
human intellect is referred to as a DROID (as in "android") and a
puppet that embodies an AI is called a BOT (as in "robot"). Sometimes
the controlling intellects themselves are loosely referred to as
droids or bots. To say that a virtual reality is consensual does
not mean that its players must agree with each other about anything
except how they perceive and act upon the underlying simulation. A
virtual reality is "consensual" in that its player

This definition of cyberspace is intentionally broad. Were it not for
the stipulation that cyberspace be computer-based, the definition
would admit many common forms of theater, sports, and games. As it
stands, the definition includes many computer-based simulation games
and training devices. It does not, however, include most
computer-aided design (CAD) systems for three dimensional modelling.
While three dimensional computer graphics is fundamental to cyberspace
technology, most 3D CAD systems do not give their users an embodiment
in virtual space - nor even, in most cases, a first-person view of a
space. Their users are provided with instruments like mice and
graphics tablets that enable them to reach through the looking glass,
but not to jump feet first into virtual spaces.

There are some who consider head-mounted visual displays to be
requisite equipment for the true experience of cyberspace, but
head-mounts are just one means to an end (though an especially
effective means). What matters is the extent to which players are
able to suspend their disbelief in the illusion that they inhabit
bodies apart from their physical bodies. The sole purpose of
cyberspace technology is to trick the human senses and sensibilities,
to help people buy into and sustain an illusion. Head-mounted visual
displays are important because they flood the human sense of sight
with illusory images, making it much easier for most people to suspend
their disbelief. Nonetheless, head-mounted displays are merely one
means among many, including out-the-window visual displays, three
dimensional audio displays, motion platforms, force-feedback devices,
credible simulation worlds, dramatic tension, high stakes, engaging
stories, and social reinforcement. The upshot is that there is no


The goal of a spacemaker is basically the same as the goal of a
playwright, a filmmaker, or any other creative artist. In THE SEVEN
STAGES OF THEATRE, Richard Southern describes art as "... an address
(in some form) by an individual to a number of people" [14]. He is
careful to point out that the art is not in the address, but in the
way of addressing. As he says, art is the process of saying something
and meaning something else. What creative artists do depends
critically on the relation of their medium to their audience. A
playwright creates a set of instructions for enactment by skilled
actors who perform before an audience. A filmmaker does basically the
same thing (often with the help of a screenwriter, a kind of
playwright), except that what is presented is not a performance but
rather a recording of one. In either case, the audience observes a
reality but never participates directly in it.

Whereas the playwright and the filmmaker both try to communicate the
idea of an experience, the spacemaker tries to communicate the
experience itself. A spacemaker sets up a world for an audience to
act directly within, and not just so the audience can imagine they are
experiencing an interesting reality, but so they can experience it
directly. The filmmaker addresses the mind. The spacemaker addresses
the body, and thereby the mind.

It is vital for the spacemaker to remember that a virtual reality is
not just a computer-based simulation: it is a computer-based
simulation played out by a group of people on a particular occasion.
As I defined it earlier, a virtual reality is a special kind of
consensual reality, one that is constructed from moment to moment by
the spontaneous actions, and interactions, of the role players in a
simulation. A virtual reality comes into existence when a group of
people experience a simulation as if it were real - and that occasion,

that one set of experiences, can happen only once. Thus the
spacemaker can never hope to communicate a particular reality, but
only to set up opportunities for certain kinds of realities to
emerge. The filmmaker says "Look, I'll show you." The spacemaker
says "Here, I'll help you discover."

In part, the job of the spacemaker is to design and construct worlds
for players to experience, but that is merely the technical side of
it. The more important part lies, as Southern says, in saying
something and meaning something else. The art, in other words, is not
in what the spacemaker constructs, but in communicating an insight
into what the spacemaker cannot construct (that is, some aspect of a
deeper truth or higher reality).


In William Gibson's stories, cyberspace "cowboys" enter cyberspace by
"jacking in" to an instrument called a "deck." The exact nature of a
deck is never discussed, though it is clearly some sort of gateway
through which people are transported to cyberspace. I use the term
DECK in the same sense, to refer to a physical space containing an
array of instruments which enable a player to act within, and feel a
part of, a virtual space.

Specifically, a cyberspace deck has seven components: 1. a
CYBERSPACE ENGINE to generate a simulated world and mediate the
player's interaction with it, 2. a CONTROL SPACE (a box of
physical space) in which the player's movements are tracked, 3.
SENSORS to monitor the player's actions and body functions, 4.
EFFECTORS to produce certain physical effects and stimulate the
player's senses, 5. PROPS to give the player solid analogs of
virtual objects and vehicles, 6. a NETWORK INTERFACE to admit other
players to the simulated world, and 7. an ENCLOSURE (or some sort of
physical framework) to hold all the components.

Many decks will have just one prop, like a stationary bicycle, a
railing, or a chair, and some decks will have no props at all.


A CYBERSPACE PLAYHOUSE is a place where people go, for various reasons,
to play roles in cybernetic simulations. Think of a playhouse as a
hybrid theater, gymnasium, school, sports arena, and conference
center. Its basic elements are modular cyberspace decks that are
organized, and easily reorganized, according to the requirements of
particular cyberspaces. Each playhouse has at least one STAGE, which
is simply a physical area that encloses one or more cyberspace decks.
Some playhouses will have many stages, with each one containing decks
that have a similar form or function. Each deck is linked into a
local area computer network (which may, in turn, be linked into a more
global network). A cyberspace is said to be a MULTIPLAYER SPACE when
it emerges from a simulation that is generated simultaneously by two
or more decks. By the definition given above, a cyberspace must have
at least one human player (since a cyberspace emerges from a
cybernetic simulation, which embodies a person), bu

If cyberspace decks can be made modular enough, and portable enough, it
will be easy to equip a playhouse for practically any kind of
cyberspace. In principle, a cyberspace playhouse could be used for
everything from drama and sports to design, education, games, product
promotion, planning, job training, and sensational parties. In
practice, each playhouse will be limited by the types of decks it
contains. If a cyberspace requires a certain type of deck, which a
playhouse does not have, then the playhouse will not be able to "run"
the cyberspace at that particular time. To put it the other way
around, a playhouse can run a cyberspace if 1) the house has the
cyberspace in its (software) library, 2) it has the types of decks the
space requires, and 3) a deck is available for at least one
participant. It is easy to imagine that some playhouses will
specialize to the point that they rarely, if ever, run new spaces, and
never replace their decks, while other playhouses will offer a steady

Since each deck is capable of running a complete cybernetic simulation,
a playhouse with 20 decks, say, can run 20 spaces simultaneously. Or,
at the other extreme, if every player chooses to join the same space,
the playhouse will run just that one space, and all 20 players will be
in it.


In this section, I briefly consider the design of a SPORTING HOUSE, a
kind of cyberspace playhouse dedicated to sports and fitness. An
analysis of all the issues is well beyond the scope of this paper, but
even a cursory look at a few issues raises some intriguing questions
and possibilities.

The critical thing to realize about the design of cyberspaces, for
sports, is that sporting decks will generally have sophisticated
props, like recumbent bicycles and inclined treadmills, and that
sporting houses will make money by renting time on those decks. The
purpose of a cyberspace for sports is not just to help people have fun
and stay fit. It is also to help keep sporting houses in business, by
keeping their decks full of players. If sporting houses are to be
economically viable, then the spaces they run must 1) give patrons
good reasons to rent time on decks, and 2) be organized so as to keep
every deck constantly in use, but without making patrons wait
inordinately long for decks to become available.

A sporting house could be used for many purposes, including physical
training, survival games (like capture-the-flag), races, tours,
rallies, various forms of dance*, tournaments, adventure games,
orienteering, and variations on traditional sports like baseball and
racquetball. It might be located in any number of places, like a
school or university, a training camp, a shopping mall, a corporate
office building, a hotel, or an amusement park. The kind of sporting
house I have in mind emphasizes fitness and is modelled on circuit
training, a conditioning regimen consisting of an alternating sequence
of aerobic (steady) and anaerobic (explosive) exercises. A typical
sporting house of this kind might be located in a converted fitness
center and have, say, eleven stages: four for dancing, two for
lifting, and one each for cycling, rowing, climbing, skiing, and
running/walking. If each stage has four decks, the playhouse would
hold 44 decks in all. That means it could accomodate a total of 4

---------------- * I use the term "dance" in a very general sense to
refer to any kind of whole body movement or routine that does not
depend on a stationary prop. Except for computer and electronic
apparatus, a dance stage is simply a carpeted room that is big enough
to allow a player to take three or four steps. Thus, a dance stage
can be used for a wide range of purposes, including stretching,
aerobic dancing, martial arts, racquet sports, batting sports,
calisthenics, and "body music" (a new form of musical expression, made
possible by cyberspace, in which a dancer maintains the quality of a
musical jam session by performing certain dance routines and
exercises). ----------------

In order to control traffic and guarantee the availability of decks,
the visits of patrons must be carefully scheduled and planned. Since
a circuit requires a number of fitness machines, generally one for
each exercise, it is important that sporting houses be designed to
periodically pull players along from one deck (exercise station) to
another. Fortunately, since cyberspace playhouses will be extensively
wired and computerized, patrons can be tracked and guided
individually. This is useful not just for traffic control, but also as
the basis for personalized games and workout programs. On the other
hand, the goal of the spacemaker (under the theatrical approach) is
not just to foster personalization, but also socialization. The goal
is not to equip people to disappear into their own private realities
(desirable as that may be, for some purposes), but to help individual
patrons participate in public realities with other living beings.

A sporting house, then, is construed to be an enterprise that rents out
time in public cyberspaces. These are living environments that
patrons may visit just as if they were public parks or recreation
centers. A cyberspace has a life of its own, in other words,
independently of individual humans. This does not imply that a
cyberspace can exist independently of humans. By the definition
above, a cybernetic simulation must involve at least one human. The
point is that a space, in a sporting house, hangs together like a real
place, and while it cannot exist independently of human participation,
neither does it end when the last patron leaves - it simply pauses
until another patron enters. Thus, while a cyberspace is an evolving
environment, it changes only when there is at least one patron jacked
into it. This might be an ontological hedge, but it is also a
practical necessity: in order for a cyberspace to continue unfolding
without a human to experience it the playhouse would have to contin

Since a training circuit is a sequence of activities at successive
exercise stations, it seems natural to set up a correspondence between
the activities and the segments of a path or course in a cyberspace.
So, for example, a simple circuit that calls for running, rowing, and
cycling might correspond to a course with three legs: a running
trail, a lake, and a highway. The player would then use a treadmill
to run along the trail, a rowing machine to cross the lake, and a
stationary bicycle to pedal down the highway. In general a workout
in cyberspace could be regarded as similar, conceptually, to the
traversal of an obstacle course in the physical world. This
conception is appealing in its simplicity, but unfortunately it is too
simple to be viable in an actual sporting house. The problem is that
decks are shared resources, and if demand is high then a particular
deck may not be available when a particular player needs it. It is
not reasonable to expect a player to wait on a bicycle, for

Of course, a commercial playhouse that is open to the public can no
more guarantee the availability of a deck than a movie theater can
guarantee a seat, at a particular time, to everyone who wants to see a
popular movie. The best one can hope for is a strategy that minimizes
inconvience without unduely compromising the service the playhouse is
designed to provide. One such strategy, for a sporting house that
emphasizes circuit training, is to allow variability in the sequence
of training activities. That is, a player would specify the
activities she wishes to perform, but not a necessary order.
Instead, she would rely on the playhouse to route her to available
decks, whatever they may be, as long as they are members of the set of
decks she has selected. In fact, varying the sequence of activities
is considered good practice by trainers and coaches, because athletes
are quite good (subconsciously) at learning the path of least
resistance through a regular exercise program [13]. So var

Unfortunately, if a player can move in any order from one deck to
another, then it is no longer possible to maintain a neat
correspondence between physical activities and features in a virtual
terrain. If a spacemaker knows, for example, that running will
always be followed by rowing, then he can arrange for a running trail
to lead to a boat dock on a lake. But what if no rowing machine is
available to a player when she reaches the virtual dock? What if a
bicycle is all that is available? Is she supposed to pedal the bike
across the lake? Anything is possible in cyberspace, even bicycles
that skim over water or fly through the air, but well constructed
cyberspaces, like well crafted plays and movies, will not rely on
magic to repair conceptual flaws. The flying bicycles in the movie
E.T., for example, are not merely contrivances that enable plot
transitions, but an integral part of the story.

It might be better, in the circuit training example, to provide a
virtual boat that is pedaled instead of rowed across the lake,
especially if the available prop is a recumbent bicycle. In that case
it should be as easy for the player to believe she is sitting in a
boat as on a bicycle. On the other hand, if the prop is a standard
racing bicycle, then there will probably be a mismatch between the
way the player moves in physical space and the way her puppet moves in
cyberspace (since, presumably, she is sitting in a basically upright
position in physical space while her character is reclining in
cyberspace). A mismatch of this sort might be described as
KINESTHETIC DISSONANCE and should be avoided, in general, because it
informs the body that something is "out of whack," and can break the
illusion that the virtual world is real.

To summarize to this point: it seems that trying to lay out a space in
a way that corresponds to a variable sequence of activities raises
difficult problems when shared resources are involved. One
conceivable alternative is to vary the space itself in correspondence
with the activities. A player might make an appointment with the
playhouse, specifying which activities he wants to include in his
workout program (or let the playhouse recommend a program based on his
general goals). The playhouse could then compare the player's
specification with the specifications of other players who are
scheduled for the same period, and weave all the activities into
sequences that preclude blockages. Then, the playhouse could employ
some automatic means to piece together a different space for each
player, as dictated by the order of activities in each player's
workout program. This could be a very complex endeavor if the
spaces were constructed entirely from scratch, but it would be
feasible if th

Another approach would be simply to provide an entirely different space
for every activity (as opposed to a different space for every workout
program). Thus, there would be a space for bicycles, a space for
rowboats, a space for skiis, and so on. There would not be as much
variety in each space, but there would no problem matching players'
physical activities and props with virtual counterparts. The
transition from one deck to another would correspond to a "hyperjump"
from one space to another.

Still another approach would be to set up a correspondence between
exercises in the physical world and sporting events, like races and
lifting contests, in a single virtual space. Unlike activities on an
obstacle course, there would be no need for any of the sporting events
to take place in contiguous locations. When a player moves from one
deck to another his character would make a hyperjump to the starting
location of the next event. Although events would not need to occur
contiguously, there is no reason why they should not, and in fact they
might even overlap in virtual space; thus, a bicycle race might occur
on the same road as a foot race, and avoiding collisions with other
players (or intentionally causing collisions) might be part of the
challenge. To insure the periodic rotation of players from deck to
deck, a time limit might be imposed on each event. If each event
lasted, say, ten minutes, then a player could rotate through six
different major activities in an hour. Even if


Over a quarter century ago, Marshall McLuhan said that electric
technology is bringing us rapidly to "... the final phase of the
extensions of man - [to] the technological simulation of
consciousness, when the creative process of knowing will be
collectively and corporately extended to the whole of human society
..." [ 9]. It was difficult, then, to imagine quite what McLuhan
was talking about, but today the "final phase" could well be at hand,
in the form of an emerging medium called cyberspace. Does cyberspace
represent the final extension McLuhan had in mind? It is still too
early to tell, but the important question is not what cyberspace is,
today, but rather what it can become.

McLuhan's great insight was that to understand a medium one must
understand its message (as opposed to its content), and the message of
any medium is the "change of scale or pace or pattern that it
introduces into human affairs." We have the opportunity, today, to
make whatever we want of cyberspace. To do so we must decide what
message we want it to convey; which is to say, we must imagine how we
want it to change human affairs. Today, a cyberspace playhouse is
only a thought experiment, but it could soon be the infrastructure
that makes us whole again, by bringing us back to our bodies. It is
hard to imagine that any enterprise, or any medium, could have a more
profound effect on human affairs.


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