"all things in existence are physiologically connected"

Is the Internet a Technology or a Space?


At Michigan State University’s “Commodification, Technoculture, and the Human” conference, presenter and author from Simon Fraser University Andrew Feenberg acknowledged the internet as a technology and compared it to a “wheel chair ramp”. It took me by surprise, as I would hold that the internet is NOT a technology, but a space…software, for instance, is analogous to the “wheel chair ramp” – simply because of its ability to possess ambiguous functionality relative to its user. The specific designation of the “wheel chair ramp” is important, because it could be identified as a “skateboard ramp” to some skateboarder, right!?…Similar to how the LinkedIn application could serve multiple purposes depending on the user.

Perhaps the internet requires much more definition, as the roots of the word can be confusing. Inter: situated within – Net: any network or reticulated system of filaments or the like. Its terminology is synonymous with the “web” or a web, which requires multiple linkages to points of initiation in order to exist well. If this is the internet that Feenberg is referring to then I’d think it accurate. However, the internet is not actually a web of ever connected points. Information destinations are not required.

The internet is analogous to space. Regardless of whether or not we access space, its potential exists – we can access or insert entities of sorts into the space regardless of, if another user were present to receive information of sorts from the distributed. Space is a dynamic system of expanding material potential as is the internet’s material potential. The potential of the internet expands as users (or rather, potential users) access to the internet expands – access could come in many forms including, user population(s) growth or by computing speed or by computing power… The internet, regardless of the constraints of the word, it cannot be identified as a specific technology.

Feenberg’s internet analogy using the ramp came from a paper that he presented on how mediation or rather, bureaucratic regulation, should shape use of the internet space. Of course, his presentation regarded the internet as a technology which is much more suitable to be regulated than a space – similar to regulating the building of space-penetrating vessels through standards and institutions instead of regulating the actual engagement of space. It reminds me of Billy Bob Thorton’s movie The Astronaut Farmer. These types of mediation would (will, per Feenberg) occur from an access, speed, and power standpoint.

From an economic standpoint there is a price threshold that divides users from non-users of the potential space of the internet, and while the older generation of participants of this conference firmly expressed their pessimism sentiments and about private industry’s ability to suppress the pervasive engagement of space, I honestly resented their lack of activist zeal. They’re generations’ willingness to allow an ownership ideology to pervade the legal will of our society’s engagement of its potential is stifling…I’ll save that argument for later…lol…

It would be silly to suggest that Feenberg hasn’t provided some valuable contribution to the philosophy of technology and the exploration of critical theory, but his inability to forecast an age of increasing segmentation of networking technological use by sentient beings and suggest that we may need to accept the inevitability of using a weak or regulated AI (artificial intelligence) for IT (information technology) ontological rationale out of our diverse set of interactions shows 1) a lack of ambition or vision, 2) his age, and 3) his discipline specific, novice. It makes me wonder more about if philosophical explorations alone can produce robust stances on modern issues of sorts. A bureaucratic regulatory style or establishment of institutions subject to potentially elitist bias is yet another band-aid to the “problem” of technological pursuits…..human kind has the potential to be past the age of the band-aid.


  K. A Harris wrote @

There must be an meta-conceptionualization of technology if we are going to critique it. This is why Feenberg finds this perfectly acceptable to stretch the notion of a “side walk ramp” and the “internet.” For Feenberg, communication technology is about its “inter-working.” Although I myself cannot see/ know how the internet works, that does not presume some negation about it being the same as other technologies at least in the basic concept of what technology is to do. The internet is a communication technology. Yes, I will agree this is not the same as a “side walk ramp” but its inter-working to transmit X from point A to B is more efficient and faster, than say a telegraph. The internet as you noted is a “space” but a side walk ramp for this matter is a space. The internet appears as though it has no hardware but it does. There are two ways in which technologies can give illusions. First, that the hardware is far away from the person who is experiencing the technological. A good example of this is, I have central-heat. Although I feel heat in my home, I am not able to see the hardware or even aware that it is at work. The second, is that the hardware is distributed to millions of people. This is true for the internet. The internet has not centralized hardware but it distributed to everyone. In other words, the internet could be re-created all the time. Think of the movie Avatar also! The alternate world that the Avatars live in could be seen as the internet (for simplistic purposes) that does not follow that there is no hardware involved in its existence. For the humans to get to Avatar world, they must get into the horizontal body machines. Here, hardware is involved. There is a relationship for the internet. The mere existence of the internet is fundamentally dependent upon the hardware, which makes it technological.

  JFKII wrote @

“The internet is a communication technology”. No

Devices such as computers are technologies that transmit data between points. In this blog, I define and describe the internet as a “space”. It is a space specifically and cannot be a technology because it has not physical bounds or definition, only potential. The Ramp for instance has physical bounds and definition with makes its suitable to be described as a technology, but it exists in a space (universe, galaxy, world) where where it transmits a physical equivalent of data between points.

I’d define space as a dynamic unquantifiable potential. Whether physical or virtual, space provides potential for entities such as technologies to operate within it, but the potential doesn’t increase or decrease based on the because we access it. For instance, space doesn’t cease to exist if we fail to access it well.

  Tyrone Steels II wrote @

The Internet is a space. Technology created the Internet space. To this day, network architects notice how packets and traffic seem to “shape” themselves without intervention. That’s requires a space with an “environment”. We can always inject new technology to the Internet. And we see that with cell phones, appliances, etc. But injecting the Internet space into technology? Not so easy.

  Matthew Tunstall wrote @

The internet is real estate with spacial properties. Space does not expand until it receives focus from the attention of those who utilize it. Therefore, the internet is real estate until it provides relative function to the users who expand it. The more users that occupy that space the more valuable the real estate becomes.

  Matthew Tunstall wrote @

Space alone does propose an economic value proposition, except in advertising. Domain are a lot like houses. You can build whatever you want on your property to suite your own functional needs. Except, online, everyone lives on the same street.

  Matthew Tunstall wrote @

* does not

  JFKII wrote @

Feenberg’s article

Click to access brasilia.pdf

  K. A Harris wrote @

I don’t disagree with the way you have decided to conceptualize what “space” is. I don’t agree that you see technology the same. Internet is a space that has been technized, which is why people normatively a inclined to refer to it has a technology and I stated the properties it possesses. I do not think you can bring criticisms against Feenberg here with a distinction that does not truly exist. Furthermore, Haraway, Heidegger would be inclined to say that things that we do not usually see has being technology are actually technology, such as the breeding of animals. The root of your disagreement with Feenberg is much more fundamental. What do you see as technology? What is something in your view that HAS been technized?

  Matthew Tunstall wrote @

Thank you for the link to the original argument, Mr. Keith. I have not yet read Feenberg’s article, as my disagreement stemmed from his “wheel chair ramp” analogy quoted by Mr. Keith.

I define technology as the usage of tools. Nonetheless, take electricity for example. Electricity’s potential for application does not make it a technology by itself. The technological capacity of electricity is in our ability to harness it. It must provide relative function to items that utilize it before it’s value can be quantified.

  K.A Harris wrote @

Well, it is clear that you see Technology as being instrumental to humans as Feenberg does and that will be apparent in his work. However, if you adopt that sort of thinking on technology you will not be inclined to say that things don’t have the ability within themselves to become technized. A space can be a technology no matter what the space is! A road is a technology because it is more efficient to get from A to B. The internet is a technology because it allows us with in a space to send and save information and do other things alot easier. To conceptualize it differently seems to 1) not do any justice to his argument and 2) claiming that the internet is not a technology but a space does not have any apparent value for Feenberg’s project. I am not understanding why this distinction needs to be made and so far it has not been apparent. What ever the internet IS specifically is not what is important but rather it is something that has been INSTRUMENTALLY TECHNIZED. Furthermore, you can spend life times arguing over what the internet is and there are probably many views on this but it is NOT vital for Feenberg. Mr. Tunstall if you are committed to seeing technology as merely instrumental, then you run into your own problems (the same ones Feenberg runs into) mainly being that things that are technized do not have a specific methodology as you have suggested but it is much more random than that in my view. Technology is Not always are ability to use it! The human body for example over time has (without human use) managed to improve itself more efficiently, animals go through natural modifications to become more efficient in nature. I can only suggest that you inquiry more into people who are writing on philosophy of technology or at least realize that technologies are not just tools! Suggestions: Heigedder, Ellul, Benjamin, even Marx, Haraway. These are just some people I have been evaluating in my philosophy technology class to inform my views on the subject.

  End of Race, part 1 « INTEGRATIONALISM wrote @

[…] will be like, as our degree of separation shrink, as a result of communicative technologies and a space like the internet….and as nano, bio, info technologies help us understand what’s […]

[…] I should start with the definition of the internet. I had this debate while at Michigan State in October of 2010 with the philosopher Andrew Feenberg. I’ll do my best not to be redundant while everything is still live via the links in this […]

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