Karachi city: Cyberspace vs. Real space

Abstract:

This research examines the Karachi city in terms of its physical and digital existence.

Karachi as cyberspace is different from the real city space in many ways. The paper will disclose the differences these two places have. Though digital Karachi on cyberspace doesn’t seem to hold a real, physical place, the digital spaces still exist in relation to the real space as the members of Karachi city consume the digital space.

This research closely looks at the city through the female perspective only. Female citizens claiming and performing in city in comparison to the role they play in cyberspace. To me cyberspace is an ideal place for a woman when compared to the physical space of Karachi.

Introduction:

This research looks at Karachi city from different perspectives. Karachi being the largest city of Pakistan is the most dynamic in nature. This paper focuses on the perspective of female populations in Karachi only.

Viewing Karachi as a digital space and as a real space will be interesting to look at the diversities it holds. Digital space is an extension of the real city. Cyberspace or the digital space is the computer mediated environment where members can communicate. The term cyberspace has emerged with the advent of internet. It allows members by giving them the opportunity to interact and engage via sharing their ideas, views and opinions.

Since cyberspace has infinite interactive sites for its users, I would like to focus my research to the social networking site, Facebook. It was founded in February 2004. Since 2005 it caters the members worldwide but initially it was restricted to United States only. Members have to create a Facebook profile in order to become users. The age limit to join this social networking site is as low as 13 years. To closely look at the Facebook users I have used my personal account on Facebook (https://www.facebook.com/faryal.gul.58).

The idea of cyberspace has a lot of liberty and anonymity attached to it. The cyberspace particularly Facebook offers its users to construct their profiles. This construction of identity has the freedom to choose the gender, sexual orientation, ethnicity, views, and to tailor your information. It provides you the power to control your environment as you want it to be. The user has the control of adding other user in his/her list and to limit or block and user if required. The Facebook profile being the extension of real life actually becomes the tailored self of users. The user at the same time can remain anonymous if they want to. In such a place the members find it easier to communicate, interact, relate, explore and be a part of social swarms.

For the real space, I will focus on myself in relation to the city spaces I visit. Be it my home, my work place, shopping Centre, Bus stop etc. Besides, the paper will unfold how my interaction changes in these two spaces.

This research will focus on the digital presence of female Karachi user and her interaction online in contrast to her real life in Karachi city.

Discussion:

The research paper focuses on Karachi and looks at the city on different levels. It talks about the reality of a woman in cyberspace in comparison to the reality of a woman in real space.

The research paper carefully defines cyberspace and the real space. A cyberspace is an internet mediated environment accessed via computer. The websites created on internet are the extensions of the real existing places and have no physical presence in reality. The members of the city when consume cyberspace become a site by creating their profile, account or website. It is the site interacting with the other site so, the cyberspace becomes the interaction of sites (Mirzoeff,).

Foucault has categorized cyberspace as a “heterotopic place” in his chapter “Of Other Spaces”. A heterotopic place is a place that does not exist in the physical world. The cyberspace is heterotopic just like a mirror as we can see oneself in the mirror but inside mirror nothing exists. It is just a virtual reality of our real selves. It is only the reflection of our life. Taking my own example for the research, my Facebook account is only a reflection of me. It is different from my self-existence in real space. I don’t actually live in the cyberspace and it doesn’t define me completely.

Utopic Cyberspace:

An internet user needs to create an account in order to be a Facebook user. A profile is required and then you can add other users in your friend list. While creating a profile, user actually creates an online identity. Profile has a lot of questions that will project your personality online; like political views, interested in (male, female or both), your favorite quote, your relationship status etc.

When I joined Facebook, I went through a process of creating my profile. I chose what information to be visible to whom. Facebook has a privacy setting that enables you to tailor your account your way. I have not put up any religious comment on my profile information and that’s my choice.  I have a personal setting on my account so that not everyone can add me, only mutual friends have that option.

As Sherry Turkle says that the identities of the users are constructed in cyberspace.  People tend to have tailored self and psyche online in order to remain anonymous.  This idea of being anonymous gives users a sense of freedom and they tend to perform a role online. The user is free to be what he/ she wants to be. I share a lot of posts on Facebook related to horoscopes, relationships, political, social, fiction philosophy and much of the content is feminist in nature. I come across a lot of content on facebook that I don’t share via my profile but I do read, like and comment. Similarly, the pictures shared on my account are selected ones. I only post the pictures that I am comfortable sharing with my entire friend list. Although my profile isn’t public and all of the posts and pictures are closely restricted to my friends only still I choose the picture to be uploaded. I have the liberty of tailoring my account the way I want it to be.

The cyberspace offers a sense of power, control and freedom. Control over the interaction, environment and who can communicate to you publicly or privately. On my account I have blocked few people to control the virtual social circle. The blocked profiles cannot message me; communicate publically or privately, post on my timeline, share or comment on anything I post. This blocking option of Facebook has given me the power to construct the space I want to.

Cyberspace gives the user a sense of confidence as it has a virtual interaction in contrast to a physical face-to-face conversation. Through my account I have talked to people more confidently than in real interactions. Here interaction refers solely to interaction with the opposite sex. Last year I got to know a mutual friend to whom I wanted to talk to. I preferred searching him on facebook and converse virtually than approaching him directly and know him more. I had an apprehension of his rude behavior which I couldn’t handle being with him in real time and space. Similarly, if I have to convince my elder sister personal message application of facebook works better than talking to her in real space. I can defend my point and create more rebuttals online than in real space where, I lose the dialogue.

Other than interactions, views and opinions are much easier to share on facebook status rather than in real space. Political affiliations in real space are not easy due to family pressures. I support Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaaf (PTI) and Imran Khan on social media only, although I am a registered supporter of PTI but I can’t actually attend their rallies in Karachi. Being a female I have restrictions for involvement in political activities. Cyberspace has given me the opportunity to be affiliated with PTI without being an active participant of their gatherings.

Karachi in Real space:

In contrast to my Facebook account I will compare myself in the real space of Karachi. For this research I went through my timeline and critically reviewed it. I was at a conclusion that my online profile is just representing a part of me. My true self has a lot more than my account.

I particularly select what to be on my timeline and not everything of my real life is online. My profile seems to be of a perfect person who feels contented with life and work. In real space I am pessimist and get easily depressed every now and then.

In real space I actually don’t follow whatever I share on facebook like following your heart and travelling frequently. In real space I only do what feels like logical even at the cost of my happiness and inner peace.

I can’t do whatever I want to in real space. I went to the Dolmen Mall (Tariq road) there I was trying to find a shop where I came last time. During this struggle a young man constantly followed me until I was in distress. The reason of my anxiety was not only that I was alone but also it was an evening hour. The relationship of a female member with the real space is different from the cyberspace. The cyberspace does not have the time constraint for female users.

The women in real space don’t have the liberty of what she wants. The activities of a woman are defined by the environment she lives in. When we consider the relationship of a woman in the city, Shilpa Phadke’s work is very important to look at. She talks about the female member who are unable to claim the city the way male members do. She explains how a woman cannot move around without a purpose. A woman in order to consume a public space needs to have a purpose to shield her. She makes the purpose of claiming the public space more obvious to not to be categorized.

In real space I don’t have the liberty to associate myself with any political party. Due to family restrictions I am not allowed to participate in political activities. While my family has no issues if I am affiliated to the same political party virtually and doesn’t require to physically gather. Despite of having inclinations I would not be able to find a platform to voice my opinions in real space. Whereas, in cyberspace I can communicate to public or my friend list in order to share my opinion.

In real space I cannot control my environment by blocking people and restricting them. I blocked my brother on my social network on facebook for some reasons, whereas I can’t restrict him in any way in my real space. I can only limit my interaction with him when we both are home but I can’t stop him from living in the same home. I don’t enjoy the power of controlling my space in reality as I do on cyberspace.

Dystopic cyberspace:

Cyberspace despite of much openness  has a dystopia attached to it. By dystopia I refer to the construction of real spaces. Cyberspace gives you a feeling of an ideal space and in reality it is not as it is portrayed. Online shopping is one of the dystopic experience cyberspace has to offer. I became one of the victims when I shop from an online store considering it will be very easy to get things at your door step. Not only I got the wrong size dress but also the ordered color was not dispatched by the store. The situation got worse when the reimbursement and the process of cancelling the order dragged. The online shopping is the worst of the experience I had online.

Cyberspace particularly facebook offers a great deal of security and privacy settings but at the same time the administration changes the policies so frequently that the user are unable to cope up. I never knew that my display picture of the facebook profile will be public if I sync sound cloud account with my facebook account. I got to know when one of my friends showed my picture in the google images random search. The detail it has is of my sound cloud account where I never posted my picture and was extracted from my facebook profile when I initially synced both accounts. Apparently facebook offers a long list of security and shows the user has the power but it has a lot more inside that’s hidden from the user.

Conclusion:

Karachi as a real space and as a cyberspace is a unique city for women. It has much liberty to offer as a cyberspace than a real space. The women have power and control in cyberspace in comparison to the real space. The conclusion of this paper would be that the woman in cyberspace is opposite to the woman in real space. The utopic cyberspace also has the dystopic elements whereas the real space is entirely different from its online extension.

Woman enjoys the ideal space online whereas, her life in real space is controlled by the society and other members. As my facebook account is a tailored and constructed version of me, along with this it does not reflect my life completely. In contrast, my real life is not merely dependent on my likes and dislikes it is controlled by other people as well, making it a dystopia in comparison to the cyberspace.

Cyberspace that does not exist in physical nature has provided me with the illusion of taking the lead, being in power, to be able to control and to be what I want to be. This illusionary world with no real space creates a heterotopia. Heterotopias are the no place places that only reflect the real self like a mirror. I can live a utopian life via my online account but I can’t dwell there solely. It is a reflection of my life but not my life.

Bibliography:

  • Mirzoeff, Nicholas, “The Visual Culture Reader”, 2nd Edition
  • Miskowiee, Jay, 1984, “Des Espaces Autres”, French Journal: “Architecture- Mouvement- Continuite”.
  • Phadke, Shilpa; Ranade, Shilpa; Khan, Sameera, 2009, “Dissent and Cultural Resistance in Asia’s Cities, Routledge.
  • Turkle, Sherry, 1997, “Life on Screen: Identity in the age of the Internet”, New York, Touch stone.
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