CYBERSPACE IS NOT A PLACE. IT IS MANY PLACES. THE CHARACTER OF THESE MANY places is not identical. They instead differ in ways that are fundamental. These differences come in part from differences in the people who populate these places. But demographics alone won't explain the variance. Something more is going on.
Here is a test. Read the following passage, and ask yourself whether the description rings true for you:
I believe virtual communities promise to restore to Americans at the end of the twentieth century what many of us feel was lost in the decades at the beginning of the century—a stable sense of community, of place. Ask those who've been members of such a virtual community, and they'll tell you that what happens there is more than an exchange of electronic impulses in the wires. It's not just virtual barn raising.... It's also the comfort from others that a man like Phil Catalfo of the WELL can experience when he's up late at night caring for a child suffering from leukemia, and he logs on to the WELL and pours out his anguish and fears. People really do care for each other and fall in love over the Net, just as they do in geographic communities. And that "virtual" connectedness is a real sign of hope in a nation that's increasingly anxious about the fragmentation of public life and the polarization of interest groups and the alienation of urban eldstence. 1
There are two sorts of reactions to talk like this. To those who have been in this place for some time, such talk is extremely familiar. These people have been on nets from the start. They moved to the Internet from more isolated communities—from a local BBS (bulletin board service), or as Mike Godwin (the author of the passage) likes to put it, from a "tony" address like "The WELL." For them the Net is a space for conversation, connections, and exchange, a wildly promising location for making life in real space different.