1.5 Cybrid: Reaching a Common Lexicon

It has become clear that there are many terms for the hybrid spaces that are emerging in many places across society. In understanding such spaces it is important to have a common frame of reference, a common lexicon. I will seek to reach such a lexicon.

[Please refer to my Bibliography for the sources of quotes.]

Perhaps one of the most advanced models of hybrid space that has emerged is that of the cyber-hybrid or Cybrid’ of Peter Anders.

Digital technology blurs the distinction between the sensory and the mediated world… The computer is a symbiosis of hardware and software. We can touch the mouse and keyboard, but we can’t see the software. Hardware is palpable, software is not. Yet one is inoperable without the other. The computer then is a hybrid of complex entities. Each has its own level of existence, ontologically, with respect to the user, although they are mutually dependant on each other. Such dependencies between material and electronic entities have great implications for the arts industrial design and architecture. [Anders has] …written elsewhere on this relationship – particularly between physical and cyberspace in design … and uses the term Cybrid to denote it. (Anders, 2001: 60)

Figure 1
Figure 1. (Anders, 2001: 60) A revised illustration of the continuum between concrete objects – understood in this work to be Actual objects and abstract data, understood to be Virtual objects. Cybrids are a union of Actual and Virtual, residing in the middle ground of the continuum.

Anders describes a Cybrid, or Cyber-Hybrid, as an object that is a fusion of actuality and virtuality concentrated in a fixed point in space. As can be seen in Figure 1, a Cybrid is a link in a continuum between concrete objects, actuality, and abstract data, virtuality. Rather than a distinct line existing between the actual and the virtual there is a borderland, a transition in the continuum, in which new spatial entities, Cybrids, exist.

Figure 2
Figure 2. (Anders, 2001: 61) A revised illustration of the progressive union of physical space – understood in this work to be Actuality – and electronic space – understood to be Virtuality.

According to Anders’ model, incorporating the concept of Cybrid into our definitions of space results in three distinct types of spatial entity, as seen in Figure 2. The first, not a Cybrid, shows a complete separation between the actual and the virtual – a typical example would be an office with a computer network. The second shows an overlapping of the actual and virtual, allowing a leakage of data in to the actual. Anders notes that an office with a teleconferencing facility is an example of this ‘partial’ Cybrid, Cellspace would also be a wider reaching and less architectural example. Finally, the third entity is a complete overlap, a true Cybrid. Again, Anders cites an example of a building, this time with a security system that can be accessed both physically, in place, and virtually, perhaps remotely.

Anders’ concept of Cybrid is particularly useful as it marries together the actual and the virtual explicitly in one term, rather than resting in the ambiguity of ‘hybrid space’, ‘mixed reality’ or ‘augmented space’. Perhaps owing to his background in architecture Anders seems unwilling to address models of space; rather he deftly skirts the issue by changing the emphasis from the nature of space to objects that demonstrate its hybrid properties. Not unlike the dilemma faced by the early researchers of Quantum Physics we are faced with a problem of duality. Matter can be observed as a particle or a wave depending on how one seeks to measure it. Such indeterminacy at the basic level of actuality highlights our constant mediation of our ‘view of the world’. In 1927 Werner Heisenberg – one of those who helped form our understanding of subatomic particles and thus derive a quantum theory of matter – stated: “The conventional division of the world into subject and object, into inner and outer world… is no longer applicable”. Thus, anything in our reality can be described as both a discreet object and a condition of space it inhabits. Elementary quantum particles such as Protons or Electrons can be both a particle and a wave depending on how you measure them.

I propose that Cybrid can be both a description of an object and a description of a state of space. Cybrids can be both an object such as a building – with many sensors encapsulating a virtual entity that exists in harmony with its actual partner – or a space – with additional ‘layers’ of data flowing through and enhancing it. It simply depends on the focus of inquiry, when measuring fixed objects; such as buildings it is useful to consider the building a Cybrid. However, sensors and communications chips are now embedded in to more mobile objects. Mobile phones and Personal Digital Assistants (PDAs) include such sophisticated technologies as standard. When Cybrids move from being fixed objects such as buildings to manifestations of temporary ad hoc networks creating clouds of data around crowds of ‘smart’ mobile phone and PDA users who or what is the Cybrid? Is it a single phone or PDA? Is the network of all of the constituent devices? Or, is it the people who happen to be walking near each other allowing their devices to form the ad hoc network?

In cases such as the ambiguous mobile ad hoc networks or even networks of devices about a single person, Personal Area Networks (PANs), I suggest it is more useful to consider the surrounding space as having Cybrid properties, thus the space is Cybrid. Just as with the quantum world, measuring something outside of experiential reality depends on how one chooses to measure or observe it. With the nature of personal communications set to continue down a mobile and personalised path it is highly likely that temporary, ad hoc networks will be common place. In the near future many of our spaces will be Cybrid spaces.

As Howard Rheingold notes in his recent ‘Smart Mobs’ (2002), once chips, capable of autonomous wireless communication, disappear into the furniture and our environment, ‘odd’ new things become possible. Our environments are increasingly imbued with information that could better inform our everyday decisions. I suggest that as ‘Cybrid’ can act as a common term for describing such spaces it should prove popular the more it is needed.

As intimated by Rheingold’s descriptions of ‘disappearing chips’, Cybrid space has profound social implications. Social Cybrid spaces shall be the norm, whether open or private; commercial or public we shall all have to deal with the cybrid nature of space in the coming century. Consequently, I shall examine existing methods of social navigation of space in the next chapter and explore how they might aid how we learn to live and adapt to Cybrid spaces.

Posted by Sam at April 5, 2004 05:11 PM