Trading Land For Cyberland:
Will It Help Women Get Their Lives Off The Ground?

by Dineh Moghdam Davis, Department of Communication, University of Hawaii at Manoa

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The editors of A SEED have raised the compelling question of whether women are better off owning a piece of "cyberland" instead of "real" land. I offer the following thoughts as a humble beginning to what could be - or at least should be - a long and ongoing discussion on this topic. Is cyberland our salvation from past drudgeries or the most masterful of all "special effects" - the likes of which we were only used to seeing on the silver screen? As with other human fantasies, are the inhabitants of cyberland exempt from natural forces that hinder immortality? Are women especially suited to flourish in this new medium?

Perhaps a shift in metaphors from the "information superhighways" to the surrounding "lands" will be a welcome change for those who are getting weary of the media and business focus on the "route" rather than the destination. The truth of the matter is that when "real" highways were being built, the focus was on destinations. Most of the early efforts in road-building were not straight out into the wilderness, but connected established communities over time-worn footpaths. Farmers, miners, fishers, merchants, and the military all traveled over the same roads - perhaps for many generations - with a rather clear expectation of their destination. It was the land surrounding these roads that were of intrinsic value to the traveler. These lands were used for a variety of purposes, most of which were (and still are) essential to human survival. Here are a few examples of land use that cannot be replicated electronically:

Let us not lose sight of the fact that every inhabitant in cyberland must still rely on the goodwill of those controlling real land. Having established properties unique to earth, we must also acknowledge the superiority of the new media over many older forms of communication and information exchange. Clearly, if we want to keep up with the changing times we must educate ourselves in every area of human knowledge. Electronic media provide ample opportunities for such education. There is no question that knowledge and power go hand in hand. Yet, the most knowledgable person is still dependent on a healthy, well-cared for environment. It is therefore not so much a matter of trading one resource for another as learning the limits and scope of each medium and how we may best utilize all resources at our disposal to live healthier and more comfortable lives.

Women are being told that electronic media provide equality for all because it doesn't take physical strength to operate computers. This fallacy overlooks the many prior "mental" opportunities that were theoretically available to women throughout history. Why have we not seen full and consistent gender equality in the upper echelons of the banking industry or the stock market, in key government positions, or in the academe? These are all "thought-based" jobs that have been around for years. For those who believe women gain additional advantages in electronic media because of "anonymity" so that their sex remains unknown, I would like to counter by asking how many of us are willing or able to spend our entire lives sexless and anonymous? Again, those are options that a minority have always exercised, but the majority shun, not because it is impossible to do in real-life, but because it robs us of our identities and of our right to live *as* we are - not despite of our real selves.

Cyberland is simply an overlay on real life and NOT a replacement of it. In our enthusiasm to embrace the new, we need to consider carefully whether the emperor's clothes are real or simply "virtual." Now that we have created simulated land, we need to address this question: does the simulation of land lead to "real" food or should we be weary of the emperor's garden - the ultimate no-calorie "lite" food for the lightweight technoptomists? Let us make sure that women don't lose any ground as they reach for their rightful share of cyberland.

Dineh Davis, Ph.D., Assistant Professor /
Dept. of Communication, George Hall 340, 2560 Campus Rd
Univ. of Hawaii at Manoa, Honolulu, Hawaii 96822
phone: 808-956-3332, fax: 808-956-5591
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