This essay uncovers the environmental and historical conditions that played a role in cyberspace’s popularity in the 1980s and 1990s. Tracing both fictional and critical constructions of cyberspace in a roughly twenty-year period from the publication of William Gibson’s Sprawl trilogy (1984–1988) to the Telecommunications Act of 1996, this essay argues that cyberspace’s infinite, virtual territory provided a solution to the apparent ecological crisis of the 1980s: the fear that the United States was running out of physical room to expand due to overdevelopment. By discursively transforming the technology of cyberspace into an “electronic frontier,” technologists, lobbyists, and journalists turned cyberspace into a solution for the apparent American crisis of overdevelopment and resource loss. In a period when Americans felt detached from their own environment, cyberspace became a new frontier for exploration and a so-called American space to which the white user belonged as an indigenous inhabitant. Even Gibson’s critique of the sovereign cyberspace user in the Sprawl trilogy masks the violence of cybercolonialism by privileging the white American user. Sprawl portrays the impossibility of escaping overdevelopment through cyberspace, but it routes this impossibility through the specter of racial contamination by Caribbean hackers and Haitian gods. This racialized frontier imaginary shaped the form of internet technologies throughout the 1990s, influencing the modern user’s experience of the internet as a private space under their sovereign control. In turn, the individualism of the internet experience restricts our ability to create collective responses to the climate crisis, encouraging internet users to see themselves as disassociated from conditions of environmental and social catastrophe.

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