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Western Frontier or Feudal Society?: Metaphors and Perceptions of Cyberspace

58 Pages Posted: 30 Sep 2002  

Alfred C. Yen

Boston College - Law School

Abstract

The Article examines how metaphors influence perceptions of cyberspace. Among other things, the Article studies the comparison of cyberspace to the American western frontier and the metaphor's construction cyberspace as a "place" whose natural characteristics guarantee freedom and opportunity. This supports an often-made claim that cyberspace is different from real space, and that government should generally refrain from regulating the Internet.

The Article surveys the basis of the western frontier metaphor in academic history and popular culture and concludes that the metaphor misleads people to overestimate cyberspace's "natural" ability to guarantee freedom and opportunity. The Article accomplishes this in part by offering feudal society as a metaphor for cyberspace and showing how prominent features of cyberspace correspond to key components of feudal society. The Article does not claim that cyberspace is thoroughly feudal, but it does argue that the feudal society metaphor valuably dislodges the western frontier metaphor and reminds us that law has an important role to play in shaping the future of the Internet.

JEL Classification: K1

Suggested Citation

Yen, Alfred C., Western Frontier or Feudal Society?: Metaphors and Perceptions of Cyberspace. Berkeley Technology Law Journal, Vol. 17, 2003. Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=322522 or http://dx.doi.org/10.2139/ssrn.322522

Alfred Chueh-Chin Yen (Contact Author)

Boston College - Law School ( email )

885 Centre Street
Newton, MA 02459-1163
United States
617-552-4395 (Phone)
617-552-2615 (Fax)

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