Cybering, it’s not about sex

Readers familiar with the term cybering as a reference to virtual sex via online communications may wonder why I used that word in my book title. What could I possibly mean by Cybering Democracy if cybering is about sex?

Well, here’s the thing about coining new terms: you never know if your meaning will stick or if someone else is going to come along later and give it a whole new meaning. The narrowing of the term cybering to refer only to online sexual activities is one of those developments that makes a writer regret her former word play.

According to the Urban Dictionary, NBC’s Chris Hansen was the first to use the term cybering to refer to virtual sex in chat rooms and other online forums. Probably coined sometime around 2004 when his series To Catch a Predator first aired, Hansen’s usage was related to his show’s objective: using online sting operations to identify and detain presumed sexual predators preying on underage teens.  Okay, more power to him, I guess, but Hansen’s meaning was not my meaning when I coined the term less famously in 2002.

I meant cybering simply to refer to computer-mediated communication. My question was what happens to democracy when we cyber it, when its practices are mediated through online chatter? I certainly recognized even as far back as 2002 (really, the late 90s, when I first started writing this project) that a lot of online chatter is sex related. But as readers of my book will note, I was also very critical of those who reduced all Internet activity to sex-related exchanges, and I was and remain skeptical of efforts to curtail online communications on the argument that the Electronic Frontier is only a breeding ground for pedophiles and other law breakers.

Despite my efforts to explain my word choice, some of you will continue interpreting cybering as sex. Following that, you will see the title of my book and assume it’s another commentary on the moral decay of American politics. And why wouldn’t you? Barely a day goes by that someone on Capitol Hill isn’t caught with his pants down (sometimes literally).

With few exceptions, however, I consider most of those types of news items a distraction. Who a senator sleeps with or a congressman tweets is seldom relevant to political rights, individual liberties, security, economic deprivation and all the other things that really should matter to us as a democratic polity.

This is yet another reason why cybering, in my book, is not about sex.

You’re welcome to disagree, of course, and that to me is the truly remarkable thing about democratic communication. Of course, if we debate about it here, you will have proven my point: that cyberspace is a space where citizens can enter into open debate about political matters. And few things are more political than the words we use.

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