This exhilarating book does the rarest of things, which is to render an inert metaphor live and illuminating. The metaphor in question is the one of the ‘park’ or ‘garden’ as a common space for leisure as a shared or public activity. This humble element of our geographical worlds is itself an interesting innovation, which is not confi ned to one culture or society, though it has been more developed at some times and places than in others.
It turns out that the World Wide Web, in its most recent incarnation, is also seen as a space of play, of leisure, and of fun-in-common, both by its students and by its inhabitants. Payal Arora makes an eloquent case for why this parallel between cyberspace and lived geographical space is neither an accident nor a minor overlap.

Her book takes this metaphor, and all metaphors, seriously, and in this inclination she is in good company, as many scholars of the social life of language have shown. It turns out that the idea of the cyber-commons as a kind of walled garden is an active part of the metaphorical life of many players in cyberspace and the exploration of this resemblance turns out to have many implications for some of the grand issues of our times, such as leisure, politics, privacy, and community.

From the Foreword by Arjun Appadurai,
Paulette Goddard Professor of Media, Culture,
and Communication, New York University

1. Introduction

The Internet has matured. It is now characterized by a new generation of websites popularly termed as Web 2.0. The nature of this transformation is predominantly social versus technical in nature, and is marked by the rise of social network sites and user generated content. In particular, Web 2.0 is defined by its leisure properties. These leisure properties, this book will argue, are by no means completely novel but deeply rooted in historical, socio-economic and cultural spaces. They are intrinsically tied to offline practices. In essence, to understand the nature of cyberleisure spaces, we need to examine closely their offline/online, transnational/transcultural and historic/contemporary relationships. This book proposes to use the metaphor of ‘public parks’ and its multiple forms to illustrate different dimensions of the digital commons. This metaphorical tool is used as a critical and comprehensive instrument of analysis. It is used to make the argument that public parks share the rhetoric of Web 2.0 spaces–that of being open, democratic, non-utilitarian, and free for all. However, rhetoric confronts a reality that always comes with a rich and contentious historical struggle. By revealing the spectrum of tensions in the makings of the public park, this book draws parallels to persistent political and socio-economic challenges surrounding digital leisure architectures.

2. Metaphor as Method

In Chapter 2, ‘Metaphor as Method: Conceptualizing the Internet through Spatial Metaphors,’ the foundation is laid to explain the methodology of this book. The usage of spatial metaphors as cognitive devices is not new. Nor is its utilization in conceptualizing the Internet since its inception. This chapter goes in-depth about how metaphors enable us to map and visualize digital landscapes and communicate their cultures to a wide-ranging audience. This chapter describes the full spectrum of popular metaphors of the Internet, from emphasizing its borderless cartography to capturing browsing movements through its space. The Wild Wild Web, the Frontier, the Cloud, and the Electronic Ghetto are some of the metaphors that have played a part in evoking expectations and emotions as well as endorsing policy and practice. There is a section devoted to understanding the ‘digital fl âneur’ and how this is tied to historical practices of movement within public leisure environments. We address notions of anonymity in digital wandering and commodification of such navigations. Another section reveals strong linkages between the metaphors of the urban commons, the digital commons, and the leisure commons that serve to explain the title of this book. By examining the radical history of the public commons, we borrow concepts such as the common good, the tragedy of the commons, and its reclamation in this digital and urban age. Here, we investigate what constitutes as the public good and ways we can sustain it.

3. Protest Parks

In Chapter 3, ‘Protest Parks: Digital Activism and the Public Leisure Sphere,’ we draw parallels between the use of public leisure spaces, such as parks and squares, and the use of certain forms of digital networks for protest. Similarities between these two sorts of social contexts are worth considering, particularly in relation to their political dimensions. This effort situates the current conversation about political mobilization via social media into dialogue with the historical analysis of public parks as protest spaces. Specifi cally, public parks were, in a similar fashion, designed for leisure and consumption but were often appropriated as sites of resistance. It brings together literature on urban parks as centers of democracy and literature on new media spaces as portals of cyber-protest, extending the spatial history of digital politics. Here, ‘protest parks’ serve as a metaphor for contemporary digital networks of activism. The chapter also examines the range of mediations that enable the transformation of these seemingly innocuous spaces into places of activism. Particularly, it reveals the social architecture of and political enactments within public parks and squares in the United States, the United Kingdom, and China in conjunction with protests within their contemporary digital networks. We discover that protests do not so much detract from the park’s (or Social Networking Site’s, SNS) primary leisure purpose but often are deliberate products of such infrastructures. Further, depending on the regulatory mechanisms, we see protest taking on more creative, play-like forms of expression, creating new rituals of communication between citizens and the state. Finally, we see a plurality of democracies emerge through the complex interplay of the public–private nature of leisure space and political action. Overall, this chapter reveals how politics and leisure are historically and dialectically tied between the real and the virtual.


4. Corporate Parks

Chapter 4, ‘Corporate Parks: Usurping Leisure Terrains for Digital Labor’ examines new workspaces in the physical and virtual domains and the expectations of new work cultures. There is a shift in perception of what counts as a space of productivity. This corporate usurping and appropriation of leisure spaces is becoming visible across diff erent sectors and across the globe, manifesting in technology, industrial, science, and/or information parks. Simultaneously, we see corporations embrace and inhabit social and leisure spaces online: think Blogger, Facebook, and Twitter. This is seen as enabling the restructuring of the private-sector model from top-down to a more employee-driven and customer-oriented culture. This chapter focuses on this new trend of corporate leisure spaces intended to foster innovation, networks, and communication in this global and social media age. It synthesizes online and offl ine workspaces across geographies. It addresses this new architecting of workspaces and relates it to labor, leisure, innovation, and networking in business culture. This chapter applies the metaphor of ‘corporate parks’ to examine how business geographies extend to and infl uence social media spaces as they strive to realign the labor and leisure domain for innovation and employee satisfaction. This trend is positioned historically by examining how leisure space has been legitimized over time to increase productivity. Such an examination highlights the implications of mobility in the architecting of work environments. This builds on the blurring boundaries of work and play and sheds light on contemporary social media trends, such as digital and free labor. This chapter draws from the historical struggle for leisure in the labor landscape such as hobby farming, factory gardens, and the role of social visionaries in bridging these two domains. Also, it reveals the nature of contemporary technopoles, converging ecosystems of diverse companies that foster networks and serve as corporate incubators. Lastly, it examines the current trend on work cafés and its impact on entrepreneurship.

5. Walled Gardens

In Chapter 5, ‘Walled Gardens: Online Privacy, Leisure Architectures, and Public Values,’ the focus is on how web architectures are being walled in, dictated by market systems and state ideologies. These cyber-enclosures are justifi ed along the lines of privacy that garners protection, effi ciency, and functionality. There is signifi cant concern for the potential and irrevocable loss of the ‘public’ and ‘open’ character intended for Internet infrastructures. Some fear the fostering of social segregation, homogenization, and corporatization of leisure and a loss of civic sense. This chapter addresses these concerns by looking at contemporary material architectures that are shaping public social and leisure space. Particularly examined here are gated communities, shopping malls, children’s playgrounds, and guerrilla and community gardens. This chapter argues that for a comprehensive understanding on privacy and public leisure architectures, we need to recognize the parallels between these virtual and material spheres as social norms, values, and laws permeate their boundaries. Vigorous debates pervade over the governance and architecture of Web 2.0 leisure geographies, particularly in the areas of privacy, property, paternity, and profi t. At the heart of these discussions is the growing concern over whether we are losing the battle in maintaining the digital public sphere as a non-commodifi ed and unifi ed domain. There is also concern over whether this is the fate of the leisure commons. Explored here are the persistent pursuit of idealism, public values, and human ingenuities in the transformation of fortifi ed enclaves into inclusive and communal spaces. Basically, the metaphorical application of the ‘walled garden’ is used to emphasize the extent of openness and freedom in the public character of these leisure territories. Walls are built to secure and protect people online and offl ine and, yet, these very structures can be confi ning or liberating. Whether it is a physical or a virtual walled garden, we can learn much about its ideology by examining its architecture and the range of practices within such space. This comparison illustrates aspects of inclusion and exclusion, commercialism, protection, activism, and the regeneration of public leisure spaces. Here, privacy is seen through the lens of accessibility, choice, and ownership and reifi ed through certain architectural trends of public leisure space—gardens within gated communities, urban malls, playgrounds, and community gardens.

6. Fantasy Parks

Chapter 6, ‘Fantasy Parks: Consumption of Virtual Worlds of Amusement’ emphasizes the historicity of public spaces of fantasy and how they were refl ective of the public values, sentiments, and social transformations of the time. By looking at the precedents of such leisure spaces, as well as contemporary manifestations, we attend to the shifts in the cultural tone of society toward the notion of fantasy. Here, ‘fantasy parks’ serve as a compelling metaphor for the understanding of digital amusement ecologies of virtual worlds and digital gaming platforms. This chapter investigates the complex interplay of citizens, corporations, and the state in the makings of such immersive fantasyscapes, both virtual and material. The sanitized and predictive quality of spaces such as Disneyland threatens to homogenize public leisure domains. Yet there are always localizing dynamics that stem from indigenous interpretation, play, and representation of generic icons of fantasy and Western-oriented mass media narratives. Strong emphasis is placed on the notion of Disneyfi cation of fantasy that has pervaded both online and offl ine terrain. Much of this is applied to gaming platforms, such as the World of Warcraft, and virtual worlds, such as Second Life, as well as new mobile gaming apps. This chapter reveals the brand empires that structure these landscapes and the template that is marketed across the globe.

7. Global Parks

Lastly, Chapter 7, ‘Global Cities, Global Parks: Globalizing of Virtual Leisure Networks’ examines the globalization and cosmopolitanism of digital and material leisure networks. It begins by making a case for a more vibrant ecology of public leisure space. To do so requires the dismantling of conventional boundaries between the park and the city. Further, this chapter uses the metaphor of ‘global cities’ to emphasize the hierarchies in digital leisure networks. These global cities serve as command centers and fulcrums for the industrial, the creative, the leisurely, and the privileged, as well as temporal laborers and the migrant class. Similarly, not all social networking sites share the same power and infl uence. For instance, Facebook and Twitter are the virtual command centers of the digital age. Hence, this chapter makes the case that global cities and digital leisure networks function similarly: both are at once stateless and yet constrained by diverse national laws and local social practices. Overall, this book fragments the leisure commons into disparate park formations. This metaphorical cornucopia allows the reader to go on multiple journeys to investigate protest, fantasy, work and play, and the globalization of leisure and privacy.

8. Conclusion

The public park promises urban renewal. The more densely populated a cityscape becomes, ironically the more pressure it experiences in carving out non-instrumental public space from within. Density of human networks it seems, require breathing room. Hence, public space is not created for purely utilitarian purposes but caters to our deep need for experiencing leisure and pleasure. After all, leisure topographies fundamentally represent our humanity. The less regulated the park, the more it signals its faith in the good of human action. By now, the reader has hopefully become habituated with the practice of transcribing ‘park’ discussions through the lens of Web 2.0. Nobody could seriously argue that social media spaces are dominantly pragmatic. The utilitarian aspect of the digital commons sits on the sidelines while the more central need to express, connect, play and make meaning take over. Of course, embedded in the superficial fabric of play space can be vigorous digital labor, or online protest or corporate maneuverings as we have seen throughout this book. Basically, this book does not give directions to the future of new media spaces. If anything, the direction is back to the past, not of the artifact but of social spaces evoked by the artifact. In an era where scholarship on new media may be perceived to become obsolete with fast-paced digital innovations, this research serves as a backlash to that raw fear.