Below is the intro to the first issue of my short-form newsletter on weird stuff in cybersecurity; you can read the rest of it and subscribe if you like here.
Notional spaces have always been weird. Artist Juliette Aristides described a notional space as “the rectangle formed around an object when you find its height and width. Imagine the notional space as being a clear box that perfectly fits around your object.”
Humans build them by default, probably for a number of reasons. They’re a way to clarify and enhance classification – something we’re largely hard-wired for as a way of understanding. And they’re also a way to limit. They allow us to impose mental borders around a thing not just to understand it better but also to segment objects and spaces off from each other. In this way, we use perception as a kind of self-protective measure: we impose neat lines where there are none in the attempt to quarantine overlap, to pretend spaces can’t creep into each other.
We enjoy imagining and visualizing, but we also enjoy limiting in order to make things simpler and protect ourselves from further anxiety. That tension will persist as long as imagination does.
But, as Thomas Rid states, “at some point a metaphor will begin to fail, and at this point of conceptual failure we may learn the most important things about the subject at hand, how it differs from the familiar, how it is unique—analogies are also testing devices.” So it is with cyberspace – the very epitome of a notional space of speculation, imagination, and self-protective limitation. We don’t want to acknowledge the leering creep even as enhanced connectivity makes our lives undeniably easier or more accessible. And even moreso we avoid the Weird, the strange and the unique, because it often threatens our worldview in subversive ways. Complexity challenges the narratives we tell ourselves in order to keep focus on what we deem true or important or joyful.
And the information security landscape is nothing if not complex.
There are ten thousand people writing about top news in cybersecurity. There are a thousand neatly trimmed roundups sent out weekly. Those are important and good, but this space is not that.
Instead I’ll be writing from the perspective of exploring the Weird and unexpectedly complex. I’ll be pinpointing a few unique stories instead of the headlining ones in an attempt to both explore the notional spaces we perceive around security and to blur the edges of that glassy rectangle we like to think keeps things contained.