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med122 intro to cyberculture (week 2; session 4)


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UPDATED Sept 2014 …

UPDATED Sept 2014
Historical overview of the study of cyberculture. Based entirely on David Silver, 2000,

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  • 1. MED122 Cyberculture: A whistle-stop trip 1
  • 2. What is cyberculture? • A slippery term to define • ‘it is the culture of and in cyberspace’ • Read & Gessler, 1996: 306 2
  • 3. What is cyberculture? • ‘To define cyberculture is to engage in obsolescence’ • Read & Gessler, 1996: 306 3
  • 4. What is cyberculture? • Cyberculture is the culture that has emerged, or is emerging, from the use of computer networks for communication, entertainment and business. 4
  • 5. What is cyberculture?  ‘...the study of various social phenomena associated with the Internet and other new forms of network communication. Examples of what falls under cyberculture studies are online communities, online multi-player gaming, the issue of online identity, the sociology and the ethnography of email usage, cell phone usage in various communities; the issues of gender and ethnicity in Internet usage; and so on.’  Lev Manovich (2002: 16) 5
  • 6. • David Silver, ‘Looking Backwards, Looking Forward: Cyberculture Studies 1990-2000’ • 6
  • 7. • From mid 1990s onwards the study of cyberculture flourished as the internet began to grow 7
  • 8. 3 distinct stages 1. Popular cyberculture 2. Cyberculture studies 3. Critical cyberculture 8
  • 9. 1 - Popular cyberculture • journalistic origins • descriptive in nature • metaphor of the internet-as-frontier 9
  • 10. AApprriill 11999933 JJuullyy 11999944 10
  • 11. 11
  • 12. limited dualism dystopian rants utopian raves 12
  • 13. limited dualism dystopian rants utopian raves 13
  • 14. John Perry Barlow • A Declaration of the Independence of Cyberspace (1990) Hear Barlow read the speech and discuss it’s origins here Read the original speech on the EFF site here 14
  • 15. MONDO 2000 bOing bOing Wired 15
  • 16. 16 • Louis Rossetto (Wired’s publisher) likened cyberspace to "a new economy, a new counter culture, and beyond politics" • Kevin Kelly (Wired’s executive editor) proclaimed "technology is absolutely, 100 percent, positive"
  • 17. • Contributing editor John Perry Barlow "with the development of the Internet, and with the increasing pervasiveness of communication between networked computers, we are in the middle of the most transforming technical event since the capture of fire" 17
  • 18. • “These highways -- or, more accurately, networks of distributed intelligence -- will allow us to share information, to connect, and to communicate as a global community. From these connections we will derive robust and sustainable economic progress, strong democracies, better solutions to global and local environmental challenges, improved health care, and -- ultimately -- a greater sense of shared stewardship of our small planet.” 18 Al Gore
  • 19. • “Cyberspace. A consensual hallucination experienced daily by billions of legitimate operators . . . A graphic representation of data abstracted from the banks of every computer in the human system. Unthinkable complexity” • (Gibson, 1984 Neuromancer) 19
  • 20. Internet as ‘frontier’ metaphor • Kapor and Barlow (1990) "Across the Electronic Frontier": • “In its present condition, cyberspace is a frontier region, populated by the few hardy technologists who can tolerate the austerity of its savage computer interfaces, incompatible communication protocols, proprietary barricades, cultural and legal ambiguities, and general lack of useful maps or metaphors.” 20
  • 21. Internet as ‘frontier’ metaphor • D. Rushkoff (1994) Media Virus: Hidden Agendas in Popular Culture: • "Nowhere has the American pioneer spirit been more revitalized than on the electronic frontier". 21
  • 22. Internet as ‘frontier’ metaphor • D.B Whittle (1997) Cyberspace: The Human Dimension: • "The pioneers, settlers, and squatters of the virgin territories of cyberspace have divided some of that land into plots of social order and plowed it into furrows of discipline -- for the simple reason that is natural resources can only be found in the mind and have great value if shared" 22
  • 23. 2 - Cyberculture Studies • Julian Dibbell (1993) “A Rape in Cyberspace; or How an Evil Clown, a Haitian Trickster Spirit, Two Wizards, and a Cast of Dozens Turned a Database into a Society” • LambdaMOO 23
  • 24. 24
  • 25. • Cyberspace as "incontrovertibly social spaces in which people still meet face-to-face, but under new definitions of both 'meet' and 'face'" • Allucquere Rosanne Stone (1991) “Will the real body please stand up?: Boundary stories about virtual cultures” In Benedikt, M. (ed.) Cyberspace: First Steps 25
  • 26. • A group of people who may or may not meet one another face-to-face, and who exchange words and ideas through the mediation of computer bulletin boards and networks. • In cyberspace, we chat and argue, engage in intellectual discourse, perform acts of commerce, exchange knowledge, share emotional support, make plans, brainstorm, gossip, feud, fall in love, find friends and lose them, play games and metagames, flirt, create a little high art and a lot of idle talk. • We do everything people do when people get together, but we do it with words on computer screens, leaving our bodies behind • Howard Rheingold, 1993, “A slice of life in my virtual 26 community”
  • 27. • The Virtual Community: Homesteading on the Electronic Frontier, 1993 27
  • 28. The Whole Earth ‘Lectronic Link 1985-present 28
  • 29. • We temporarily have access to a tool that could bring conviviality and understanding into our lives and might help revitalize the public sphere. • The same tool, improperly controlled and wielded, could become an instrument of tyranny. The vision of a citizen-designed, citizen-controlled worldwide communications network is a version of technological utopianism that could be called the vision of "the electronic agora" • H. Rheingold, 1993, The Virtual Community 29
  • 30. • Sherry Turkle (1995) Life on the Screen • 'Virtuality need not be a prison. It can be the raft, the ladder, the transitional space, the moratorium, that is discarded after reaching greater freedom. • We don't have to reject life on the screen, but we don't have to treat it as an alternate life either' 30
  • 31. 31
  • 32. mid-1990s onwards • introduction of the first web browsers led to an internet gold-rush • more people came online • better user experience 32 (gui > ftp) • new scholar = new ideas • dozens of academic books published
  • 33. 3 - Critical Cyberculture • Moves beyond description 33
  • 34. Critical cyberculture studies... 1. … explores the social, cultural, and economic interactions 34 which take place online 2. ... unfolds and examines the stories we tell about such interactions 3. ... analyzes a range of social, cultural, political, and economic considerations which encourage, make possible, and/or thwart individual and group access to such interactions 4. ... assesses the deliberate, accidental, and alternative technological decision- and design-processes which, when implemented, form the interface between the network and its users
  • 35. critical caution? • "Internet is another in a line of modern technologies that undermine traditional notions of civil society that require unity and shun multiplicity while giving impressions that they in fact re-create such a society" • Steve Jones (1997) Virtual Culture: Identity & Communication in Cybersociety 35
  • 36. • complex interactions and behaviour in Usenet communities • ethical violations, policing of conduct - M. McLaughlin et al (1995) • news forms of expression and relationships which move between face-to-face and networked interactions - N. Baym (1995) 36
  • 37. Discoursing cyberspace • cyberspace as a hostile masculine realm, a space unsafe for women and children? • “the idea that women merit special protections in an environment as incorporeal as the Net is intimately bound up with the idea that women's minds are weak, fragile, and unsuited to the rough and tumble of public discourse” • L. Miller (1995) ‘Women and children first: Gender and the settling of the electronic frontier’ in Resisting the Virtual Life: The Culture and Politics of Information 37
  • 38. • Wired has consistently and accurately been compared in the national media to Playboy. It contains the same glossy pictures of certified nerd-suave things to buy - which, since it's the nineties, includes cool hand-held scanners as well as audio equipment and cars – it is the wishbook of material desire for young men” • P Borsook (1996) The memoirs of a token: An aging Berkeley feminist examines Wired 38
  • 39. Online Access & Barriers • the "digital divide" between certain groups of Americans has increased between 1994 and 1997 so that there is now an even greater disparity in penetration levels among some groups. There is a widening gap, for example, between those at upper and lower income levels. Additionally, even though all racial groups now own more computers than they did in 1994, Blacks and Hispanics now lag even further behind Whites in their levels of PC-ownership and on-line access. • National Telecommunications and Information Administration (1998) ‘Falling Through The Net II: New Data on the Digital Divide” 39
  • 40. Online Access & Barriers • "The Net nation deploys shared knowledge and language to unite against outsiders: Net jargon extends beyond technical language to acronyms both benign (BTW, 'By the way') and snippy (RTFM, 'Read the fucking manual'). It includes neologisms, text-graphical hybrids called emoticons, and a thoroughgoing anti-'newbie' snobbery. Like any other community, it uses language to erect barriers to membership" • C. Bailey (1996) Virtual Skin: Articulating Race in Cyberspace 40
  • 41. Online Access & Barriers • Digital design • HCI (Human Computer Interaction) • Usability studies • Access for the visually impaired 41
  • 42. Web Studies? • “The aim … is to shift scholarly discussion about the internet forwards, so that it fully considers the multi-faceted and popular Web, instead of contenting itself with publishing yet another article about how no-one knows who you are in cyberspace (which is an interesting, if rather obvious, point – but how many books do we need to tell us this?).” • David Gauntlett (2000) web.studies 42
  • 43. Web Studies? • “The idea behind Web.Studies was to treat internet media like any other popular media that appeals to people (without, of course, forgetting about the things that made it unique). In a world where people are still burbling about 'cyberculture' - a term whose useful potential has been killed off by the staggering number of tedious things that have been written about it - I believe we can still be confident that this is refreshing and appropriate. New media would be nothing if it wasn't meaningful to people, if it wasn't a site of sociability, politics, art, emotion, music and dancing. (Of course, that's what 'cyberculture' refers to - maybe without the dancing - but I'm not sure we need new nerdwords)” 43
  • 44. Struggle to make sense of the web 1. How do we make sense of the disruption to major entertainment industries business models by people exchanging files? 2. What is the role of established publishers when anyone can self-publish? 3. To what extent has the Internet brought about increased access to information and the spreading of democracy? 4. How beneficial is anonymity online and should it be 44 protected?
  • 45. 1 - have you ever participated in an digital/online community? 2 - to what extent do you think it's appropriate to study people's behaviour online (and what can it tell us)? 3 - have you ever witnessed something unsavoury or unpalatable in the realms of online/digital/cyber culture? 4 - if so, what was it about that incident that that was significant and does it have an offline equivalent? 45