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Cyberculture is the culture that has emerged, or is emerging, from the use of computer networks for communication, entertainment and business.


[edit] Overview

Since the boundaries of cyberculture are difficult to define, the term is used flexibly, and its application to specific circumstances can be controversial. It generally refers at least to the cultures of virtual communities, but extends to a wide range of cultural issues relating to "cyber-topics", e.g. cybernetics, and the perceived or predicted cyborgization of the human body and human society itself. It can also embrace associated intellectual and cultural movements, such as cyborg theory and cyberpunk. The term often incorporates an implicit anticipation of the future.

The Oxford English Dictionary lists the earliest usage of the term "cyberculture" in 1963, when A.M. Hilton wrote, "In the era of cyberculture, all the plows pull themselves and the fried chickens fly right onto our plates."[1] This example, and all others, up through 1995 are used to support the definition of cyberculture as "the social conditions brought about by automation and computerization."[1] The American Heritage Dictionary broadens the sense in which "cyberculture" is used by defining it as, "The culture arising from the use of computer networks, as for communication, entertainment, work, and business".[2] However, what both the OED and the American Heritage Dictionary miss is that cyberculture is the culture within and among users of computer networks. This cyberculture may be purely an online culture or it may span both virtual and physical worlds. This is to say, that cyberculture is a culture endemic to online communities; it is not just the culture that results from computer use, but culture that is directly mediated by the computer. Another way to envision cyberculture is as the electronically-enabled linkage of like-minded, but potentially geographically disparate (or physically disabled and hence less mobile) persons.

Cyberculture is a wide social and cultural movement closely linked to advanced information science and information technology, their emergence, development and rise to social and cultural prominence between the 1960s and the 1990s. Cyberculture was influenced at its genesis by those early users of the internet, frequently including the architects of the original project. These individuals were often guided in their actions by the hacker ethic. While early cyberculture was based on a small cultural sample, and its ideals, the modern cyberculture is a much more diverse group of users and the ideals that they espouse.

Numerous specific concepts of cyberculture have been formulated by such authors as Lev Manovich,[3][4] Arturo Escobar and Fred Forest.[5] However, most of these concepts concentrate only on certain aspects, and they do not cover these in great detail. Some authors aiming to achieve a more comprehensive understanding distinguish between early and contemporary cyberculture (Jakub Macek),[5] or between cyberculture as the cultural context of information technology and cyberculture (more specifically cyberculture studies) as "a particular approach to the study of the 'culture + technology' complex" (David Lister et al.).[6]

[edit] Manifestations of Cyberculture

Manifestations of Cyberculture include various human interactions mediated by computer networks. They can be activities, pursuits, games, places and metaphors, and include a diverse base of applications. Some are supported by specialized software and others work on commonly accepted web protocols. Examples include but are not limited to:

[edit] Qualities of Cyberculture

First and foremost, cyberculture derives from traditional notions of culture, as the roots of the word imply. In non-cyberculture, it would be odd to speak of a single, monolithic culture. In cyberculture, by extension, searching for a single thing that is cyberculture would likely be problematic. The notion that there is a single, definable cyberculture is likely the complete dominance of early cyber territory by affluent North Americans. Writing by early proponents of cyberspace tends to reflect this assumption (see Howard Rheingold[7]).

The ethnography of cyberspace is an important aspect of cyberculture that does not reflect a single unified culture. It "is not a monolithic or placeless 'cyberspace'; rather, it is numerous new technologies and capabilities, used by diverse people, in diverse real-world locations." It is malleable, perishable, and can be shaped by the vagaries of external forces on its users. For example, the laws of physical world governments, social norms, the architecture of cyberspace, and market forces shape the way cybercultures form and evolve. As with physical world cultures cybercultures lend themselves to identification and study.

That said, there are several qualities that cybercultures share that make them warrant the prefix “cyber-“. Some of those qualities are that cyberculture:

  • Is a community mediated by ICTs.
  • Is culture “mediated by computer screens.”[8]
  • Relies heavily on the notion of information and knowledge exchange.
  • Depends on the ability to manipulate tools to a degree not present in other forms of culture (even artisan culture, e.g., a glass-blowing culture).
  • Allows vastly expanded weak ties and has been criticized for overly emphasizing the same (see Bowling Alone and other works).
  • Multiplies the number of eyeballs on a given problem, beyond that which would be possible using traditional means, given physical, geographic, and temporal constraints.
  • Is a “cognitive and social culture, not a geographic one.”[9]
  • Is “the product of like-minded people finding a common ‘place’ to interact."[10]
  • Is inherently more "fragile" than traditional forms of community and culture (John C. Dvorak).

[edit] Identity in Cyberculture

Cyberculture, like culture in general, relies on establishing identity and credibility. However, in the absence of direct physical interaction, it could be argued that the process for such establishment is more difficult.

How does cyberculture rely on and establish identity and credibility? This relationship is two way, with identity and credibility being both used to define community in cyberspace and to be created within and by online communities.

In some senses, online credibility is established in much the same way that it is established in the off line world, however, since there are two separate worlds, it is not surprising that there are both differences in the mechanisms found in each and interactions of the markers found in each.

Architectures of Credibility
Following the model put forth by Lawrence Lessig in Code 2.0[11], the architecture of a given online community may be the single most important factor regulating the establishment of credibility within online communities. Some factors may be:

  • Anonymous versus Known
  • Linked to Physical Identity versus Internet-based Identity Only
  • Unrated Commentary System versus Rated Commentary System
  • Positive Feedback-oriented versus Mixed Feedback (positive and negative) oriented
  • Moderated versus Unmoderated

Anonymous versus Known
Many sites allow anonymous commentary, where the user-id attached to the comment is something like "guest" or "anonymous user". In an architecture that allows anonymous posting about other works, the credibility being impacted is only that of the product for sale, the original opinion expressed, the code written, the YouTube video, or other entity about which comments are made (e.g., a Slashdot post). Sites that require "known" postings can vary widely from simply requiring some kind of name to be associated with the comment to requiring registration, wherein the identity of the registrant is visible to other readers of the comment. These "known" identities allow and even require commentators to be aware of their own credibility, based on the fact that other users will associate particular content and styles with their identity. By definition, then, all blog postings are "known" in that the blog exists in a consistently defined virtual location, which helps to establish an identity, around which credibility can gather. Note that a "known" identity need have nothing to do with a given identity in the physical world.

Linked to Physical Identity versus Internet-based Identity Only
Architectures can require that physical identity be associated with commentary, as in Lessig's example of Counsel Connect.[12] However, to require linkage to physical identity, many more steps must be taken (collecting and storing sensitive information about a user) and safeguards for that collected information must be established-the users must have more trust of the sites collecting the information (yet another form of credibility). Irrespective of safeguards, as with Counsel Connect[12], using physical identities links credibility across the frames of the internet and real space, influencing the behaviors of those who contribute in those spaces. However, even purely internet-based identities have credibility. Just as Lessig describes linkage to a character or a particular online gaming environment, nothing inherently links a person or group to their internet-based persona, but credibility (similar to "characters") is "earned rather than bought, and because this takes time and (credibility is) not fungible, it becomes increasingly hard" to create a new persona[13].

Unrated Commentary System versus Rated Commentary System
In some architectures those who review or offer comments can, in turn, be rated by other users. This technique offers the ability to regulate the credibility of given authors by subjecting their comments to direct "quantifiable" approval ratings.

Positive Feedback-oriented versus Mixed Feedback (positive and negative) oriented
Architectures can be oriented around positive feedback or a mix of both positive and negative feedback. While a particular user may be able to equate fewer stars with a "negative" rating, the semantic difference is potentially important. The ability to actively rate an entity negatively may violate laws or norms that are important in the jurisdiction in which the internet property is important. The more public a site, the more important this concern may be, as noted by Goldsmith & Wu regarding eBay[14].

Moderated versus Unmoderated
Architectures can also be oriented to give editorial control to a group or individual. Many email lists are worked in this fashion (e.g., Freecycle). In these situations, the architecture usually allows, but does not require that contributions be moderated. Further, moderation may take two different forms: reactive or proactive. In the reactive mode, an editor removes posts, reviews, or content that is deemed offensive after it has been placed on the site or list. In the proactive mode, an editor must review all contributions before they are made public.

In a moderated setting, credibility is often given to the moderator. However, that credibility can be damaged by appearing to edit in a heavy-handed way, whether reactive or proactive (as experienced by In an unmoderated setting, credibility lies with the contributors alone. It should be noted that the very existence of an architecture allowing moderation may lend credibility to the forum being used (as in Howard Rheingold's examples from the WELL)[7], or it may take away credibility (as in corporate web sites that post feedback, but edit it highly).

[edit] Cyberculture studies

The field of cyberculture studies examines the topics explained above, including the communities emerging within the networked spaces sustained by the use of modern technology. Students of cyberculture engage with political, philosophical, sociological, and psychological issues that arise from the networked interactions of human beings by humans who act in various relations to information science and technology.

Donna Haraway, Sadie Plant, Manuel De Landa, Bruce Sterling, Hendrik Speck, Kevin Kelly, Wolfgang Schirmacher, Victor J.Vitanza, Gregory Ulmer, Charles D. Laughlin, and Jean Baudrillard are among the key theorists and critics who have produced relevant work that speaks to, or has influenced studies in, cyberculture.

Following the lead of Rob Kitchin, in his work Cyberspace: The World in the Wires, we might view cyberculture from different critical perspectives. These perspectives include: Futurism/Techno-utopianism, Technological Determinism, Social Constructionism, Postmodernism, Poststructuralism, and Feminist Theory.[15]

[edit] References

  1. ^ a b "cyberculture, n". OED online. Oxford University Press. December 2001. 
  2. ^ "cyberculture, n". American Heritage Dictionary of the English Language, Fourth Edition. Boston: Houghton Mifflin. 2000. 
  3. ^ Manovich, Lev (2003). "New Media from Borges to HTML". in Noah Wardrip-Fruin, Nick Montfort (PDF). The New Media Reader. MIT Press. pp. 13–25. 
  4. ^ Manovich, Lev (2001). The Language of a New Media. MIT Press. 
  5. ^ a b Forest, Fred. Pour un art actuel, l'art à l'heure d'Internet. Retrieved on 2008-02-15. 
  6. ^ Lister, David; Jon Dovey, Seth Giddings, Iain Grant, Kieran Kelly (2003). New Media: A Critical Introduction. Routledge. 
  7. ^ a b Rheingold, Howard (1993). "Daily Life in Cyberspace". The Virtual Community: Homesteading on the Electronic Frontier. HarperCollins. 
  8. ^ Rheingold, Howard (1993). "Daily Life in Cyberspace". The Virtual Community: Homesteading on the Electronic Frontier. HarperCollins. p. 63. 
  9. ^ Rheingold, Howard (1993). "Daily Life in Cyberspace". The Virtual Community: Homesteading on the Electronic Frontier. HarperCollins. p. 61. 
  10. ^ Kitchin, Rob (1998). "Theoretical Perspective: Approaching Cyberspace". Cyberspace: The World in the Wires. New York: Wiley. p. 58. 
  11. ^ Lessig, Lawrence (2006). Code 2.0: Code and Other Laws of Cyberspace. Basic Books. 
  12. ^ a b Lessig, Lawrence (2006). Code 2.0: Code and Other Laws of Cyberspace. Basic Books. pp. 94–97. 
  13. ^ Lessig, Lawrence (2006). Code 2.0: Code and Other Laws of Cyberspace. Basic Books. p. 113. 
  14. ^ Goldsmith, Jack; Wu, Tim (2006). Who Controls the Internet? Illusions of a Borderless World. Oxford University Press (US). p. 143. 
  15. ^ Kitchin, Rob (1998). "Theoretical Perspective: Approaching Cyberspace". Cyberspace: The World in the Wires. New York: Wiley. pp. 56–72. 

[edit] See also

[edit] Further Reading

  • N. Katherine Hayles (1999),"How We Became Posthuman: Virtual Bodies in Cybernetics, Literature and Informatics", Chicago University Press, Chicago, IL
  • Donna Haraway (1991),"Simians, Cyborgs and Women: The Reinvention of Nature", Routledge, New York, NY
  • Donna Haraway (1997),"Modest_Witness@Second_Millennium.FemaleMan©Meets_OncoMouse™", Routledge, New York, NY
  • Sherry Turkle (1997),"Life on the Screen: Identity in the Age of the Internet", Simon & Schuster Inc, New York, NY

[edit] External links

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