Internet culture

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Internet culture, or cyberculture, is a culture based on the many manifestations of computer networks and their use for communication, entertainment, business, and recreation. Some features of Internet culture include online communities, gaming, and social media. Owing to the massive adoption and widespread use of the Internet, the impact of Internet culture on society and non-digital cultures has been extensive. The encompassing nature of the Internet and its culture has led to the study of different elements of Internet culture, such as social media, gaming and specific communities, and has also raised questions about identity and privacy on the Internet.[1]

The cultural history of the Internet is a story of rapid change. The Internet evolved in parallel with rapid and sustained technological advances in computing and data communication, and widespread access as the cost of infrastructure dropped by several orders of magnitude. As technology advanced, Internet culture changed in response; in particular, the introduction of smartphones has increased access to the Internet.

Initially, digital culture tilted toward the Anglosphere. As a natural consequence of computer technology's early reliance on textual coding systems that were mainly adapted to the English language, Anglophone societies—followed by other societies with languages based on Latin script—enjoyed privileged access to digital culture. However, other languages have gradually increased in prominence. In specific, the proportion of content on the Internet that is in English has dropped from roughly 80% in the 1990s to around 52.9% in 2018.[2][3]

From a psychological perspective, electronic and digital culture is highly engrossing. Excessive neglect of the traditional physical and social world in favor of Internet culture became codified as a medical condition under the diagnosis of Internet addiction disorder.

Overview[edit]

The internet is one gigantic well-stocked fridge ready for raiding; for some strange reason, people go up there and just give stuff away.
Mega 'Zines, Macworld (1995)[4]

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 Alice Mary Hilton wrote the following, "In the era of cyberculture, all the plows pull themselves and the fried chickens fly right onto our plates."[5] 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."[5] 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".[6] However, both OED and the American Heritage Dictionary fail to describe cyberculture as a 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.[original research?]

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,[7][8] Arturo Escobar and Fred Forest.[9] However, most of these concepts concentrate only on certain aspects, and they do not cover these in great detail. Some authors aim to achieve a more comprehensive understanding distinguished between early and contemporary cyberculture (Jakub Macek),[10] 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.).[11]

Historical evolution[edit]

The cultural antecedent of digital culture was amateur radio (commonly known as ham radio), which at this point was electronic, but not yet digital. By connecting over great distances, Ham operators were able to form a distinct cultural community with a strong technocratic foundation, as the radio gear involved was finicky and prone to failure. The area that later became Silicon Valley, where much of modern Internet technology originates, had been an early locus of radio engineering.[12] Alongside the original mandate for robustness and resiliency, the renegade spirit of the early ham radio community later infused the cultural value of decentralization and near-total rejection of regulation and political control that characterized the Internet's original growth era, with strong undercurrents of the Wild West spirit of the American frontier.

At its inception in the early 1970s as part of ARPANET, digital networks were small, institutional, arcane, and slow, which confined the majority of use to the exchange of textual information, such as interpersonal messages and source code. Access to these networks was largely limited to a technological elite based at a small number of prestigious universities; the original American network connected one computer in Utah with three in California.

Text on these digital networks was usually encoded in the ASCII character set, which was minimalistic even for established English typography, barely suited to other European languages sharing a Latin script (but with an additional requirement to support accented characters), and entirely unsuitable to any language not based on a Latin script, such as Mandarin, Arabic, or Hindi.

Interactive use was discouraged except for high value activities. Hence a store and forward architecture was employed for many message systems, functioning more like a post office than modern instant messaging; however, by the standards of postal mail, the system (when it worked) was stunningly fast and cheap. Among the heaviest users were those actively involved in advancing the technology, most of whom implicitly shared much the same base of arcane knowledge, effectively forming a technological priesthood.

A screenshot of a bulletin board system.

The origins of social media predate the Internet proper. The first bulletin board system was created in 1978,[13] GEnie was created by General Electric in 1985[14][unreliable source?], the mailing list Listserv appeared in 1986[14][unreliable source?], and Internet Relay Chat was created in 1988.[14][unreliable source?] The first official[dubious ] social media site, SixDegrees launched in 1997.[14][unreliable source?]

In the 1980s, the network grew to encompass most universities and many corporations, especially those involved with technology, including heavy but segregated participation within the American military–industrial complex. Use of interactivity grew, and the user base became less dominated by programmers, computer scientists and hawkish industrialists, but it remained largely an academic culture centered around institutions of higher learning. It was observed that each September, with an intake of new students, standards of productive discourse would plummet until the established user base brought the influx up to speed on cultural etiquette.

Commercial Internet service providers (ISPs) emerged in 1989 in the United States and Australia, opening the door for public participation. Soon the network was no longer dominated by academic culture, and the term eternal September, initially referring to September 1993, was coined as Internet slang for the endless intake of cultural newbies.

Commercial use became established alongside academic and professional use, beginning with a sharp rise in unsolicited commercial e-mail commonly called spam. Around this same time, the network transitioned to support the burgeoning World Wide Web (largely erected on the emerging exchange cultures of free software and open source). Multimedia formats such as audio, graphics, and video become commonplace and began to displace plain text, but multimedia remained painfully slow for dial-up users. Also around this time the Internet also began to internationalize, supporting most of the world's major languages, but support for many languages remained patchy and incomplete into the 2010s.

On the arrival of broadband access, file sharing services grew rapidly, especially of digital audio (with a prevalence of bootlegged commercial music) with the arrival of Napster in 1999 and similar projects which effectively catered to music enthusiasts, especially teenagers and young adults, soon becoming established as a prototype for rapid evolution into modern social media. Alongside ongoing challenges to traditional norms of intellectual property, business models of many of the largest Internet corporations evolved into what Shoshana Zuboff terms surveillance capitalism. Not only is social media a novel form of social culture, but also a novel form of economic culture where sharing is frictionless, but personal privacy has become a scarce good.

Bongo Cat

In 1998, there was Hampster Dance, the first[dubious ] successful Internet meme.[15]

In 1999, Aaron Peckham created Urban Dictionary, an online, crowdsourced dictionary of slang.[15] He had kept the server for Urban Dictionary under his bed.[15]

In 2000, there was great demand for images of a dress that Jennifer Lopez wore. As a result, Google's co-founders created Google Images.[15][16]

In 2001, Wikipedia was created.[15]

In 2005, YouTube was created because people wanted to find video of Janet Jackson's wardrobe malfunction at the Super Bowl in 2004. YouTube was later acquired by Google in 2006.[15]

In 2009, Bitcoin was created.[15]

Since 2020, Internet culture has been affected by the COVID-19 pandemic.[17][better source needed]

Since 2021, there has been an unprecedented surge of interest in the concept of the metaverse.[18][19][unreliable source?] In particular, Facebook Inc. renamed itself to Meta Platforms in October 2021, amid the crisis of the Facebook Papers.[20]

Manifestations[edit]

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 Internet protocols. Examples include but are not limited to:

Social impact[edit]

The Internet is one of the most popular forms of communication today with billions of people using it every day. This is because the Internet is full of a wide variety of tools that can allow for information retrieval and communication, which can occur between individuals, groups, or even within mass contexts.[21] It has created a culture that many people are involved in which has led to countless positive and negative impacts.

The Internet provides an array of tools for people to use for information retrieval and communication in individual, group, and mass contexts.

Positive[edit]

The creation of the Internet has impacted society greatly, providing the ability to communicate with others online, store information such as files and pictures, and help maintain government. As the Internet progressed, digital and audio files could be created and shared on the Internet, and became one of the main sources of information, business, and entertainment, leading to the creation of different social media platforms such as Instagram, Twitter, Facebook and Snapchat.[22] Communicating with others has become easier in the modern day and age, allowing people to connect and interact with each other. The Internet helps people maintain our relationships with others by acting as a supplement to physical interactions with friends and family.[23] People are also able to make forums and talk about different topics with each other which can help form and build relationships. This gives people the ability to express their own views freely. Social groups created on the Internet have also been connected to improving and maintaining health in general. Interacting with social groups online can help prevent and possibly treat depression.[23] In response to the rising prevalence of mental health disorders, including anxiety and depression, a 2019 study by Christo El Morr and others demonstrated that York University students in Toronto were extremely interested in participating in an online mental health support community. The study mentions that many students prefer an anonymous online mental health community to a traditional in person service, due to the social stigmatization of mental health disorders.[24] Overall, online communication with others gives people the sense that they are wanted and are welcomed into social groups.

Negative[edit]

With access to the Internet becoming easier for people, it has led to a substantial number of disadvantages. Addiction is a notable issue, as the Internet is becoming increasingly relied on for various everyday tasks.[25] There are a range of different symptoms connected to addiction such as withdrawal, anxiety, and mood swings. Addiction to social media is very prevalent with adolescents, but the interaction they have with one another can be detrimental to their health. Rude comments on posts can lower an individual's self-esteem, making them feel unworthy and may lead to depression. Social interaction online may also substitute face-to-face interactions for some people instead of acting as a supplement. This can negatively impact people's social skills and cause one to have feelings of loneliness. People may also face the chance of being cyberbullied when using online applications. Cyberbullying may include harassment, video shaming, impersonating, and much more. A concept described as "cyberbullying theory" is now being used to suggest that children who use social networking more frequently are more likely to become victims of cyberbullying.[26] Additionally, some evidence shows that too much Internet use can stunt memory and attention development in children. The ease of access to information which the Internet provides discourages information retention. However, the cognitive consequences are not yet fully known.[27] The staggering amount of available information online can lead to feelings of information overload. Some effects of this phenomenon include reduced comprehension, decision making, and behavior control.[27]

Qualities[edit]

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).[28]

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.

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".[28]: 63 
  • 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".[28]: 61 
  • Is "the product of like-minded people finding a common 'place' to interact."[29]: 58 
  • Is inherently more "fragile" than traditional forms of community and culture (John C. Dvorak).

Thus, cyberculture can be generally defined as the set of technologies (material and intellectual), practices, attitudes, modes of thought, and values that developed with cyberspace.[30]

Sharing has been argued to be an important quality for the Internet culture.[31]: 7 

Identity – "Architectures of credibility"[edit]

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.

One early study, conducted from 1998-1999, found that the participants view information obtained online as being slightly more credible than information from magazines, radio, and television. However, the same study found that the participants viewed information obtained from newspapers as the most credible, on average. Finally, this study found that an individual's rate of verification of information obtained online was low, and perhaps over reported depending on the type of information.[32]

How does cyberculture rely on and establish identity and credibility? This relationship is two-way, with identity and credibility being both used to define the 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 offline world; however, since these are two separate worlds, it is not surprising that there are differences in their mechanisms and interactions of the markers found in each.

Following the model put forth by Lawrence Lessig in Code: Version 2.0,[33] 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[edit]

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 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. Conversely, anonymous postings are inherently incredible. 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[edit]

Architectures can require that physical identity be associated with commentary, as in Lessig's example of Counsel Connect.[33]: 94–97  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,[33]: 94–97  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.[33]: 113 

Unrated commentary system versus rated commentary system[edit]

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[edit]

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.[34]

Moderated versus unmoderated[edit]

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 digg.com). In an unmoderated setting, credibility lies with the contributors alone. 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),[28] or it may take away credibility (as in corporate web sites that post feedback, but edit it highly).

Cyberculture studies[edit]

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, Kevin Kelly, Wolfgang Schirmacher, Pierre Levy, David Gunkel, 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, cyberculture might be viewed[how?] from different critical perspectives. These perspectives include futurism or techno-utopianism, technological determinism, social constructionism, postmodernism, poststructuralism, and feminist theory.[29]: 56–72 

See also[edit]

References[edit]

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Further reading[edit]