Category Archives: cyberculture

IR 9.0 talk, Camille Paloque-Bergès: Internet as playful business : interactive hypertext in

Ok, I went to this talk for two reasons, first because I am interested in the ways communities construct knowledge and in how we can observe that, and because Camille is a student of my friend Bernhard Rieder and I know how hard it can be as a grad student at a big conference, so I wanted to be supportive.

The talk itself was hampered by how little time was alotted to speakers in every panel–only 15 minutes instead of the usual 20. That missing 5 minutes equals 1-2 pages of text and it’s quite a challenge to explain any but the most superficial ideas in only 15 minutes. Unfortunately Camille’s talk was fairly complex, and I think it didn’t all come across clearly. However, since she has posted her slides and paper, I was able to take a closer look and found that my initial impression was correct; she is onto something quite interesting.

I’ll quote a short passage from her paper that sums up what she is studying right now:

From this quick contextualization, we can specify two major directions the net.artists have followed in Internet cyberculture: the economy of things (the growing population of hobbyists among the sub-cultures on the Web), embodied by informational objects (content and form) that are collected and shared in most of web communities, and the economy of people (triumphant in the Web 2.0’s fashion), embodied in the usage of applications, information processing and communication networks.

In the talk she went on to discuss the example of nasty nets, a site that was active from 2006-2007 and at which a group of net.artists shared links and images of interest that they discovered while surfing, identifying an emerging vernacular that counters the serious or high culture (or hacker, which is an interesting connection) approaches to both the Internet and to Talking afterward, there was some thought that the 4chan “/b/” image board may be a good place (or even the best?) to spot the bleeding edge of memetic evolution online. –Not that we needed an excuse to visit it, but what the hell. 😉

Emerging Themes

So here I am, we are in the last paper session before the wrap-up and I’m still trying to come up with some thoughts about emerging themes. Hampered a bit by the fact that rather than reading the proceedings yesterday after dinner, instead I stayed late at the dinner talking to David Krebs and enjoying the warm evening. But here are some things I notice keep coming up:

  • collective memory
  • failure of offline/online and real/virtual distinctions
  • persistent lack of quanititative data
  • most differences among users seem to have disappeared, except for age, and among the FLOSS community, still huge gender differences.

Data collection is especially tough because companies don’t give away the data, and user surveys have all kinds of limitations. It seems the best way for a number of platforms is to design an application users would like to add for somereason that also collects data on them for the researcher.

Distinctions –all agree we need finer distinctions, but little agreement on what they should be, especially when ontological issues start coming in, or questions of whether or how online actions are carried into offline life. (to reiterate that stupid distinction!)

Collective memory is quite interesting because it’s so overtly influenced by the platform being used and in what way things are archived or not. So for example, messages can be reviewed later, but battled can’t (unless they were deliberately filmed.)

Disappearing distinctions –I was quite encouraged to hear from several speakers that use of technology seems more equal now except for age, and even around age, the issue is not so much using tech or not, but the manner of use. However, the gender issue in FLOSS communities is troubling because even though those communities are small, they represent an important measure of participation in creation. If women continue absent, then the tech developments will remain slanted toward what interests and works well for men, and the cycle continues.

Pausing now to hear a talk about blogging and identity.

Long Distance

I can remember back in 1999 or so I was first making friends online, and at the time people around me expressed surprise that I would really count any of these online acquaintances as friends. And of course not all them were or became friends, but some did. Now, almost 10 years later I am still friends with some of them, even close friends. Along the way people really stopped asking if net friends were real friends, and I have many many friends now whom I mostly connect with online–scholars lead an itinerant life, or at least I do.

But of course it’s not exactly the same.

There are people I see almost every day or every week in my immediate locale whom I consider friends, a few of them close friends. But even those that are not so intimate emotionally I know quite well in other ways just because I see them often. So I know what they typically eat, or whether they prefer coffee or tea, what kinds of clothes they like to wear, whether they are morning people or night owls–and this is all without explicit discussion. I just observe it.

I know these things about some of my online friends too, but only if we talk about it. I don’t know about others, but when I am taking time to email, or IM, or chat, I don’t usually spend time on these little details unless for some reason they become important as part of a larger point. But even as I write this I experience the same problem of what I would describe vs what might be observed–there are some people, a few, with whom I am in such close contact that even though we are only connected via skype or email, these details come through. But when describing our daily lives through an online medium, we all make choices about what to leave in or out. These choices create some picture of us for readers that really is only a thin slice of our lives, so in some ways our online friends almost inevitably have a distorted picture.

This is not to say people we see in person don’t have pictures of us that are distorted in other ways, but I think the distortions may be less exaggerated because a broader range of information is available. Online we have mainly text, maybe some pictures or videos, and almost all of that is chosen by the author (leaving aside for now the issue of involuntary publishing that afflicts people with highly public identities). So it seems to me that this may serve to concentrate the distortions.

But does this actually matter? I don’t know. As I said, some of my online friendships started 10 years ago and those that have lasted always lead to meeting in person at least occasionally. So maybe this is really no different from the largely epistolary relationships that were common before the telephone, or before rapid travel became fairly accessible to large numbers of people. But having both kinds of friendships does sometimes make me feel in an uncomfortable way that there is some kind of disjunction between those with whom I feel closest and those whom I might guess have the widest range of information. Are those closest friends closest to the “me” that I think of as “me”? I suppose the question has always been there, but now technology makes me really notice it often. Damn computers and ICTs. 😉

Reflections on New Media/Cyberculture studies

During the first conference and in many of my conversations with people connected to Piet Zwart, the question keeps coming up about what exactly we are all doing in this field. Should we be studying the technology? The creative practices? The sociology? Thank God I’m in rhetoric–there’s nothing like a meta-field to happily encompass interests (like mine) that might generously be described as broad…maybe fragmented is more accurate…

But back to the question, why do we study these things? I think that’s the big question, and while we don’t have to have the same answer, I don’t see many people talking about the question at all. There seems to be an idea that we all have already agreed that computer tech, the internet, the web, are worth studying by definition. –Well, you could argue that anything produced by people is worth studying, certainly that’s a long-standing view of cultural studies. But I think we have to make the case a bit more clearly than that. Maybe I will make this a central question in my interviews.