Cyberculture

cyberculture

Cyberculture is the culture that has emerged, or is emerging, from the use of computer networks for communication, entertainment and business. It is also the study of various social phenomena associated with the Internet and other new forms of network communication, such as online communities, online multi-player gaming, social media and texting.

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. It can also embrace associated intellectual and cultural movements, such as cyborg theory in feminism and cyberpunk in literature. The term often incorporates an implicit anticipation of the future.

The earliest usage of the term ‘cyberculture’ is in 1963, ‘In the era of cyberculture, all the plows pull themselves and the fried chickens fly right onto our plates.’ 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.’ The modern definition describes the term as a culture endemic to online communities; 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 which valued sharing, openness, decentralization, and free access to computers. 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.

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. 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.

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. Credibility (similar to ‘character’) is ‘earned rather than bought, and because this takes time (and because credibility is not fungible) it becomes increasingly hard’ to create a new persona.

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. 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.

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. 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. In an unmoderated setting, credibility lies with the contributors alone.

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