Introduction – Week One

Hello and welcome to the collaborative blog for #BCM325 Future Cultures. In this introduction to the subject I want to spend some time mapping out what we are doing this semester and take a look at the learning assessment tasks. The exact details of the subject topics and learning assessment tasks are available in the Subject Outline which is found via the subject Moodle page. The presentation (prezi) for the lecture is available here.

Introduction

My name is Dr. Christopher Moore and I’m a Lecturer in Digital Communication and Media Studies at the University of Wollongong. You can find me here (and call me Chris). I am an active researcher in the Digital Humanities, Game Studies and Persona Studies. I’m working on a number of projects that I will be sharing details about over the course of the session, including ongoing research into virtual reality, media drones, online identity and 3D printing. I’m going to be sharing research over the session that I am currently generating for a book on Persona Studies, which is looking at online identity and the formation of the public self in the contemporary digitally networked era.

 I am also the subject coordinator for BCM300 Game Making, and BCM320 Digital Asia, and would of course invite you all to check out both those subjects.

In the Subject Outline (available via the subject Moodle page) you will see details regarding consultation, my office location and contact details. I try my best to respond to all correspondence but email is highly ineffective and you are invited to tweet me or direct message me via Twitter for a 24 hour response time via @CL_Moore. Follow me and send a direct message to discuss or arrange a consultation. I’m happy to consult on anything related to the subject via Twitter. We will be using the #BCM325 hashtag to live tweet our experience of the subject screenings and share materials with the cohort.

https://i2.wp.com/orig03.deviantart.net/5e79/f/2013/251/3/c/welcome_to_the_internet_by_chibishadow8-d6lkfaf.png
Welcome to the internet!

What is Cyberculture?

Cyberculture is the response to the ubiquitous presence and use of computers and networks in all aspects of contemporary social life, including communication, labour, education, art and entertainment, business, and industry. It involves the everyday experience of digital technologies, networks, and the representation of the many possible futures that such technologies might contribute to making a reality.

In the past we have imagined what cyberculture would be like in movies, television, books, comics and advertising, and these media forms have teased us with dreams of having instantaneous communication available anywhere in the world, with powerful supercomputers that fit in your hand, and the ability to store millions of documents, images and pieces of information with immediate recall. Indeed cyberculture is part futurology.

Today, many of the technologies once dreamt about and represented in fiction are now commonplace. We live in the future, we exist online and off, we are in cyberspace. This subject is interested in how cybercultures have been historically represented and how these past visions and ideas of the future compare to the reality that is lived today and what that might mean for tomorrow.

There are a great many books and other academic materials that have been produced over the past three decades contributing to the study of cybercultures, and one interesting example to start with is Defining Cyberculture, a piece by Jakub Macek, which examines the history of attempts to define the term cyberspace. 

Lev Manovich, a professor of new media theory and computer science at the City University of New York where he is a researcher and teacher with a focus on on the digital humanities, social computing, new media art and theory, and software studies, has an interesting definition of cyberculture: “I would define cyberculture as 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 multiplayer 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 “New Media from Borges to HTML,” The New Media Reader, Noah Wardrip-Fruin and Nick Montfort (eds), The MIT Press.

Culture is an anthropological term and can be considered as a set of learned behaviours and shared resource of expressions and representations, which are characteristics of an interconnected people group.

We might talk about the culture of athletes, celebrities, or speak of a national culture or indigenous cultures or the subcultures of fandoms and we will already have a shared sense of their norms, standards and activities from our own experiences.

Unlike culture, which is marked by flexible and changing boundaries, society is the actual experience of belonging: we belong to a society of individuals and a collective culture of expression. Society is made up of practices, institutions, governments and organisations that we belong to, even if they develop cultures and subcultures of their own.

So with regards to the distinction between New Media Technologies, like Virtual Reality, 3D printing or personal drones and the cybercultures they are part of, we are interested in the potential of the cultural object and the paradigm of its social existence.

In this subject we will interrogate the representations of the social order that regulates how these technologies and cultural practices impact on our daily lives, how we imagine and create laws and contracts to control them, but also how we use media to represent their potential and employ them to create new experiences, social groupings and cultural expressions.

Take for instance the World Wide Web.  The phenomena of hypertext and HTML (the language of the web) is not only important in terms of looking at the specifics of how the code works, but also its representation in cinema, television, fiction and documentary. We can examine how these representations have impacted on our everyday processes, how it has been adopted in contemporary culture and how it works to format our societies and social order in return.

What has the web done to social relations, sovereignty, governments, laws, and the expressions of our common activities and relationships. How have those impacts been represented in popular culture?

As we know from the Robert Zemeckis Back to the Future movies, particularly the sequel which predicted we would be riding hoverboards in 2015, not all representations and visions of cyberculture become a reality, but Science and Science Fiction have a close affinity: one informs the other in a cyclical relationship. Science and engineering often come close, even if the reality doesn’t quite align with the imagination of Science Fiction.

The imagined technologies of Science Fiction aren’t really predictions but rather attempts to wrestle with the implications of change and disruption to our established modes of existence that technologies, like self-driving cars, artificial intelligence, cloning and maybe one-day anti-gravity, cybernetic brains or quantum teleportation might help to produce. These predictions are more about the now and our relationships to technology today than they are about the future.

Take a look at this video that was created in 2004 and take note of the type of predictions it offers, not only the technologies and their uses but the new businesses, laws, markets and other social conditions created by the responses to these technologies.

Visit the Museum of Media History (as imagined in 2004)

This subject looks to the past as much as it does to the future in thinking about cyberculture and the types of technological, corporate, political, social, and legal changes that have been represented in popular culture and how it not only aligns with our reality but also wildly diverges. The video is useful for us to look back at now in terms of what it predicted based on what they knew was going on in 2004 and looking at some of the trends that were emerging at that time.

Some of the predictions are not that far off the mark, others a total miss like the merger of Amazon and Google. The personalised news service is, of course, available to all users of Google and Facebook and the prediction of the agglomeration of big media corporations is certainly on track, with fewer and fewer mega-corporations like Sony, News Corp and Disney dominating the mainstream media environment. It is also interesting to note the anticipation of cloud storage and the individualisation of content creation, distribution and delivery, especially when you remember this is just before the launch of YouTube in 2005 and Facebook’s wider public availability in 2006.

What wasn’t predicted includes the rise of data analytics, crowdsourcing and digital distribution and the sheer degree of impact that the user as creator and producer of content, or the impact that Internet fandoms and web-based social movements, like the Arab Spring, Anonymous and Occupy would have on the world.

Subject Outline

Starting at the beginning, let’s look at the subject description in the outline, which is available via the subject Moodle page and the blog:

“This subject covers the texts, practices and impact of online communication from a national and international perspective. Students will examine the conceptualisation of the digital environment and its inhabitants; consider how concepts of the body, gender, identity and community are formulated; scrutinise notions of authoring and authority, reading and interactivity, engage with the emergence of memes and the practices of social media; explore issues of access and equity and policies dealing with regulation, copyright, privacy and surveillance, using case studies from several countries.”

What does that mean?

This subject is driven by individual research into a topic related to cyberculture that is of your choosing. To a large extent you are going to be researching on your own terms, by working in the seminars and as part of the learning assessment for the subject, you will be directly contributing your research and analysis to the subject blog, in the seminar presentation and by collecting your research and presenting it as a digital artifact or research report. We are interested in the cultural and social impacts of technologies and we are going to be investigating the forms, processes and consequences of materials in a “digital” form.

The research will consider the broader consequences of the topics you choose and the ways we imagine and represent them in popular culture. We are interested in a range of theories, concepts and histories of technologies and their reception, regulation and mediation of experience that all percolate in cyberculture studies. The types of questions you can examine in your research includes critical interrogation of assumptions about identity, gender, race, power, community and culture, social change and regulation. These types of analysis can be used to think about cyberterrorism, surveillance, online games, data-mining and intellectual property laws.

Each week we are going to be looking at topics from the ‘stack‘ and next week we are going to discuss visions of cyberspace and cyberspace visionaries, and look at some of the early contributions to theories of cybernetics and cyberculture.

In preparation for next week read Vannevar Bush’s 1945 article ‘As We May Think’

http://www.theatlantic.com/magazine/archive/1945/07/as-we-may-think/303881/