For one of my assignments in Media and Technology I last September, I had to create a blog on media theory and terminology. I decided to focus mostly on emerging concepts that could help explain or describe some of the rapid changes brought about by social media. It seemed to me that many of the media theories that were developed in the 1960s could no longer apply fully to today’s context. Geert Lovink, a Dutch Internet scholar, satisfied my curiosity about the latest thought on media and technology. He is sometimes just as cryptic as Marshall McLuhan, but more relevant to the all-encompassing and accelerated media landscape we now experience on a daily basis. In his recent publication, The Principle of Notworking: Concepts in Critical Internet Culture, he writes:
Internet culture is in a permanent flux. There is no linear growth, neither up nor down. The only certainty is the steady rise, both in absolute and relative numbers of users outside of the West.
The following is a re-post from my assignment blog that explores the concept of network culture – in part developed by Lovink. Happy September!
The collective shaping of the Internet by its users has never been stronger, according to Dutch net critic Geert Lovink, who opened his latest book Networks Without A Cause with the following statement:
“Once the Internet changed the world; now the world is changing the Internet” (1)
If we are changing the Internet, by what means are we doing so and how do we understand the changes that are taking place? The relationship between online networks and us cannot be mathematically or scientifically measured according to Lovink, but rather the social, political and economic consequences and conflicts need to be reflected upon (2). According to Lovink, network culture can be understood as the relationship between our way of life, the Internet and social media, and the ways in which this relationship enables fundamental change within our society through both the use and altering of these technologies.
For scholar Tiziana Terranova, network culture signifies the “unprecedented abundance of informational output and by an acceleration of informational dynamics” (3). With the rise of network culture, the Internet’s decentralised nature allows users to produce and consume user-generated content online, while simultaneously distributing this content. In other words, the difference in our networked world is anyone can produce information and cultural content, at any time from any location, using new media. Terranova suggests that in this new world, the strange qualities of information- capacity to be copied, volatility, intangibility- have become exasperated (4). We have become immersed in an environment of ‘massless flows’ of information, which are organized, constructed and deconstructed by the Internet network. According to Terranova, the network becomes a “battlefield” where war and alliances are created based on the power of information and image flows to affect its targets.
Andy Warhol, an artist and barometer of cultural change during his lifetime, stated in 1979: My new line is ‘In 15 minutes everybody will be famous’.
With the advent of the computer and subsquently the Internet, it was poignantly stated by Adams (1997) that “…it is oneself that is consumed, as machines convert identity and ideas into information to be stored or transported at the speed of light and reconstituted in one or many distant locations” (5). With social media, we are constantly “on” because the network never turns you off- you will be tagged in Facebook photos, referenced on Twitter and commented on your blog regardless of whether you are physically at a computer. As summized by leading Internet scholars Nancy Baym and dana boyd,
“social media blur boundaries between presence and absence, time and space, control and freedom, personal and mass communication, private and public, and virtual and real, affecting how old patterns should be understood and raising new challenges and opportunities for people engaging others through new technologies” (6).
Kazys Varnelis, director of the Network Architecture Lab, describes network culture as a new “societal condition” emphasizing the power of connection (7). He describes network culture as a condition where “information is less the product of discrete processing units than of the networked relations between them, of links between people, between machines, and between machines and people”(8). Digital culture has been claimed to now be a tautological term, as digital is now out presupposed reality (9). The process of digitization within society, or “the technological process that reduces the text to something that can be easily fragmented, handled, linked and distributed” (10), has been occurring since the late 1880s with inventions such as the photographic camera and the typewriter (11).Varnelis states that “the new technological grail for industry is a universal, converged network, capable of distributing audio, video, Internet, voice, text chat, and any other conceivable networking task efficiently” (12).
Lovink suggests that in a network culture the real/virtual binary must be rejected for a vision of society now fully integrated into the infrastructure of the Internet with the colonization of our social world by technology and the lessening potential to have alternative online identities separate from real world implications (13). Social media, plays an important role in this transformation, appearing as early as 1997 with SixDegrees.com, by creating an environment in which digital identity, ideas and information can be rapidly produced, but with people we already know or are familiar with as our audience (14). Social networks demand you are yourself in relation to others who know you, and so do the companies who profit from your freely given personal information, preferences and relations.
Internet content is
User-generated —> Social Media —> Socially perpetuated
Another feature of network culture according to Terranova, is immaterial labor, as free labor continually creates ephemeral or short-lasting online commodities that the Internet needs to exist in order to become commercialized (15). Lovink is critical of the emphasis on free and open cultural production, as he states we should recognize “the actual force of the ideology of free and open as advocated by some in the “free culture” movement as a potential trap” (16). Whether our creative potentials are used for good or evil in the online networks within which we share and realise them, it is important to remain aware of the new cultural shift we are stumbling into and the continually changing rules of the game (a potent mix of mobile technology, immaterial labour, social networks, and relentless sharing). More importantly- we ourselves must play an active role in the formation of those rules.
(1) Lovink, G. (2011). Networks Without A Cause. United Kingdom: Polity Press, p.1.
(2) Ibid. p. 23
(3) Terranova, T. (2004). Network Culture: Politics for the Information Age. London, UK: Pluto Press, p. 1.
(5) Adams, P.C. (1997). Cyberspace and Virtual Places. The Geographical Review, 87(2), p. 164.
(6) Baym, N.K. & boyd, d. (2012). Socially Mediated Publicness: An Introduction. Journal of Broadcasting & Electronic Media, 56(3), p. 320.
(7) Varnelis, K. (2010). The meaning of network culture. Retrieved October 1, 2012 from http://www.eurozine.com/articles/2010-01-14-varnelis-en.html
(9) Gere, C. (2008). Digital Culture. London, UK: Reaktion Books Ltd, p. 1.
(10) Scholari, A. (2009). Mapping conversations about new media: the theoretical field of digital communication. New Media Society, 11, p. 946.
(11) Gere, C. (2008). Digital Culture. London, UK: Reaktion Books Ltd.
(12) Varnelis, K. (2010). The meaning of network culture. Retrieved October 1, 2012 from http://www.eurozine.com/articles/2010-01-14-varnelis-en.html
(13) Lovink, G. (2011). Networks Without A Cause. United Kingdom: Polity Press.
(14) Elliston, N.B. & boyd, d. (2008). Social Network Sites: Definition, History, and Scholarship. Journal of Computer-Mediated Communication, 13, p. 210–230.
(15) Terranova, T. (2004). Network Culture: Politics for the Information Age. London, UK: Pluto Press.
(16) Lovink, G. (2011). Networks Without A Cause. United Kingdom: Polity Press, p.168.