Social Media as a Force for Change

Early on in the module, we discussed the Arab Spring as a model and measure of social media as both a supply of information (livetweeting and Snapchatting as hyperlocal journalism) and a means of discourse (Twitter Moments, Facebook and Twitter newsfeeds, etc.). That discussion has already been had and brought to its conclusion by this juncture, over five years after the documented unrest that kickstarted the current sociopolitical sabre-rattling around the Middle East. Leaders like Turkey’s Erdogan, for example, have attempted to block the use of social media in Turkey as a means of containing the backlash to his policies and actions, in its aftermath.

The truth is, there has always been uprising and upheaval wherever there is humanity, we have just never been in a position to observe the human side of the faraway, distant, current-affairs fodder until now. Of course, while nowhere near as important as that paradigm-shifting event, we needn’t look that far for an idea of how the levelling of the communications playing field alters the political discourse: we can look at the incremental changes that have occurred here at home.

Argue with it all you wish, the fact is power in Ireland does not bloody well care for accountability. We could name dozens of incidents, inquiries and faux pas that would not have reached the public eye without first spreading on social media, sometimes stopping there, other times becoming simply too much of a story to be spiked by editors deferential to the ring and the inside scoop. The inability to comprehend the reach and power of social media has both highlighted by and neatly summarised by Fidelma Healy-Eames,  Fine Gael senator with a now-legendary penchant for making a cluster of technological references when discussing cybercultural issues on which she is clearly not well-acquainted, helping in part expose the degree to which the establishment in this country is even aware of the discourse surrounding their work.

But perhaps more importantly, for a society that has avoided lending people an avenue of organised opposition to Establishment forces like conservative politicians, the Catholic Church, the Garda Siochána and others, it’s provided a forum of knowledge/evidence exchange, sharing of alternative press and stories ignored by Irish media, and a popular means of keeping those that govern and would abuse the privilege in check.

The currently-ongoing Jobstown trials, for example, hinge for a good part on the evidence provided by those in possession of smart devices, in direct contrast with testimonies of establishment figures looking to punish protest against austerity measures. In the case of Jobstown, smart devices were a petard by which Joan Burton TD would ultimately be hoist, exposing her lack of knowledge of constituents’ engagement with the process by inferring that they bought “expensive iPhones” in lieu of feeding their children or somesuch.

We may only be scratching the surface, as the instruments of social control in post-colonial Ireland start to give way to the attrition of public discourse. As Facebook Video and other platforms emerge and provide zero barrier to entry, we may see another dimension emerge to the burgeoning dissonance in Irish society between the working-class left, the fabled (but lesser-spotted) “middle Ireland”, and those in thrall to conservative Ireland’s legacy.

BIBLIOGRAPHY:

American Press Institute. 2017. How hyperlocal news outlets are taking shape across the U.S.. [ONLINE] Available at: https://www.americanpressinstitute.org/publications/research-review/hyperlocal-news/. [Accessed 18 May 2017].

Criminalizing Anti-Austerity in Ireland. 2017. Criminalizing Anti-Austerity in Ireland. [ONLINE] Available at: https://www.jacobinmag.com/2017/04/jobstown-not-guilty-ireland-water-privatization-austerity. [Accessed 18 May 2017].

Independent.ie. 2017. It’s where you’re raped on Facebook’ – Senator Fidelma Healy Eames becomes viral sensation – Independent.ie. [ONLINE] Available at: http://www.independent.ie/irish-news/its-where-youre-raped-on-facebook-senator-fidelma-healy-eames-becomes-viral-sensation-29117524.html. [Accessed 18 May 2017].

Turkey Blocks. 2017. Facebook, Twitter, YouTube and WhatsApp shutdown in Turkey – Turkey Blocks. [ONLINE] Available at: https://turkeyblocks.org/2016/11/04/social-media-shutdown-turkey/. [Accessed 18 May 2017].

twitter.com. 2017. No page title. [ONLINE] Available at: https://twitter.com/gemmaod1/status/864515365862354945. [Accessed 18 May 2017].

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Hackers: A Variance of Understandings

Excuse me, your trope here is inaccurate.

Hackers, as touched on in an earlier post surrounding the emergence of open-source technology and its subculture, have always existed. We’ve seen how hobbyists have maintained the purity of their curiosity and in the process helped disrupt a well-entrenched marketing model, empowering millions in the process before ultimately bringing the culture full-circle as an important part of the established market framework as something of a developmental league, unfortunately.

There has always been a dichotomy behind the term “hacker”, mind, the same as with any other disruptors of technology: on one end, we’ve seen the understanding of the term as sensationalist enemy of the state, whistleblowers fiddling around with the tech beyond the comprehension of casual observers, young anarchists upsetting the established order of a benevolent state. It’s a trope as old as computing in the popular eye itself, and not aided by the real-life rise of self-organised groups such as Anonymous. Playing on technophobia is a recurring theme in Western pop culture, of course, as seen in the likes of the “hacking scene” in Morgan Freeman thriller vehicle Along Came a Spider.

We even have the bizarro-world situation from time to time in certain AAA videogames, as far back as the late ’90s where “hacking into” various environmental objects was a mere matter of completing a suitably meta mini-game, such as Batman Begins‘ videogame adaptation, wherein the Caped Crusader utilises the entirety of his technical know-how and computing virtuosity… to play a match-three game. Cultural conservatism played into interactive entertainment with frankly stunning levels of hubris? Metatechnophobia?

(Advisory: the footage above is from early-2000s video fanzine Consolevania. Strong language applies at all times)

Nor is there always the leaning toward community and contribution as exists in the spectrum of open-source projects. “White-hat” hackers often tinker with networks and other means of organising data and expose their flaws, often to lucrative once-off paydays or full-time jobs for their efforts, as in the case of Microsoft and other companies that have hired hackers to go legit and even help develop them into star employees, representing an increasing slice of the tech giants’ HR outlay.

This is before we get into the conversation of Anonymous, and the sheer confusion with which an amorphous semi-organisation with no real endgame to present easily to the public is met (to say nothing of how this ambiguity is parlayed by conservative media and other forces to further muddy the waters and make a boogeyman of disruptive or unrestrained technology).

Just as the phone phreakers before them didn’t always use blue-boxes to blow in weird tones to circumvent the signifiers of cost and access, the term “hacker”, pertaining to someone that simply utilises their ingenue or some indeterminate way around an issue to its solution is unfortunately misinformed at best, and maligned at worst.

BIBLIOGRAPHY:

HackRead. 2017. The Anonymous Group: What is it and How big is it. [ONLINE] Available at: https://www.hackread.com/anonymous-group-what-is-it-and-how-big-is-it/. [Accessed 18 May 2017].

The History of Phone Phreaking — FAQ. 2017. The History of Phone Phreaking — FAQ. [ONLINE] Available at: http://www.historyofphonephreaking.org/faq.php. [Accessed 18 May 2017].

Thomas Macaulay. 2017. Seven white hat hackers you should know | Techworld. [ONLINE] Available at: http://www.techworld.com/picture-gallery/security/7-white-hat-hackers-you-should-know-3220909/. [Accessed 18 May 2017].

 

Gaming is Bad Now: Part 2 – Gamergate Edition

Essentially, yeah.

Let’s look at this with the bleak honesty of a late-stage twenty-something recently stuck for no longer being the target demographic for the monoliths of the videogaming-industrial complex.

#Gamergate was, in my own opinion and in seemingly the shared opinion of anyone not directly aggrieved by subjective review scores in the specialist press of a hitherto specialist press, a misogynistic shitstorm that exposed the underbelly of the homogeneous mass that is “pop culture” or “nerd culture” as the petty house of squabbling and exclusivity gaming folk have long known to exist under the sleek machinery and family-friendly, circle-the-telly semi-experiential sell-jobs.

Escapist entertainment by its nature will draw those looking to escape. Whether the nature of that escape is the established rock ‘n’ roll rulebook that dying young and drained is glamourous, that your participation in the fandom of a sports team means that you are some-part responsible for the successes of a field of finely-tuned athletes, or that your escape into a third space to inhabit personae and situations far beyond your real-life ken, is up to you. But the fact is counter-culture has always, in some form, in its late stages, drawn laggards looking for a place in which to find reconciliation between their enjoyment of a now-popular artform and some fairly unacceptable view or action in mind.

One had to have been entirely disconnected from reality to believe that videogaming wasn’t subject to the same issues, and if one was more conspiratorially-minded, one might say that people like the misogynists of #Gamergate weren’t more organised than 4chan, so concerned with the integrity of review scores were they that they doxxed and harassed videogames journalist and developer Zoe Quinn for actions that should have been dealt with internally by employers at the very most, and settled personally between the involved parties at least.

Toxic masculinity has always been a problem in videogames culture, something as obvious to me as thirteen years old when my friends in first year began displaying early signs of profound mental health issues and found the mute, vague personae of heroes like Devil May Cry‘s Dante and Final Fantasy VIII‘s Squall as the perfect security blankets for their own issues and seeming inability to reach out to others to start to sort them. Those handsome, bishonen boys and the vast array of knives and other armaments they did carry. Irresistible to clutches of small-town lads, their gamification of relationships with the opposite sex, and the lack of ready answers to the problems surrounding them.

Whatever your thoughts on the intentions of the original posts of #Gamergaters at the ground-floor and the feelings of Zoe Quinn’s former significant others, the tone of the following actions of a small few, as disenfranchised from the hobby of videogaming as anyone else no longer considered the target market of a multinational, removed any perceived honour from its intent, to say nothing of the pig-ignorance of its delivery.

This is the flipside of the upsetting of the established order of videogame’s first historical and anthropological chapter: the reordering of history and culture brings with it an exposure of what it leaves behind, for better or worse.

BIBLIOGRAPHY

The Death of Counterculture – acid logic. 2017. The Death of Counterculture – acid logic. [ONLINE] Available at: http://www.acidlogic.com/where_is_counterculture.htm. [Accessed 18 May 2017].

Kali Holloway. 2017. Toxic masculinity is killing men: The roots of male trauma – Salon.com. [ONLINE] Available at: http://www.salon.com/2015/06/12/toxic_masculinity_is_killing_men_the_roots_of_male_trauma_partner/. [Accessed 18 May 2017].

Jay Hathaway. 2017. What Is Gamergate, and Why? An Explainer for Non-Geeks. [ONLINE] Available at: http://gawker.com/what-is-gamergate-and-why-an-explainer-for-non-geeks-1642909080. [Accessed 18 May 2017].

Psychology Today. 2015. The Psychology of Sports Fandom | Psychology Today. [ONLINE] Available at: https://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/the-social-self/201507/the-psychology-sports-fandom. [Accessed 18 May 2017].

Rolling Stone. 2013. A Brief History of the 27 Club | Rolling Stone. [ONLINE] Available at: http://www.rollingstone.com/music/pictures/a-brief-history-of-the-27-club-20131112. [Accessed 18 May 2017].

Gaming and Permadeath

In an earlier post, I have alluded to the onset of older generations of technology-users being distrustful of a business model and a medium that succeeds their own, perhaps advancing too fast for the pace of life that had been established for their formative years with the medium. It pains me greatly, then, to see and realise that not only has a major pastime of mine seemingly blown past me as an engaged member of a cyberculture, but it’s been exposed as a feat of sheer artifice, or at the very least, based in a culture malleable to the wills of the owners of intellectual property.

As with any other funnel of information on any interest, the model of delivering videogames and its media has shifted online, with very little in the way of bespoke options to keep boutique retailers up and running outside of retro refurbs and costly, paperweight special editions. But with it comes the slow death of the pillars of the hobby. Retrogaming has long been co-opted by IP owners hell-bent on milking merchandise and big chains like Gamestop and CEX. There are scarcely any more cowboys roaming that part of the former Wild West that was games culture. And in a sop to the consumerism on which the generic mass of “pop-culture” was both born and couldn’t possibly hope to find steady ground, said chains are indulging ever more in not only the blockbusters of the medium, but in endless shelves of unrelated toys, gifts and other bits, superfluous to the experience of playing videogames with friends.

The death of the arcades is an old and laboured point. The machines of yesteryear take up residence in private collections like stuffed animals, a snapshot of a moment that has passed. The rental spaces and the cold comfort of other weirdos looking for that odd game that the local Xtravision happened upon in distribution are gone. Gaming is too expensive a space for a local, plucky underdog to risk retail outlay on now. So it goes. A number of economic factors have been at play for quite some time in this regard. The old signifiers and understanding that came with them are also gone. Money on the dashboard, knowing nods to challengers, the reputational bolstering of the highscore sheet, the specialisation and breakdown of a business model.

Gaming is everywhere now. Twitch and YouTube have taken the gentle art of sitting a round out and watching your friends unload on each other to the level of joyless spectator sport. Television has followed as it does. Merchandise begat a merger with the other strains of pop culture to include cosplay and other such fripperies. The risk-takers of the medium are either out of the game or relegated to indie-gaming status, a two-tier economy where the worst and most base tropes of the currently prevalent cultural conservatism are soaked into the work of risk-averse corporations while everyone else begs for the sustainability of their art on platforms with patchy records. We’re being sold, piecemeal, the spectre of a once-buoyant culture.

The joy is gone, bar willingly dipping my toe into being pitched to and hoping I’m not having those few years of my life regurgitated back to me in odd, jumbled, uncanny-valley shapes.

I apparently can’t even have the joy of finding misdirected lots of aul’ games in charity shops anymore. Everyone knows a recaptured youth is a moment of escape worth its weight in speculation and trade-ins.

The lawn will always be pristine in my mind’s eye, I suppose, so long as I can keep those kids off it.

BIBLIOGRAPHY:

DMR. 2017. 43 Amazing Twitch Stats and Facts (February 2017). [ONLINE] Available at: http://expandedramblings.com/index.php/twitch-stats/. [Accessed 18 May 2017].

Eurogamer.net. 2012. Crippled by Nostalgia: The Fraud of Retro Gaming • Eurogamer.net. [ONLINE] Available at: http://www.eurogamer.net/articles/2012-09-12-crippled-by-nostalgia-the-fraud-of-retro-gaming. [Accessed 18 May 2017].

Know Your Meme. 2017. Press F to Pay Respects | Know Your Meme. [ONLINE] Available at: http://knowyourmeme.com/memes/press-f-to-pay-respects. [Accessed 18 May 2017].

Filesharing and the Issue of Engagement

As the boom in music carried over from the final flourishes of vinyl’s golden-age ubiquity to the convenient recataloguing and inescapability of compact disc, the record industry could seemingly do no wrong, as one of the pillars of the entertainment industry that had emerged from the post-war West of the 1950s through 1990s. In near-complete control of their own, agreed-upon proprietary formats, the music industry was a billion-dollar-per-annum tagboat all its own. Until it “got free”. Unprepared for the onset of digital media and the internet, and unwilling to take its focus away from the marked-up and reissue-friendly CD format, the record industry was knocked sideways in 1998 by the advent of online file-sharing, a practice that grew throughout the 1990s and took the industry over fifteen years to out-convenience and wrest back under its control, as we examined in week 6.

The established media narrative now is that a bunch of hackers and music nerds got together to flay copyright laws on an almost-liquid platform for the sheer laugh, and that may even have been the case for a small few involved, but make no mistake, this was a subversive action brought on by an industry out of touch with its own culture. Music, like other arts that form the basis of a culture, bears the weight of the moment, expectation and reach that it accomplishes in its time. Any band or artist that comprises part of the majors’ “legacy” output will confirm this. Over time, as media deregulation placed the squeeze on the amount of labels that would end up operating independently and the radio pluggers and playlisters that ended up working with them, many artists in whom fans had made the extended emotional investments of old at the major-label level had been jettisoned in the post-grunge rush, treated as petulant children or simply replaced by younger, more malleable artists less willing to speak up.

Music has always been, in some way, a product, of course, as it is tied to goods and secondary material as a means of recouping expense and wage. When the business model shifted back to the short-term, Tin Pan Alley business model following an orgy of label mergers by the late 1990s, music had effectively been outed as just that – a product, as airheaded boardroom pop proliferated that could barely muster the energy of even the most basic bubblegum of old. Music fans began to be marginalised from the mainstream, and when your consumer can obtain your product for cheaper in one place than they can another, well, it becomes a matter of being hoist by one’s free-market petard.

For a great many people, the rise of Napster and so forth provided a platform to hear and be heard, operating outside the parameters of industry and eluding its grasp for years. This would seem to be the crime of filesharing services – seizing on the frustrations of a fanbase and providing a means to subvert the model that would serve to abandon them and their favoured genres of music as the years progressed.

BIBLIOGRAPHY:

The Guardian. 2015. Going for a song: the hidden history of music piracy | Books | The Guardian. [ONLINE] Available at: https://www.theguardian.com/books/2015/jun/07/stephen-witt-how-music-got-free-music-piracy-filesharing. [Accessed 17 May 2017].

The Guardian. 2014. Radio 1’s playlist secrets uncovered: the battle of the ‘brands’ | Media | The Guardian. [ONLINE] Available at: https://www.theguardian.com/media/2014/may/25/radio-1-playlist-secrets-uncovered-battle-of-brands. [Accessed 17 May 2017].

Music Industry History 1990s – Playlist Research. 2017. Music Industry History 1990s – Playlist Research. [ONLINE] Available at: http://www.playlistresearch.com/history/labels1990s.htm. [Accessed 17 May 2017].

Zack O’Malley Greenburg. 2017. Revenge of the Record Labels. [ONLINE] Available at: https://www.forbes.com/sites/zackomalleygreenburg/2015/04/15/revenge-of-the-record-labels-how-the-majors-renewed-their-grip-on-music/#2fba77fe2fba. [Accessed 17 May 2017].

Open Source: Swords into Ploughshares

As long as previously-open technology has had the master switch pulled on it by forces of monetisation and private capital, there have been people on the underside of it all, exploiting proprietary protections and forcing technology back open, much to the chagrin of the captains of industry. Thus has been the way with the exploitation for reclamation of digital technology, a direct antecedent of ‘phone phreaking‘, sharing cable television, and other subversive practices. Hacking has its roots in such practices, reverse-engineering computer systems and providing open access to closed information in the same spirit of openness that has driven two other major subcultures of cyberculture: open-source software and piracy.

Arising from the development of commercially developed but disbarred systems like UNIX, itself closed off after the bar on selling it was lifted, open-source projects like GNU focused on developing freely-available analogues and the software to operate on them as an alternative to privately-owned software, crystalising in the rise of Linux, a small OS presented by Linus Torvalds (pictured). The emergence of a functioning UNIX kernel emerging almost entirely from copylefting was the spark of legitimacy the movement had so desperately needed. Perhaps the lasting legacy of the movement, however, was not only the provision of software for its own, speciality operating systems, but in porting its freely-available software, alternatives to popular but costly productivity suites among them, to proprietary operating systems, offering further options to those unversed in open-source systems or bound to one operating system (as seen with recent laptops).

During the course of our lecture on this topic, we discussed the possible motivations for this behaviour, and for putting in place an infrastructure parallel to those controlling the various media they worked in. One major factor settled on was that those dedicated enough to work to reverse-engineer technology or provide an alternative from the ground up was simply passionate about doing so. Such has been the popularity of open-source software, however, that major companies employ operatives to stay involved in Linux, via ports for distributions with app stores and other programming/management roles, to gain experience and maintain goodwill with the community. In recent times, the rises of consumer-friendly distributions of Linux, such as Ubuntu and Debian have in turn engendered OS-based app stores of their own, hosting paid conversions of proprietary software, in a concession to their place as a distant third in the market to monoliths like Microsoft and Apple.

While hair-splitting can be had over who uses what, the fact of the matter is open-source computing has made technology better for all, providing advancements at a free-to-low-cost point and providing infrastructure in a number of different industries, as well as providing essential technology for free, light on system requirements and suitable for use on older/refurbished PCs. Furthermore, open-source has provided access to computing and coding for generations of budding programmers now, with protection over the archetypal markup languages. Closing an ethical gap in an influential technology, open-source continues to disrupt the marketplace and provide a level playing field.

BIBLIOGRAPHY:

Bloomberg.com. 1991. `Electronic Bullets’ That Blow Away Illegal Cable Boxes – Bloomberg. [ONLINE] Available at: https://www.bloomberg.com/news/articles/1991-06-30/electronic-bullets-that-blow-away-illegal-cable-boxes. [Accessed 17 May 2017].

The Guardian. 2011. The Master Switch by Tim Wu – review | Books | The Guardian. [ONLINE] Available at: https://www.theguardian.com/books/2011/apr/02/master-switch-tim-wu-review. [Accessed 17 May 2017].

The History of Phone Phreaking — FAQ. 2017. The History of Phone Phreaking — FAQ. [ONLINE] Available at: http://www.historyofphonephreaking.org/faq.php. [Accessed 17 May 2017].

OMG! Ubuntu!. 2016. You Can’t Install Linux on a Microsoft Signature Edition Laptop (Updated) – OMG! Ubuntu!. [ONLINE] Available at: http://www.omgubuntu.co.uk/2016/09/cant-install-linux-microsoft-signature-edition-laptop. [Accessed 17 May 2017].

Why Linus Torvalds doesn’t use Ubuntu or Debian. 2017. Why Linus Torvalds doesn’t use Ubuntu or Debian. [ONLINE] Available at: https://www.minds.com/blog/view/354092101044015104. [Accessed 17 May 2017].

Social Media: Method, Means and Medium

While cyberculture was in primordial-soup stages of development throughout the 1970s to 1990s with the move from academic mainframes to the World Wide Web, the culture entered an unprecedented level of acceptance with the wide consumer adaptation of domestic internet connections. Usenet groups, forums and early chat services formed the foundation of early cyberculture, but it wasn’t until the outset of the 2000s, where MySpace and Bebo outlined the early potential of social media as a means not only of communication, but of production and projection, that social media lit the way for the future of cyberculture as both cultural factor itself and cultural influencer.

The rise of Facebook, a monolithic social network counting over one billion members worldwide, has seen the notion of global, third-space networking and communications become a reality, or Baudrillardian hyper-reality, as it were. Here we find some of the central elements of a culture in and of itself: a centralised message board around which people gather to document their lives, adding to public record and building on received knowledge, as well as exchanging information and promoting their ventures. But the creation of one central funnel for information for a decent percentage of the population has influenced everything else in its wake – the content we consume is influenced directly by public opinion as expressed on, and even sourced directly from Facebook, in addition to the growing chasm between our own lives and the phenomenon of image-crafting, evolving from early social media use as a form of post-reality TV documentation.

As mentioned in the post prior, new forms of media, often in their “open stage” as per the Wu cycle, are viewed with suspicion and paranoia. The complete openness of social media as a medium (to say nothing of the ownership debate) has led many to question its safety as a networking tool, point out its (relative) open window into users’ lives for trolls and other abusers, and make the frequent assertion that social media alienates people, gluing them to a real-world funnel of infinite stimulation. Evidence obviously exists to the contrary, with countless stories of pictures of children on their phone, detached from the splendour of the world around them being bemoaned by older people (on social media, ironically), only to be revealed as using technology such as augmented reality and 360-degree imagery/footage to ameliorate their experiences.

 

But with a levelling of the playing field and granting of an amplified public voice comes a transition in what the public comes to understand as acceptable discourse. Public openness has led to public accountability, emboldening marginalised groups in calling out inequities and co-options, lending voice to the frustrations of the socially and politically disenfranchised. On the other side, an erroneous or badly-judged tweet can lead to an unmerciful routing from those upended by it and their supporters, as in the case of Justine Sacco.

All of these points lead to the idea of growing pains for a culture in transition away from the old pillars of communications and the signifiers that accompanied it, and to a world where we’re perhaps better serviced to recognise that we observe life through several filters.

BIBLIOGRAPHY:

Ceasefire Magazine. 2017. Jean Baudrillard: Hyperreality and Implosion | Ceasefire Magazine. [ONLINE] Available at: https://ceasefiremagazine.co.uk/in-theory-baudrillard-9/. [Accessed 17 May 2017].

Digital Trends. 2017. The History of Social Media. [ONLINE] Available at: https://www.digitaltrends.com/features/the-history-of-social-networking/. [Accessed 17 May 2017].

EVERYDAY ANALYSIS. 2013. Social Media Image-Crafting and Hyper-Analysis | EVERYDAY ANALYSIS. [ONLINE] Available at: https://everydayanalysis.com/2013/09/23/social-media-image-crafting-and-hyper-analysis/. [Accessed 17 May 2017].

The Guardian. 2017. Tim Wu: ‘The internet is like the classic story of the party that went sour’ | Technology | The Guardian. [ONLINE] Available at: https://www.theguardian.com/technology/2017/jan/08/tim-wu-interview-internet-classic-party-went-sour-attention-merchants. [Accessed 17 May 2017].

Jon Ronson – New York Times. 2015. New York Times. [ONLINE] Available at: https://www.nytimes.com/2015/02/15/magazine/how-one-stupid-tweet-ruined-justine-saccos-life.html?_r=0. [Accessed 17 May 2017].

Polygon. 2012. First game tournament, ‘Intergalactic Spacewar Olympics,’ held 40 years ago – Polygon. [ONLINE] Available at: https://www.polygon.com/2012/10/20/3529662/first-game-tournament-intergalactic-spacewar-olympics-held-40-years. [Accessed 17 May 2017].

Storck, M., 2014. The Role of Social Media in Political Mobilisation: a Case Study of the January 2011 Egyptian Uprising. St. Andrew’s College, [Online]. Available at: http://www.med-media.eu/wp-content/uploads/2014/07/The_Role_of_Social_Media_in_Political_Mobilisation_-_Madeline_Storck.pdf [Accessed 17 May 2017].

Is Social Media an alternative platform for the voiceless in a conflict Zone? | Mute. 2017. Is Social Media an alternative platform for the voiceless in a conflict Zone? | Mute. [ONLINE] Available at: http://www.metamute.org/community/blog-roll/social-media-alternative-platform-voiceless-conflict-zone. [Accessed 17 May 2017].

Telegraph.co.uk. 2016. The real story behind a viral Rembrandt ‘kids on phones’ photo – Telegraph. [ONLINE] Available at: http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/newstopics/howaboutthat/12103150/Rembrandt-The-Night-Watch-The-real-story-behind-the-kids-on-phones-photo.html. [Accessed 17 May 2017].

The Question of Culture: Definitions and Discussion


The overarching question of what constitutes a culture is typically met with a variety of definitions and conclusions, with some variance between them, but generally settling on the key concept, as established by Tylor in his 1871 work Primitive Culture, that a culture is a collection of the following:

  • Knowledge (and/or the idea of “received wisdom”)
  • Artistry (via a multitude of media and spanning several genres)
  • Belief systems (be it organised religion or received spirituality)
  • Law and order (a recognisable and understood code of conduct, with sanction for those in violation)
  • Morals and/or ethics (often heavily tied into either beliefs or laws)
  • Custom (events and/or observances traditional to culture, tied in with knowledge, belief and/or ethics)

The debate surrounding cultural artefacts, and what constitutes them, is what brings the discussion of cyberculture to light – internet and gaming cultures, as well as spinoffs such as meme culture/”weird social media” and accelerationist/anti-consumerist art like the musical micro-genre of vaporwave, are all inherently tied into the idea of cultural artefacts, if not reliant on a medium that thrives almost entirely on the production, marketing and sale of goods, primarily in the unit of social engagement (the costs of internet bills, the per-unit cost of games and/or memberships), and secondarily in the resale of a burgeoning received wisdom, in the case of cybercultures, the most prominent of which is retrogaming, which began as a counter-culture within videogaming.

Part of the extended cultural hangover of Thatcher-era austerity in the UK, retrogaming saw avid collectors pick up the consoles of their childhood years, partially to relive old memories, but also to catch-up on aspects of their hobby they missed and share them with (variously interested, to be fair) families, beginning in earnest the conversation in cyberculture of cultural transmission – that is, the generational passage of ideas, such as the case with the infamous “ghost car” story from 2014. Eventually dramatised as short film “Player Two”, the story saw a young player revisit the driving game of his childhood to find his father’s last laptime saved on the machine, ready for him to lay challenge.

Player Two from John Wikstrom on Vimeo.

World 1-1 of Super Mario Brothers on the NES is the most recognisable sight in videogaming, with a theme tune that has become one of the most-recognised pieces of music in the world in any medium. The ubiquity of this piece of music and indeed, the Mario Brothers series is a direct result of cultural transmission in many cases (albeit aided by the co-option of a counter-consumption movement in order to create sequels, remakes and updates for current, more child-marketable hardware).

A fair amount of cultural change has been driven by the onset of new technologies. The printing press led to mass media and gave rise to a wider dissemination of ideas, while the advances in transportation over the past few centuries facilitated the spread of these ideas. Each time, misplaced and unsubstantiated threats of alienation and isolation from the generation before haunt the new medium in the mainstream conversation while enthusiasts slowly build their discourse around it. However, up to the dawn of cyberculture, the means and method were continuances of old discourses, passing down old information and adjusting communication for new idioms.

Cyberculture, however, represents a departure point – the pace of change accelerated exponentially from the 1990s, and the signifiers of a culture are still emerging from its ever-turbulent waters – a culture created, subverted, reclaimed, co-opted, and elements of which have been resold, in our lifetime.

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