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.
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