5 Replies to “#IRL: Internet Culture and Preservation”

  1. I totally agree that the readings weren’t really congruent as a whole. I think part of that is that we are in a somewhat interesting moment in the development of digital preservation practice at the very same time that archivists are seriously questioning many of the assumed bases of archival practice in general related to appraisal and selection. So it’s somewhat up to us to push through and make some sense of all these different strands 🙂

    I really like the “content, connections, and context” turn of phrase from the Webb article too. I think it helps to focus us in on how only the first C is the “thing” itself, where the other two draw our attention outward to seeing any given object or artifact as being significant based on it’s relationships to other things.

    To your main question, “Is the Internet a culture” I think my main response would be that the Internet is a global platform that enables cultures. In some cases it functions as part of many existing IRL cultures, but it also has played a key role in establishing a range of new cultures. As a for instance, there are all kinds of funky and totally distinct cultures in different parts of reddit. In this vein, as an example, you might check out the “Digital Culture Web Archive” that the American Folklife Center started up. https://blogs.loc.gov/folklife/2014/06/getting-serious-about-collecting-and-preserving-digital-culture/

  2. Coming from an ethnomusicological/anthropological background, the culture concept is a tricky one to unpack. There are a number of different theoretical perspectives, but typically a “culture” involves a set of values/practices that are shared among a group of people (if you want to know more, this is a pretty quick rundown of the history of the culture concept in anthropology.

    So as far as “internet culture” goes, the experiences of people on the internet are too vast and diverse to really constitute one, singular culture of internet users (though, perhaps at an earlier time in the internet’s history, there would have been ONE CULTURE, TO RULE THEM ALL). Anyway, like other technologies, the internet can be used to facilitate culture/cultural practices. (So, e.g., I know that in some cultures, people end phone calls when they’re done talking without saying goodbye– we wouldn’t call that “phone culture,” but the phone is mediating that cultural activity).

    To your question about gathering materials from both real life and on the internet, I think it depends on the intent. Assuming the intention is to provide a holistic and integrated look at a culture, the collection will have to include a mix of materials (e.g., if I were to make a collection about emo/scene culture, I would want photographs, clothing, music, electronic communications between insiders, oral histories, etc). I think there’s a tricky part that comes into play with the “connections” aspect. Grouping items together by their format/type makes sense in other contexts, but doing so would obscure connections that exist between different media, and in this hypothetical case, an archive creating a holistic snapshot of a culture, erasing those connections runs counter to the original purpose.

  3. Margot, your deep dive into the Internet as a culture kinda almost made my head explode, but in a good way. It made me think hard about how we use and interact with the internet and if it is a culture on its own. I think I agree with Trevor and I think he put it really well, “the Internet is a global platform that enables cultures.”
    I kinda think in terms of culture it’s a pretty good reflection of the real world. Take Reddit for example, because when I think internet culture I think Reddit (I mean it calls itself the front page of the Internet…). I hated Reddit at first because the front page/biggest subreddits are sort of just filled with awful, loud mouthed teenage boys, not too unlike the mainstream patriarchal culture of the real world. But after I figured out I could customize which subreddits I interacted with, and the really cool communities I could get involved in, I loved Reddit. This is also kinda like the real world in that we can decide what communities we participate in and the culture we create/engage in.
    So yeah, I would say that the Internet lets us create and share culture on a digital level, but isn’t necessarily culture in itself. Maybe if the Internet is its own culture, it’s a culture of rapid information sharing and the expectation of immediate answers, but not a rich culture of social norms and constructs of a group of individuals.

  4. I’ve started to think of the Internet as meta-culture. There are subcommunities and as much diversity online as there is offline, but there remains something ethereal and ‘other’ about the Internet. But then again, of which Internet are we discussing?

    There is Internet as thing, Internet as place, and Internet as people.

    The Internet is very much an object that undergoes technological change–and that in and of itself is representative of one cultural perspective of the Internet. Even though virtual worlds really haven’t come into existence as cyberpunk science fiction of the early 90s would have had us believe, the Internet is very much a place that people go to hang out. We may not be ‘jacking in’ to the Web like in Neuromancer, but we are definitely traveling elsewhere. Certain websites have their own slang, their own jokes, their own rules (or lack of rules), and their own digital dress codes (remember how important avatars used to be?). The Internet isn’t a silo; it is part of the ‘real world’, too. The Internet is made up of people. As hard as it is to believe, every troll is actually a person. Every anonymous screen name is a parent, a co-worker, a sibling. And this is where it gets meta–the Internet is not ‘regular’ culture, it’s something else, but at the same time it reflective of whatever culture is and it is an extension of it.

    BLM tweets present both real value and real dilemmas. The information shared and the ideas exchanged are important cultural objects. However, you focus on a great point–how exactly do we capture the fleeting experience of a trending topic? And then there is the interesting nature of authenticity with digital objects, especially those ‘from the Internet.’ Internet places, such as Twitter, derive their authenticity from the original poster and the tags used. However, authenticity of digital objects gets more difficult to establish once we start to take into account the amount of satire and misinformation that exists online posing as real information.

    There is Poe’s Law of the Internet, which states, “without a clear indicator of the author’s intent, parodies of extreme views will be mistaken by some readers or viewers as sincere expressions of the parodied views.” However, even with clear intent, e.g., The Onion, misinformation, false identities, and altered objects continue to fool people all over. Sometimes it is as humorous as having to tell a grandparent that the image they are looking at is doctored (“just look at the pixels”), but sometimes it results in serious harm. The subreddit r/The_Donald toes the line between obvious Internet satire and a dark look into contemporary political attitudes.

    With digital objects, especially those from public Internet sites, the nature of authenticity becomes a struggle of trying to preserve an important moment and trying to preserve authentic and honest content.

    1. Everyone so far has brought up the idea that the Internet is a culture of subcultures, all of which stem from real world cultures and people. I totally agree, and have really enjoyed reading all of your comments.

      I suppose a more nuanced way to say what I was trying to wrap my head around: the way people express their culture on the Internet has its own rules and codes of conduct: how do we preserve this code so that future generations can understand their meaning?

      Dave, I think you’ve hit most closely to what I was trying to get at (kudos). Your comment about the Onion and misinformation especially made me think. I often wonder, as a history student, how much of what I study has been influenced by other historians or archaeologists misinterpreting the meaning of a code or culture we cannot understand. It’s not necessarily their fault, it’s just that the original intent of the authors or creators of an object do not come pre-packaged alongside it. Unless, of course, someone makes a substantial effort to preserve and unpack the connections and context for a particular piece in enduring language.

      So I suppose my real question is, in the knowledge that the language/culture indigenous to all internet-born content, how do we tackle a project to preserve not only the content, but the context and culture of internet-born objects?

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