The egalitarian web: Internet pop culture

Posted by Ian on May 25, 2009 in blog | No Comments

The internet has been around since the late 1960s when scientific researchers at UCLA and SRI in Menlo Park, California created a computer network (ARPANET) to enable real-time information sharing from their experiments. Since then, the chaotic relations of various comptuer networks grew, developed and eventually coalesced into what we know now as the internet. Initially guided by the National Science Foundation‘s backbone infrastructural investment of the early 1980s, the internet later was opened to commercial development and exploitation in 1988.

Today, we interact with the internet as a form of digital commons or hyper-agora. Where once priority was given to the information sharing needs of government bodies and universities, now a myriad of pop culture icons have emerged from the bundles of wires, lines of code and chaos of mouse-clicks. Though we might question whether the internet is indeed ‘free’ or a ‘commons’ (see Timothy Luke’s papers on ‘cyberculture’), the growing list of cybercult icons such as Numa Numa, the Dramatic Chipmunk, Fail Blog or I Can Has Cheezburger testifies to the ability of human agency to coalesce into viral and dynamic communities of interest.

Increasingly the internet-based media communities such as YouTube is shaping the media at large. With many of the topics in Greg Rutter’s Definitive List of 99 Things You Should Already Have Experienced on the Internet having appeared within the content of newsbroadcasts, late night talk shows and in print media. It may seem somewhat antithetical to propose a difinitive list for internet experiences, but as you read through Greg’s list, it becomes clear that that cyber pop-culture though egalitarian in formulation does lend itself to hierarchies of importance/significance.

Are we departing from an the myth of an egalitarian information sharing commons? Perhaps such ‘definitive lists’ of popular internet culture are a symptom of the underlying structures which define access and order of internet content. Does the assigning of significance to internet media content raise the more pertinent issue of the linguistic relationship between signs and signifiers and the structure of knowledge and communication? Should we question not just the structures of our engagement with the internet but also the method of coding that strucutre? Might we call for a ‘linguistic turn‘ in our understanding of internet code and information architecture in general? Or is it merely a utilitarian space for infotainment?

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