Wednesday, December 18, 2013

Reflections on Digital Culture

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One of things that has been impressed upon me most this semester is the idea that the digital age allows us (and in some cases, requires us) to specialize. Whereas in traditional settings creators, innovators, Paul, Heidi, myself), fandoms (Victoria, Lizy), rethinking print literacy (Shelly, Kayla, Danielle) and social media for social change (Kristen, Cheri) are just the beginning. For me, digital culture is a loose term, because it's composed of so many diverse and sometimes isolated culture so much so that to make broad generalizations in an attempt to classify the culture as a whole would likely exclude vast subsets of digital users. Nevertheless, I'm going to try.
and enthusiasts are limited by the accessibility and popularity of certain ideas or sub-cultures, the Digital Age is a time of fandoms and specialization and unbridled creativity. Chances are that if someone, somewhere is interested in an idea, then there are likely others talking and thinking about those same ideas, and the Internet provides the means to connect those people together. It has been interesting to see different themes and subsets of digital culture evolve even in our own class: gamer culture (

In my view, digital culture is about the following:

  1. Personal and group expression
  2. In light of the first item, the somewhat paradoxical recreation the self
  3. Resistance to traditional forms and paradigms
  4. Accessibility of information and means of creation
  5. Sociality
The first four are obviously important, but I think the final component is where digital culture really diverges from more traditional modes of human interaction. In some sense, the onset of Web 2.0 signaled digital culture's ideological severance from previous eras, and we are now witnessing the true power and wisdom of "the crowd" as social media platforms and other people-driven communities and enterprises become more prominent within society. I guess the thing I realized most is that that same sociality fulfills human needs that just weren't being met in a post-industrial world: where is the home for gamers who are scorned for their hobbies, for returned missionaries that can't find acceptance in the real world, for people whose rights are infringed upon not because they themselves are bad or wrong but because they are different? Where is the sense of belonging for all those kids whose dads left them and whose moms works 'til seven at night? Where are they supposed to turn? Well, the answer is, they turn to all the other lonely people, all the downtrodden, all the individuals and groups striving to shatter the false, post-industrial illusion that things are fine just as they are. 

In a lot of ways, the Digital Age shimmers with the same concepts as Renaissance humanism. It is an age of novel expression and exploration of the ideas of the past; it is an age of social change, of religious reform and (sadly) secularism, a movement toward aestheticism, a fusion of supernaturalist fiction and modern scientific discovery, an age dominated by both a critical attitude and an unwavering humanist/populist streak. The Digital Age in some sense builds upon the humanist concepts of variation (remixing), amplification, and copia (if not in the traditional sense of the word then in its sheer abundance), and while there are definitely some big distinctions between the two eras, the "moment," I think, is the same. More than anything, I've realized that digital culture is about the individual's potential not only to belong and to express himself but also to have a meaningful and lasting impact on the world around him. It is about tearing down stilted social structures and false paradigms and about building up new ones as we seek inspiration in the past.