The advent of the personal computer combined with the development of the Internet and easy-to-use, Internet-based computer applications has created a new virtual environment in which new forms of social interaction occur. Adding new technologies to social behaviors has created an environment that has changed individuals, cultures, and the world. Due to the dynamic nature of the Internet, individuals can communicate with others who have the same interests worldwide. A new world culture has formed. The overlying culture is different from previous cultural development in nature and scope. The development is of a virtual nature and (or will) encompasses every individual worldwide. Never before have new global cultural forms emerged so quickly.
Culture is defined in several ways: (a) the totality of socially transmitted behavior patterns, arts, beliefs, institutions, and all other products of human work and thought; (b) the patterns, traits, and products considered as the expression of a particular period, class, community, or population; and (c) the predominating attitudes and behavior that characterize the functioning of a group or organization. Cyber refers to computers. Cyberculture can then be defined as the transforming of social behavioral patterns, arts, beliefs, institutions, and all other products of human work and thought in which humans interact with computers and computer networks.
Culture plays a role in society and societal issues. Barnouw stated that society is a more or less organized group of people of both sexes who share a common culture. Loosely “society,” in this context, refers to issues such as meeting food, shelter, reproductive, and other basic needs. Das stated that a society typically has only one culture. Ember and Ember, and Nanda stated that two different societies cannot possess the same culture. Das again stated that this implied that if cyberculture is a distinct culture, then it should form one particular separate society. Cyberculture is unique in that it is essentially one distinct and separate subculture of many global societies. This societal cultural extension is the same globally but is connected to societies with different values, ethics, and morals. For instance, Europe, America, and Asia all have different societies, with each having its own unique culture. The culture of cyber, transported through the Internet, is identical regardless of physical location. Beliefs, behaviors, patterns, traits, and predominating attitudes are nearly identical whether the individual is in New York, London, Hong Kong, Moscow, or Munich. Cyberculture is then intertwined with the local culture and society, extending the physical world into the virtual world. North has called cyberculture a “pan-societal superstructure.” Cyberculture, unlike traditional cultures, is freed of the responsibilities of providing a number of properties that can reasonably be expected from any mainstream society by virtue of the fact that its members are also members of the traditional main-stream societies that supply basic societal needs (food, shelter). According to Das, the Internet society has become a melting pot of different societal components, such as economics, socialization, politics, and entertainment.
The Internet and cyberculture have brought about a shift in values from those accepted in traditional societies. Although multimedia components such as audio, pictures, and video are becoming a more important (and more abundant) component of the Internet for the personal user, its first decade in existence was primarily based on simple text as a form of communication between the majority of users. When this form of communication is used, it removes the traditional way societies judge one another and places a new value on one’s worth. Traditionally, societies judge people by appearance, gender, race, wealth, dress, occupation, and so on. In the Internet culture, individuals are judged on their contributions to the new culture. For instance, prestige is earned by what an individual writes or by performing some other service such as maintaining discussion groups or websites.
Another interesting benefit from the Internet and cyberculture is its reciprocity to the user. Traditionally, as the number of individuals in a society increases, the resources available to that society, per person, decrease. The opposite is true in the Internet culture. As more individuals use the Internet, each person brings more resources into the societal pool. These resources are of a humanitarian nature, such as providing information, advice, writings, and software. As a result, the larger the Internet grows, the more resources are available for individuals to use, which, in turn, attracts more users.
Just as in mainstream society, there are rules of use for the Internet. All users are expected to conform to these rules. Netiquette is the term used to refer to these rules. If members of mainstream society do not follow typical societal rules, usually, but not always, an authority figure (such as the police) is responsible for punishing the individual. In fewer and less severe cases, neighbors might ostracize a particular member of its local society for breaking societal rules. The Internet is interesting in that the authoritarian role is reversed. In cyberculture, unacceptable behavior is usually dealt with by the offending user’s peers. This is primarily through written chastisement, and converse to mainstream society, in a minimal number of cases, police action is sometimes taken if the infraction contains criminal activity. There are 10 basic Netiquette rules: Rule 1: Remember the Human; Rule 2: Adhere to the same standards of behavior online that you follow in real life; Rule 3: Know where you are in cyberspace; Rule 4: Respect other people’s time and bandwidth; Rule 5: Make yourself look good online; Rule 6: Share expert knowledge; Rule 7: Help keep flame wars under control; Rule 8: Respect other people’s privacy; Rule 9: Don’t abuse your power; and Rule 10: Be forgiving of other people’s mistakes.
There are negative aspects in all cultures and societies. Cyberculture has been criticized for its effect on individual socialization. Since the Internet is essentially a world of its own, many users become socially isolated from the physical society at large. These users spend the majority of their time online, with very little socializing in the traditional manner. Research has shown that these individuals are more likely to be depressed and are agitated and irritable when offline. Cyberspace can also lead to expensive compulsive behaviors, such as online gaming, online auctions, and pornography. Often, when individuals excessively use the Internet, problems with real-world relationships occur, resulting in counseling for the affected individuals. There are also physical dangers for those individuals who use the Internet excessively. Physical activity is important for human health. Excessive use of the Internet creates a sedentary lifestyle in which the individual is physically inactive. Physical inactivity leads to greater stress and increased risk of heart disease. There are resources available on the Internet that will assist with these issues.
The Internet is made up of many components, applications, and services affecting the culture of the net. Electronic mail (e-mail), instant messaging, chatting, and the World Wide Web (WWW) are important parts of the modern-day Internet.
There are several common communication methods in which users interact on the Internet using various types of messages. Electronic mail was the first widely used form of communication on the Internet. E-mail is a form of asynchronous communication by which a user enters a text message consisting of several sentences or paragraphs and sends it to another individual somewhere on the Internet. If the receiver is not currently online, the message will be held until the receiver picks up or retrieves his or her e-mail from the e-mail server. That individual can then respond at a time of convenience. Instant messaging usually consists of not more then a sentence or two. Both users must be online at the same time in order to communicate. The sender will enter the message and “instantly” send it to the receiver. Chatting requires that both parties be online at the same time. Users exchange messages in a synchronous environment, where all members in the “chat” can send text at essentially the same time. The information sent in this environment is usually a few words to a sentence. Discussion groups are another common method of communication on the Internet. A discussion list is like a bulletin board. One user “tacks” up a message on the board, and everyone can see it. In the online world, the users submit messages to a discussion list. Everyone who accesses the list can view the original message and respond to it. Usenet newsgroups are one of the oldest parts of the Internet. Originally, a message board/forum system was used mainly by academics and scientists. Discussion groups (newsgroups) are the modern-day message board systems and have become one of the most common forums for communication exchange. There are over 100,000 forums in use today on every topic imaginable with millions of users.
The WWW, an Internet-based hypermedia initiative for global information sharing, was developed by Tim Berners-Lee in 1989 while he was working at the European Particle Physics Laboratory (CERN). Berners-Lee wrote the first Web client (Web browser) in 1990, called “WorldWideWeb.” After several years, this browser was renamed “Nexus.” In 1991, there was just one Web server; by 1993, there were 50 Web servers worldwide. Mosaic, one of the first browsers with a graphical interface, was released in February 1993. Interest in the World Wide Web grew exponentially over the next year, with over 1,500 Web servers registered in June 1994 (1000% increase over January 1993). The following several years brought even more growth to the WWW and the releases of two of the most popular Web browsers, Netscape Navigator and Internet Explorer.
In simplest terms, the growth and ease of use of the WWW combined with communication technologies, such as e-mail, instant messaging, chatting, and discussion groups, has led to this new Internet-based culture. The resulting environment has enabled individuals across the globe to communicate and create communities formed around common interests. The Internet has fostered the growth of personal and professional relationships that go beyond traditional geographical boundaries. The Internet has brought immeasurable quantities of information to the fingertips of users worldwide. The Internet is a cyber “neighborhood” and has become a virtual society. As in any society, a cultural identity forms. Cyberculture defines the social behavioral patterns, arts, and beliefs that individuals assimilate while using the Internet.
- Das, T. K. (1999, March 18). The impact of net culture on mainstream societies: A global analysis. http://in.arxiv.org/abs/cs.CY/9903013
- Nanda, S. (1991). Cultural anthropology (4th ed.). Belmont, CA: Wadsworth.
- North, T. (1994). The Internet and Usenet global computer networks. Masters thesis, Curtin University of Technology, Perth, Australia.
- Silver, D. (2003). Introducing cyberculture.