Cultural changes provoked by computers in the age of the Internet:Cyberculture & Cybersocieties

The Internet, a global network of millions of computers connected between more than 100 countries for exchanging data, news and opinions. Unlike online services, which are centrally controlled, the Internet is decentralized by design. Each Internet computer, called a host, is independent. Its operators can choose which Internet services to use and which local services to make available to the global Internet community. This tool bring us new possibilities and opportunities but also new problems and responsibilities. Many issues and questions about privacy, ownership of ideas ("intellectual property"), motivation, trust, etc. have been raised with no agreeable answers. While those are not new issues, globalization and the Internet have made them global. The change from narrative to database systems# has affected us to the point where we rely on some sort of computer process to fulfill or accomplish most of our needs or tasks, for example mobile communication, location and tracking, networking, banking, logistics, email, security, etc. Today's control over digital data becomes difficult but a crucial task. Part of this difficulty is the nonphysical or abstract aspect of digital data. Our everyday life gets drastically altered by screens and more recently touchscreens, filling up our space with simulations that substitute our relationship with physical objects and real people, changing the way we learn, express and create. For instance the "app" phenomenon provoked by apple's iPhone and iPad has made a huge step towards the world of "Real Virtuality" where natural gestures are used to control computational process, simulations or "Augmented Realities."# Some example of the former are the new "Garageband" app, and an example of the latter is the "stars" app -- an app in which people can look at an augmented version of the sky. The past three years the world of software has mutated in to a new machine of virtualization, trying to representing almost every everyday actions, even if this do not really apply to the virtual world, like for example the "ibeer" app, a simulated glass of beer that can not be drink in real life. We are being exposed to perceive digital objects similar to how we perceive objects in the material world, gradually forcing us to reinterpret the digital world as if it were our material reality. The transformation of the media landscape is making understanding cyberculture a requirement for those who need or want to function in cybersociety (computer-mediated community). For instance the understanding of abbreviations, URLs, The Cloud, FTP, File Compression and many others. In my work, I combine different aspects of these various processes, ironically presenting our current virtual landscape as a possible materialized version of itself.

In a world where control over information is crucial, Moore's law# closer to its critical point suggesting that the singularity# is near and the fusion with the computer looking inevitable, I intend to explore how in the past 20 years, digital tools and Internet have affected media production, creativity and innovation presenting not only a personal point of view, but suggesting new ones. A combination of hardware and software results in an interactive audiovisual experience where the user can explore 3D virtual spaces. These spaces are populated with images, videos, animated gifs, sounds, web pages and 3d models. Similar to an art gallery the user or users would be able to explore different spaces. Each spaces' focus concerns a topic I consider relevant about this process of virtualization. The piece in its very basic form is a digital window where similar to second life, the user would move around a 3D space.

Historical, Theoretical and Cultural Context

Digital technologies continue shaping the way we communicate at all levels. One of the most basic purposes of the computer is to deal with information and communication, thus it creates a unique social phenomenon around it. The Internet is the inevitable result of our using computers and (since every human interaction requires a space) there is a need for an area where human-computer, computer-human, human-human, and computer-computer interaction can take place. In this way, a new multicultural digital space has appeared giving birth to a new culture# -- a cyberculture -- that has its own developing history, languages, symbols, gestures and protocols, now becoming mainstream in urban societies. Because of the development of visual communication, mass production and globalization, digital media has been able to transmit its message live and exist ubiquitously. Messages, symbols and images that have taken over and are becoming a key factor in today's communication, opening new ways of learning and responding, like for example, the current trend of D.I.Y. tutorials and TED talks that cover a vast range of topics has been able to thrive thanks to the Internet.

Visual communication now.

Historically, visual communication has always played a major role in society. It serves as an effective way to transmit messages from: the cave paintings to ideograms, alphabets and symbols passing through religion, war propaganda and most recently branding and advertisements. Technology has increased our expectations around time and productivity. Nowadays the time that we are expected to accomplish a task has been drastically reduced, this is due to an evolution in communication. In today's world, globalization is a reality that cannot be reversed, and as a result, visual communication has experienced an extreme expansion becoming the inevitable main tool for big institutions like advertisement, design, learning, medical, etc. In the past years, the reproduction of imagery has become increasingly domesticated allowing almost anyone to contribute to the world of imagery. A world that can be expanded and digitalized from anywhere. Technology and the ability to generate images has gotten so developed that the boundaries between real and digital are being blurred. For instance, realistic special effects or a home made video of a UFO posted in "YouTube" can make us belief what we are seeing is real but, can also do the opposite: make something real a fiction. The amount of definitions and qualities available are sometimes used to transmit different kinds of messages. These kind of inside codes are the languages that media procurers are using to communicate ideas. These systems have never been so sophisticated and accessible, turning almost every media user into a media producer. In reference to these idea there is "Video Vortex #6"# in Amsterdam, one of the first conference that talked about the politics and aesthetics of online videos and youtube aesthetics. Lately this ability of being able to play with these codes (amateur vs professional) has become an extremely valuable skill, for example the phenomenon of viral advertisement, where the Prosumer aesthetic is used to confuse the spectator about the nature of the video, motivating interaction around the campaign. It is important to understand that a wider range of imagery has become embedded in our collective psyche. It has intoxicated us to the point that escaping from its influence seems impossible. It can be said that sometimes this massive presence of imagery has created little room for individualism away from image appropriation or reference.

Imagery modifies the way we perceive reality. The media asserts its power within specific protocols for the dissemination of images and messages we present in society, and how they should be created. A good example would be the tremendous influence that gossip and "reality TV" industries have on Spanish culture. In my former home of Spain, around 60% of the broadcasts on national TV channels are dedicated to commenting about others in a degrading way. This is not only something that happens in Spain, but what is relevant is the amount of shows dedicated to this and the relevance that it has on their society. Follow and track others' lives, talk about what they do publicly and make destructive critics or public humiliations are commonplace situations on TV. It can be argued that this problem comes from behaviors prior to these TV shows but it is the media who feeds this non-constructive and negative behaviors. Since for a large part of the population TV, still is the window that dictates the standards of human social behavior. A relevant reference to this issue is the movie Network by Sidney Lumet (1976):

"...Because less than three percent of you people read books. Because less than fifteen percent of you read newspapers. Because the only truth you know is what you get over this tube. Right now, there is a whole, an entire generation that never knew anything that didn't come out of this tube. This tube is the gospel, the ultimate revelation. This tube can make or break Presidents, Popes, Prime Ministers. This tube is the most awesome, god-damned force in the whole godless world. And woe is us if it ever falls into the hands of the wrong people and that's why woe is us that Edward George Ruddy died........ So, you listen to me! Listen to me! Television is not the truth. Television is a god-damned amusement park. Television is a circus, a carnival, a traveling troupe of acrobats, story tellers, dancers, singers..... But man, you're never gonna get any truth from us. We'll tell you anything you want to hear...We deal in illusions, man. None of it is true! But you people sit there day after day, night after night, all ages, colors, creeds - we're all you know. You're beginning to think that the tube is reality and that your own lives are unreal. You do whatever the tube tells you. You dress like the tube, you eat like the tube, you raise your children like the tube. You even think like the tube. This is mass madness. You maniacs. In God's name, you people are the real thing. We are the illusion. So turn off your television sets. Turn them off now. Turn them off right now. Turn them off and leave them off. Turn them off right in the middle of this sentence I am speaking to you now. Turn them off!"

With the Internet, the language of visual symbolism has now developed to a point where visual material has been trans-coded into recognizable data (identification / classification). Various collaborative projects around image tagging and image location have gotten significant results making possible improvements on image searching#. This idea of symbolics# around this developing language and the need for a more exciting communication and interaction is pushing towards creating a way that computers can interpret the world the way we do so they ca then expand it. "Computer vision" is the ability of the computer to recognizes elements, and relate data to it. This ability opens new ways of interaction with computers but also uncovers a important reason why we need to think and be responsible in the way we use these technologies. The fact that nowadays a computer can detect your face and somehow recognize you, is something to think about. A relevant tool is for instance CAPTCHA# a program that protects websites against bots by generating and grading tests that humans can pass but current computer programs cannot differentiating humans form computers. Every day the Internet increases in visual complexity, elevating the importance of visual to a new degree, platforms like a simple image-based bulletin board where anyone can post comments and share images have become a very powerful movement originated by this ideas of image communication. This is of course reflected in art one example is CAPTCHAart# an image creating movement around illustrating the idea resulting from the random combination of words in a CAPTCHA. Other relevant art movements that share this idea or image remixing on the web are for example "R-U-IN?S" by Kari Altmann and aesthetic visual journey through conversations about image decay, by Ryder Ripps a chat for live image conversations, "PaintFX" a netart collective modernizing the idea of painting and the project by the artist Timur Si-Qin called Exhibition One at Chrystal Gallery a virtual gallery. All this examples reflect this developing artistic high-end visual language. Viral videos and Internet meme combine with common icons for navigation, touch screens UI and web-cams are affecting image creation, creating sub-languages and sub-movements around them, a web for random video chat recently expand the horizon of Internet communication inspiring many interactive art project around this site#. Exhibitions online have been an important part of artistic discourse since the arrival of However, for artists who continue to take up the browser or social media-platform as site, issues of authorship, transmission, permanence, and participation go hand-in-hand with the ever-increasing pace of memes and circuits in an ever-expanding scape of production.

The Internet (cyberculture in cyberspace)

"Cyberculture is the culture within and among users of computer networks. This cyberculture may be purely an online culture or it may span both virtual and physical worlds. This is to say, that cyberculture is a culture endemic to online communities; it is not just the culture that results from computer use, but culture that is directly mediated by the computer." wikipedia

The Internet has become an open field for every one with the need of communication. Social networking and Internet apps are the most recent phenomena emerged from this developing space. The combination of these two phenomena have transformed drastically again the way we communicate and interact. Now more than ever, when we put something on the Internet we lose almost all control over it. It gets automatically embedded into the net, where it gets archived, tagged, assigned, registered, tracked, stored, recognized, posted, followed, linked, copied, related, reproduced, reblogged...This effect brought us a whole new kind of issues that we are now struggling with but are not a surprise. The amount of Internet users or "connected people" has reached the number where now is a main global issue. Privacy and intellectual property are two of the main problems. Internet is making us rewrite the definitions of this concepts constantly, I would say even suggesting the idea of this not been necessary. The amount of data generated by people living in cities and using the Internet is huge and is also becoming a problem with regard to energy consumption, data space, and maintenance. Some light has been shed over these problems with the project call Vanish#, increasing data Privacy with self-destructing data but, since the introduction of computers the fear of them taking over has always been present. The famous example of Ted Kaczynski "Unabomber" who around 1978 to 1995 started a terror campaign against the computer revolution sending 16 bombs to targets including universities and airlines, killing three people and injuring 23. In his manifesto "industrial Society and its future" (also called the "Unabomber Manifesto") published by The Washington post, Kaczynski argued that his bombings were extreme but necessary to attract attention to the erosion of human freedom required by modern technologies. Much has changed since then, for instance online crowdsourcing# has proved to be a very powerful resource for accomplishing big goals. This relates to the ideas of modern communication tools supporting human capacities, knowledge, and communities. So it's not the tool but what we do with it what can lead us to a better change or to destruction. Another example is the project-book "collaborative future," a book written in and for collaboration supported by Transmediale# where the main topic is collaborative movements supported by digital tools.

Collaboration has always been at the heart of the Internet's inception, but because of the complexity of the digital medium (abstraction, navigation, language, infrastructure, etc) it has not been accessible for everyone, just to a few people with the necessary knowledge and resources to access this information. This of course has changed, but still much effort has and is being made to get increasing numbers of people connected. The 50x15 initiative#, a collaborative ecosystem of public and private entities organized to enable affordable Internet access and computing capability to 50 percent of the world's population by 2015 is one example. The motivation for making connectivity is broad, some times it is for social reasons some times for economical reasons or some times for control and tracking reasons. In the past four years there has been a push from more than ten developing countries to make Internet access a human right. This idea gets much more value in contrast with the current situation of China or Egypt where most of the biggest communication platforms on the Internet are been shutdown because of the impossibility of the governments to filter such a huge flow of information going in and out. It is true that the bigger the group the harder it is to control, but it is interesting how the same tools that is being used for open global communication and exchanged is also being used for controlling and restricting. We take for granted the understanding of the recently modify media landscape and the way we use computer, sometimes keeping us away from looking at this tools as motivation for innovation. There is a general conduct in societies where people try to reject modifications on behaviors that have been kept for long time (traditions), how does that make sense in a societies that are changing so rapidly? Does it not make more sense that behaviors should change along societies. For example Nick is five and he is experiencing a very frustrating moment in his life because he does not understands why he is getting corrected by his teacher when he writes, "how R U," instead of "how are you." Maybe allowing us to be more flexible would helps us developing more rapidly.

The access to information and the number of people using technologies is like never before. We have five years old kids showing their incredible skills on youtube, some dancing better than professional, some beating "guitar-hero" perfect in super hard mode, some playing instruments like masters and all of these skills have been inspired by technology somehow. Maybe by trying to get the most hits, maybe by looking at some other video maybe by playing some video game, but technology is always preset somehow in this incredible process of learning. The company Cisco an American-based multinational corporation that designs and sells consumer electronics, networking and communications technology, has announced this year that by 2014, 90% of the information consume over the Internet will be video. Video is today's most clear and convincing communication technique and there is nothing better than watching to believe. Every day people are literally looking at the limits of what can be done and pushing theme further like never before, this innovation phenomenon know as "Crowd acceleration" was presented by Chris Anderson, on his TED's presentation call "How web video powers global innovation"# . There are people sending their own cameras to space and blogging their video showing how they did it and what do you need to do it yourselves. We have 500 million users on facebook this year and 18 million hours of youtube video are being watched everyday. An advertisement with old people playing wii might seem amusing, but in 40 years, for a generation that has always used computers, using computers would be completely normal except for the fact that those computers would be exponentially better than the ones we use today.

All Information and knowledge is being codified into digital information. This means that data is now more vulnerable, but in exchange gets all the benefits of being part of that world, the incredible and seductive power of digital is leading humans towards a new way of connectivity that somehow can sometimes be viewed as complete isolation, however this migration has as a result cloud computing, the natural evolution of the widespread adoption of virtualization expanding the collective brain way far from its old limits. Information is everywhere and accessible from anywhere again, with all the positive and negative aspects of what that. I don't know where the right balance is, but this is happening and this is going main stream, the nature of computers is invading our space domesticating "real virtuality." It is no longer computers trying to make digital look real "virtual reality," but this new way of looking at the world, a reality that is going virtual, one example would be the recently distributed augmented reality technology.

The virtual space (real virtuality)

There are several examples of what a virtual space is: paintings, movie, computer games, virtual reality, second life and even cell phones. Because their existence is not bound to reality any representation of a world is simulated. Thus, the laws of physics should be created if one wants them to exist. For example on second life a person can fly. In general relativity,# time and space are bound together, implying that if one can alter space, one can also alter time. In virtual spaces, the notion of "time" is abstracted, and on the Internet, the act of navigating back and forth through "pages" are purely metaphorical actions for helping us understand this simulated environment.

The term navigation has been adopted by computer scientists as a metaphor to refer to different methods of organizing and accessing hypermedia. In digital spaces, navigation tends to be a simulation of what navigation represents in the real world, but today's digital spaces are far more complex than before, allowing one to exist simultaneously in different spaces. In some video games, one can teleport or even control time allowing one to react faster than your opponents for example. The notion of meta-space (space inside of a space)* has become a crucial part of digital navigation, especially in the context of interaction with interfaces (menus, collapsible toolboxes, expanding windows.etc) are commonly found on any website because of the necessity to organize multiple information in one space (a window) from here the popularity of Flash tools that through animation would make the use of these meta-spaces more understandable and interactive, recently being displaced by JavaScript and HTML5.

One idea that helps illustrate the complexity of net surfing is the Rhizome philosophy#, the rhizome resists the organizational structure of the root-tree system, which charts causality along chronological lines and looks for the point of origin of "things," and the pinnacle or conclusion of those "things." A rhizome, on the other hand, "ceaselessly established connections between semiotic chains, organizations of power, and circumstances relative to the arts, sciences, and social struggles." Rather than narratives history and culture, the rhizome presents history and culture as a map or wide array of attractions and influences with no specific origin or genesis, for a "rhizome has no beginning or end; it is always in the middle, between things." In the language of new media by Lev Manovich, he mentions two possible methods of navigation reflected in classical story telling and video games; one is based on moving though space as a means of building a character, while the other one been exploring and "culturing" a given unknown limited space. This highlights the relationship between message and space which is not always so obvious. Derived from this idea is the conceptual phenomenon of "non-places" presented in the book "Non-Places: An Introduction to Supermodernity" by Marc Augé:

"If a place can be defined as relational, historical and concerned with identity, then a space which cannot be defined as relational, or historical, or concerned with identity will be a non-place. Supermodernity produces non-places, meaning spaces which do not integrate the earlier places: instead these are listed, classified, promoted to the status of 'places of memory', and assigned to a circumscribed and specific position."

"A person entering the space of non-place is relieved of his usual determinants. He becomes no more than what he does and experiences in the role of passenger, customer or driver [...] he obeys the same code as others, receives the same messages, responds to the same entreaties."

We are constantly reinterpreting the digital world as if it were the material world, for instance such casual phrases as, "go to this site," "add this to your cart," we are not really going anywhere physically or performing a physical task, but requesting that those two actions occur in the digital realm; making Firefox "bring it to us" or enabling a script, respectively. However, when speaking specifically of navigating information, the term "search" becomes important. Certainly, search engines are currently the primary means of navigating the Internet. Google has perfected search results becoming the standard of web navigation. Thousands of people are using Google as the homepage for their browsers, to the point that the energy consumption of the Google "white background" homepage has been questioned, as a result they produced a "green" version of Google. Search engines are implementing new ways of using their services like filters and suggested results, but there is still questions to be posed, such as, "Why do we search?," "Am I looking for options, related results or am I looking for a specific site and I know exactly what I want?" are still to be explored in the next upcoming years of search engines' optimization. The ability to use search engines is a highly valuable skill in cybersocieties.