A life held in common: What is digital culture? Week 1

Image by Lily*Anna

Over the week I grappled with many questions about culture and digital culture. What is culture? Does it evolve or is it made? How does it influence digital culture? Where does digital culture come from? As there is a single web, is there a mono-cultural aspect to the Internet? How do sub-cultures influence that which is considered to be mainstream? I don’t know if in the next few weeks I’ll be able to answer any of these but they certainly have me thinking.

The English Oxford Living Dictionaries states that culture originates from the Latin word cultura meaning growing or cultivation. It goes on to define culture as the ‘arts and other manifestations of human intellectual achievement regarded collectively’ or as the ‘ideas, customs, and social behaviour of a particular people or society’. In these definitions people seem to have much control. I wonder why this definition sought to clarify that it was ‘human intellectual achievement’, is there another kind? Are they making a subversive reference to artificial intelligence?

Culture also relates to the biological, such as the cultivation of bacteria, tissue cells and cultivation of plants. Similarly online, objects, artefacts, media and sites are cultivated or curated. They are maintained. This gives us the imagery of something living but at the same time conserved. Is digital culture manageable in the same way? Can we maintain it? Who does this responsibility fall to? Is its potential for growth is endless? What will the impact of endless growth be?

The most favourable definition of culture I’ve found so far is one put forward by Paul James et al (2015); ‘[c]ulture is defined as a social domain that emphasizes the practices, discourses and material expressions, which, over time, express the continuities and discontinuities of social meaning of a life held in common’ (p 53). Even though James is not speaking about digital culture in particular, I like the fact that he has included a ‘life held in common’ because we so often share our lives, not only with one another but also with inanimate objects. How often do we consider our living space as an extension of ourselves, the things that we collect as part of us? Are our machines not the same? Don’t we share our lives with them too?

I think what I’ll be looking at throughout the course is that while living our lives in online spaces we are creating meaning from a ‘life held in common’ with both other people and machines. How we influence each other, how machines influence us and ultimately what we create together?

(James, P.,  Magee, L., Scerri, A., and Steger, M. B. (2015). Urban Sustainability in Theory and Practice: Circles of Sustainability. (London, Routledge).