Lister (2009) states,
to understand contemporary net based media one must spend time online, not reading books (p.164)
This could equally apply to online communities and we can begin to understand different online groups and their cultures by participating in moocs, spending time on Facebook, Instagram or Twitter, belonging to special interest groups or playing online games (in other words, just being online).
Another way of beginning to understand online communities is to examine the lexicon and neologisms they develop. In his book Netymology, Tom Chatfield (2013) explores internet etymology which enables fascinating insight into how the digital both reflects and creates digital cultures.
The words we use say more about us than we usually realize. In a sense, they also use us – and never more so than when we’re speaking about what it feels like to be us
(Chatfield, 2013, p.22).
Here Chatfield is talking about our memory and how past connotations of the word have been superseded by new, technological ones. He continues,
Just as steam-powered machinery left its metaphorical mark during the industrial revolution, the language we bring to bear on our own minds is increasingly shaped by computing: from talk of “processing” and “downloading” ideas to acts like “rebooting” our attitudes …
This seems to echo my thoughts on computing terminology and the performativity of language. Lister, talking about Wikipedia and Google, remarks how these names have become common parlance,
The enormous success of Wikipedia has prompted all kind of other “Wiki” based knowlege generating and sharing processes such that wiki has become a noun referring to a shared knowledge site as Google has become a verb meaning to find information
Chatfield informs us that the word “wiki” comes from the Hawaiian word for “fast” and the word “paideia” is Greek for “education”. The computing connotations of the word “wiki”, explains Chatfield, go back to 1995, when a programmer called Howard Cunningham used the word to describe his creation of a website that lots of people could edit quickly.
Etymologies give us an historical perspective as we note that even neologisms are built upon stems of words with long histories or are based on existing ideas. What we often describe as new technology is better understood when we know the past it drags behind.
To illustrate, I have taken just a few of the terms Chatfield presents and put them on a glog:
Chatfield, T. (2013). Netymology, Quercus, London.