Irregular F Revue
V l.III/2011
RE –
Number edited by Rareș Iordache
Digital culture – Software Theory - Net-Art Digital culture – Software Theory - Net-Art Oxford Internet Institute, University of Oxford; Abstract
This article presents a set of discursive reflections in the techno-social context of the Internet revolution and Web 2.0 that contributed in the development of online social media. The paradigm of the networked society, being dispersive by nature, proliferates through human-computer interaction processes and communication practices.
We provide a direct link between the virtual identity (self) in the virtual habitats, social networking sites as a Digital culture – Software Theory - Net-Art connecting tool for communication and collaboration, and their influence in the networked public sphere of everyday life.Imagination, social displays of affection, social grooming, and interaction, represent key aspects of the communication dynamics in social network sites. Based on a web sphere analysis, previously conducted research on social media usage among young adults, web observations, and semi-structured interviews, this article also reflects how Information and Communication Technologies (ICTs) have fundamentally changed many aspects of everyday life, even though they have become a part of it.
Key words: virtual identity, social network sites,
Internet, communication, Facebook, presentation of the self.
Tony: Where the hell are we?Percy: Geographically speaking, in the Northern Hemisphere. Socially, on the margins. And The Imaginarium of Doctor Parnassus (2009) Digital culture – Software Theory - Net-Art In The Imaginarium of Doctor Parnassus (2009), Terry Gilliam presents a fantastical,captivating, surrealistic, and wonderfully imaginative morality tale, set in the present. He tells the story of Dr. Parnassus, who with his “Imaginarium” is able to guide the imagination of others. Audience members get an irresistible opportunity to choose between light and joy, or darkness and gloom, as,well as the ability to dream and imagine the self in another surreal, virtual environment. Dr.Parnassus is,able to share this space with anyone who is brave enough to step into his Imagianary world. Once the,equilibrium of the Imaginarium is destabilized by the “dark forces”of the subconscious, a conflict is,created which interferes with and disrupts the mediated communication. This results in identities,changing the notion of space/place (Varnelis, "Networked Publics"), creating non- places, the surrealistic switching of environments.
The Imaginarium resembles the virtual habitats evolved from the Internet revolution; virtual environments and social network sites represent attractive and interactive playgrounds for prevasive digital communication between the participants. In such a social context, where Digital culture – Software Theory - Net-Art communication buildsthe connections, there are social displays of affections as well as conflicts. This interactive ecology involves people, values, and norms (Petric, 2006). In these digital environments, people often create a conscious, interactive self-presentations (Goffman, 1959), as an involving act that primarly requires the creation of the virtual self (online body, ID, profile pages in social network sites) and participation We define the virtual identity as the self in networked social media places and virtual environments. In the following sections of this paper, we will, through the discussion of the virtual identity, present certain communication conventions on social network sites as the most popular forms of expressing affectionate, conflicted and imaginatory interactions. Virtual Identity
`I am my body to the extent that I am.' - J.P.Sartre, Being and Nothingness A virtual world differs from the Digital culture – Software Theory - Net-Art physical world in that it is made purely of information, bits and bytes. Although in everyday life virtual denotes quasi, pseudo, or fake, in other contexts we use this term differently. For example, in philosophy, virtual denotes an 'unreal' entity, though it can imply real qualities. Many sociologists, anthropologists, and philosophers use term virtual for the facet (Deluze) of reality that is not material, but despite everything is real. When using a computer, an image is displayed on screen (Turkle), generated by physical interactions on the hardware level. Here, the virtual is a possiblity that is momentarily fulfilled. It is not yet material, and may never be, but it is real. Michel Foucault advocated the idea that identity isn't stable component of the human beings, but something that is constantly changing. Ontologically, virtual denotes something that is not physical, but possesses all the essential qualities of what is real. The prototype is the self, one's reflection in the mirror.
Virtual identity in this context implies social identity that Internet users create and manage on web sites and online communities. A majority of users prefer to represent themselves in the form of an avatar, a three-dimensional model used in computer games and virtual worlds (for Digital culture – Software Theory - Net-Art example, Second Life), a two-dimensional picture (an icon) used on social networks, forums, and other online communities, or pseudonyms with a profile text, which reveals certain information that identifies the person. One identity theory (Stryker and Burke, 2000) presents identity as a reference to a part of a self "composed of the meanings that persons attach to the multiple roles they typically play in highly differentiated contemporary societies.” Those roles are applicable to the individual’s virtual habitats as a composite model of virtual identities they perform in different contexts in digital environments. Virtual or online identity is a digital representation of the personal self, a profile, digital body, and public displays of identity (Boyd) where people can explore impression management (Goffman). It is constantly evolving through a range of perspectives, negotiations and mediational actions of identity dynamics and interactions in the networked spaces.
Coyne emphasizes that whenever we interact in the social sphere it denotes the mask of self - identity. There is no difference in online world if we have in mind that individual have to respond to certain questions in their profile, which constitutes the "identity" in virtual Digital culture – Software Theory - Net-Art environements and social network sites. As a person publishes and represents to the networked public, she or he are making and adding layers to their profiles (in writing style, vocabulary and topics). An online avatar or profile does not always reveal the real life identity of its owner. By creating and setting up a masked virtual identity, people can create a safety net. Such masked identities play a very important role in virtual worlds such as Second Life.
The following two quotes are extracted from the semi-structured interviews. The narrative provides insight into the life of an avid Second Life user, a person experienced with digital media and virtual worlds.
"My Second Life avatar was born in April 2006. My interest in Second Life (SL) was all about the technology, initially, but soon I found myself talking to women. A couple of weeks after I had joined, I ended up in a club, the biggest dance club in SL, called "Bad Girls". This was a time in my life when I was very hurt and depressed. These women became a source of comfort for me, they gave me advice, they distracted me from what was difficult in R They were also very protective of me. The emotional connection was Digital culture – Software Theory - Net-Art the point of it all. The latter proved unsatisfying, because when it came down to it, most people in SL had a real life outside, many were married or were in relationships." "Imagination in SL has two aspects - inner and outer. The inner portion is imagining being/doing something different. I met so many women who would NEVER had done anything like it in real life, but in SL they were roleplaying. So for this segment of the population, SL was a means to realizing forbidden fantasies, in a way. In a safe manner. Safe, because it is anonymous. For many, the externally focused imagination is key. You see this expressed in fashion, building design, landscape design, music, DJing. Designing things, looking different, expressing oneself." Thomas, 42, entrepreneur Virtual communities give people freedom in representing themselves, and this results in new possibilities for society, especially the person's ability to explore new roles in the way that's safer, more interesting, and sometimes useful. Virtual identities allow people to feel more comfortable in a wider range of roles, some of which can unmask aspects they are not able to present in real life. Through virtual selves we create further identity model Digital culture – Software Theory - Net-Art dynamics, manifesting them through three fundamental features: profiles on social network sites (i.e. avatars in virtual worlds), microposts (Twitter) and status updates (Facebook), and various communication practices expressing affection, conflict, and imagination. Among young adults, the most common communication practices on social network sites, as determined through interviews and surveyare: exchanging comments, posting multimedia information, poking, like-ing, and all for the sake of social grooming, gossip, flirting, maintaining the relationships, and chatting.
If you are not on the "Face you don't exist. -
The social paradigm of the information revolution and Web 2.0, that contributed in the development of online social media, is dispersive by nature and proliferates through human-computer interaction processes through everyday communication, education, intertwining new technologies, science, and working environments. In order to understand why people flock and gather on these virtual sites, especially 2 The author conducted a research on the usage of social networking sites, including Facebook, among young academics in Balkan area, May-October 2010. See the Selected literature for reference no.6, and published paper.
3 "Face' – shortened slang term for Facebook in Serbia among young adults.
Digital culture – Software Theory - Net-Art on Facebook as a dominant, centralized virtual Panopticon, we need to understand the key communication practices An overview of Social Networking Sites
Social networking in its communication-social context usually implies the initiation of a connection between strangers, providing an alternative to existing cultural processes, and represents the basis for modeling the new social identities and the creation of a 'new sociality'. One of the well known formal academic definitions of social networking sites, which further contributes to the research of online social networking, defines social network sites as Web-based services (Boyd, Elisson, 2007) that enable individuals to create a public or semi-public profile within a closed centralized system, articulated list of other users in the network, with whom they share connections, and a selective list of connections (trusted circle of contacts). 4 Part of the paper refers to social networks and Facebook as phenomenon, presented at the International Interdisciplinary conference ''Problems of Adolescence”, Magdalene college, University of Oxford, 26. 6. 2010. Digital culture – Software Theory - Net-Art What makes social network sites unique is not just the fact that they allow individuals to meet an unknown person or persons of similar professional and personal affinities they are not able to communicate daily with (e.g. due to the physical distance). Social network sites also allow users to articulate and make visible to others their social (micro) networks and mutually accomplish interaction. This can result in connections between individuals that otherwise would not be possible to establish. On many large social networking sites, the participants are not necessarily "connected" or looking for new contacts, but they primarily communicate with people, friends who have long been a part of the (pre) existing connections in the real (physical) world.
technological characteristics of the Internet and Web 2.0 generation, represents the concept of networking and creating networks (The network effe first articulated by Robert Metcalfe, the co-inventor of Ethernet.”Metcalfe's Lawcomes from the field and theories of 5S. J. Liebowitz, Stephen E. Margolis, Network Externalities (Effects), (downloaded 4. 01. 2011).
6 Metcalfe's law, (downloaded 4. 01. Digital culture – Software Theory - Net-Art telecommunications, but is also applied in the communication technologie the science of Web and in Social networking sites in their early form could be perceived as a new forum, virtual spaces for social interaction, maintaining relationships with friends, colleagues, for public affirmation of their own status in the group, an arena for presenting their own ”self”, and the evaluation of the status and roles within the social networks. In addition to the absence of a common physical space for the community and the people who are constituting it, online social networks can be characterized as a global virtual community, as perceived by Rheingold; therefore, it is the Web site that connects a group of people in one place, with the aim of communication, exchange of the opinions, ideas, chats, dating, making new friends, business and other contacts, activism on the Web for a common goal, participation, etc.
Sites such as MySpace, Facebook, LinkedIn, YouTube, 7 It states that the value of a telecommunications network is proportional to the square of the number of connected users of the system (n2), and is determined by the mathematical expression n2, where “n” is the number of nodes.
Digital culture – Software Theory - Net-Art Flickr, Delicious,, Twitter attract millions of users worldwide, becoming their everyday communication practices. As a consequence, these sites are widespread and popular throughout the world as a dominant social media service for communication on the Internet, especially among adolescents and young people, but also among adults of all ages including senior including the highly educated segments of each population.
Structure and dynamics of social networking
sites: Why do young adults "likeFacebook?
Through the brief analysis of the structure and dynamics of Facebook one can discern why online social networks are so popular. The distinctive elements and features of Facebook are:
Profile. Personal name, user information (gender, birth
8 Pew Research Center's Internet, Older Adults and Social Media, (downloaded 4. 01. 2011).
9 The “like” button lets a user share the content with friends on Facebook and it implies showing favor to certain amenities, entity, or a person on Facebook. “Like” -ing became a massive social and communication practice on this netork.
Digital culture – Software Theory - Net-Art date, place, education, occupation, contact, interests, etc.), as well as data on marital status, sexual orientation, political, religious views, activities, Web site, email, IM, pictures (albums) and video. The user can set up a personal page publicly available to all users on Facebook, or only to those members in the network that she/he designated as friends, contacts, or further - to classify them into several groups that she/he can control from within the profile. Profiles have unique URL'which can be accessed directly. They represent a sort of digital, virtual body we create and present to our online environment. Also, young people build their profile through creative expression, by "decorating" (boyd, 2008) their own profiles (digital "self"), presenting themselves to their friends and parents in the way they prefer to be perceived, creating a digital identity in the networked public space.
Friends. The second component of online social networks is
a potentially publicly articulated network of friends, colleagues, acquaintances, which is displayed in the relation to the profile. After they have created their own digital (downloaded 4. 01. 2011).
Digital culture – Software Theory - Net-Art bodies, users identify other users in the system with whom they have some kind of connection. Participants can browse other profiles, depending on the bond strength (weak, strong ties) and affiliation with them, and they are grouping them as "friends," colleagues”, "contacts from the primary, secondary schools","family", etc. Facebook allows users to articulate and demonstrate their relationships with other participants in the system, whether they have 30-40 friends, over 150 (Dunbar's numberor 900 contacts. Michael Wesch a professor of cultural anthropology at Kansas State University, commented that people are projecting their own identities by demonstrating their relationships with others. “You define yourself by who your friends are .(.) With social networks, there is a fascination with intimacy as it simulates face-to-face communication", says Wesch.
Comments. "Wall" or the space for comments, testimonials,
links and interesting content, represents a complementary communication space, virtual playground, to the other communication tools for so-called social grooming, Professor of Anthropology at the University of Oxford Robin Dunbar is known for his thesis that roughly 150 friends is a measurement of the "cognitive limit to the number of individuals with whom any one person can maintain stable relationships".
Michael Wesch, Anthropology Program at Kansas State University, (downloaded 4. 01.2011) Digital culture – Software Theory - Net-Art maintenance of contacts, social upkeep. Participants can leave public comments, statements, messages on the profiles of their friends, expressing as Donath and boyd indicate, public display of connections, through text messages, "poke", flirting, chatting. This also presents a crucial component of online social networks because of the initiation of social dynamics and presenting self in a favourable light. Friends leave public messages, links to interesting articles, videos, music files, information, and above all, these are mostly ego (centric) oriented public comments. Facebook users, both younger and older, want to be "seen" and visible through the social and communication interaction practices, and through the reciprocity with their friends. Adolescents and young people seek confirmation of their own identity through the feedback of their peers by indicating that they like their statuses, photos and so on. All together they create the relationships in the networked social structure.
News feed. This platform shows each activity of the user to
their contacts, and enables other users to find the news and
notifications of the data alterations that their contacts, friends made on theirs profile. For example, if they change Digital culture – Software Theory - Net-Art their work info, relationship status, some of the basic information, add new photos or change the profile picture, if they joined some group, liked the page, etc. The status option is also added to the profiles with development of micro-blogging forms.
Statuses. Short status messages, micro-posts, and updates
on the profiles of Facebook users are just one of the component of social networking sites, as well as the one of the dominant form of online communication today. The statuses denote communication practice similar to those 140 - character messages, information on the microblogging site (i.e. writing short statuses) Twitter (, in order to follow current events, emotional states, news, phatic information, and the ability to send in a short time messages to multiple people.
Applications. Facebook also enables its users to extend
their interaction by using services with diverse contents and purposes - quizzes, tests, virtual gifts, virtual sub- communities, online games, photos, the ability to exchange instant messages in real time, (instant messaging), etc. They represent a virtual playground to interact, communicate, share photos, videos, engage in Web activism and support Digital culture – Software Theory - Net-Art (i.e. Causes), donation to certain events, resolve conflict situations in the society, but also it is the area for entertainment (e.g. the most popular online games are Farmville, Poker, Mafia Wars, etc.). This is very short overview as research in the field of social media give us precious insight in human behaviour, society structures and processes of cultural dynamics. These phenomena brought significant changes, not only for people in the IT sector, but for people in education, business, and everyday users. It is necessary to understand what is happening in this context since Web 2.0 and the next generation of the web, the Social Web, reconstruct many key elements in society, establish an awareness of information ecology, and provide insight for future innovations.
People are social creatures by nature. Before the Internet was invented, they hung out in communes, communities, built contacts and friendships on the streets, Digital culture – Software Theory - Net-Art public places, markets, salons. Today nothing has changed except that each of us has a virtual body that represents our identity from the analogue world, and in a network with others and their communication dynamics it creates a virtual Virtual environments and online social networks are important because they build relationships and connections in various contexts. People are socially engaged, and they exchange information, seek for validation and recognition of self in the group, the approval of their own status, and that happens in a very fluid way. The present form of the social networks provides users with numerous options for communication practices, social engagement in the networked space (intertwining conflict, civic, political activities, revolutions), control of information, and privacy. Social networking sites offer online places where people gather to participate in their social activities and perform networking with others, share the information, make friendships, socialize with their friends and seek out validation, publicly display emotions, social grooming, and Digital culture – Software Theory - Net-Art New generations of Internet userare interested in the same things as the previous generations; they spend their time online and on Facebook for very clear, understandable, social reasons: they want to interact with their peers, friends from pre-existing networks in analogue life. Being part of the social life and the sphere is important because the same dynamics that are happening online, it happens in offline spaces: squares, streets, school, workplace, and elsewhere. Facebook, with its technology and social functions, provides a virtual space, playroom, where they can create their own private social networking sphere. They want to stay informed and exchange either information or gossip, as well as jokes, flirts, pokes, “like”-s on Facebook, with their friends and colleagues, but also to create events, actively participate in the analogue area using the Internet communications, create their own sub-community groups, to learn, and collaborate. One can therefore conclude that the social dynamics has not changed, but the new technologies have: it is always the same motivation, but different environments. 13 Serbian young adults do not differ in their communication practices from their peers elsewhere in the world, or, at least, in Southeastern Europe, as research data indicate in Radovanovic (2010), reference no.6 Digital culture – Software Theory - Net-Art If our time can be defined as the final stages of personalization, then the vast possibilities of creating virtual identities and the realization of different, sometimes completely incompatible social connections provide fertile ground for further theoretical analysis and application in practice in different contexts and environments.
Digital culture – Software Theory - Net-Art Selected literature
1. Boyd, Danah and Nicole Ellison. “Social network sites: Definition, history, and scholarship”. Journal of Computer-Mediated Communication 13(1), article 11 (2007). (downloaded 4. 01. 2011).
2. Donath, Judith and danah boyd. “Public Displays of Connection.” BT Technology Journal 22, 4 (2004): 71–82.
3. Goffman, Erving. The Presentation of Self in Everyday Life. Garden City, New York: Doubleday, 1959.
4. Hine, Christine. Virtual Ethnography. London, UK: Sage,1998.
5. Hogan, Bernie. “Using Information Networks to Understand Social Behavior”. IEEE Data Engineering Bulletin (downloaded 4. 01. 2011).
6. Radovanovic, Danica. "Internet paradigm, structure and dynamics of online social networking: Facebook and young adults in Serbia". Pancevacko Citaliste VIII, no.17, (2010): Digital culture – Software Theory - Net-Art 20-26. Research, peer-reviewed paper.
7. Radovanovic, Danica. “Serbia: Better on Facebook Than on Streets”. (downloaded 4. 01. 2011).
Homesteading on The Electronic Frontier. New York: HarperPerennial, 1994.
9. Turkle, Sherry. Life on the Screen: Identity in the Age of the Internet. New York: Simon and Schuster, 1995.
Digital culture – Software Theory - Net-Art Irregular F is an open access online journal that
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