Cyberculture

Levy, Pierre. Cyberculture. Electronic Mediations, V. 4. Minneapolis, Minn.; London: University of Minnesota Press, 2001,

“Technology is responsible for neither our salvation nor our destruction. Always ambivalent, technologies project our emotions, intentions, and projects in to the material world. The instruments we have built provide us with power, but since we are collectively responsible, the decision on how to use them is in our hands“ (xv).

Cyberspace:
The new medium of communications that arose through the global interconnection of computers.

Cyberculture:
That set of technologies (material and intellectual), practices, attitudes, modes of thought, and values that developed along with the growth of cyberspace.”

While this US edition was published in 2001, this work was originally published in 1997 (in French). However, many of Levy’s theories seem to have substantial staying power in our current age. Levy sees the rapid growth of cyberculture as due to young people around the world experimenting collectively with new forms of communication, forms that have created a new communications space (ix). Indeed, the internet is a mass communication space with many individual channels and modes through which one can communicate with others. This space and means of communication has opened innumerable possibilities to communicate with others regardless of distance, time, language, etc. “From one end of the world to the other, telecommunications extends the possibilities of amicable contact, contractual transactions, the transmission of knowledge and exchange of understanding, the pacific discovery of difference” (xii).

Cyberspace encourages a relation that is nearly independent of geographic location (telecommunications, telepresence) and temporal coincidence (asynchronous communications). This is not a completely novel idea, since the telephone has already accustomed us to interactive telecommunications. In the post office (or writing in general) we have a tradition, dating back many years, of reciprocal communication that is both asynchronous and remote. Yet it is only the specific technological characteristics of cyberspace that enable members of a human group (regardless of their number) to cooperate with one another, to nourish and consult a shared memory; and they can do so almost in real time regardless of geographic distribution and differences in time zones. (31).

Levy discusses the condition of communication in purely oral cultures that messages were always received in the context in which, and at the time, they were produced. However, the advent of writing separated communication form its context resulting in the fact that one could read a written message long after or far away from the time and place that it was written. This condition can produce issues of interpretation. Messages that transcend these place and time limits by applying a certain unchangeable fixity to the message are deemed “universal.” Levy hypothesizes that cyberculture puts forth a new universal that differs from preceding cultures in its construction from the “indeterminateness of some global meaning” (xiii).

[C]yberculture reinstates the copresence of messages and their context, which had been current in oral societies, but on a different scale and on a different plane. The new universality no longer depends on self-sufficient texts, on the fixity and independence of signification. It is constructed and extended by interconnecting messages with one another, by their continuous ramification through visual communities, which instills in them varied meaning that are continuously renewed” (xiv).

In other words, that messages delivered within and by the cyberculture are so easily and quickly posted to the public and that they remain accessible from any connected location indefinitely (until someone actively takes down a published message), they reinstate the situation of message and context existing simultaneously, since messages are continuously renewed with each individual experiencing them.

To take his theory a step further, cyberculture does not only reinstate message/context copresence existent in oral cultures in a new manner, as I have hypothesized, communication in this way also reinstates much of the speaker/listener copresence of oral cultures, yet in a new way. The digitally-delivered message may not actually be presented in the context in which it was delivered; it seems so in the sort of simulated environment. Similarly, the speaker and listener are not likely in the same location at the same time; however, the nature of certain types of communication in the digital (cyberculture) realm simulates certain elements of the FtF communication style of oral culture that raises the level of copresence in a way unlike other online forms of communication. Specifically, the online video conversation (OVC) may serve this role.

I have mentioned this point multiple times in the past, but I will again clarify (with additional support of Pierre Levy, here) that I in no way mean to suggest that the OVC is some ultimate, sui generis form of communication or a panacea for some want or lacking element of online communication. Furthermore, I do not suggest that it promises or threatens to put us back to an oral culture. It will neither save nor destroy us. Rather, it is a somewhat unique online communication for that offers features and benefits of various communication styles, including oral, written, online, distance, and asynchronous communication.

Whenever computer memory and bandwidth increase, whenever we invent new interfaces to the human body and its cognitive system (such as virtual reality), whenever we translate the content of old media into their cyberspace equivalents (telephone, television, newspapers, books), whenever digital technology enables formerly separate physical, biological, psychic, economic, and industrial processes to communicate with one another, their social and cultural implications must be reevaluated. (7).

This quote addresses what I am doing; having identified a seemingly unique form of communication, I am reevaluating the way that we communicate in the asynchronous online classroom and considering the impact of the OVC on this communication.

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