- Wed Apr 21, 2021 2:50 pm
Since culture is intimately tied to "activities and social interactions", and these for the most part are experienced almost entirely online, the cultures of new generations must by logical argument exist on the internet. These virtual cultures translate back into the real world; Whereas before, the process used to be the other way around, where the virtual mirrored the real. It is no wonder that the idea of "simulated reality" is popular now. It's because everyone's living through it on a daily basis. Take the gaming community for example. Someone who identifies himself as a "gamer" would surely be familiar with the cultural mannerisms, language, and history of all things related to gaming. He would recall instances of memorable tournaments, conversations, outrages, and all the things that a 20th century equivalent would reminisce about sports, movies and music of his day and age. The similarities are directly comparable in many respects. However the major difference between them is the cultural medium and the flipping of polarity of interest. The skills and popularity in the virtual world are valued over that of the skills and popularity in the physical. In such a world view, reality might as well be simulated because the culture is experienced entirely through pixels on a screen rather than being a representation or an abstraction of something that happens in the physical setting. Hence a gamer is the 21st century equivalent of a 20th century sports fan albeit trying to shoe-horn it into the sports mold by the sports people is likely the wrong way to go about embracing it. In order for it be successful, my personal hunch is that the gaming world should move towards being more in the virtual and less in the physical. Let the competitions and related entertainment be entirely virtualized and remove themselves from associating with physical and real-world aspects. Entire economies and social structures can theoretically exist in such a framework, and this may be preferred by the gamers themselves (second life, minecraft, fortnite, pokemon go, mmos etc.).
Another community of interest is the "influencers" and "followers", or if we were to employ a portmanteau, the "inflowers"; Those who prodigiously submit, subscribe, and follow various trends and interests online. This is something that most people with social media accounts actively engage in (to varying degrees). While not as obviously focused on virtual simulations as the gamers, the inflowers are captivated by their hand-held devices, almost constantly consuming, posting, reposting, opining, up/down voting, tweeting, loling, and in general interacting with virtual entities with impressive agility and focus. This is a different type of socialization to what humanity has experienced at least in the last 5000 years of recorded history. The previous 500 years certainly did change much from the preceding centuries, and the advancements made in the 20th century brought even more drastic social rearrangements, but the inflowers are a different breed altogether and the world they inhabit is just as alien to the traditional man. On the far end of the spectrum on the influencer side, this type of socialite is a borderline megalomaniac and an exhibitionist, who derives immense pleasures from his virtual popularity but also dreads in fear of losing it. On the other end of the spectrum on the follower side, the perpetual consumer is an addict and a creature of a time-absorbing habit, unable to draw himself away from that next click, or swipe, or that next endorphin-enducing comment thrown into a sea of judgmental peers. The similarities with TV personalities of the 20th century and their dedicated audiences are well apparent in this model. The major difference however is that an inflower frequently takes on the roles of both, as any contribution made by a follower can theoretically transition that person to an influencer. The inflowers also consume and produce much faster, the rate of information exchange is "viral" as they say, and the half-life of the content is much shorter. Their popularity is also short lived as vying for the attention of desensitized people who have instant access to entertainment of the entire world and its 5000 years of accumulated contributions takes a lot of patience and luck. "Click-baiting" is naturally an obvious strategy in improving the odds and ad-driven monetization is rampant in this world. Neither of these are liked by most people but are tolerated as necessary evils.
Wikipedia on the other hand is one of the most famous and last remaining major websites that does not rely on advertisement revenue. Instead it runs donation campaigns as necessary to cover operating costs. It is the most successful of wikis to date, and has become the defacto encyclopedic reference for anyone using a search engine. Contrary to traditional encyclopedias written and reviewed by dedicated persons of learning, the wiki model relies on the contributions of laymen and experts alike and undergoes a series of refinements and revisions until settling on a steady state of near-completion. It's a collaborative writing process and hence a page is frequently either chimeric or is dominated by select users. The process is described as "Darwinian", and it certainly is in both flattering and condescending ways. The wiki people, or the "wikites", are those who actively engage in supporting and contributing to wikis. The quality of articles from these people may vary considerably and there appears to be many copy and pasting activities, taking sections of text out of various sources and stitching them together to give a semblance of coherence. Or plastering pages with equations and technical terms without a kernel of understanding makes some pages impressive to look at but inaccessible and completely useless as an encyclopedic reference to any who are uninitiated in those fields. Still, the existence of wikites means that "knowledge" can undergo changes and updates rather quickly without needing extensive reviews. It also makes revisionism an integral part of the process, which itself is a double-edged sword.
These three examples of online communities show that they're not really dedicated segments of society strictly defined by their isolated interests, but are composed of regular people who like to interact and take part in those activities in a fluid and non-partisan way. They're not organizations but are loose associations with no central leadership and they often don't even realize that they're part of these groups. There are many communities like these on the internet but many are also continuations of existing organizations and groups from the 20th century rather than new ones emerging and superseding the old. Whether those can be counted as truly 21st century cultures is debatable and open to interpretation.
We must cultivate our garden