Web Culture – 3

(summary Web Culture conference – February the 10th – Lyon)

Virginia Heffernan developed several points : the social opportunities of internet, the cultural catastrophe and the likely reactions, and the safety feeling caused by the apps.

She had her first contact with internet in 1978, with US army’s chats. Since then she have reckoned that it was a wondreful way for practising how to present herself, working on her social-skills, talking to complete strangers (even from a different social background), being more confident without being nervous or blushing, inventing herself… being a “social super-hero”. But she also realised that her lies could and would be reveal, and after an actual date with another user she left internet (for a time) for the reality, which seemed more interesting.

“Sometimes a patient needs to know that the catastrophe he fears has already occured.” Roland Barthes

For V. Heffernan we are the patiens and our fear, the cultural catastrophe, has already happened. Analogical culture era is over. Printed newspapers, paper scent in libraries, handwriting letters… we’re losing that. The cultural catastrophe has occured.
But if our cultural experience is not related to material condition but is a mental, intellectual, cerebral experience, we could enjoy the arrival of digital culture.

Confronted to this situation, she identifies three likely reactions.
The first : a complete rejection, going back to the real life. Quite uncommon but still enjoyed : for example with the Do It Yourself movement, the local food movement or the passion for vinyl records or polaroid.
The second possibility : going to the apps. V. Heffernan compares apps with rural and suburban areas : stable, safe, clean, private. Just the opposite of the web : urban jungle which is dangerous and unsanitary, infested by spams, virus, pop-up ads, dead links, unwanted pornography… and inhabited by “multilingual, noisy, well-rooted people”. Apps (especially from AppStore) are controled, beautiful spaces where users pay for a chosen content which is designed for the application.
The third option : staying on the web, a public, popular, lively and creative space, where new opportunities keep appearing.

V. Heffernan’s speech was very interesting, and the parallel between the web and New-York in the seventies and the apps and the suburban tidy pretty houses is really relevant. Regarding the three possibilies, it seems (to me) more likely that people use two or even the three solutions. For instance we could enjoy vinyl appeal and acknowledge pratical sides of mp3. At the end we listen to a piece of music, but rummaging through boxes in a record shop, holding the record into our hands, taking it from its sleeve and putting it on the turntable, are fully a part of the experience. Mp3 benefits are not superior they are different, and we can enjoy both in turn, depending on what we need.
About the cultural catastrophe, and the fact that web/digital technology introduced unquestionably new practices and possibilites, I’m reading “Reality is Broken” by Jane McGonigal. It deals with why and how “reality, compared to video games, is broken” and how game design could improve reality. It seems to offer a useful and relevant perspective of changes caused by new technologies.

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