Original image by Scott Beale

Internet Histories and Futures

Yesterday, I attended a symposium which was primarily concerned with highlighting the history of the internet as a means of understanding the future of the internet. Internet Histories/Internet Futures was held at the University of Sydney, and included presentations from Gerard Goggin, Tom Boellstorff, Jean Burgess, Mark McLelland and Tama Leaver.

As you might expect, a forum such as this had a strong focus on policy and regulation, or how not to stop the internet. I couldn’t help but think as I listened to each speaker talk that there is a canyon between cultures of uses and internet regulation (if it even exists in some of these spaces/ideas). As policy develops, it is probably about two or three years behind cultural adoption, and cultures of uses on the internet move at such a rapid pace (and are often buried very deep) that internet regulation would merely complicate things further because of the disjuncture of semantic understanding. That is, policy and legal frameworks do not process the indexical cultural meaning to provide a suitable enough understanding of the ecosystem.

Mark McLelland highlighted this beautifully through the subcultural  fandom activities such as Mpreg (male pregnancy) and Yaoi (Reappropriation of boys in love) as slash fiction. In both cases, they have fairly extreme user-created content that if read incorrectly will miss the close representation of gender politics by Japanese women. A undoubtedly complex undertaking to correctly regulate this cultural use (if regulation is at all needed?).  How would regulation approach this hot potato:

So the five areas that were represented yesterday (disability, universal accessibility, platform politics, gender subcultures, birth and death online) all require highly particular approaches for regulation. The problem, is how to translate the cultural languages into the policy arena. A take away point for me that I am sure we will work into our future work, particularly around increased citizenry through mobile internet cultural practices.

Some rough notes from each presenter:

Gerard Goggin

  • A cue from internet freedom, political history of languages etc
  • The way we imagine the history of the internet is culturally based and not well understood
  • New understanding of disability and internet future – based on characteristics
  • The technological development of interfaces for impaired promotes cultural and communication innovations – visual communications for the deaf (e.g. Skype)
  • A disconnect between media histories more broadly, could the internet histories connect the collection of media and comms?
  • Cultural disability is played out through language – there is no word for disability in aboriginal
  • A dissatisfaction with the current policy frameworks is present within academia – disability is a clear

Tom Boellstorff

  • Universal accessibility includes access for X from the get go – universal theory builds on disability theory – not the ramp at the back of the building but incorporated in the intial design
  • Not the deficit but the potential of the set technologies for affordances
  • Similitude and difference, time and space, futurity are three concepts and three historical moments this work is based on
  • Tech can shrink space but not time, it will never be the same time in two different places
  • The collapse of online/offline dichotomies is sloppy, and maybe digital means more
  • Let’s explore the negative
  • The gaps between the digits, the 1 and 0s are never .5 – they’re always separate
  • Indexical is context based, it links something to something (semantics)
  • First Monday paper on big data
  • Do we need ethnography anymore with big data research? The link to historicity of internet studies
  • The ‘unbearable slowness’ of ethnography
  • Q: Digital divide increasing, what about the impact of location on access – rural urban for example, or connected devices?
  • A: How users modify things on platforms is the fascinating area to look at – second life and the different experience between the mobile access and the laptop client shapes how people function

Jean Burgess

  • Toaster procession – our fascination with devices OF the internet
  • The culture of the internet and the rise of hegemonic terms of the internet
  • The narratives of inclosure and the rise of proprietary systems to close the internet, the lock down of copyright etc
  • Platforms also become significant  in this space
  • See ‘The culture of connectivity’ – van Dijck
  • What are the stuff of platforms?
  • The cultures of use of platforms?
  • What is twitterish about twitter?
  • Social media histories – interface designs, the landing page etc can tell us a lot about the internal discussions towards development
  • How the design shifts is representative of the internal discussions politics etc

Mark McLelland

  • The anxiety of the uses of the internet, porn on the internet and children
  • Concepts are thrust upon us by media i.e. Rudd and the Hensen children moment
  • The concept of ‘child’ has a huge impact on society, particularly around the age of consent
  • Mpreg as a femantasy scene
  • Yaoi/BL genre hetalia
  • Theses scenes are looking at the role reversal of the empowerment of women through directed sexual narrative
  • Young people are taking control of their own sexuality through the grey area of legislation surrounding child pornography online -
  • The law isn’t very good at semiotics, the meaning loses it’s context
  • Interpretation of the legal system is significant within these practices -it seems to me there should be a body that integrates between communities of interests and legal representatives and regulatory frameworks
  • There is clearly a language barrier between the cultural practice and the legal system – is this a call for intermediation?

Tama Leaver

  • Agency of the young and old online
  • Facebook now has terms for the death of a user – the account will be closed down
  • Who owns the material? Rights revert to Facebook
  • On Google you becom inactive
  • This is an example of algorithm versus real world measures
  • Perpetu manages your online estate in the event if your death
  • These are really complex when the family discussion is put on the table
  • Many of the actions contradict the official policies of the platforms
  • It’s not really a thing in the start up culture to think about the end of the platform
  • Content Export options are good
  • Should the regulation extend beyond the individual or the contents contribution to humanities history?