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Cyberculture and New Media

by Francisco J. Ricardo, Editor
Rodopi, Amsterdam, 2009
312 pp., illus. 16 b/w. Trade, $93.00
ISBN: 978-90-420-2518-9.

Reviewed by John F. Barber
Digital Technology and Culture
Washington State University Vancouver


In his 1984 novel Neuromancer, William Gibson described cyberspace as "a consensual hallucination" (67), a different, separate place where computer telecommunication technologies facilitated interactions between and with human beings, vast collections of data, artificial intelligences, and quasi-spiritual mythforms. Since then, cyberspace has come to signify exponential growth in the capacity of computer, intelligence, and virtual reality technologies into a global network of computer hardware and software linked through communications infrastructures that facilitate interactions between distant actors. Cyberspace is inseparable networks within networks that immerse users in interactive, visual, artificial, computer-generated environments. Once an optional extension of digital media, cyberspace has become a central site for online, computer-mediated language, creative, learning, recreational, and political interactions—activities known as cyberculture—which in turn may affect more mainstream culture.

Cyberculture and New Media, edited by Francisco J. Ricardo, examines this changed relationship and how it reshapes new forms of discourse between self and culture beyond what was once called virtual.

Originally papers delivered at the Third Global Cybercultures Conference, Prague, Czech Republic, August 2003, these essays articulate, on one hand, the empirical, a portrait of human action through digital media, and on the other, the aesthetic, a look at new media as a field of expressive practices central to human engagement.

The book's first section, The Empirical, offers four essays. The first, "Formalisms of Digital Text" by editor Ricardo, asks what evidence supports claims that people communicate differently using digital media than through writing, or personal, face-to-face contact. A comparative analysis study of sentence usage in blogs, email, printed text, and speech is detailed. The results show a significant variation in the richness of language across these media and suggest implications for expressive forms and uses of digital media.

The essay "Knowledge Building and Motivations in Wikipedia: Participation as 'Ba'," by Shiezaf Rafaeli, Tsahi Hayat, and Yaron Ariel, suggests that Wikipedia, a collaborative form of creating and sharing content, experiments with co-building of knowledge based on its users' motivation to build community as well as a shared body of knowledge. "On the Way to the Cyber-Arab-Culture: International Communication, Telecommunications Policies, and Democracy" by Mahmoud Eid, speaks to the alleged desire by more and more Arabs to use cyberspace and new media to develop and communicate Arab culture, identity, and values. The last essay in this section, "The Challenge of Intercultural Electronic Learning: English as Lingua Franca," by Rita Zaltsman, is a study of English used in cross-cultural electronic learning contexts that concludes cyberculture can help bridge cultural differences because students feel they are connecting with one another and talking face-to-face in virtual environments.

The essays collected in "The Aesthetic" section will probably have most interest to those using digital media for creative endeavors. For example, the essay "The Implicit Body," by Nicole Ridgway and Nathaniel Stern, argues that interaction in cyberspace causes an implicit body to emerge alongside an unfinished art work; Interaction begins a bodily process that is always at some point in between the sensory and the expressive. Another essay, "Cyborg Goddesses: The Mainframe Revisited," by Leman Giresunlu, reviews current popular films that incorporate an omnipotent female figure comprised of both good and evil. This approach, argues Giresunlu, incites critical examination of faith, science, technology, self and identity formation from a feminist perspective and as an alternative to more conventional codifications of power. Finally, "De-Colonizing Cyberspace: Post-Colonial Strategies in Cyberfiction," by Maria Bäcke, uses topographical descriptions of cyberspace—striated space (the information highway) and smooth space (the web)—to explore how several female authors explore power, hierarchy and colonization in the fictional digital space their characters inhabit.

Taken together, the essays collected in Cyberculture and New Media, speak to a cyberculture constantly supplanted by technological innovation and a restless adaptation, substitution, and convergence of art, craft, and language. The collection seeks to facilitate inter-disciplinary projects and inquiry that are innovative, imaginative, and creatively interactive.

Last Updated 8 March, 2010

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