Internet culture

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Internet culture (illustration)

Internet culture, or cyberculture, is a culture that describes the many manifestations of the use of computer networks for communication, entertainment, business, and recreation. Some features of Internet culture include online communities, gaming, social media, and more, as well as topics related to identity and privacy. Due to the internet’s large scale use and adoption, the impacts of internet culture on society and non-digital cultures have been widespread. Additionally, because of the all encompassing nature of the internet and internet culture, different facets of internet culture are often studied individually rather than holistically, such as social media, gaming, specific communities, and more.[1]


The internet is one gigantic well-stocked fridge ready for raiding; for some strange reason, people go up there and just give stuff away.
Mega 'Zines, Macworld (1995)[2]

Since the boundaries of cyberculture are difficult to define, the term is used flexibly, and its application to specific circumstances can be controversial. It generally refers at least to the cultures of virtual communities, but extends to a wide range of cultural issues relating to "cyber-topics", e.g. cybernetics, and the perceived or predicted cyborgization of the human body and human society itself. It can also embrace associated intellectual and cultural movements, such as cyborg theory and cyberpunk. The term often incorporates an implicit anticipation of the future.

The Oxford English Dictionary lists the earliest usage of the term "cyberculture" in 1963, when Alice Mary Hilton wrote the following, "In the era of cyberculture, all the plows pull themselves and the fried chickens fly right onto our plates."[3] This example, and all others, up through 1995 are used to support the definition of cyberculture as "the social conditions brought about by automation and computerization."[3] The American Heritage Dictionary broadens the sense in which "cyberculture" is used by defining it as, "The culture arising from the use of computer networks, as for communication, entertainment, work, and business".[4] However, both OED and the American Heritage Dictionary fail to describe cyberculture as a culture within and among users of computer networks. This cyberculture may be purely an online culture or it may span both virtual and physical worlds. This is to say, that cyberculture is a culture endemic to online communities; it is not just the culture that results from computer use, but culture that is directly mediated by the computer. Another way to envision cyberculture is as the electronically enabled linkage of like-minded, but potentially geographically disparate (or physically disabled and hence less mobile) persons.[original research?]

Cyberculture is a wide social and cultural movement closely linked to advanced information science and information technology, their emergence, development and rise to social and cultural prominence between the 1960s and the 1990s. Cyberculture was influenced at its genesis by those early users of the internet, frequently including the architects of the original project. These individuals were often guided in their actions by the hacker ethic. While early cyberculture was based on a small cultural sample, and its ideals, the modern cyberculture is a much more diverse group of users and the ideals that they espouse.

Numerous specific concepts of cyberculture have been formulated by such authors as Lev Manovich,[5][6] Arturo Escobar and Fred Forest.[7] However, most of these concepts concentrate only on certain aspects, and they do not cover these in great detail. Some authors aim to achieve a more comprehensive understanding distinguished between early and contemporary cyberculture (Jakub Macek),[8] or between cyberculture as the cultural context of information technology and cyberculture (more specifically cyberculture studies) as "a particular approach to the study of the 'culture + technology' complex" (David Lister et al.).[9]


Manifestations of cyberculture include various human interactions mediated by computer networks. They can be activities, pursuits, games, places, and metaphors, and include a diverse base of applications. Some are supported by specialized software and others work on commonly accepted internet protocols. Examples include but are not limited to:

Social impact[edit]

The Internet is one of the most popular forms of communication today with billions of people using it every day. This is because the internet is full of a wide variety of tools that can allow for information retrieval and communication, which can occur between individuals, groups, or even within mass contexts.[10] It has created a culture that many people are involved in which has led to countless positive and negative impacts.

The Internet provides an array of tools for people to use for information retrieval and communication in individual, group, and mass contexts

Positive Impacts[edit]

The creation of the Internet has impacted our society greatly, giving us the ability to communicate with others online, store information such as files and pictures, and help maintain our government. As the Internet progressed, digital and audio files could be created and shared on the Internet, it became one of the main sources of information, business, and entertainment, and it led to the creation of different social media platforms such as Instagram, Twitter, Facebook and Snapchat.[11] Communicating with others has never been easier in our day and age allowing people to connect and interact with each other. The Internet helps us maintain our relationships with others by acting as a supplement to physical interactions with our friends and family.[12] People are also able to make forums and talk about different topics with each other which can help form and build relationships. This gives people the ability to express their own views freely. Social groups created on the Internet have also been connected to improving and maintaining our health in general. Interacting with social groups online can help prevent and possibly treat depression.[12] In response to the rising prevalence of mental health disorders, including anxiety and depression, a 2019 study by Christo El Morr and others demonstrated that York University students in Toronto were extremely interested in participating in an online mental health support community. The study mentions that many students prefer an anonymous online mental health community to a traditional in person service, due to the social stigmatization of mental health disorders.[13] Overall, online communication with others gives people the sense that they are wanted and are welcomed into social groups.

Negative Impacts[edit]

With access to the Internet becoming easier for people, it has led to a substantial amount of disadvantages. Addiction is becoming a huge problem because the Internet is becoming more relied on for a variety of certain tasks such as communicating, commerce, and education.[14] There are a range of different symptoms connected to addiction such as withdrawal, anxiety, and mood swings. Addiction to social media is very prevalent with adolescents, but the interaction they have with one another can be detrimental for their health. Rude comments on posts can lower individuals self-esteem making them feel unworthy and may lead to depression. Social interaction online may substitute face-to-face interactions for some people instead of acting as a supplement. This can negatively impact people's social skills and cause one to have feelings of loneliness. People may also have the chance of being cyber bullied when using online applications. Cyber bullying may include harassment, video shaming, impersonating, and much more. Such cyber bullying is particularly intense towards members of groups deemed "cringy" by internet culture at large. A concept called cyber bullying theory is now being used to describe that children who use social networking more frequently are more likely to become victims of cyber bullying.[15] Additionally, some evidence shows that too much internet use can stunt memory and attention development in children. The ease of access to information which the internet provides discourages information retention. However, the cognitive consequences are not yet fully known.[16] The staggering amount of available information online can lead to feelings of information overload. Some effects of this phenomenon include reduced comprehension, decision making, and behavior control.[16]


First and foremost, cyberculture derives from traditional notions of culture, as the roots of the word imply. In non-cyberculture, it would be odd to speak of a single, monolithic culture. In cyberculture, by extension, searching for a single thing that is cyberculture would likely be problematic. The notion that there is a single, definable cyberculture is likely the complete dominance of early cyber territory by affluent North Americans. Writing by early proponents of cyberspace tends to reflect this assumption (see Howard Rheingold).[17]

The ethnography of cyberspace is an important aspect of cyberculture that does not reflect a single unified culture. It "is not a monolithic or placeless 'cyberspace'; rather, it is numerous new technologies and capabilities, used by diverse people, in diverse real-world locations." It is malleable, perishable, and can be shaped by the vagaries of external forces on its users. For example, the laws of physical world governments, social norms, the architecture of cyberspace, and market forces shape the way cybercultures form and evolve. As with physical world cultures, cybercultures lend themselves to identification and study.

There are several qualities that cybercultures share that make them warrant the prefix "cyber-". Some of those qualities are that cyberculture:

  • Is a community mediated by ICTs.
  • Is culture "mediated by computer screens".[17]: 63 
  • Relies heavily on the notion of information and knowledge exchange.
  • Depends on the ability to manipulate tools to a degree not present in other forms of culture (even artisan culture, e.g., a glass-blowing culture).
  • Allows vastly expanded weak ties and has been criticized for overly emphasizing the same (see Bowling Alone and other works).
  • Multiplies the number of eyeballs on a given problem, beyond that which would be possible using traditional means, given physical, geographic, and temporal constraints.
  • Is a "cognitive and social culture, not a geographic one".[17]: 61 
  • Is "the product of like-minded people finding a common 'place' to interact."[18]: 58 
  • Is inherently more "fragile" than traditional forms of community and culture (John C. Dvorak).

Thus, cyberculture can be generally defined as the set of technologies (material and intellectual), practices, attitudes, modes of thought, and values that developed with cyberspace.[19]

Sharing has been argued to be an important quality for the Internet culture.[20]: 7 

Identity – "Architectures of credibility"[edit]

Cyberculture, like culture in general, relies on establishing identity and credibility. However, in the absence of direct physical interaction, it could be argued that the process for such establishment is more difficult.

One early study, conducted from 1998-1999, found that the participants view information obtained online as being slightly more credible than information from magazines, radio, and television. However, the same study found that the participants viewed information obtained from newspapers as the most credible, on average. Finally, this study found that an individual's rate of verification of information obtained online was low, and perhaps over reported depending on the type of information.[21]

How does cyberculture rely on and establish identity and credibility? This relationship is two-way, with identity and credibility being both used to define the community in cyberspace and to be created within and by online communities.

In some senses, online credibility is established in much the same way that it is established in the offline world; however, since these are two separate worlds, it is not surprising that there are differences in their mechanisms and interactions of the markers found in each.

Following the model put forth by Lawrence Lessig in Code: Version 2.0,[22] the architecture of a given online community may be the single most important factor regulating the establishment of credibility within online communities. Some factors may be:

  • Anonymous versus Known
  • Linked to Physical Identity versus Internet-based Identity Only
  • Unrated Commentary System versus Rated Commentary System
  • Positive Feedback-oriented versus Mixed Feedback (positive and negative) oriented
  • Moderated versus Unmoderated

Anonymous versus known[edit]

Many sites allow anonymous commentary, where the user-id attached to the comment is something like "guest" or "anonymous user". In an architecture that allows anonymous posting about other works, the credibility being impacted is only that of the product for sale, the original opinion expressed, the code written, the video, or other entity about which comments are made (e.g., a Slashdot post). Sites that require "known" postings can vary widely from simply requiring some kind of name to be associated with the comment to requiring registration, wherein the identity of the registrant is visible to other readers of the comment. These "known" identities allow and even require commentators to be aware of their own credibility, based on the fact that other users will associate particular content and styles with their identity. By definition, then, all blog postings are "known" in that the blog exists in a consistently defined virtual location, which helps to establish an identity, around which credibility can gather. Conversely, anonymous postings are inherently incredible. Note that a "known" identity need have nothing to do with a given identity in the physical world.

Linked to physical identity versus internet-based identity only[edit]

Architectures can require that physical identity be associated with commentary, as in Lessig's example of Counsel Connect.[22]: 94–97  However, to require linkage to physical identity, many more steps must be taken (collecting and storing sensitive information about a user) and safeguards for that collected information must be established-the users must have more trust of the sites collecting the information (yet another form of credibility). Irrespective of safeguards, as with Counsel Connect,[22]: 94–97  using physical identities links credibility across the frames of the internet and real space, influencing the behaviors of those who contribute in those spaces. However, even purely internet-based identities have credibility. Just as Lessig describes linkage to a character or a particular online gaming environment, nothing inherently links a person or group to their internet-based persona, but credibility (similar to "characters") is "earned rather than bought, and because this takes time and (credibility is) not fungible, it becomes increasingly hard" to create a new persona.[22]: 113 

Unrated commentary system versus rated commentary system[edit]

In some architectures, those who review or offer comments can, in turn, be rated by other users. This technique offers the ability to regulate the credibility of given authors by subjecting their comments to direct "quantifiable" approval ratings.

Positive feedback-oriented versus mixed feedback (positive and negative) oriented[edit]

Architectures can be oriented around positive feedback or a mix of both positive and negative feedback. While a particular user may be able to equate fewer stars with a "negative" rating, the semantic difference is potentially important. The ability to actively rate an entity negatively may violate laws or norms that are important in the jurisdiction in which the internet property is important. The more public a site, the more important this concern may be, as noted by Goldsmith & Wu regarding eBay.[23]

Moderated versus unmoderated[edit]

Architectures can also be oriented to give editorial control to a group or individual. Many email lists are worked in this fashion (e.g., Freecycle). In these situations, the architecture usually allows, but does not require that contributions be moderated. Further, moderation may take two different forms: reactive or proactive. In the reactive mode, an editor removes posts, reviews, or content that is deemed offensive after it has been placed on the site or list. In the proactive mode, an editor must review all contributions before they are made public.

In a moderated setting, credibility is often given to the moderator. However, that credibility can be damaged by appearing to edit in a heavy-handed way, whether reactive or proactive (as experienced by In an unmoderated setting, credibility lies with the contributors alone. The very existence of an architecture allowing moderation may lend credibility to the forum being used (as in Howard Rheingold's examples from the WELL),[17] or it may take away credibility (as in corporate web sites that post feedback, but edit it highly).

Cyberculture studies[edit]

The field of cyberculture studies examines the topics explained above, including the communities emerging within the networked spaces sustained by the use of modern technology. Students of cyberculture engage with political, philosophical, sociological, and psychological issues that arise from the networked interactions of human beings by humans who act in various relations to information science and technology.

Donna Haraway, Sadie Plant, Manuel De Landa, Bruce Sterling, Kevin Kelly, Wolfgang Schirmacher, Pierre Levy, David Gunkel, Victor J.Vitanza, Gregory Ulmer, Charles D. Laughlin, and Jean Baudrillard are among the key theorists and critics who have produced relevant work that speaks to, or has influenced studies in, cyberculture. Following the lead of Rob Kitchin, in his work Cyberspace: The World in the Wires, cyberculture might be viewed from different critical perspectives. These perspectives include futurism or techno-utopianism, technological determinism, social constructionism, postmodernism, poststructuralism, and feminist theory.[18]: 56–72 

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Silver, David (February 2004). "Internet/Cyberculture/ Digital Culture/New Media/ Fill-in-the-Blank Studies". New Media & Society. 6 (1): 55–64. doi:10.1177/1461444804039915. ISSN 1461-4448. S2CID 32041186.
  2. ^ Pogue, David (May 1995). "Mega 'Zines: Electronic Mac Mags make modems meaningful". Macworld: 143–144. The internet is one gigantic well-stocked fridge ready for raiding; for some strange reason, people go up there and just give stuff away.
  3. ^ a b "cyberculture, n". OED online. Oxford University Press. December 2001.
  4. ^ "cyberculture, n". American Heritage Dictionary of the English Language, Fourth Edition. Boston: Houghton Mifflin. 2000.
  5. ^ Manovich, Lev (2003). "New Media from Borges to HTML" (PDF). In Noah Wardrip-Fruin, Nick Montfort (ed.). The New Media Reader. MIT Press. pp. 13–25. Retrieved 6 May 2007.
  6. ^ Manovich, Lev (2001). The Language of a New Media. MIT Press. ISBN 0-262-63255-1.
  7. ^ Forest, Fred. "Pour un art actuel, l'art à l'heure d'Internet". Retrieved 2008-02-15. Cite journal requires |journal= (help)
  8. ^ Macek, Jakub (2005). "Defining Cyberculture (v. 2)". Retrieved 2007-02-15. Cite journal requires |journal= (help)
  9. ^ Lister, David; Jon Dovey; Seth Giddings; Iain Grant; Kieran Kelly (2003). New Media: A Critical Introduction. Routledge. ISBN 0-415-22378-4.
  10. ^ December, J (1996). "Units of analysis for Internet communication". Journal of Computer-Mediated Communication. 1 (4).
  11. ^ Kompare, Derek (2019-10-31). "Media Studies and the Internet". Journal of Cinema and Media Studies. 59 (1): 134–141. doi:10.1353/cj.2019.0072. ISSN 2578-4919.
  12. ^ a b Pendry, Louise F.; Salvatore, Jessica (2015-09-01). "Individual and social benefits of online discussion forums". Computers in Human Behavior. 50: 211–220. doi:10.1016/j.chb.2015.03.067. ISSN 0747-5632.
  13. ^ El Morr, Christo; Maule, Catherine; Ashfaq, Iqra; Ritvo, Paul; Ahmad, Farah (September 2020). "Design of a Mindfulness Virtual Community: A focus-group analysis". Health Informatics Journal. 26 (3): 1560–1576. doi:10.1177/1460458219884840. ISSN 1460-4582. PMID 31709878. S2CID 207944912.
  14. ^ Chen, Leida; Nath, Ravi (2016-05-01). "Understanding the underlying factors of Internet addiction across cultures: A comparison study". Electronic Commerce Research and Applications. 17: 38–48. doi:10.1016/j.elerap.2016.02.003. ISSN 1567-4223.
  15. ^ McDool, Emily; Powell, Philip; Roberts, Jennifer; Taylor, Karl (2020-01-01). "The internet and children's psychological wellbeing". Journal of Health Economics. 69: 102274. doi:10.1016/j.jhealeco.2019.102274. ISSN 0167-6296. PMID 31887480.
  16. ^ a b Union, Publications Office of the European (2020-08-13). "Potential negative effects of internet use : in-depth analysis". Retrieved 2020-11-03.
  17. ^ a b c d Rheingold, Howard (1993). "Daily Life in Cyberspace". The Virtual Community: Homesteading on the Electronic Frontier. HarperCollins. ISBN 0-06-097641-1.
  18. ^ a b Kitchin, Rob (1998). "Theoretical Perspective: Approaching Cyberspace". Cyberspace: The World in the Wires. New York: Wiley.
  19. ^ Lévy, Pierre (2001). Cyberculture (Electronic Mediations). University of Minnesota Press.
  20. ^ Dariusz Jemielniak; Aleksandra Przegalinska (18 February 2020). Collaborative Society. MIT Press. ISBN 978-0-262-35645-9.
  21. ^ Flanagin, Andrew J.; Metzger, Miriam J. (September 2000). "Perceptions of Internet Information Credibility". Journalism & Mass Communication Quarterly. 77 (3): 515–540. doi:10.1177/107769900007700304. ISSN 1077-6990. S2CID 15996706.
  22. ^ a b c d Lessig, Lawrence (2006). Code 2.0: Code and Other Laws of Cyberspace. Basic Books. ISBN 9780465039142.
  23. ^ Goldsmith, Jack; Wu, Tim (2006). Who Controls the Internet? Illusions of a Borderless World. Oxford University Press (US). p. 143. ISBN 0-19-515266-2.

Further reading[edit]

  • David Gunkel (2001) Hacking Cyberspace, Westview Press, ISBN 0-8133-3669-4
  • Clemens Apprich (2017) Technotopia: A Media Genealogy of Net Cultures, Rowman & Littlefield International, London ISBN 978-1786603142
  • Sandrine Baranski (2010) La musique en réseau, une musique de la complexité ?, Éditions universitaires européennes La musique en réseau
  • David J. Bell, Brian D Loader, Nicholas Pleace, Douglas Schuler (2004) Cyberculture: The Key Concepts, Routledge: London.
  • Donna Haraway (1991) Simians, Cyborgs and Women: The Reinvention of Nature, Routledge, New York, NY
  • Donna Haraway (1997) Modest Witness Second Millennium FemaleMan Meets OncoMouse, Routledge, New York, NY
  • N. Katherine Hayles (1999) How We Became Posthuman: Virtual Bodies in Cybernetics, Literature and Informatics, Chicago University Press, Chicago, IL
  • Paasonen, Susanna (2005). Figures of fantasy: Internet, women, and cyberdiscourse. New York: Peter Lang. ISBN 9780820476070.
  • Sherry Turkle (1997) Life on the Screen: Identity in the Age of the Internet, Simon & Schuster Inc, New York, NY
  • Marwick, Alice E. (2008). "Becoming Elite: Social Status in Web 2.0 Cultures" (PDF). Dissertation. Department of Media, Culture, and Communication New York University. Retrieved 14 June 2011.

External links[edit]