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Posted by on Oct 19, 2010

Group identity and netography: Kozinet and Community

I am personally enamored of Kozinet’s “Understanding Online Culture” as it seems a great primer for understanding research into online culture. I think it helps debunk, or at least put the narratives of negativity in a larger context. These narratives of negativity are essentially the dystopian views of digital culture as manifest in communities. Most of these narratives seem to fall prey to a zero sum argument; that any engagement in an online community is a reduction in engagement in a physical one. I disagree wholeheartedly, not because this situation is impossible, but rather because it is not the norm.

Our capacity for human engagement does not necessarily have an upper threshhold (none that I have detected) so my participation in my online communities actually opens me to participation in my physical ones. I am greatly attracted to this notion that emotion (affection, affiliation, camaraderie) will slip through the tiniest opening in any artificial construct. The minute we can use technology to communicate is the minute we appropriate it and make it our own. It mediates us to a degree, certainly; that process works in the opposite as well.

According to Kozinet, social group members seemed to “develop an ability to express missing nonverbal cues in written forms”. In CMC, putting cues of affection, affiliation, and other communications-clarifying elements happens through new symbols, or electronic paralanguage such the familiar emoticons, intentional misspellings, absence and presence of corrections and capitalization, as well as visual ASCII art.” (23)

Emoticons as miniscule transmissions of clarification and affection; contractions (OMG) as shared language and symbology. Our cues of affection bleed into even the most limiting of spaces and syntaxes. If the technology wrote its own academic discourse on this process, it would indeed be dystopian. Look at what these humans are doing to us; they are stealing our technological perfection of purpose with their emotion.

Humanity bleeds into the technology; both are mediating each other. This is  a positive narrative of (post)humanity appropriating non-human) spaces,  working in emotions. A slow momentum towards technology as communication tools, as language itself.

“Regardless of the medium or exact pathway to participation, the theory suggests that, over time and with increasingly frequent communications, the sharing of personal identify information and clarification of power relations and new social norms transpires in the online community-that social and cultural information permeates every exchange, effecting a type of gravitational pull that causes every exchange to become coloured with emotional, affiliative, and meaning-rich elements.” (28).

Culture as gravity? As an inescapable force? A permeation of every exchange, every node in the network having markers towards understanding. Now that is a heady mix of emotion and intellect. Do I gravitate towards this analysis precisely because I desire to see humanity online, to see emotional substance in functional spaces?  Yes, certainly. I suspect, however, that digital cultures have taught us that wherever there is communication, simply two entities negotiating understanding, that there is culture. Communication is culture, or at least it is the vehicle for it.

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