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The Onion, Friendster, and Digital Archaeology/Anthropology

After reading Bell’s “Community and Cyberculture” chapter, I was struck by this quote:

“The study of community has been a sustained effort to think through this complex; to think about what makes a community. In a lot of cases, the way that is approached is framed around something that is perceived to be a threat to community-usually one or more of the transformations brought about my modernization.” (94).

This implies online community formation as threat, but what of the digital artefacts of these communities, the detritus of past communities built and abandoned? What about our collective Lifestream as a time capsule, a record for future civilizations to study our patterns of interactions and dependencies? The Onion offers a humorous and relatively accurate take on what this digital archaeology/anthropology might look like.

It does raise an interesting question. On an individual level, our imprint is to be found everywhere and this is how digital and physical cultures might disconnect a bit. Our record in this ecosystem is dramatically preserved, like “flies in amber”; never has so much data been available to analyze what makes us us. Records of our activities will be available that will ready like calendars. However, will  this put is any closer to understanding motivation? Will a record of actions lead to an understanding of the facility of community association online?

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About Author

My name is Michael Sean Gallagher. I am a Lecturer in Digital Education at the Centre for Research in Digital Education at the University of Edinburgh. I am Co-Founder and Director of Panoply Digital, a consultancy dedicated to ICT and mobile for development (M4D); we have worked with USAID, GSMA, UN Habitat, Cambridge University and more on education and development projects. I was a researcher on the Near Futures Teaching project, a project that explores how teaching at The University of Edinburgh unfold over the coming decades, as technology, social trends, patterns of mobility, new methods and new media continue to shift what it means to be at university. Previously, I was the Research Associate on the NERC, ESRC, and AHRC Global Challenges Research Fund sponsored GCRF Research for Emergency Aftershock Forecasting (REAR) project. I was an Assistant Professor at Hankuk University of Foreign Studies (한국외국어대학교) in Seoul, Korea. I have also completed a doctorate at University College London (formerly the independent Institute of Education, University of London) on mobile learning in the humanities in Korea.

3 Comments

  1. Hi Michael, the video is great… made me smile. Talk of civilizations, ’empty corridors’ and future archaeological investigations….. complete with measurement implements!

    We need a follow up on ‘where are they now’ similar to the one hit music wonders of the past.

    That said, one such one hit wonder in the UK: Rick Astley… lay dormant just like ‘friendster’ for a while but returned as a new phenomenon: see Rick Rolling and Youtube.

  2. Agreed, Alison. Love the rick rolling phenomena, something I fell prey to a few times. I think these are potentially good research topics, these digital relics and digital memes. Things that had their golden age and then quickly died out. Digital nostalgia leading to digital retro fashions?

    There was Friendster and soon MySpace will fade from consciousness, followed by many others, I can only imagine.

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