May 9, 2007

The Sociocultural Appropriation of Web 2.0?

I was notified via today of a new online startup by Daniel Pinchbeck (Technoshaman, Wesleyan dropout, and author of Breaking Open the Head and 2012: The Return of Quetzalcoatl), Reality Sandwich. The site is to begin as an online magazine dedicated to the "re-imagining" of an intentional, international community of new-age shamans and neo-hippies. It is planned to evolve into an extensive, global social networking site. Among the first articles can be found discussions of the "ethnosphere", an interview with Abbie Hoffman, 21st century shamans, a "recipe for happiness" and an article about the practical application of digital utopian ideals in Web 2.0 communities:

My primary focus in blog will be the ongoing struggle to create an Internet that serves the public interest, one that incorporates the highest ideals that the evolution of web 2.0 points toward. I will watch the industry and I will watch the tech watchers and give you my honest perspective. I will tell you about companies that are doing good work and trying to improve things, and alert you to those that are being sneaky. In the same way as buying green produce supports and helps people make deeper changes in industry practices, we can vote with our on-line attention and dollars, giving our business to those online companies who put you in the middle of the picture.

Pinchbeck is a controversial figure in New Age discourse, and has been described by many as a modern-day Timothy Leary, though Terence McKenna is a more appropriate comparison. His ambitious goals to evolve the global consciousness through the appropriation of technology and communication practices is reminiscent of Stewart Brand's Whole Earth Catalog (see From Counterculture to Cyberculture, part 1 and part 2).

Implications for Research
Is this a new stage in the rise of digital utopianism? Are we witnessing the rise of technoshamanism? How does this New Age subculture find strength in global, online communities (such as Tribe)?

May 8, 2007

Lit Review: The Online Nomads of Cyberia

Based on fieldwork amongst a community of online gaming fans, Knorr argues that the field of anthropology is well-suited for the study of online communities as sites of sociocultural appropriation. The habitat of an online community is located within the Internet infrastructure, a dynamic space that utilizes multiple forms of mediated technology. Rather than limiting communication to the common shared interest, members of the group exchange gossip, create hierarchies, and establish new spaces for group interaction when older forms are obliterated. The community in question is described as a “nomadic tribe” that retains interpersonal structure regardless of geographic or even Internet space. The members of this community can best be described, not as consumers of technology, but as active creators of their online habitat. In this sense Internet communication technologies are reconstructed through a process of appropriation. So too are social networking communities appropriated as they are reworked to suit individual groups, as is the case in online activism and the geographical dispersion of subcultures.