Cultural change and the Internet
17 October 2010
Cultural Change, the Future, and the Individual
The individual’s role in cultural change has evolved over the years, especially since the rise of the Internet. With the Internet, the average person has access to directly influence a great part of culture—because what is culture but the combined experiences of each person in a group unifying into a group culture? The Internet has introduced a new degree to pop culture: the aspect of user-generated content, which is ultimately a culture of co-constructionism.
One of the great glories of the Internet is its ability to collect and share information with an astounding number of people all over the world. An unlimited wealth of information is literally at the fingertips of the average person. As people are able to browse the Internet and be exposed to so much information and form opinions drawing from many sources, they can synthesize more information and learn more than they were able to before with a more limited range of information. This new ability makes it possible for people of all different backgrounds and opinions to converge and share opinions and information so that people are at least exposed, if not influenced by new ideas.
Because of this newfound access to information, the Internet allows everyone who owns a computer to have an opinion and share it through various methods, including blogs, videoblogs, and social networking websites. Thus, we as a culture are exposed to more opinions than before. Before the internet, the average person’s basis for forming opinions mostly consisted of newspapers, magazines, books, film and television, which only project the ideas of the writer, director or producer.
Thanks to the Internet, people can directly choose what to promote and share, and therefore what becomes culture. An example of this is the video-sharing website, YouTube. When a video goes “viral,” it means it is seen by millions of people in the time span of a few days. All of these millions of people are sharing an experience together and forming a culture through it. Shared experiences like these viral videos help create the Internet culture upon which this generation is so dependent.
Another of the results of YouTube is the unveiling of trolls. “Troll” is an Internet term describing someone who posts offensive (and usually rude, obscene, and always unintelligent) comments on a video. Trolls have existed far before the internet was invented, as the closed-minded jerk who cares neither for the opinions of others nor for the appropriateness of their own comments. The only difference now is that they can be anonymous and untraceable, and therefore able to be even more offensive without fear of being responsible. The anonymity of the Internet has allowed people to be more open about their thoughts, not only in this harmful way, but also in a good way because non-trolls are able to speak their minds more descriptively and with more clarity.
The average person on the Internet is the individual. The individual is the person forming opinions and projecting them through cyberspace, to be picked up by corporations and politicians and statisticians who gather information and use it to project what is known as “culture.” The average person, the individual, affects culture as much as the head honcho of a big business does. Because the individual chooses what he or she likes and wants to see more of, the individual helps form the head honcho’s opinion of what the masses want, which prompts the head honcho to respond with more and guides the opinion of the masses to the next step in popular culture.
However, these big businesses cannot direct pop culture into what they want because of the unpredictability of what people want. There is absolutely no way to predict what will go viral on YouTube. In this way, this internet-based culture is evolving unpredictably and uncontrollably, and its results can be seen in the real world. For example, this summer a video called “the Bed Intruder Song” went viral, and now there are Halloween costumes being sold of Antoine Dodson, whose news interview about his sister’s attempted rape was auto-tuned and remixed into an incredibly popular song. These Halloween costumes are a quick response to the song, which is amazing because it makes an internet-bound fad into something tangible.
One of the first crazes that swept through cyberspace was Myspace, followed by Facebook. Facebook allows people from all over the world to connect with each other, and more consistently and efficiently than phone calls, emails or, god forbid, snail mail. Facebook’s influence on the sharing of information extends further than blogs and Google because it is a systematic and efficient way to spread information. Facebook has also become a large constituent of multiple charity organizations and social movements. Because it is a means to spread information, Facebook has become a large part of a culture that is making progress on many fronts.
On the Internet, the individual plays a large role in what becomes popular and becomes culture. The individual does play a role, but it’s more the masses’ need for change and using the individual as a springboard than the individual’s intending to change culture. Culture is not moving continually forward no matter which individuals happen to influence it. It is affected very much by each individual in different ways than it would by another. The internet is the greatest example of cultural change in this generation, and it can only progress into something greater.