Glossary: Concepts for Digital Cultural Analysis
This brief glossary is not a comprehensive list of information technology and cultural analysis terms, but provides a basic tool kit of key terms used to better characterize and understand the variety of techno-cultural issues, devices and processes.
ACA-FAN An academic student of popular culture, including digital culture products like video games, who is also a user or fan of the culture they study. Aca-fans try to avoid criticizing from some supposedly pure or higher intellectual plane above mere players of popular culture.
ACTOR-NETWORK THEORY Actor-network theory is an approach to the social and cultural study of society. Associated with figures like Bruno Latour, and John Law. ANT views technological devices as actors (agents or actants), with something resembling human agency (power to impact events), with the caveat that like humans, technological actors are always caught up in larger networks of power and causality. Technologies and humans are equally entangled in economic relations, political relations, social relations, and cultural relations that shape what they can and cannot do.
ADBUSTING Coined by the editors of Adbusters magazine, the term refers to the creation of counter-advertising, mock advertisements that satirize commercial ads or provide anti-consuming messages in a form normally used for promoting consumerism. This practice precedes but has been greatly expanded through the use of digital technologies for creating and especially disseminating subversive ads, or subvertisements.
ADVERGAMING Following in the footsteps of product placement in Hollywood films -- the prominent display of brand name consumer items in movie scenes -- advergaming refers to the increasingly common parallel practice of brand name placement in scenes within digital games. Like product placement in movies, corporations pay to have a character in a game drink their soda or wear their clothes or drive their cars, with labels, logos or hood ornaments clearly visible.
AFFINITY PORTALS Portals, points of access to the Web that collect and organize sites, built for particular demographic groups, based upon any of a limitless number of kinds of collective interest (ethnic cultures, business, hobbies, education, sports, etc). These portals can defined as broadly as for women to as narrowly as supporters of a particular football club. They seek to be more focused than general portals like Yahoo or AOL.
AGENCY; SOCIAL AGENCY In cultural studies, agency refers to a given subject's ability to have social impact. One's agency is one's social power, the capacity of an individual to act independently and to make (relatively) free choices. Agency is always performed in relation to social structures that limit and shape the potential power of any individual subject. Debates about the relative power of social structure versus personal choice are at least as old as theological debates about the relation between "free will" (agency) and "determinism" (control from outside the person). Contemporary social theory has sought to get beyond simple either/or dualisms or dichotomies, and to speak of mutually constitutive or dialectical interactions between agency and structure.
ANALOG Often used vaguely to mean the opposite of digital, technically speaking, analog is actually a representation of an object that mimics (is analogous to) an original. Since humans actually perceive the world in analog form, that is, everything we see, feel, taste, smell and hear is a continuous transmission of information to our senses, analog is in one sense a more accurate or fuller reflection of the everyday reality we experience. By contrast, digital information translates or estimates analog data using only ones and zeros. A record player is an analog device, while a CD player is digital, because a turntable reads bumps and grooves from a record as a continuous signal, while a CD player only reads a series of ones and zeros. Analog is also slangily used as a put-down by the tech savvy, as in “Oh, that’s so analog” (i.e., hopelessly out of date).
APPARATGEIST A term developed by Katz and Aakhus combining the words "apparatus" (device, material product) and "geist" (spirit, mind), to characterize the ever present elements of material (hardware) and mental construct that together make up any digital experience.
ASYNCHRONOUS literally means not at the same time, and it is used in digital culture to indicate things like online courses where instead of all students being in the same classroom at the same time, their participation is scattered over time through things like posts that represent discussion spread over hours or days rather than talking face-to-face in the same time frame. Online live chat rooms, by contrast, replicate synchronous conversation in the same time frame, while being dispersed across space. Dislocations of time and space represent two of the key features of life online.
AUGMENTED REALITY (AR) General term for a variety of processes, devices and practices that digitally add visual, auditory or other sensory input on top of real world locations. AR can range from simple visual information overlays (an address projected onto a building facade) to elaborate aesthetic constructs that alter without fully replacing existing sensory data. AR can be contrasted with virtual reality (VR) in that the latter seeks to create a wholly other, digitally derived reality. A variety of devices -- handhelds, head mounts, eyeglasses, digital contact lenses, virtual retinal displays, and so on -- are in use or development to deliver AR experiences.
BLOG; BLOGGER; VLOG Short for web log, an online journal maintained by an individual (blogger). A vlog is a blog done in video form rather than written text. Blogs, along with personal space on social networking sites, have to a large degree supplanted the "personal homepage," a genre particularly popular in the 1990s and still used by some on the Web.
BLOGEBRITY: BLOGOSPHERE A blogger who has achieved the status of a celebrity in (and sometimes beyond) cyberspace (cf. Perez Hilton or Arianna Huffington) or the blogosphere -- the combined space of blogs.
BRAIN-COMPUTER INTERFACE (BCI) is a direct connection between the human brain and an external, digitally controlled device. Such devices have been used to restore elements of human sight, hearing and movement (known technically as neuroprosthetics).
CATFISH Someone who systematically misrepresents themselves in online profiles, dating sites or other digital spaces, often with some degree of malicious intent. The term was popularized by the documentary film “Catfish” (2010) on this topic, and given further cache by the reality docu-drama series “Catfish: The TV Show” (2012+) on MTV dealing with deceptive relationships online.
CONVERGENCE (of media) is a term used in media studies to note the ways in which previously separate media are converging into one digital mode. This refers both the convergence among new media in the Web 2.0 era (like accessing the web on a smart phone), but also the convergence of old media (TV, film, radio) and new (like watching a TV show on your smartphone or listening to radio over the Net or reading a book on a Kindle). The assumption is that this convergence will continue and expand such that increasingly all media, old and new, will be accessed through a small set of digital devices and platforms. Remediation is one key aspect of convergence.
CONSUMERISM/TECHNO-CONSUMERISM As cyberspaces have become increasing commercialized by e-business, advertising, and other prods to greater consumption, new media have added to the excessive consumerism long a part of US culture. More particularly. technoconsumerism refers to the intensely pushed consumer desire for every smaller, faster, cooler high-tech/digital toys. No business has more effectively built quick obsolescence into their marketing processes than the new media device business.
CROWDSOURCING Sending a task or problem out to be worked on by a largely undefined general population, as opposed to a specific group of people. On the Web, wikis are in effect "crowdsourced," as have been many other problems and projects. This form of mass collaboration is intended to tap hidden human resources.
CULTURAL COMPETENCY acknowledges that, while people develop a more or less automatic depth of understanding of the subject positions and cultures into which we are born and socialized, achieving something like that depth of understanding of other subject positions and other cultures is far more difficult, but not impossible. The process of gaining depth of understanding of subject positions and cultures other than your own is the process of gaining various degrees of cultural competency. It requires both suppressing ones inherited preconceptions and prejudices, and learning often radically new ways of seeing and thinking.
CULTURAL IMPERIALISM is hegemonic influence over cultural production (movies, TV, music, etc.) by one culture over others. The culture subject to cultural imperialism is overwhelmed and overridden by the dominant culture from outside such that local traditions are lost or transformed beyond recognition The US and to a lesser degree Europe have been accused of cultural imperialism vis-à-vis most of the rest of the world. Japan has been accused of CI with regard to the rest of Asia (and sometimes with regard to the US). Smaller scale cultural imperialism can occur within countries, between ethnically dominant and minority cultures, and between the dominant culture and subcultures.
CYBER-BALKINIZATION A notion, most associated with Cass Sunstein, that the Web leads to political Balkinization, or silo effect, in which users seek out only news and opinion sources that echo and often intensify their already existing political views and biases.
CYBER-ETHNOGRAPHY is the close study of online communities, using techniques derived from sociology and anthropology. Cyber-ethnography employs techniques like interviews, focus groups, and participant-observation in online communities to get a more detailed sense of how users interact in cyberspaces.
CYBERPUNK Genre of science fiction typically set in a dystopian near future in which digital culture is more deeply embedded in every area of a world divided between a wealthy corporate class and a poor majority. Influential on a variety of cultural phenomena, from fashion to political dissent.
CYBERSPACE(S) Term coined by sci fi author William Gibson in his novel Neuromancer that has come to be widely used to name the virtual "spaces" of interaction created by the Internet and associated techno-devices. Since the term can falsely imply a single, homogenous territory, for the purpose of analysis it is best used in the plural, cyberspaces. Like all metaphors, this one both illuminates and misleads, since it is precisely the illusion of spacelessness, or no place-ness that characterizes much wired experience.
CYBER-TERRORISM The use of computer hacking to inflict serious direct or indirect psychological or physical damage to human targets.
CYBERTYPING The appearance of social stereotypes in cyberspaces, and/or the generation of new stereotypes by and in cybercultures (coined by Lisa Nakamura.)
CYBORG The term cyborg names a being that is part human, part machine. The best known cyborgs in popular culture are the title character in the “Terminator” and “Robocop” movie series. In digital culture studies, the figure of the cyborg has been invoked to characterize the increasing entanglement of many humans with digital devices. The metaphor of the cyborg was given great prominence in a highly influential 1984 essay, “A Manifesto for Cyborgs,” by feminist techno-science scholar, Donna Haraway. While recognizing that the cyborg was the “illegitimate offspring of militarism and corporate capitalism,” Haraway also saw positive potential in thinking about the metaphor of the cyborg as a figure that could break down one of the rigid boundaries that has defined putative human nature. Because throughout much of human history describing certain traits as naturally male or female, or placing races in a natural hierarchy, have provided the justification for social inequalities, Haraway puts forth the unnatural image of the cyborg as one possible counter to this discriminatory naturalizing of human variety. Given fields like the Digital Humanities, cybrarian work is increasingly important and pervasive.
CYBRARIAN A term noting that much of the work of librarians has come to include digital resource management, in addition to, or, alas, at times instead of, printed books and other non-virtual materials.
DATA MINING The practice of companies who scour social media and other websites to gather personal information about people’s web site visiting habits and expressed preferences that they can sell to corporations as marketing research. Much of the revenue for social media sites, search engines and e-tail sites comes from this practice of selling private information to marketers.
DATA PROFILING is the use of information gained by tracking users site visits and other web habits in order to create a marketing profile. This is the process by which ads that seem tailored to your interests appear on your social media page or as part of your Google searches. While some people enjoy this profiling when it correctly identifies preferences, it can also be used to exclude users from certain privileges (see weblining) and can narrow the options presented to user. More importantly, this surreptitiously garnered data has the potential to be used in a variety of undesirable ways, including government surveillance and criminal activity.
DATAVEILLANCE A compound word made from data and surveillance, it refers to the surveillance of a person's activities by studying the data trail created by actions such as credit card purchases, mobile phone calls, and Internet use. The term is used by critics concerned that various web spaces like Google and Facebook gather far too much information on users, and fail to protect the misuse of that material for commercial and criminal activity.
DEFAULT IDENTITY All technical devices and processes are designed and built consciously or unconsciously, with particular users in mind. Thus, technologies tend to be biased by the cultural assumptions and identities of designers. Default identity refers to this presumed user. Historically, it refers to the process by which straight, white, middleclass, Euro-American cultural assumptions, values and ideas were (mostly unintentionally) built into early hardware, software and cybercultures. Just as it is possible to change the default settings on most programs, it has been possible to move beyond this default identity to welcome more subject positions online. But just as default settings often remain invisible to most users and don't get changed, default identities have to be intentionally changed, and there are still a number of ways and a number of places where the default identity dominates cyberspaces. Participatory design has been one approach to lessening biases, as has, more fundamentally, improving the diversity of design teams in terms of class, race/ethnicity, gender and other social markers
DIGERATI Modeled on the term literati, this new coinage refers to those deeply knowledgeable about new media culture; often used ironically or in a critical way to suggest the digerati are arrogant in their flaunting of digital hipness and/or excessive in their trendy obsession with latest digital devices.
DIGITAL A method of coding data about the world through abstraction as binary numbers (0s and 1s), as opposed to analog form. While analog coding is closer to the way humans perceive data in the world, digital coding is far more versatile and far more easily and cheaply replicated, two factors that account for the massive explosion of digital devices (computers, smartphones, dvd players, etc.), platforms (the Internet, video game consoles, etc.) and digitized genres (music, movies, photography, videos etc.) since the late 20th century. Digital means numerical, and is derived from the word digit, referring to fingers and toes (still widely used counting devices among humans).
DIGITAL DIVIDES The digital divide is a concept gaining popularity during the 1990s to describe the gap between those who had access to computers and high tech devices, verses those who did not. The term was made prominent through a series of US government reports, beginning during the Clinton Administration, laying out the statistics regarding the technological "haves" and "have nots," a discrepancy attributable largely to race/ethnicity, income bracket, and/or rural vs. urban location. Analysis of the digital divide began as a discussion of simple access to hardware, but evolved to look at a number of social and cultural factors that additionally impacted one's ability to fully utilize new technologies. More complex understands of the full nature of various digital divides has led to a multifaceted approach often labeled technology for social inclusion.
DIGITAL NATIVE; DIGITAL IMMIGRANT A digital native is an individual who grew from infancy in a technology rich environment. For digital natives, high tech devices and practices seem natural and are taken for granted. In contrast, a digital immigrant is a person who began interacting with high tech devices later in life; for these generationally older individuals, or individuals introduced to ICTs later in life, comfort with and immersion in digital culture is generally less fulsome. While digital natives generally have the advantage of deeper integration of technologies into their lives, digital immigrants often have the advantage of understanding more fully the contrast between life in digital and non-digital environments.
DIGITEXTUALITY Coined by Anna Everett, this concept plays off the literary term "intertextuality" (Kristeva), and refers to the complex relationships among digital texts and among various digitized media. Everett uses the term in conjunction with the concept of media convergence, arguing that on the one hand digital media reduce all media to certain "zeros and ones,” to sameness, but on the other hand older media like TV and radio are given new life and intensity as they move through the Net onto laptops, tablets and smartphones.
DISINHIBITION means the lessening of social inhibitions and taboos. In online environments disinhibition stems largely from the anonymity or invisibility provided by text-based. In some cases, this can be a good thing, allowing people to talk frankly about issues they are not comfortable addressing face-to-face. In other cases, it provides cover for those who choose to launch hate speech or other forms of denigration without identifying themselves.
DOMESTICATION (OF TECHNOLOGY) The processes by which computers and new media devices moved increasingly from work environments (businesses, schools) into the home and other personal spaces, beginning perhaps with the first "personal computers" and proceeding apace, due to both technical innovations (decreasing size, increasing speed) and cultural value changes.
DOTCOM BOOM refers to the frenzy of activity in the 1990s when the potential of the Internet and digital culture suddenly led to a massive growth of start-up tech firms, the vast majority of which crashed and burned in a dotcom bust a few years later. Analysts now see this period an earlier example of the kind of overreach that led to the economic crash of 2008, and also as premature in getting ahead of the curve of audience interest in new technologies.
EARLY ADOPTERS is a term used to characterize the first groups of users of any new digital device, app, program, etc. It is also sometimes used more particularly to name people who habitually seek to have the newest hi-tech stuff, or who love the challenge of experimenting with the latest products.
EDUTAINMENT is a derogatory term used by opponents of multi-media and digital teaching techniques presumed because of their similarity to popular forms of entertainment to be less effective or serious pedagogically. While certainly capable of being overused and abused, empirical studies clearly show multi-media and online approaches that get beyond the traditional lecture/textbook model of teaching can expand the range of effective learning for many students.
ENVIRONMENTAL JUSTICE Environmental justice is the branch of environmentalism that documents and fights against the fact that environmental hazards are far more prevalent in working class neighborhoods and neighborhoods with high concentrations of people of color in the global North, and in the poorest communities of the global South. It’s relevance to digital culture lies in the fact that electronic waste is highly toxic, and increasing at alarming rates. The vast majority of workers endangered by e-waste around the global are the poor, women, and people of color, because they do most of the toxic assembly and because most of the e-waste is exported from the developed world and dumped on the global South where protections for disassemblers are largely non-existent. Most of the toxic waste from electronic devices ends up leaching into the land, air and water in the poorest parts of Africa, India, China, and other parts of the less industrialized world, as well as poorer neighborhoods in the Global North.
ESSENTIALISM is the generally false belief that there are certain “essential,” innate human traits that are unchanged by history, as opposed to a "social constructionist" view that traits that seem essential were in fact created over time through social interactions that can therefore be changed. Racial essentialists argue that all members of a racial group share certain basic characteristics or qualities that mark them as inherently different from members of other racial groups. Biologists, however, have abandoned the category of race as genetically meaningless. Gender essentialists believe certain inherent features of masculinity and femininity exist across all cultures and all time, a point of view challenged by the sheer diversity of women and across the time and geography around the globe.
ETHNIC PORTALS Particular kinds of affinity portals built around historically defined ethnic groups (Serb, Laotians, Puerto Ricans, etc.).
E-WASTE; ELECTRONIC WASTE Toxic waste from computers, TVs, cellphones and other electronic devices is one of the fastest growing environmental hazards around the globe (though largely dumped on the Global South).
FAN CULTURES Various cultural products, from pop music celebrities to soap operas, have long had avid groups of fans who communicate with each other (fan clubs) and as much as possible with the people behind the object of their fan affection. But fandom has been taken to a whole new level by the Web and other digital technologies. Fan fiction, mashups of favorite shows, communication between fans and with celebrities (via web pages, tweets, etc.) has grown exponentially. While fans are a somewhat atypically intense type of user, the existence of fan sites and other products of fan culture have proven to be an especially accessible way for scholars to study what people make out of popular culture in the digital era.
FEMINIST TECHNOSCIENCE STUDIES Associated with figures like Donna Haraway, Sandra Harding, Evelyn Fox Keller and Sharon Traweek, this transdisciplinary field views science as deeply embedded in cultural forces of gender, race and class, and seeks a deeper form of scientific objectivity in which socio-cultural factors are included alongside technical elements.
FRAMING NARRATIVE In game studies, the storyline surrounding the action in any given game, in contrast to the "in-game" narrative.
GAME GAZE Modeled on the concept of the "cinematic gaze" widely used in film studies, game gaze refers to the positioning of a game player in different types of game play. The term is useful in studying how, for example, a "first-person shooter" game shapes the experience of a user differently than a game set up in the third person. Analysis of the game gaze also seeks to understand the qualitative difference between "gazing" at a digital game screen as compared to gazing at a film, painting or TV program.
GAMEWORLD; GAME PLAY The partly explicit and partly implicit environment in which a given game is enacted. Each gameworld has a structure and a logic of its own, with varying degrees of similarity to or difference from our everyday world. Often contrasted with game play, the activity going on within a game.
GAMIFICATION Use of game-like processes and gameworld motivations (the incentives and mechanics of games, like points or rewards), and applying them to something that’s not a game (credit card or store reward programs are familiar examples). This includes use of games in the marketing of products and services, a practice criticized by game designer/theorist Ian Bogost as “exploitationware.” In her work on using game-like elements to deal with real world problems, Jane McGonigal prefers the term “gameful design.”
GOLD FARMING The practice of playing multiplayer online games to earn in-game currency that can then be sold to other players for real world currency. Gold farming is most widespread in China and other developing nations where wealthier individuals within, or more often outside the country in richer nations, effectively buy the labor of gold farmers to enhance their power in MMORPGS and other games.
GREEN COMPUTING; SUSTAINABLE IT Efforts to eliminate the many toxic substances found in computers, recycle computers, and otherwise deal with the substantial problem of electronic waste and energy consumption by digital devices.
HACKTIVISM Online activism that includes civil disobedience in the form of breaking into and altering websites or other digital spaces for the purpose of parody or critical commentary on political opponents, or in support of dissenting political positions. While “black hat hacking” or “cracking" computers is used maliciously or for personal gain, hactivism refers only to breaking into and manipulating digital systems for specific political reasons, for challenging existing economic, social or political power structures.
HARDWARE-SOFTWARE-WETWARE The trio of terms denoting the main elements of any baseline digital culture device/process -- "hardware" (computers, cable networks, game consoles, cell phones, etc), "software" (the digitally coded programs that run or run on a device), and "wetware" (the humans who design, distribute and/or use the hardware and software). In digital culture studies, each of these elements is subject to historical, techno-cultural analysis of the economic, social and political choices that determine its technical nature and socio-cultural use.
HEGEMONY is cultural domination without overt force or coercion. Hegemony is a process by which groups with greater power lead those with lesser power to adopt their dominant ideas as common sense, even when those ideas work against fairness, justice or the self-interest of the dominated group. In ICT terms, hegemony has meant greater power to shape cyberculture in the hands of certain cultural groups & the default subject position. The concept was originally developed by the Italian marxist cultural theory, Antonio Gramsci.
ICT is shorthand for Information Communication Technology and refers to all the digital devices (computers, cell phones, tablets, digital music handhelds, etc.) that play a role in the creation of new media modes of interaction between people. The move form the term IT to ICT exemplifies the increasing degree to which communication between people, rather than mere information storage and retrieval, has come to define the world of new media technology.
IDENTITY TOURISM entails pretending to be someone you are not online, often by crossing gender or ethnic boundaries. Coined by Lisa Nakamura, the term indicates a generally superficial effort to elude ascribed characteristics of identity. It may or may not entail the kind of deception associating with catfishing.
INFOMANIA Obsessive need to check one's email, social networking sites, online news or other sources of information out of unwarranted fear of missing something important.
INTERACTIVE One of the most common claims about new media is that they are more interactive than older media like film and TV. The claim is that new media like video games and Web 2.0 features allow more room for the user/player to shape the activity. There is no doubt that this is true in certain cases, but media scholars have shown both that older media audiences are far more active than has been assumed, and that much of the interactivity in new media is more scripted than we might suppose. Thus, degrees of interactivity should be seen as existing along a spectrum, and differing kinds of interactivity should be specified, rather than simply accepting the claim (or commercial hype) that new media are a major breakthrough in interaction.
LEET (or ELEET or LEETSPEAK) from the term "Elite", is an alternative English alphabet that uses ASCII characters, numbers and symbols to create an insider language in certain communities of cyber-techies. The leet designation for the Web, for example, is 1n73rw3b, Originally used to disguise discussions of illegal hacking practices or to elude web search engines, 1337 (meaning leet) slowly crept into gamer circles and then out into popular usage.
LOCATIVE MEDIA Digital media targeting or attached to particular real world places. An example would be a city tour in which tourists are guided to particular places around town where their smartphones provide information about the nature or history of each site.
LUDOLOGY Ludology is the study of all kinds of games. Analysis of video and computer games has been enriched by drawing upon this wider field that looks historically at games of every type; especially relevant is the history of board games, one of the main bases of many new media variations. Much ludology looks for underlying patterns or structures found across different games and different genres and types of games. Sometimes contrasted with
NARRATOLOGY is an approach to game studies that emphasizes storytelling over other aspects of game world activity, and places game narratives in the context of other kinds of storytelling forms like novels and fiction films. While sometimes portrayed as competing approaches, ludology and narratology each have important things to offer game studies, and can be synthesized in interesting ways.
MAINSTREAMING OF PORN One impact of the free and easy access to pornography provided by the Net has been what some call the mainstreaming of porn, the movement of porn from the dark corners of society closer to the center, as evidence by things like casual jokes about watching porn that pervade television and film, and porn actors becoming celebrities mingling with rock icons and movie stars.
MAPTIVISM Combining the words map and activism, this is form of online activism that uses digital tools to map sites of political contestation. HarassMap.org, for example, in Egypt maps places of sexual harassment across the country to better organize against these practices, and ToxicRisk.com traces sites of pollution via Google maps.
MATERIALITY In analysis of digital cultures, materiality refers to the physical dimension often lost in discussions of virtual realities. All digital interactions take place over devices with a material basis, one linked to a long material production process, and all interactions involve the material body of the user, no matter how much the illusion of disembodiment or placelessness may take mental precedence. There are no virtual spaces not also grounded in material ones.
MEDIA MONOPOLY refers to the increasingly narrow ownership of various old and new media by a small number of very powerful media mega-corporations (Time- Warner, Viacom, Bertelsmann, Disney, NewsCorp, GE, CBS and a few others). Critics worry that monopolies lead to higher prices, more censorship of controversial issues, and less variety of media content.
MEDIATION In a communication studies context, mediation names the process entailed by the use of any particular medium of communication, whether it be the human voice, language, drawings, old media (TV, film, radio) or new media (the Internet, smartphones). Mediation is a central fact of human existence. We are never in truly immediate contact with one another because all modes of communication, even the most basic, seemingly natural ones like gesturing, or speaking, are culture-bound in ways that enable and also constrain the range of information that be exchanged between interlocutors. This point about mediation is crucial in new media studies because digital means of communication have frequently been denigrated as less natural, less human, or otherwise less real and desirable than face-to-face or forms of non-digital written communication. Most digital culture scholars would reply to this claim by saying that digital media simply different from, not lesser than, other older forms of (always also mediated) communication.
MICROBLOGGING A broadcast form of blogging (i.e., Twitter) limited to a small number of characters.
MOBILE; MOBILITY Mobility, while first popularly associated in a digital context with mobile phones, has come to be a characteristic of much new media culture. Theorizing the impact of mobility on people’s sense of place, time, and identity has been a major component of cyberculture analysis.
MMORPG Massively Multiplayer Online Role-playing Game. Short-hand for online digital games like World of Warcraft where massive (millions in some cases) numbers of players interact in an ongoing way via the Net.
NEO-LIBERAL GLOBALIZATION The form of global marketing and cultural networks driven since the latter decades of the 20th century by transnational corporations in league with a few key international financial institutions like the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund (IMF). Neo-liberal in this context is a synonym for “free market” ideology (rather than referring to liberals in the US sense of left of center).This latest phase of globalization has been characterized by the privitization of many public institutions, dismantling many social safety nets, severe austerity programs and cuts in services to the lower classes, and growing economic inequality within and between nations. The growing poverty caused by neo-liberal policies has been challenged by a broad alliance of organizations networked as a worldwide Global Justice or Alter-Globalization Movement (sometimes misleadingly referred to as the anti-globalization movement).
NET NEUTRALITY Net neutrality (aka network neutrality or Internet neutrality) is a movement seeking to minimize commercial and government control of the Net, treating it instead as a public resource or commons. Prominent supporters of this position have included one of the key creators of the Internet, Vint Cerf, and World Wide Web inventor, Tim Berners-Lee.
NETROOTS ACTIVISM Online political or social movement organizing, meant to parallel the term, grassroots, but applying to activism emerging or developing significantly on the Internet and through digital devices.
OPEN SOURCE MOVEMENT The open source movement seeks to replace expensive corporate-produced software and related digital technology with freely available, collectively created free products. The effort to expand the use of open source programs is part of a movement that critiques the commercialization of computing, and unnecessary expense created by the monopoly on such products by corporations like Microsoft, Apple and IBM. Proponents often demonstrate that these free programs and processes are as good as if not superior to the costly corporate ones. Most of these products are associated by the Linux programming language. While initially user-friendliness was a barrier to wider adoption of these products, the prime barrier currently is simply that they are not as well known as the highly-hyped and advertised commercial versions. Many of these folks also favor net neutrality.
PARTICIPATORY DESIGN recognizes the limits of hardware and software design from the default identity position, participatory design involves diverse actual users in the creation of new technologies, and aims to make sure that a culturally diverse group is part of the design process. Ideally, this process moves beyond consulting diverse users to working to increase the diversity of engineers and other technology creators. This has prove particularly important in working with users who have disabilities, and with varied ethnic groups around the world who don't share default norms of Western designers.
PERSONALIZATION The ability of users to transform digital culture processes, devices and spaces to fit individual personality choices. This can range from choosing the color of a cellphone cover to the layout of a person’s Facebook page. Increased personalization is said to be a key feature of Web 2.0.
PLANNED OBSOLESCENCE The creation of commercial products that intentionally go out of date relatively quickly so that a new purchase is required. While the term predates the digital era, electronics corporations have become the true masters of planned obsolescence, often by the incremental release of slight improvements in software or hardware that are touted as major breakthroughs driving consumers toward new purchases. Early adopters are the ideal consumers for planned obsolescence.
PRIVILEGE; SOCIAL PRIVILEGE Social privileges are built in advantages based on the subject position (combined impact of class, gender, ethnicity, dis/ability, etc.) you are born into or placed into by circumstances not of your own making. Privilege is typically invisible to people who have it because one key privilege is not having to think about people who do not have your privileges. Usually, privileged people believe their privilege was earned rather than conveyed upon them automatically by luck of birth, the “genetic lottery.”
PROSUMER Prosumer (David Marshall) is a term used to express the idea that some consumers of techno-cultural devices and processes have become producers too via Web 2.0 features like online product reviews, iReport news items, YouTube video uploads, Facebook “likes” etc.
PROTOCOLS Protocols are the systematic sets of rules that act as control mechanisms in information technologies. Largely invisible to most users, protocols shape every aspect of ICTs, including such things as domain names and addresses, bandwidth and type of access, and surveillance capabilities. "Protocology" (Galloway) studies the social choices that go into the creation and implementation of IT protocols. The creation of the domain suffix "xxx," for example, reflects the social choice to attempt to isolate pornography from other web spaces, but also a certain acceptance of porn as a valid domain.
RACIAL CROSS-DRESSING Cross-dressing usually refers to the practice of wearing clothing usually worn by a gender other than the one you have been socialized to see as your natural one. But in digital culture studies, the concept was extended to describe a number of online masquerades, including pretending to be from a ethnic/racial group to which you do not belong in life offline (hence racial cross-dressing). See also, identity tourism.
REMEDIATION In digital culture studies remediation refers most often to processing one type of media through another, like watching a movie on television or television on a smartphone or a website on a television. New media have increasingly moved forms from one platform (mode of display) to another, and remediation theory seeks to understand how this changes the experience for users. Remediation notes the connection between newer media and older media that preceded and influenced the subsequent form. The process can also be reversed, as when television news frames come to look more and more like webpages.
Real Life (RL) vs. Virtual Life (VL) These terms meant to contrast life off and online can be useful, but are often misleading by suggesting too much of break between our lives online and offline. We are never not offline when we are online (our bodies remain solidly present somewhere in RL, for example), and our online and offline lives interweave in a myriad of ways that can never be fully disentangled.
RSS Shorthand for Real Simple Syndication, or Rich Site Summary. A process by which news or other time-sensitive information is conveyed automatically to online subscribers.
SCOPOPHILIA refers to the pleasure of looking at objects of desire. It has primarily been used as a term in critiques of the fact that historically and in the present much art and media is built around the active male gaze looking upon passive women. This includes not only soft and hardcore pornography, but less overt forms of sexualizing images in TV, films and other visual media, and in the female nudes of high art painting. But old and new media also develop other forms of pleasure in looking that may be as intense as sexual desire but are more like a kind of generalized voyeurism.
SEMIOTICS; SEMIOTIC ANALYSIS A method of cultural study that treats cultural expressions as sets of "signs" (written, verbal, visual, aural) subject to laws of interaction similar to the way words, grammar and syntax function to make sense in a language. Signs are broken down into "signifiers" and "signifieds." "Signifiers" (words, images, sounds) have only conventional or arbitrary relation to what they "signify" (meanings). A furry, four-legged domesticated feline, for example, is a cat, chat, gato or billi, depending on the signifying system (in this case a written language) in which it is located. Each variation on the word "cat" would carry with it certain particular cultural connotations that vary its signification (and a culture that does not domesticate felines would have no word for this creature at all). A more complex image, a black cat say, would have very different connotations in an American horror movie (where it might signify bad luck or witchcraft) than it would on a French banner (where it might signify sabotage). Semiotic analysis applied to digital device would, for example, look at how each of its aspects (color, shape. size, sound [i.e., ringtones], name, etc.) carry particular significance that will vary across cultural and subcultural domains and contexts. A pink cell phone, for example. signifies femininity in Anglo-American culture, but signifies trust in an non-gendered way in Korea. A cell phone would also have a very different social connotation amidst the Arab Spring uprising (where phones were often "signs" of dissent in the semiotics of revolt) than it would have in non-revolutionary contexts in other times and places where it might signify something about class, degree of connectedness, or sub-cultural consumer taste.
SEXTING Sending sexually explicit photographs or videos via text message or e-mail.
SILO EFFECT in digital culture analysis has been used especially in looking at the political impact of the Web. Political advisor Cass Sunstein and other proponents of this view argue that many Web users, rather than broadening their social views or political knowledge by visiting many sites with differing ideologies, stick to a narrow range of sites than not only echo, but amplify their existing views, leading to greater rigidity and political polarization. Also known as cyber-balkanization. Silos are also created by social media sites like Facebook, search engines like Google, and e-tail sites like Amazon that use algorithms to tailor content, without your consent, to what they perceive to be your interests and desires. While convenient in some ways, these processes also tend to reinforce what you already know and believe rather than taking advantage of the vast amount of new informational and cultural possibilities provided by the Web's reach.
SITUATED KNOWLEDGE Associated especially with cultural theorist Donna Haraway, the concept of situated knowledges aims to deepen the idea of objectivity by factoring in the inevitably culture-bound nature of all viewpoints on the world. Haraway rejects relativism (the idea that all points of view are equal), arguing instead that knowledge claims must be evaluated in relation to the host of social forces (especially class, gender, ethnicity and related bases of social inequalities) that confer historically varying degrees of power to shape and represent what counts as reality.
SLACTIVISM Sometimes also called “clicktivism,” slacktivism is a derogatory term for online activists who allegedly delude themselves into thinking “clicking” to dislike or like a social issue contributes to real change. While a term useful for pointing to some superficial elements of some social change activism online or activism that relies too heavily or exclusively on technology, it has also been used misleadingly to characterize all of the (often quite effective) movement organizing that uses digital technologies as one tool among many.
SNAIL MAIL Slightly sneering name for traditional post service delivered mail that, compared to email, moves at the pace of a snail (and leaves a gooey trail of stamp glue?).
SOCIAL NETWORKING SITES (SNSs) Sites like MySpace and Facebook, designed to facilitate communication between and among subscribing individual members, and cohorts defined by a variety of possible commonalities (professional, institutional, geographic, recreational, political, etc.).
SUBJECT POSITION refers to the social positioning -- race/ethnicity, gender, age, class, sexuality, nationality, etc.-- that plays a major role in structuring a person's view of the world. By definition, subject positions are given by society, not chosen by individuals. Whenever you view a film or website, or read a book or article, you are doing so from a particular subject position. While it is possible to get outside your subject position, it is more difficult to do so than most of us think, and it requires the development of serious new cultural competencies to truly view the world through the eyes of someone whose subject position is far different from your own.
SUBVERTISEMENT is a portmonteau word (subvert + advertisement) to name anti-commercials offered in typical commercial ad format designed to subvert traditional comsumerist advertisements. See also adbusting.
TACTICAL MEDIA Techniques used to disrupt mainstream cultural processes, especially, cybercultural processes. These may include cyber sit-ins, electronic civil disobedience, adbusting or subvertising, meme infowar, hacktivism, and a host of other dissident cultural practices. Tactical also suggests that these practices are often meant to be temporary, rather than part of a broader set of objectives, though they can also be used as part of wider campaigns for change.
TECHNOLOGICAL DETERMINISM argues that technology has an independent, causal power in changing society; some argue that technologies are even the main force in social life, beyond economics, culture or politics. Technological determinists often see technology as a force larger than human control. Technological determinists come in both utopian versions (technology will solve all social problems) and dystopian versions (technology will doom us all). Digital culture scholars reject strong versions of technological determinism (preferring "techno-cultural" analysis), while recognizing that technologies do have impacts not fully under social control.
TECNO-CULTURAL analysis, in contrast to technological determinism, approaches argue that technologies like the Internet always have cultural assumptions built into them by culturally shaped producers. Technologies are always created by individuals and groups deeply shaped by cultural assumptions and biases. Choices about which technologies to develop are always partly economic and social. Choices about which technologies become popular are deeply social and cultural. The uses to which technologies are put are deeply social and cultural. The adoption and use of technologies is always a social process. Technologies are subsequently adapted, changed or replaced by ongoing social processes. Technologies are always therefore techno-cultural, always shaped by culture even as they shape culture in turn. The term socio-technical plays a similar role.
TECHNOLOGICAL IMAGINARY refers to our imagined relations to technologies, as interwoven with (and sometimes in contradiction to) what we actually do with them and through them. Whenever we use or think about a technical device, we invest a certain amount of imaginary energy in it, we form a mental image of what the device is or is doing to us. These fantastical imaginings are a real part of technoculture, are a real element in how technology shapes and is shaped by culture. If we imagine robots mostly as polite helpful creatures like C-3PO from “Star Wars” we will have a very different relationship to robotics than if we mostly think of the Terminator or Robocop.
TECHNOLOGY FOR SOCIAL INCLUSION refers to a multi-factor approach to overcoming gaps between those with full access to new digital technologies and those who lack such access. This proactive approach stresses multiple cultural factors as well as simple access to hardware and software, and often uses participatory design and other interactive practices to engage underserved communities desiring greater degrees of access to the economic, political, social and cultural opportunities available through digital technologies.
TEXT/TEXTUAL ANALYSIS in the context of cultural studies argues that the social TEXT is any unit of meaning isolated for the purpose of analysis. In cyberculture analysis the “text” may be as small as one word or image on a web page, or as large as a whole community of users. Web “texts” include words, images, sounds, page layout, links and their interrelationships. When talking about "text-based" cyberspaces, however, the reference is to writing, as opposed to visual or aural representation.
TEXTUAL ANALYSIS is a major technique used in digital culture studies to get at the meanings projected by web sites, online conversations and other manifestations of cyberculture.
TEXTING is the use of Instant Messaging or similar programs for communication among cellphones or other messaging-capable devices. The world record for thumbed texting is less than 22 seconds to type "The razor-toothed piranhas of the genera Serrasalmus and Pygocentrus are the most ferocious freshwater fish in the world. In reality they seldom attack a human." A quadriplegic man named Hank Torres has the current Guinness World Record for “Fastest Hands-Free Typing.” In about 83.09, Torres typed the same phrase.
THUMBERS Another term for the digital generation (derived from usage in Asia) based upon the use of the named digits in speedy texting. One sign of the digital generation gap is the those raised before the digital revolution often text with fingers like typing, while the younger, digital native set often uses only thumbs.
VIRAL; GOING VIRAL Analogous to the spread of a computer virus (itself analogous to the spread of a biological virus), a cultural product goes viral on the Net when it has a sudden explosion in popularity, receiving a huge number of hits, sometimes in the millions. While a relatively rare phenomenon, the occasional viral success gives inflated hope to independent cultural producers that they may gain sudden fame without help from major media channels (record companies, news outlets, etc.).
VIRTUAL COMMUNITY First lauded by digital culture early adopter, Howard Rheingold, virtual community has any group of individuals, from a handful to thousands, who share a particular interest or passion that they share primarily if not exclusively through interactions online or through other elements of digital culture. Skeptics unfavorably compare such digital groupings with offline communities they claim are superior.
VIRTUAL REALITY (VR) Processes and devices that seek to provide total immersion experiences in which a sense of daily experiential reality is replaced by a digitally simulated one. VR seeks to replace one or more sources of sensory experience with a visual, aural or tactile simulation that feels as immediate as the real world. A variety of VR devices and applications exist or are in development for artistic, educational, medical, and many other purposes.
WEARABLE COMPUTERS While people have been wearing computers in a sense at lease since the advent of digital watches, the concept of wearable computers generally refers to more fulsome integration of digital connection via clothing. There have been many kinds of wearable computers for a couple of decades that had limited adoption (virtual reality suits constitute an extreme early example, but one whose costs prohibited wide adoption). Google Glass arguably represents the first widely known example of a wearable product that directly connects users to the Net.
WEB 2.0 refers to the more interactive dimensions developing on the World Wide Web in the 21st century, and the increasing convergence of digital forms on single devices (e.g. phoning, emailing, texting, Web surfing, photography and videography all on a smartphone), and the remediation and of old media into digital spaces such that movies, television shows, recorded music, radio stations and other older media are being digitized and made available via the web. Other elements frequently tied to this concept include personalization, domestication, participatory production, crowdsourcing, prosuming and other modes of interaction by which new media productions differ from the one-way flow -- from creators to a more passive audience -- typical of older, broadcast media like radio and TV.
WEBLINING is the use of information gathered legally or illegally from an individual’s social media page or other online identity cache that is used to exclude that user from certain marketing offers based on economic and racial profiling done through tracking one’s online traffic patterns and expressed preferences. The term is meant to echo “redlining,” a practice outlawed in 1977 whereby individuals, typically from ethnic minority groups, were excluded from certain mortgage offers to protect the racial “purity” of neighborhoods.
WIKI A website, typically informational or educational (cf. Wikipedia), that allows open, collaborative editing directly online.
WIKIDENTITIES A concept arguing that people, especially young people, deeply immersed social networking sites like MySpace and Facebook create their identities collectively with help from online friends, and with a sense that identity construction is always partly a fictional process. Part of a larger argument that Web 2.0 features like "wikis" are changing the way that people, especially young people, think about how knowledge is produced. (See Mallan & Giardina, "Wikidentities" in First Monday 14.6 (2009)
ZOMBIE COOKIE A zombie cookie is a cookie illegally planted that remains even after it has been deleted by the removal option on a browser. It continues to gather information about a user’s activities usually for the purposes of surreptitious marketing research. Zombie cookies can work across several browsers on the same computer, and can gather information about user login ID’s.