- Afterword for the Special Issue "Networked Human, Network's Human:Humans in Networks Inter-Asia"
The inter-Asian contexts signaled in the title of this special issue serve a precise limiting role in relation to the issue's topic (humans and networks) that is neither arbitrary nor determined by the more common constraints of an area studies approach to the questions it poses. The chief concern is with kinds of community, a developing, maybe even decaying concept in these contexts, where online mediation plays a constitutive part in their development. The originality of the collection lies in its various attempts to understand in a broadly ethnographical way how such communities emerge, what kinds of rules or cultures underlie their emergence, and what kinds of rules and cultures are brought into existence by it.
To begin with, the theme of novelty serves as a principle of coherence across otherwise diverse articles, in the sense of both how we should understand these communities and how they function in relation to older, perhaps residual, forms of community. Sora Park, for instance, begins with an observation that is now so often made it has become commonplace, concerning the way digital devices have transformed the working parameters of both communication and social relations. The enduring quality of the information stored on the Web coupled with the ephemeral quality of the here-and-now interactions—especially with the youth in Park's study—has led to a recalibration of time consciousness. So, while the young people studied have become "adept at reconfiguring social relations according to persistent sociocultural norms," the range of social media platforms have altered their "conception of temporality" (Park, this issue). The traditional desire to fit in with a social peer group fosters sophisticated techniques of self-curation on social media platforms as the communities take on increasingly digitized forms.
Alfred Montoya's study of the social networking strategies adopted by HIV/AIDS workers in the face of drastic reductions in funding uncovers a naive adherence to information and communications technology (ICT), and a consensus, "in the absence of the material resources that had funded 'classical' HIV prevention and control interventions . . . , that innovative uses of ICTs could seamlessly make up the difference; that technology could save us and, more specifically, could save us money" (Montoya, [End Page 495] this issue). Montoya's careful reconstruction of the stages that HIV/AIDS management passes through on the way to somewhat effective networking strategies establishes an unexpected consequence in the specific local communities attracted to them: young, gay, social media savvy professional males. "It was among these men," he writes, "that a community was being cultivated, a local, active, and engaged community that rested on an acknowledgment of shared history, shared risks, and vitally, shared responsibility" (Montoya, this issue). This curiously classical notion of a community, echoing the Latin—or, better, Roman—signification of the munus (variously service, office, duty, obligation, gift), functions alongside a localized, or localizable, context where media operates as a function of a socioeconomic scene characterized by the identity (the class, sexuality, and gender) of its users. Elsewhere, one struggles to find instances of social networking that feature any obligation of concern for one's neighbor (let alone for a stranger). But this special issue takes this kind of phenomenon as a key concern.
Hence the limiting role of the inter-Asian contexts, which signal as much an alternative to European or American contexts as they do the need to establish the specificity and the situatedness (a fragile term) of the communities in question. The Internet (for the sake of convenience I understand by this designation all actual and potential devices connected in the global network by cable or wireless) therefore operates broadly in two incompatible ways. It makes possible (with every connection, every communication, every viral event) an illimitable number of such connections. The legacy perhaps of the diverse interests involved in its emergence at the dawn of the computer age, it simultaneously destroys, erodes, and dissolves social ties and yet maintains them, fosters them, allows such ties to thrive and evolve. Furthermore, the possibility of doubled identities, fraudulent representations, simulations, and impersonations plays well into...