1: The Mutual Co-Construction of Online and Onground in Cyborganic: Making an Ethnography of Networked Social Media Speak to Challenges of the Posthuman
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11 1 The Mutual Co-Construction of Online and Onground in Cyborganic Making an Ethnography of Networked Social Media Speak to Challenges of the Posthuman Jennifer Cool For approximately ten years I was a participant-observer of Cyborganic, a group of San Francisco web geeks who combined online and face-to-face interaction in a conscious project to build community “on both sides of the screen.” Cyborganic members brought Wired magazine online; launched Hotwired, the first ad-supported online magazine; set up web production for CNET.com; led the Apache open-source software project; and staffed and started dozens of Internet enterprises, such as Craig’s List, during the first decade of the web’s development as a popular platform (1993–2003). Cyborganic pioneered self-publishing and featured some of the earliest online diaries before these were called “blogs,” most notably Links from the Underground by Justin Hall, a “founding father of personal blogging” (Rosen 2004), and Brainstorms by author Howard Rheingold. The new imaginaries and practices of networked, social media that Cyborganics integrated in their daily lives during this period are recognizable today in Facebook,1 Twitter,2 and a variety of other forms of many-to-many online media centered on selfpublishing , user-generated content, and social networks. DOI: 10.5876/9781607321705.c01 12 Jennifer Cool Although online life challenges traditional assumptions of place-based ethnography and the anthropological subject, my Cyborganic study shows how practices of networked social media can reconfigure experiences and imaginaries of place, identity, and embodiment without dematerializing these assitesofsubjectivityorrenderingthemobsoleteassourcesofanthropological insight. Indeed, the interdependence or mutuality of Cyborganic’s online and onground (face-to-face) aspects has been a key finding of my study. This mutuality can be seen large-scale in the importance of place to the economic and cultural history of networked media and small-scale in the new media practices of Cyborganics. Attention to the mutuality of online and onground suggests ways to think through challenges to inherited conceptions of the anthropological subject posed not only by the proliferation of online life but by earlier critiques of the discipline (postcolonialist, feminist, and postmodernist) that similarly challenged assumed relations of social and material worlds. That, in thumbnail, is the overarching argument this chapter presents in two parts. Part 1 focuses on the Cyborganic case, drawing on ethnographic description and analysis to illustrate the formative role of place in the cultural construction of networked social media and give tangible examples of the mutual co-construction of online and onground. In Part 2, I take a broader, theoretical scope, arguing that my analysis of online/onground mutuality in Cyborganic offers ways to think through challenges to inherited conceptions of the anthropological subject that I discuss as “challenges of the posthuman.” Throughout this work, I use the terms online and onground to talk about ways networked media were integrated in the whole of my Cyborganic informants’ lives. Online is the conventional term for computer-mediated communication, and I came up with onground because I needed a convenient way to refer to aspects of Cyborganic that were not, or not only, online (e.g., working and living together, interacting face-to-face). Instead of offline I decided onground was more descriptive of these place-based aspects of Cyborganic. However, it is vital to make clear that the distinction between onground and online is not that the former is material and the latter immaterial. However tempting and common sense that assumption, online communications clearly have material bases in physical hardware (machines and wires) and material forces of production and consumption. The work of geographer Edward Soja is particularly valuable to thinking about how computer-mediated sociality challenges the assumptions of placebased ethnography. Soja argues that, just as the physical world can be divided in to space, time, and matter, the abstract dimensions of spatiality, temporality, and social being “together comprise all facets of human existence” (Soja 1989, 25). He calls this triad the “ontological3 nexus of space-time-being.” These basic dimensions of human existence are not natural or given but rather social constructions that shape empirical reality and are simultaneously 13 The Mutual Co-Construction of Online and Onground in Cyborganic shaped by it (Soja 1989, 25). That is, the relation between the physical triad (space, time, matter) and existential triad (spatiality, temporality, and social being) is already mediated through language and socialization. Computermediated communication blurs and shifts relations of spatiality, temporality, and social being—Soja’s basic facets of human existence—and thus calls into...



Subject Headings

  • Anthropology -- Philosophy.
  • Cybernetics -- Philosophy.
  • Online social networks.
  • Computers and civilization.
  • Virtual reality.
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