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If you were to read the academic literature, the ScienceFiction, or go to the hottest conferences like OReillysEmergingTechnologyConference?, or read trade magazines like Wired, you would get a sense of what Internet culture is supposed to be. The Internet is a culture dominated by certain myths, visions, and methods that have eminated in ripples from the epicenter of SiliconValley?. The Internet mythology is pervaded in TechnologicalDeterminism, so much so that for some science and technology has a quasi-religious air to it, complete with its own PostHuman apocolypse called TheSingularity. Politically, on the right wing, the Internet supports the new mode of NetLibertarianism? that has caused many to perceive of the Internet as the new frontier like the Wild West was once. On the left, the Internet has opened up a new Humanism where InformationWantsToBeFree to the world's people, and the greatest social problem is the DigitalDivide?. The extreme on the left believe that the Internet will inevitably lead to world peace through the creation of the GlobalVillage [or many GlobalVillages] that enfranchises every world citizen and gives each one the opportunity to work on the world market using free knowledge. Spiritually, the Internet is a place of infinite identity play (cf. CategoryIdentity), where you can be anyone you wish.

These ideas have been slowly forming since the end of WWII as part of a general cultural reaction to the national dream of Big Science, the malaise of cultural oppression, and the dissatisfaction with big governments constantly getting into big trouble and then acting like Big Brother. Technological adventures in both research and in culture have been inspired by these ideas, such as ArtificialIntelligence in the 1980s and again in the 1990s. The Internet itself had been shaped at first by the engineers who built it, and then by their fellow academic faculty in the 1980s, such as the PostModernists and the CulturalTheory? quasi-politicos. Moreover, the PricklyHedge of obscure and difficult technology ensured that those who wanted to get online mostly had to go through some GateKeeper? who introduced them to the Internet (and its associated social conventions).

Indeed, because the Internet was created and then populated by people possessing these myths, many of the social conventions and institutions infused with their myths. For instance, the PostHuman and CulturalTheory?-inspired identity play came from those wanting to see these bizarre new ideas take shape in practice. They constructed out of the infinitely pliable networked computer a social myth called "CyberSpace" that was the metaphor for a perfect experimental social laboratory. As those wanting the escapism of a new "CyberSpace" shaped the Internet to match the fantasy (e.g. LambdaMOO), the Internet became a totem for that NetworkCulture, its associated mythology, and its sub-society of believers. HackingAtNight no doubt helped.

These were the ideas that the American baby boomers grew up with, in some form or another. So, perhaps it was easier during the DotCom boom of the late 1990s that these myths and visions were the ones that inspired baby boomers to gamble their pensions on the new dream. In particular, they gambled it on the people that created this shiny new toy (i.e. SiliconValley?), figuring their compelling and well-developed vision had worked so far. The result was a spectacular failure. The reality has been a slow collision between the fantasy and the pragmatics of the RealWorld. Truly, how could identity play acceptable in online public houses remain in the places of professional business that now dominate the commercial Internet?

Indeed, commericialization has had many social effects. For one, the primary technical focus has turned 180 degrees away from the religious technophilic dream of the TheSingularity towards building a HumaneInterface that Mom can use. Another more pressing cultural change has been the sea change from TheSeptemberThatNeverEnded. When the Internet was commercialized, people not closely related to the dominant NetworkCulture began to use the Internet. People with different mindsets. Mundane people with pragmatic concerns and pre-existing cultural associations. Naturally, while occasionally inspired by the dominant NetworkCulture's myths, new people had their own. At the beginning, the emphasis was on enculturating the newcomers with "netiquette" literature. Now, the Internet is so large NetworkCulture and others are bordering on mutual ignorance.

If you think about it, the Internet is designed for mutual ignorance. The InternetProtocol is meant to organize a set of networks who do not need to know a lot about each other. This same design decision has made it politically unnecessary for users of the Internet to agree on a common political/social protocol, since the CommonContext is very simple and static. The EndToEnd architecture meant that different groups could then go off and build whatever castle in the clouds they wanted, whether it be a CyberSpace fantasy or ServiceOrientedArchitecture?. All you needed was a group of people willing to have similar ends, technically and politically speaking. Conversely, where distinct political groups do have to work together, there is much tension. [1] [2]

These distinct political groups have reason to want to do their own things. Many would argue that some like China and Iran have undemocratic reasons and the Internet must not be allowed to be subverted to these ends. This argument is an echo of the belief that the Internet by itself spreads democracy. However, that is not necessarily true. Anyone can use the Internt to organize any thing. Terrorists, militias, and militaries use the Internet to organize intense violence. In fact, terrorism is the perfect militaristic reflection of the Internet's organization. Decentralized, libertarian, and fighting in the AttentionEconomy?. Even democratically, while most SiliconValley? types might consider themselves Democrats, it is the Republicans that have used the Internet the most effectively to organize politically, and in particular to drive agendas that run counter to the ideals of NetworkCulture. Just consider sexual and gender identity play vs. the southern "family values" (read: anti-gay) agenda.

But more prosaicly, if you ask average people how they use and see the Internet, they do adopt the mythologies of NetworkCulture nor do they even know the Internet is meant to stand for those values and principles and ideals. Most people simply use the Internet to amplify their own culture. From BeliefNet? to Iranian bloggers to small businessmen to rural Canadian towns discussing the status of hunting and fishing to India to Finland to Walmart's supply chain to homeschoolers swapping experiences to terrorism to the fascinating hidden world of jewelry import/export, the Internet is no longer SiliconValley?'s baby.

So, it is perhaps unfair to mock George W. Bush when he famously [said] during the 2004 Presidential Debate, "I hear there's rumors on the internets." (emph. addeded). For all practical purposes, technically, socially, economically, politically, the Internet is multiplexed, multifaceted, multifarious, multicultural.

Yet the emphasis of many is still SiliconValley?. SiliconValley? does still have the most compelling story, and therefore they have attracted the most money to realize their dreams. However, the rest of the world is warming up to what the PostWELL Internet can do, and they like the original NetworkCulture will start shaping the Internet to fit their own visions and dreams. Will OReillysEmergingTechnologyConference? continue to be the best place to keep up with the Internet, or will the world wake up one day to see the smarter crowd at the BangaloreEmergingTechnologyConference??

The Internet as a platform is a PlatformAsPeople, and there are people coming online everywhere in the world. They will have their own opinions of what to do.


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