What is (Internet) culture?

Posted: September 20, 2011 in Food for thought
Tags: ,

Here are some thoughts to help you as you’re preparing your Internet culture presentation:

Culture is, essentially, shared meanings.

Some group of people share the meaning that a woman dressed like this is a bride:


Some group of people share the meaning that a woman dressed like this is a bride:


As a shared set of meanings, culture translates into opinions, attitudes, values, expected behaviors, social norms, and behaviors. But these are all intangible. How can you infer what values and attitudes are when you cannot see them? We infer them from behaviors and artifacts (objects produced and used by that culture). So, lolcats are artifacts of Internet culture. What are the values, attitudes, and types of behaviors underlying lolcats – in addition to a healthy appreciation for cats, of course? >’.'<

Now, objects (artifacts) play an important role because they are the product of culture, but they help influence and create it at the same time. Even more so with social media sites. They are the product of Internet culture, but their use creates Internet culture (we should talk about structuration theory soon). So, of course they are important – but they are not all there is to talk about when you describe culture. When you describe culture, try to focus on these shared meanings, values, norms, and behaviors.

  1. hanjunxian says:

    This reminds me of the usability test we did last year, where we captured participants’ confusion by observing their body movement, gesture, and facial expression. However, I think in some cases, implications from observable behaviors may not be straight-forward and one behavior, even given a certain context, can have many interpretations. Is that why we need their confirmation to make sure what we observe and infer is correct?

    • Mihaela says:

      Yes, sort of. When you try to understand culture, you must rely on a variety of data sources. A common validation method in qualitative research is to take your findings back to participants and ask them if they make sense.

  2. Geovon says:

    Based on this helpful post and our G+ meeting, the class should now have a firm grasp on how to correctly identify and explain Internet culture. Thank you!

  3. hanjunxian says:

    Another question: When we put pictures which we do not own into our blog post, how to avoid violating the copyright and ownership?

    • Mihaela says:

      Hanjun, there are several ways you can do this. At the very least, link to the original site or flickr account where you found the picture. You can use a caption or foot note to provide the photo credits.On flickr, you can search by copyright terms, and only use photos that are free for non-commercial purposes.

      In this post, the images are hosted on the original sites and embedded here.

  4. Xin Chen says:

    I feel Culture is shared meanings within certain groups of people. Somtimes meant to distinguish from others and excude who don’t belong to the group. Here comes to the culture gaps and make it’s difficult to understand other cultures. As researchers we have to embrace the difference and try to cop with the difficulties.

  5. genxrecon says:

    I really like the notion of artifact as evidence of a culture in question. I have always thought of it more as an “intangible” thing, but as soon as I read that section, I suddenly started thinking of all of the examples of artifacts telling a story about the group that creates, uses and values them.

  6. Well that clarifies it a bit. Culture is a collection of actions and thoughts, and internet culture on social media is not really any different. Internet culture also has specific artifacts that define and also help build that culture. Correct?

    • Mihaela says:

      Chris, yes. Artifacts are a product of the culture – but they also define and reinforce it. With social media it is a bit more complicated. For example, a specific type of tool, or clothing (e.g. Indian saree, Romanian blouse) are products of a culture. Wearing them further reinforces that culture and helps define it and signal it to other people. But with social media, Facebook is a product of Internet culture, but it also is a site for culture to emerge. Facebook is much more active in creating Internet culture than a saree is in creating Indian culture – does this make sense?