> One of the most exciting discoveries for me in researching Re-collection
> was finding out how extraordinarily long the time-scale of oral traditions
> can be, thanks to what Rick and I call "proliferative preservation." I'm
> curious if anyone else sees parallels between oral culture and new media.
as I see it there are some very specific digital cultures that have taken
on some practices that remind of oral culture. I am thinking of 'net
underground' communities like trolls, warez, bronies (which I picked for
their different tacticts and perceived impact).
Trolls, as very serious participants in network culture, by necessity have
to keep their vast knowledge about effective practices alive in a space
between social media platforms. Sometimes, if a platform requires certain
trolling techniques or coordination, the aggregation of those will happen
in restricted areas (if the target platform allows that) or will happen on
a variety of other platforms. Since trolls are frequently banned wherever
they are identified, they need a parallel identification system for their
community members, which mostly works through cultural signifiers, a
certain style to express themselves. They apply 'fluid insitutions', so if
one of their hubs is taken down, they have to quickly move somewhere else
and get the message out to their peers. Almost by definition trolls need to
avoid repeatedly appearing personages, so they identify each other solely
through activity. Great ('epic') victories for the cause become legend, but
very seldomly the trolls themselves.
The warez scene used to be very much like this on the 'customer facing
side' before the MoMA of piracy, the Pirate Bay, established itself and now
performs all these functions (risk taking and quickly moving presence) as a
proxy for the whole. It seems quite effective, but much less interesting
than the gazillions of websites of legacy warez groups that would
frequently change their URLs to ever more shady looking ones. The
information how to access those was always 'around', and contrary to
trolling, strong brands existed and exist in the warez community and were
even more important before the centralization. A shared set of ethics
prevent warez actors and groups from posing as another actor or sailing
under a false flag. It is basically an endless soap opera. On the
'customer' side, the required knowledge how to apply cracks, serialz,
network filters etc is happening outside of tech or developer knowledge
gathering and outside of most text based platforms. However, instructions
on how to crack software is showing up in the form of youtube videos, as
their content cannot easily be identified and sorted into the 'illegal'
category. (Very ironic that youtube is detecting literal intellectual
property violations, like using an unlicensed song as a video soundtrack,
but is unable to identify the recording and teaching of activities that
enable these and more sophisticated violations in the first place.)
Bronies apply tactics similar to camp for riding a wave of another culture
(franchise for children in this case), using a foreign but very strong and
stable sign language to transmit their own messages. Different from the two
examples before, there is a AFK part to this culture, but the most
interesting parts happen online. The pony characters are used for storing a
rich set of knowledge about how to grow up; for example established forum
games like 'which pony from the series would you marry' allow bronies to
explore their own and their peer's views on partnership. Via fanfic and
fanart they have a huge set of devices at hand for making sense of the
I am seeing different qualities of possible longevity for each of these
Trolls are the most vivid and developed of those, since they are also
dealing with the most eternal topics: trust, deceit, acting, identity.
Their base tactics are quite stable, but they constantly have to adapt to
new forms of automated and mediated forms of trust and identity, so the
constant exchange will probably keep them afloat for as long as there is
mediated communication. Also, the participants seem quite invested in the
Warez, much like e-sports, have stabilized and incorporated and are already
using mainstream 'producing for the archive' practices like blogging.
However, the culture's establishment happened in something that is legend
now, a saga of actors like Tristar or Cosmo Connor or cracks.am ... So the
'consumer' side, which is not made up from computer experts, seems to be
much more interesting. I think the plain necessity to use consumer systems
in ways that have not been signed off by their creators will keep the
knowledge on how to do that around, and video sharing seems to be a very
effective way of doing so for a long time to come.
Bronies are tied to a sign language that is outside of their control, so
this particular flavor of community is tied to the franchise and its
popularity. However, the basic tactics -- using known entities as reference
points to shortcut initiation and building rituals around them -- will work
with other popular franchises and already did work with for instance Sonic
The Hedgehog, Star Trek, Harry Potter, and so forth.
All of these cultures survive with constantly changing participants,
keeping their key values intact, with no other authority but the practices
Now how could this be applied to preserving all kinds of digital culture?
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