12.0202 rev. of Internet Culture

Humanist Discussion Group (humanist@kcl.ac.uk)
Thu, 17 Sep 1998 06:59:44 +0100 (BST)

Humanist Discussion Group, Vol. 12, No. 202.
Centre for Computing in the Humanities, King's College London

[The following lifted from H-CLC with thanks. --WM]

Date: Mon, 14 Sep 1998 07:05:46 +0100
From: "H-CLC (Barbara Diederichs)" <BDiederi@UCSD.Edu>
Subject: Book Review: _Internet Culture_

As announced, H-CLC finally has an editor devoted specifically to reviews,
and here is a first example of his work. Thank you, David!

This review is copyrighted (c) 1998 by the Resource Center
for Cyberculture Studies <http://otal.umd.edu/~rccs>. It
may be reproduced and redistributed electronically for
educational and scholarly use. (Contact: David Silver //


David Porter, editor, _Internet Culture_. New York: Routledge,

Reviewed by David Silver.

Like the contributors to _Virtual Culture_ and _Cyberspace: First Steps_,
the scholars assembled for _Internet Culture_ are well aware of the
breadth and diversity of their topic [1]. This awareness both shows and
works: _Internet Culture_ is perhaps the most diverse anthology on
cyberculture to date. Although the collection's overall cohesion suffers
from such breadth, the anthology proves successful in generating a healthy
plate of ideas.

The anthology begins with a brief introduction by the editor, David
Porter, an assistant professor of English at the University of Michigan.
The rest of the collection is divided into four sections: Virtual
Communities; Virtual Bodies; Language, Writing, Rhetoric; and Politics and
the Public Sphere. The first section, Virtual Communities, relies more on
writings about cyberculture than explorations into the digital realm. For
example, Shawn P. Wilbur's "An Archaeology of Cyberspaces: Virtuality,
Community, and Identity" is concerned primarily with wrestling with the
writings of Howard Rheingold, while Derek Foster's "Community and Identity
in the Electronic Village" spends more time with Toennies' (too) often
invoked notion of Gemeinschaft vs. Gesellschaft. Unfortunately, when
Foster does discuss electronic villages, he selects Santa Monica's Public
Electronic Network (PEN), a nearly-retired online network, instead of such
vibrant community networks as the Blacksburg Electronic Village in
Blacksburg, Virginia or the Boulder Community Network in Boulder,
Colorado [2].

Along the same lines, Dave Healy's contribution, "Cyberspace and Place:
The Internet as Middle Landscape on the Electronic Frontier," is more
concerned with contextualizing cyberspace than exploring it. The result,
however, is quite effective. Healy argues that the Internet embodies a
version of the "middle landscape" (a space between civilization and
wilderness) that allows individuals to exercise their desires for both
separation and connectedness. Drawing heavily from the classics of
American literature (Emerson, Thoreau, Whitman), American studies
(Tocqueville, Turner), and modern sociology (Bellah et al.), Healy argues
that the Internet, like the railroad before it, presents users with a
conflicting set of choices: a pathway towards self-reliant alienation or a
forum for interdependence and cultural coherence. Although the author
relies too heavily on the works of Rheingold at the expense of "going
native," he is successful in contextualizing the Internet within a set of
particularly American obsessions.

The scholars in the second section, Virtual Bodies, get their hands dirty.
In "Flesh Made Word: Sex, Text and the Virtual Body," for example, Shannon
McRae theorizes ways in which MUD users can tweak their genders and
sexualities within online environment to explore how and why they do it.
McRae begins with a brief overview of virtual reality, along with a short
description of MUDs. Next, drawing from a number of interviews with
MUDders, the author argues that within online environments "gender becomes
a verb, not a noun, a position to occupy rather than a fixed role" (80).
Interestingly, while the contributors of the first section refer too often
to published work, McRae practically ignores key scholarship in the field
of virtual identities. The work of Amy Bruckman, Allucquere Rosanne Stone,
and Sherry Turkle is mysteriously missing and much needed. Complementing
McRae's essay is Mizuko Ito's "Virtually Embodied: The Reality of Fantasy
in a Multi-User Dungeon," an excellent blend of theory, ethnography, and
online experience and expertise.

While interesting, the third section, Language, Writing, Rhetoric, is
concerned largely with the rhetorical and communicative practices of
online culture. Jargonistic and at times overly theoretical, the section
includes Charles J. Stivale's "Spam: Heteroglossia and Harassment in
Cyberspace," William B. Millard's "I Flamed Freud: A Case Study in
Teletextual Incendiarism," Brian A. Connery's "IMHO: Authority and
Egalitarian Rhetoric in the Virtual Coffeehouse," and James A. Knapp's
"Essayistic Messages: Internet Newsgroups as an Electronic Public Sphere."

The anthology's final section, Politics and the Public Sphere, takes on a
more critical tone. Following Mark Poster's "Cyberdemocracy: Internet and
the Public Sphere" -- a chapter previously published in the journal
_Lusitania_ and circulating online for a few years now -- is Joseph
Lockard's "Progressive Politics, Electronic Individualism and the Myth of
the Virtual Community." More rant than research, this chapter's message is
clear: "Because the obvious so clearly needs restatement: cyberspace is
expensive space" (220). Lockard begins by critiquing the Net-as-free
market-frontier rhetoric that can be heard from all sides, from Newt
Gingrich to Al Gore. Next, he enumerates the costly elements needed to
access cyberspace, noting that the Net not only resembles a mall, it
requires one. The author continues by blasting the notion of virtual
communities, noting that "cyberspace is to community as Rubber Rita is to
human companionship" (225). Lockard concludes by questioning the
overly-idealized concept of the global community, arguing that the Net is
composed largely of white, middle to upper class Americans. Although
the chapter could certainly use more research to back up its assertions,
the questions put forth are both relevant and pressing.

While a bit incohesive, _Internet Culture_ is an important and
well-written anthology on cyberculture. With an interesting mix of
graduate student and faculty contributors, the collection tackles
important issues regarding online communities and identities, as well as
theoretical perspectives of online virtuality.


1.Steven G. Jones, editor, _Virtual Culture: Identity and Communication in
Cybersociety_ (Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage Publications, 1997) and Michael
Benedikt, editor, _Cyberspace: First Steps_ (Cambridge, MA: MIT Press,

2.It is important to note that as you read this review there is a movement
to rejuvenate Santa Monica's Public Electronic Network (PEN).

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