What is cyber anthropology? A short definition I came up with is the study of online culture and culture online. However, I like to take ‘online’ a step further than just computers connecting to the Internet and instead consider any means of communication that is handled over a network. This can mean what we traditionally call the Internet, as well as things like Xbox live, Playstation online, networking between handhelds, and even the ways you connect through your mobile phone. Anyway you can connect with one or more people in a non face-to-face (f2f) way I consider a means of communicating online. I simply refer the term online culture as a way to encompass all of this. Online culture has its own set of learned beliefs, values, and behaviors, which distinguishes itself from ‘offline’ culture and is why I set online culture apart from studying culture online.
When I refer to studying culture online, I mean studying cultures that exist offline in their online context or in relating to things online. Just a smattering of things I can think off the top of my head that I would be interested in: How do different demographics of people use the Internet? How do people from different cultural backgrounds connect to others and with each other online? How does the introduction of the internet effect developing countries? How does government control effect how the Chinese view the Internet? How does Russia and South Korea handle online piracy and why is it so common there? How do cyber laws affect people in the US as well as all over the globe? What is the culture that surrounds Internet cafes is Japan? How does all of this effect online culture in general? I could go on and on.
My Masters studies being in Applied Anthropology, I am also interested in how to apply studies dealing with the Internet to real life problems. A couple of examples here the application of online gaming as a means of education and a teaching tool to students of foreign language or those with reading and comprehension difficulties, as well as how using mouse and eye tracking software we can make web sites more accessible to people with disabilities or different levels of computer knowledge.
What I love most about the study of things in any online context is how dynamic, fast paced, and ever changing everything is. There is always something new and they run the gamut from humor like lolcats or networking like Twitter. Even if these two things persist in the coming months they will not be the same a year from now as they are today. They will have to evolve to keep up with advances in technology, current events, and the ever-present ever-increasing competition to be viable in the future.
This is somewhat of a relatively new field when it comes to anthropology, but it has been a research topic ethnography since the Internet burst onto the scene. So while online ethnography is not new, I believe the concept of cyber anthropology, especially as I have tried to somewhat define it here, is still emerging. It is something I am very passionate about and I hope that comes through in my writing. I am more a student than an authority on anything I publish here and I welcome any and all input on the ideas I set forth in this blog. So please feel free let me know what you think!