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What is Cyber Anthropology?

Reposted from Cyber Anthro

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!

Feds Back Anti Net Neutrality Measures

If we have any hope of wanting to continue our studies on culture in an open and free internet, we need to be responsible and take action.

Apparently lobbying works (duh), and the feds are backing the highspeed ISPs in the bid for full internet control.

Speak out! Save the Net!


Blog Day!

Here are 5 blogs I am recommending to the community members here. They all have something to do with cyber anthropology, even if they don't know that. ;)

Chris Brogan
Chris Brogan is a social media and networking expert specializing in the use of digital tools to build and strengthen online and offline communities.

Like it Matters
Brian Oberkirch consults on marketing, social media and web development projects.

Conversations with Dina
Dina is a qualitative researcher and ethnographer, with 18 years experience, based in Mumbai, India.

Stow Boyd is obsessed with social tools, and their impact on business, media, and society

Terra Nova
A blog with several contributing authors all dealing with virtual worlds/design/socialmedia.


Face to Face Social Networking

I am on the net all day long. No, seriously. I sit at a computer for about 10-12 hours every week day continuous connected to the internet and when I'm not there I have my trusty Crackberry™ at my side. You could say most of the dealings I have on a daily basis consist of speaking to people solely online. It's my job (web developer), my grad studies (online applied anthropology program at UNT), my entertainment (World of Warcraft), and my release (blogging).

Today I'm plowing through code that keeps erroring out when I get a welcome distraction flittering up my screen as my gmail notifier makes it's lovely murloc sound alerting me to the aggro of a new email:

to eaglemsg 10:00 am (5 hours ago)

Are you trying to find a safe, relaxed way to meet some of your classmates? Do you have some time to kill on Wednesday night?

Come to Facebook Live on Wednesday, Aug. 29 at Willis Library from 6-8PM. Meet a room full of UNT students at this instant friend-making event. You will have the opportunity to have several brief conversations with other students. We will privately pass on your Facebook and/or Myspace info to those you select. It's easy, fun, and free!

At first I delete it as I am not an on-campus student. Then I stopped, wait a minute - was that just an email about a face to face social networking meeting? Then I went to my gmail trashcan and retrieved it in awe. While an event like this does make sense in the scheme of things, I wonder if they really had any idea of what it means to take online social interaction to a face to face meeting.

It is my experience that people are a lot more confident online. It is easier portray oneself in a specific way online than it is to do so in real life. Add to that a sense of anonymity and the protection of time and distance, someone you meet face to face could be (and likely is) a somewhat different person online. So, what happens when people are thrown into a face to face social mixer where the purpose is to later hook up with these people online? I would love to study this!

After I retrieved this message from the trashcan I went about my usually daily business of working and trying to figure out .net via trial by fire. I kept hitting road blocks so I finally headed off to facebook for some brainless activity while checking in on my friends via my feeds. A classmate of mine (well, she's in the 2nd year of the program I am in at UNT) has many of the same interests as I do and I love seeing what she has recently bookmarked to her del.icio.us account. Turns out one of her latest bookmarks was on the same topic of face to face social networking, but he addressed it as Real Live Human Social Networking. Hitting that page not only gave me someone new to twitter after reading his article on Deeper Twittering, but he also brought back to mind this email that I saved this morning to post about later. All of that reminded me of a Twitter from Brian Oberkirch about Social Network Portability, which took me to further surfing on Microformats and this fascinating masters project.

I'm glad my brain has its own filing system and that del.icio.us exists, otherwise I'd never be able to keep track of all the wonderful things I happen upon on a daily basis.

Something I'd like to blog more about later - the term "Real Life" as it refers to in person events versus events that happen online. Are events that happen online not also "real life" events that just take place in a different time and space?

Net Neutrality - "Anti Consumer"?

I just finished reading this disturbing PDF on how net neutrality is 'anti-consumer'. While these are arguments I've heard before, this is the first time I've seen it all in a handy dandy little package propagating across the internet. (if the pdf becomes unaccessible I have it saved and will post a link from my servers - just let me know)

What I'm reading here is that Net Neutrality is bad in that it makes the costs of building up networks fall to the consumers instead of the sellers on the internet. Biggest problem I have with this statement is that, NOT EVERY SITE ON THE NET SELLS SOMETHING! While yes that is a very short sighted reaction, I think it is very short sighted of them to assume that everyone is on the net to make money. If they want to take that analogy further, don't consumers have to pay to get places in the real world? If I want to go down to my local mall I need to find a way to get there. If I want to get there without walking I can either take public transportation (your local library terminal), or I can get there faster by jumping in my car I paid for and drive there (broadband internet I pay for). The stores have nothing to do with how I get there, they are there no matter what and can be accessible by everyone. If you wanted to push that analogy even further, I also paid the taxes that paved the roads to get me there. Everything in this case falls to the consumer.

What money did the store have to put into me getting there? Well, the construction, design, implementation, employees, merchandise, advertising and more. Let's see - just like the internet right? So, what the "anti-consumer" spin is trying to say is that not only should businesses pay for all of that, but they should also pay for you to get to them. As you can see, that wouldn't fly in the real world - so why should it change once the highways go digital?

For those that do make a living by selling things online think of it this way: Say you want to by a hand knitted sweater for your nephew Bob. You want it to be unique so you go looking for a site online that sells one of a kind hand made merchandise. Problem is, broadband companies want to charge site owners for you to be able to access their content. So, a major clothing retailer selling the run of the mill and a house wife selling hand knitted sweaters will now both have to pay the broadband companies for the right for you to get to their websites. Who do you think is going to be able to afford this? It will effectively make the internet a big business market and will squash out all the small business competition.

What I find even more disturbing about that pdf document is that it tries to use terror and the government to frighten people into allowing broadband companies to be the gatekeepers. What we need is to educate the government on how we use the internet and to back government officials who stand behind a neutral internet. What we don't need is to be bullied by broadband companies into thinking that if we don't let them control us and make money off of it that the government is going to come in and ruin it for everyone. We may have just a little say in the way the government decides to do things, but hey, that's more than we have when the broadband companies hold the keys.

Because the broadband carriers are so focused on profit, they haven't cared to consider all those little people selling things, or even all of the other millions of sites online that have nothing to sell at all. Yes, it is important to have a solid broadband infrastructure, yes it will be expensive to build, no I don't have all the answers to this quagmire. What I do have is a brain and I can distinguish the fact that someone either wants to charge me more to get online at all, or they want me to allow them to determine what I can and cannot see based on who can pay them the premium to let me see it.

I encourage everyone to learn all they can about this subject. You may even disagree with me, but educate yourself on the ramifications for everyone involved.

Grad School Orientation

I just spent a wonderful two days at orientation for the University of North Texas Online Masters in Applied Anthropology program. It was amazing to spend time with people who were just as into my interests as I am and to spend hours discussing such things even AFTER orientation was over. I'm riding on such an intellectual high it's unreal.

I re-upped my AAA membership and I joined the Society for Applied Anthropology for which I hope to be helping out on the podcasts project next year.

To complete this post with some relevant topics from over the last week:
The Internet is the "new Afghanistan".
Anthropology of Software Developers.

Look for my posts to become more frequent as the semester progresses. I encourage everyone to contribute to this community though. Is anyone else entering or returning to school? I would love to hear what you are studying and where.

Politics and the Internet

Combining the Internet, Politics, and Gaming I give you:


Net Neutrality

As someone interested in cyber anthropology I am also interested in the Internet and issues concerning it, especially legal ones. One of the big issues people are taking a stand for at the moment is that of Net Neutrality. If you have never heard of Net Neutrality and you want to learn more, SavetheInternet.com sums it up very well in their FAQ.

That being said the FCC has opened the floor for everyone to voice their concern on why an open internet is important to them. The deadline for public comments is Friday, June 15th.

I just told my story at SavetheInternet.com and urged the FCC to protect Net Neutrality, the principle that protects user choice on the Internet. Please join in me in doing the same. The future of the Internet is at stake.

You can read my story at
http://www.savetheinternet.com/yourstory/284452 (please forgive my poor grammar as I typed it out very quickly)

Learn more and send your story to Washington now at


In other news, I am officially a Grad Student and will be starting my first year this fall by participating in the Online Masters of Anthropology program at University of North Texas. I can't tell you how excited I am! Looking at the reading list for this fall, I think it is very funny how the three books required for my Qualitative class have been on my Amazon wish list since before I graduated with my BA (while I was in my Ethnographic Field Methods class):

Analyzing and Interpreting Ethnographic Data (Ethnographer's Toolkit , Vol 5)
by Margaret Diane LeCompte (Author)
added February 8, 2006

Essential Ethnographic Methods: Observations, Interviews, and Questionnaires: Observations, Interviews, and Questionnaires (Ethnographer's Toolkit , Vol 2)
by Stephen L. Schensul (Author)
added February 8, 2006

Designing and Conducting Ethnographic Research (Ethnographer's Toolkit , Vol 1)
by LeCompte Margaret Diane (Author)
added February 8, 2006

Younnat - Wheel Experience

Younnat - Wheel Experience