curated by Carolina Farina
If the medium conditions the message […], on the Internet (a medium based on the creation of connection nets), the message is the social relationships that all these media generate1.
Within Virtual community and networking, the imperative is to be create the net. The World Wide Web system is based increasingly on peer-to-peer philosophy (typical of the hacker ethics). Media technology in the era of a web 2.0 has become an immersive and immaterial environment, where communication is the fulcrum of life within it. In this space, people participate as authors of relational dynamics that are characteristic of the “offline” life: they not only replicate them but they translate them through a multimedia interface.
The virtual community2 questions the concept of “reality” urging the consideration of concepts such as that of individual and collective existence as they happen within cyberspace: a place where boundaries of the body, of geography, of time, and of identity are rarefied and replaced by new codes of expression, iconographies, sensorial perceptions and narratives.
Within the network, each individual is called to (re)define his/her presence by positioning him/herself in a representation of the information that he/she decides to share: «The user becomes one of the protagonists of an event that involves him on both a cognitive level and a perceptive one, allowing them to take the process of creation and transmission of information into his own hands, through direct feedback from the medium»3.
Social networks are sensitive towards the information users share. This awareness is expressed by a constant negotiation and adaptation of content aimed at creating gratifying experiences using the manipulation of perception and shared visions.
How have social relationships and the sharing of knowledge changed from a once analogical life, to a virtual one, through the mediation process of the computer interface? What is the creative potential and the critical issues of this connective intelligence, where those once marginalized by traditional media are now included as well? This “networking” practice takes on different functions and meanings depending on the subjects: it creates communities characterized by an increasingly peculiar diversification and fragmentation of goals, cultures and languages. There are, in fact, examples of different political movements and activist undertakings that have chosen, since their conception, the virtual space as a privileged platform for discussion, gathering and, in some cases, the site of subversive actions.
The virtually-connective, together with other nodes it touches, becomes essential in the development of an identity (both individual and communal) which is then disseminated through different technological devices and integrated with the physical body. In this process, the definition of “collectivity” becomes more problematic and complex. The recognizing oneself within a shared “us”, although it signifies being in the same ethereal place, hangs precariously between “belonging” and “taking part” when moving easily among the sometimes alienating specificity of fanbases and the populist #jesuis.
In a context where anyone, with the necessary technology, is invested with the power to create content to spread within the network, the user assumes a new role: not just an author, but a controller. Authorship and authority, combines with an apparently relevant, yet shared, power in the name of a declared horizontality. How can freedom of expression be best articulated within the social dynamics of cyberspace? How can we face hate speeches, trolls and cyberbullying (phenomena of a culture of violence that found an optimal habitat in virtuality)?. The emotional sphere of the individual becomes remarkably important in social media where, amplified by virtuality, it has become a powerful tool of aggregation. These processes show the constant growth of a collective, hypertextual, multimedia and multisensory memory, to which the entire population of the network simultaneously and globally participates.
How do artistic practices take part in these processes, and what interests can artists to worm through the network’s relational strategies? Can one imagine the legacy of cyberpunk activists and artists re-invested by the users themselves in critical micro-actions, artistic détournements and revolutions within the everyday life of virtual communities?
1 de Kerckhove D. (Preface) at T. Bazzichelli, Networking. The Net as Artwork, Digital Aesthetics Research Center, Aarhus University 2008, p.11.
2 H. Rheingold, The Virtual Community: Homesteading on the Electronic Frontier, MIT Press 2000.
3 Bazzichelli T., Networking. The Net as Artwork, Digital Aesthetics Research Center, Aarhus University 2008, p. 92.