The thesis of the paper is that computers and the Internet create a cultural environment which influences people’s attitudes and values. The paper presents the special features of the view of life and values that make the surfing on the Internet generations different. The study focuses on three groups of Internet and computer users who are representative carriers of the Internet culture – hackers, gamers and social net users, and traces out and summarizes the characteristic features of their attitudes and values. The report summarizes hackers’ values like open source, creativity, networking; it presents gamers’ values of learning, achievement, intrinsic rewards; it also studies the social net users’ values of community, publicity and activity.
The conclusions of the analysis are: 1) there are value differences among Internet generations and pre-Internet generations, caused by the active involvement of the former in the Internet environment; 2) Due to the fact that the usage of the Internet in Bulgaria is well expressed among the young people and is weak among the population over 55 years of age, the Internet culture can be considered a “youth” culture. And 3) it could be expected that the differences caused by the Internet/information age can be easily perceived to express differences usually existing among younger and senior generations, but not as differences related to the real change of the environment.
Key words: Internet culture, hacker, gamer, social net user, values
Please, for citation refer to this article as: Ambareva, H. (2014). Does Internet culture create new values and how they are perceived in society? В: Дигитална култура и общество (сборник доклади)(стр. 78-86). Изд.: Югозападен университет “Неофит Рилски”. ISBN: 978-954-680-938-4.
The paper presents a work in progress and is part of a study on the implications of the primary digital divide . The hypothesis here is that the existence of specific for the Internet culture values means that the primary digital divide could create a gap in terms of values between Internet users and non-users.
This study elaborates on the specific values, which are shaped by the Internet and computer technology usage. It summarizes and outlines arguments in support of the thesis that 1) there are specific values of the Internet culture and 2) there are differences between values of the Internet culture and the pre-existing cultural values (pre-Information age values).
In order to distinguish the values of the Internet culture, I choose three types of specific Internet users and investigate their main values; I compare the values of these groups to their relevant “non-informational-age” values. The three groups of Internet users I examine here are hackers, social net (Facebook) users and gamers. What is typical for them is that they are heavy Internet and computer users and they represent very significant part of the Internet population.
In order to present the main values of the hackers I use the research results of the Finnish author Pekka Himanen, which are published in his work “The Hacker Ethic” ; I use also the essay-manual titled “How to become a hacker”, written by the famous hacker Eric Raymond .
For the purpose of distinguishing the main values of the gamers I use the research results of the American gamer, game-researcher and programmer Jane McGonigal .
For the purpose of identifying the values of the Facebook users I use the information available on the net about the history of the creation of the social net Facebook.
The definition of the hacker
The first hackers belong to the undergraduate students’ community of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in the 60-s. These young students were fascinated by the emerging computer technologies and were spending a lot of time in writing codes and experimenting on the human-computer interaction. For years afterwards, the word “hacker” was used for enthusiastic people, who liked to experiment with computers in a clever, entertaining and generally constructive and useful way. Today the word “hacker” is used mainly in a different meaning, which denotes a person who is writing virus programs, steals identities and credit card numbers and crushes websites for money. These are the destructive hackers and according to Erik Raymond, there is a clear line between the “good’ and the “bad” hackers, who are respectively named “hackers” and “crackers”.
According to P. Himmanen, in order for one to be a hacker, he\she must meet two necessary conditions. The first is to know a lot about computers and codes. The second is the behavior of this computer specialist to comply with certain ethical principles. The hackers’ values I present below belong to the ethical code of the “hackers” in the original meaning of the word. These principles are important for the understanding of the values of the Information age, because the “good” and the “constructive” hackers are among the leading contributors to the creation of the three main symbols of the Information age – the Internet, the personal computer software and the operation system “Linux” .
A list of the hackers’ values (based on the essay “How to become a hacker?”):
• Antiauthoritarian values
According to Erik Raymond “…to behave like a hacker, you have to develop an instinctive hostility to censorship, secrecy, and the use of force or deception to compel responsible adults” .
Supporting this claim is the fact that hackers are actively engaged in the defense of the civil liberties online (freedom of speech, privacy, access to public resources and information online).
One of the earliest organizations established to defend Internet freedom from US government was the Electronic Frontier Foundation (1990). Its purpose was to educate people about the industry and to support civil liberties cases involving the Internet . The co-founders of the foundations were, of course, hackers: Mitchell Kapor, John Gilmore, and John Perry Barlow. The later is the author of the Declaration of the Independence of Cyberspace.
• The Open Source value
The Open Source movement is an expression of some of the most important values of the hackers – free access to software and free dissemination of knowledge. The Open Source movement formally starts in the 80-s with the GNU Project of Richard Stallman but it existed in the 70-s as well . In order to support the movement Richard Stallman found The Free Software Foundation (1985). The idea behind the GNU project was to organize the collaborative development of software, which users can freely run, share, study and modify. The GNU General Public License was created in order to protect these rights and bounds the resulting products with the same license.
Another organization defending the open source principle is the „Open Source Initiative” (1998) created by Erik Raymond and the programmer Bruce Perens. They created the Open Source License and the Open Source Definition. Although there was a kind of dispute on the open source and free software principles, at present the differences in the licenses are small.
• The values of networking
A very interesting demonstration of the hackers’ values is the story about how the Linux operating system was written .
This story starts with the announcement made by the 21 year old Finnish-American programmer Linus Torvalds, in which he says that he wants to develop an open source system, which “won’t be big and professional like GNU” and he wants feedback as to what other users and programmers liked or disliked in the available systems . He posts the message in a newsgroup on the USENET, the predecessor of the Internet in 1991.
This message encouraged many programmers to collaborate enthusiastically and voluntarily on the creation of the new free operating system Linux. They worked on it as a hobby. They all were working for the cause of this socially important project. They also had flexible working hours and their relations demonstrated new type of work organization, which was the network organization of free individuals instead of hierarchic supervision of subordinates.
The story of Linux demonstrates how fast and efficient can be the joint work of many people who like what they do so much that they do it even for free. As a result of the collaborative networking, the first version of Linux was written in a month. Linux is licensed as free software under GNU General Public License.
Here is the list of the hackers’ values which the story of Linux reveals:
o A hacker’s work feels like a hobby
o A hacker’s work is voluntary. No payment is expected.
o Internal motivation (enthusiasm, pleasure)
o Importance of the problem-solving attitude and creativity
o Flexible working hours
o Work for causes and socially important projects
How the hackers’ values affect the Internet society?
The values of the hacker culture are broadly accepted in the Internet community.
Flexible working hours, voluntary contribution and enthusiasm are the basic principles of the development and growth of the World Wide Web. There are a lot of people who write blogs on-line, upload articles for Wikipedia, and publish cooking and medical advices, music, video, and pictures. People usually do not expect payment and upload, for free, great amounts of information. The World Wide Web at present is the result of the voluntary, collaborative and enthusiastic efforts of millions of users. Openness and sharing are among the most beloved and widely applied principles of the net.
Creativity, team-work and a problem-solving attitude have become requirements in the job advertisements. At present the growing importance of these qualities is an indicator of changes in the work environment towards pro-active and self-managing networking, a substitution for the traditional hierarchic and re-active work-organization.
Although hackers are not as numerous as social net users or gamers, their contribution to the rise of the contemporary Internet culture should be considered of primary importance. Their contribution could be said to form the core of the new value system, born by the information technologies, which social nets and computer games additionally develop.
THE FACEBOOK USERS
The idea behind the creation of Facebook was to build a social net which connects students, rates users and allows exchange of information. The values of the hacker culture like openness, access, freedom of expression, collaboration easily communicate with the values of this social network like:
o Free communication
Additionally, the events of the Arab spring and anti-government protests in Bulgaria in 2013 made popular the capacity of this net to organize large groups of people to work together for causes. This function of Facebook has turned into a hallmark of the social network and is the reason why Facebook has been banned in China since 2009, and for some periods of time in other countries, as well.
Therefore, I add four more values:
o Facilitating different forms of social associations (communities, groups)
o Encouraging social activity (petitions, causes, events)
o Antigovernment activity
o Freedom of speech
The values, found to be common between the hackers and the Facebook users, are listed below:
o Merging work and entertainment (hobby)
o Internal motivation (enthusiasm, pleasure)
o Work for causes and socially important projects (projects, petitions, causes, events)
o Creation of huge teams in short time
o Openness/free exchange of information
o Quick feedback
o Antiauthoritarian values: publicity, no or weak censorship, control and secrecy
o Voluntary participation at any place and time
The technological advancement in human-computer interaction and information processing creates a third type of culture, which is not too much different from the previous two. This is the computer gamers’ culture. The gamer’s behavior is often explained as an escape from reality and social surrounding to a fantasy world because of the childish inclination to play games. The life of the gamer is considered unreasonable, and his/her time – wasted. Many non-gamers disapprove as harmful the formation of gaming habits not only for adults, but for children as well. The question is: is it possible to understand what gamers do in terms of Internet culture values?
What is the value of playing computer games, according to J. McGonigal?
1. Games have rules, clear goals and algorithm for advancement in small steps.
2. Games give feedback in real time, which motivates users.
3. Computers allow individually paced learning and difficulty adjustment.
4. The reward system is performance based (immediate and transparent).
5. Gamers understand their work in terms of mission, mainly because their participation is voluntary.
What gamers find in games, they can’t find in real life. There are no clear goals and rules for success in life. Also, most often there is no clear feedback. There is individual pace for learning and difficulty adjustment (at school classes and etc). Success is not necessary related to reward. Necessity and duty are the main factors for activity in life.
A very important element of the computer games is the motivation of the players. Motivation reveals important values:
The meritocratic principle is basic for the hackers’ culture as well as for the gamers’ one. (It is not well presented on Facebook.) The one is recognized in the community because of the results he/she achieves. This recognition is not dependent on age or social hierarchy created by origin, money or position. It mostly depends on skills and contribution to the goals of a certain community.
Internal rewards are another source of motivation. Games are not played for money, career or material success, although some games offer even this. The internal rewards are the positive emotions created by advancement and success (chemistry of the game), social connections, and the opportunity to be part of something bigger than yourself . The non-consumerist attitude of the gamers is important. What do people usually do when they want a higher quality of life? They work, win money and buy a house, a car, fashionable clothes… What do gamers usually do when they want a higher quality of life? They buy upgrades for their machines, subscription for the “World of Warcraft”, and only wish for privacy.
The values of gamers are summarized in the following list:
o Merging work and entertainment (hobby)
Why are gamers said to be “working”? Gaming requires many resources – physical, emotional, and mental. Gamers feel such passion for their mission that they are ready to play day and night, on Saturday, Sunday, even ill, hungry and sleepless. They are looking for very intensive experience of what they do and want to be challenged, to learn and to have achievements. The idea of not being intensively involved in an effort to overcome obstacles and solve problems is depressing and boring for them. Seemingly, the problem is that gamers are people very fond of having a rewarding mission. The responsibility of the gamers to what they do in their community is comparable to the responsibility of a worker to his/her team project.
o Internal motivation (enthusiasm, pleasure, internal rewards, achievements). Internal rewards against consumerist attitude
o Team work for causes in fantastic worlds
o Creating huge teams
o Meritocratic principle
o Individually paced learning and level of difficulty
o Real time feedback
o Voluntary participation
o Clear rules for success, clear goals
A list of the common values of the three groups and their relation to the pre-information age values.
The values of the three groups – hackers, social net users and gamers, have similar features. Although they have some differences and not all values are presented everywhere, they are not contradictory. Most of these values correspond to contrasting values in the pre-information age society. In his work P. Himmanen examines in details this contrast between the values of “informationalism” and the values of the pre-informationalism, which he discusses in terms of Weber analysis of the ethics of Protestantism and the spirit of capitalism.
The following left-right situated values point to the divide between the Internet culture (informationalistic values) and the pre-Internet culture.
1. Networking (Linux, social net environment)) vs. hierarchy (at work –place, in the state, and etc.)
2. Playful attitude to work vs. serious attitude to work
3. The internal motivation is the main reason to work (enthusiasm, pleasure, internal rewards) vs. external motivation to work (money, goods, status).
4. Work for causes and socially important projects – much more often than in real life, because it is much easier to sign a petition, to join a cause etc.
5. Opportunity to participate in massive collaborative projects, with thousands of people involved vs. life and work in small communities. Outside the Internet the formation and support of big teams is very expensive and very difficult.
6. Open source principle vs. copyright law. On the Internet for the first time millions of people have a platform where they can share information/files and sharing is more valuable than possession.
7. Quick feedback (email, comment) vs. slow or no feedback
8. Publicity, visibility, transparency vs. censorship, closeness and secrecy
9. Freedom (multiple identities, weak control, less restrictions of space and time) vs. bounds (of survival, political, moral, one fixed identity and etc.)
10. Voluntary work for the benefit of society vs. necessity to work for money
11. The meritocratic principle and the promotion of individually paced education and achievements are values which are not well presented on the social net Facebook, but their inclusion in the list is due to their importance for the hackers, gamers and on the Net in general.
Altogether hackers, social net uses and gamers represent the young and active people in society. The average age of Facebook users is 40 years with the biggest share of 18-29 years old users. Facebook users represent 67 % of the Internet population. The average age of the gamer is 30-35. The most important “blocks” in the initial architecture of the Information age were created by hackers in their 20s or 30s. If the concept of “youth” is applied broadly to people 35-40 years of age, than the Internet culture could be described as a kind of “youth” culture – as much by its origin, as by the three representative groups presented here.
As age is the main factor of the primary digital divide, a person’s age consequently may indicate value differences with reference to the Internet culture. In Bulgaria the number of Internet users rapidly decreases among the population over 55 years of age, which in its turn could account for more pronounced value differences among young and senior generations in comparison to countries where the Internet penetration is higher and usage is observed to be more equally distributed among the different age groups.