Cyberculture- Essay Solved

Cyberculture

(5200 words)

 

Cyber culture has widely influenced development which ultimately impacts  the democratic process,  we therefore  need to examine how ordinary citizens have responded towards the new opportunities for civic engagement in the virtual world. Digital technologies could influence mass public opinion in different ways, and this process can be understood using the four-fold schema illustrated in Figure 10.1. As discussed in the next chapter, the participation hypothesis holds that the opportunities for information, networking, and communication via digital technologies might affect patterns of civic engagement, either reinforcing those citizens who are already most active through

traditional channels, or mobilizing new participants who are currently disengaged from the

political process, for example by energizing younger voters who pay little attention to

newspapers and TV news, or by stimulating community activists. Alternatively the cultural

hypothesis – examined in this chapter – holds that the rise of the Internet will influence the predominant values and attitudes within society, such as strengthening the values of

individualism and cosmopolitanism, or heightening concerns about environmentalism or

globalization. If politics on the Internet affects both new groups and new values then this has the potential for the greatest transformation of public opinion, and this is what

commentators frequently assume when searching for the impact of cyberdemocracy. But any of the four functions can be understood as important effects upon the body politic.

Representative democracy can still be strengthened through the reinforcement of traditional

participants and traditional issue cleavages, for example if digital technologies facilitate

campaign organizing or get-out-the-vote drives by mainstream party activists and candidates,

or if established news media like the  gain the capacity to reach

a broader audience when online, or if government web sites provide official documents for

lobbyists, or if interest groups like the National Organization of Women or the National

Rifle Association attract more supporters.

The cultural approach aims to understand the impact of the Internet by examining

whether the predominant values, attitudes and beliefs found within the online world are

distinctive from the broader political culture. Many have speculated that the free-wheeling,

individualistic and somewhat irreverent spirit that appears to be characteristic of the World

Wide Web, captured by many of the quirkier dot.com ads and webzines, may help shape a

distinctive cyberculture, as well as altering ascribed social identities such as those of gender

and race1. The theory of post-materialism and post-modernization associated with the work

of Ronald Inglehart provides perhaps the most developed theoretical argument for value

change. If this theory is applied to the online community it suggests that, given the typical

age and educational profile of Internet users, we might expect to find a cyberculture that is

particularly sympathetic towards post-materialist values of freedom of expression, and

tolerance of diversity, social egalitarianism, secularism, internationalism, self-expression and

participatory democracy.

The argument developed in this chapter is not suggesting that the experience of

going online is, by itself, altering the values and priorities of most individual users, since

social and political values are understood as deep-rooted phenomena that are grounded in

early patterns of socialization in the home, school and workplace. Cyber-society is a place of

choice par excellence so that where people go and what they do is likely to be strongly

channeled by their prior preferences and interests: it can be expected that music lovers will

gravitate towards and its equivalent, financial analysts will download stock-market

tickers, and political sites will primarily attract activists. In this sense, as many commentators

have argued, in the short-term the experience of going online can be expected to reinforce

rather than alter individual attitudes and values.

But could digital technologies still have a more diffuse and enduring impact upon

the political culture? The central hypothesis examined here is that the online community is

likely to display an ideological orientation that is particularly sympathetic towards postmaterialist

values. If we establish that a distinctive cyberculture does predominate, then this

could affect the political system in many different ways. Earlier chapters have demonstrated

how the Internet provides a public space that is particularly conducive for the expression,

organization and mobilization, and thereby consolidating and reinforcement, of like-minded

groups. If the cyberculture reflects post-materialist values this could provide a sympathetic

environment for alternative social movements and transnational advocacy networks

sympathetic towards these values. Moreover in the longer-term, the impact of the Internet

culture may be expected to shape the values and attitudes of the youngest generation of

users, including children who are growing up surrounded by this technology in their homes

and schools, contributing towards the process of value change in postindustrial societies, and

the transmission of this culture globally could also be expected to accelerate the process of

value change in traditional societies.

After briefly outlining Inglehart’s theory of post-material value change and

considering how it could be applied to the Internet, this chapter examines American and

European survey evidence concerning three issues:

?? Do Internet users in America sympathize strongly with new social

movements promoting post-materialist values, such as the gay rights, civil

rights and feminist movements?

?? Do these Internet users strongly favor secular rather than traditional moral

values on issues such as marriage and the family, homosexuality, and

censorship, and do they also favor economic freedom or government

intervention on issues like welfare and business regulation?

?? And, where we have comparative evidence, are the patterns established in

American surveys also evident in European societies?

The Theory of Post-Materialism

How might the cyberculture prove distinctive? This chapter starts by briefly

summarizing the well-known theory of societal modernization developed in a series of

studies by Ronald Inglehart, to see whether this framework can be extended and applied to

understand the digital world2. The theory suggests that economic and technological

development produces profound transformations in the social and economic system and

that these, in turn, lead towards fundamental shifts in underlying social and political values.

In the industrialized world, Inglehart suggests, the younger generation growing up in the

post-war era experienced conditions of unprecedented affluence and security. Baby-boomers

in Western Europe and the United States lived through decades of steady economic growth

in their early years and could take for granted the existence of the basic welfare safety net to

take care of problems of health, education and unemployment. These formative experiences,

the theory suggests, led to values among the postwar generation that differed in several

significant ways from those held by their parent’s generation. Based on analysis of the World

Values survey, Inglehart demonstrates that important generational differences in basic

priorities are evident across industrialized societies, with the younger generation giving

greater emphasis to quality of life issues such as concern for environmental protection rather

than economic growth, sexual equality rather than traditional roles within the family, secular

rather than religious values, and the importance of individual freedom, self-expression,

internationalism and participatory democracy. The counterculture new social movement of

the 1960s and 1970s exemplifies the political expression of these values, along with the

development of new parties such as the Greens.

In contrast Inglehart shows that the older generation, whose formative youthful

experiences occurred amidst the insecurities caused by the era of the great depression, as

well as the two world wars, prioritizes more traditional bread-and-butter issues such as basic

economic growth, jobs, low inflation, and national security, the class politics of economic

redistribution and the welfare state, as well as displaying more deferential attitudes towards

bureaucratic and political authorities. Rather than support for cosmopolitanism, surveys

show that the older generation remains nationalistic in orientation3. Postmaterialist theory

suggests that the long-term process of value change through generational turnover and

societal modernization has produced more secular cultures in postindustrial societies, with

declining support for traditional moral values associated with respect for hierarchical

institutions including government, the army and the Church.

“In the Postmodern shift, values that played a key role in the emergence of

industrial society – economic achievement motivation, economic growth, economic

rationality – have faded in salience. At the societal level, there is a radical shift from

the priorities of early industrialization, and a growing tendency for emphasis on

economic growth to become subordinate to concern for its impact on the

environment. At the individual level, maximizing economic gains is gradually fading

from top priority: self-expression and the desire for meaningful work are becoming

even more crucial for a growing segment of the population.”4

Although remaining controversial, the evidence for this thesis has been examined in more

than sixty countries through successive waves of the Eurobarometer survey since the early

1970s, and the World Values Study since the early 1980s. Inglehart’s work provides a

plausible account of the flowering of alternative social movements in postwar America and

Western Europe, as well as providing insights into some of the major contrasts between

traditional and secular moralities found among rich and poor countries worldwide.

Post-Materialism and the Internet Culture

This theoretical framework poses many intriguing questions that could be applied to

understand the ways in which the online community differs from the audience for the

traditional mass media. A number of reasons would lead us to suspect that we should find a

distinctive culture on the web, particularly one sympathetic towards post-materialist values.

First, we know that the online community is disproportionately young, affluent and well

educated, as already discussed in Chapter 4, as well as being clustered in richer societies, and

therefore the population fits the exact profile that should prove most sympathetic towards

post-material values. The generational gap among Internet population has been established

in hundreds of surveys; the 1999 Eurobarometer, for example, shows that about one third of

the under-25s use the Internet, ten times more than among the retired population. In

contrast, as shown in Figure 10.2, in Europe the regular audience for television news and

readers of the daily press are disproportionately found among older age groups, a wellestablished

pattern that has been evident for decades, suggesting that this is largely a byproduct

of life-style choices and more sedentary leisure patterns as people age5. Similar

generational divisions in the use of the traditional and digital media are also well established

in the United States6. If the typical demographic profile of the online community is reflected

in the contents and activities on the web, then an egalitarian and secular culture should

flourish on the Web.

Moreover chapter 9 has already demonstrated that the Internet provides an

environment where many alternative social movements and transnational networks can and

do flourish. As illustrated by websites established by Peace.net, IGC.org, OneWorld.net, and

Greenpeace, the online community contains literally thousands of groups concerned to

organize, mobilize and express themselves at local, national and international levels about

liberal and progressive issues such as environmentalism, human rights, and conflict

resolution. The process should not be exaggerated, after all the comparison presented in

Chapter 8 found a broad ideological balance among the range of parties that are online,

including far-right nationalist and neo-fascist organizations, as well as communists and social

democrats. Nevertheless out of all parties, environmentalists have moved online with the

greatest enthusiasm, since almost three-quarters of all Green parties have a web site. The

limited comparison of interest groups, alternative social movements and transnational

networks presented in Chapter 9 could establish no discernable ideological pattern, since

multiple conservative and religious groups coexisted alongside liberal ones. Yet the

impression of surfing the network of organizations on the web, as well as dramatic events

like the WTO ‘battle for Seattle’, the anti-land mine campaign and the anti-globalization

protests against the World Bank, suggests that the Internet provides an environment that

diverse new social movements sympathetic to post-material values find broadly conducive to

their ethos, aims and objectives.

Moreover, the available survey research in America does provide some limited

support for the claim that a distinctive culture can be found online, although the previous

evidence remains scattered.found that in the mid-1990s the online US

population (defined as those who went online at least once every few weeks) tended to be

slightly more liberal towards equal rights, less supportive of traditional lifestyles and families,

more interested in government and public affairs, with stronger than average levels of

political efficacy, although Internet users proved indistinguishable from the general public in

terms of their partisan identification and trust in government7. Another study of the

American online community in the mid-1990s by Hill and Hughes also reported that

Internet political activists were consistently more liberal than the general public on issues

such as censorship and homosexuality, as well as being slightly more anti-government in

orientation than the rest of society, although the survey results were somewhat mixed and

inconsistent8. These studies are suggestive but these attitudes may reflect the early profile of

the Internet population rather than the typical user today, as the pioneering and cooperative

spirit of alternative politics characteristic of the chat-rooms, bulletin boards and MUDs

found in the university community of online users in the early 1990s may have been

overtaken by a more commercially-dominant corporate-interest shopping-mall web of E-Bay

and Amazon.com today. It also remains unclear how far it is possible to generalize more

widely from the American cyberculture to other countries, and more systematic crossnational

evidence is needed to support the claim of a distinctive cyberculture around the

world.

The limitations of the sources of existing survey data means that unfortunately it is

not yet possible to compare the political attitudes of the Internet population across a wide

range of developing societies and consolidating democracies, an issue that will have to await

further research. Systematic social surveys or official Census measures monitoring the

Internet community have not yet become widely available in most poor countries, and the

evidence that is available from market research is often based on unrepresentative samples,

biased by respondent self-selection. Where the Internet population is limited, surveys

representative of the general population usually provide too few users to allow analysis of

the attitudes and behavior of this group. Nevertheless we can examine the Internet culture in

more depth using representative surveys of the American public conducted in late-1999 by

the Pew Center for the People and the Press9. While not containing identical items, some of

the results can be compared with Eurobarometer surveys conducted in the 15 member states

of the European Union in spring 199910. This context allows us to analyze a range of

postindustrial societies that vary substantially in Internet use: as show earlier, the US and the

Nordic states have record levels of Internet penetration while other societies in

Mediterranean Europe have minimal access. Chapter 3 showed that if the proportion of the

online population is compared, Portugal ranked 45th and Greece 47th out of 179 nations, far

behind many poorer societies elsewhere such as Lebanon, South Africa and Slovenia (see

Figure 3.3). Chapters have also demonstrated how the virtual political system reflects these

differences in public access, with far more government departments, parties and news media

online in countries at the forefront of the information revolution. Therefore the

comparison, while narrower than ideal, allows us to analyze cultural differences found in the

American and European context.

The Internet Political Culture in America

What are the predominant social and political identities of Internet users in

America? What values do they hold for society and government? And what is their political

orientation? The Pew Political Typology survey conducted in late-1999 was selected for

analysis because it contained many suitable items monitoring use of the Internet and the

traditional news media, as well as an exceptionally rich range of items tapping identities,

attitudes, and values.

How far is the Internet culture one that is particularly sympathetic towards ‘liberal’,

‘new left’ or progressive alternative social movements? The Pew survey asked people to

describe themselves using twenty different identity scales, such as being ‘an

environmentalist’, ‘a supporter of the women’s movement’, ‘a supporter of the pro-life

movement’, as well as being an ‘Internet enthusiast’. People were asked to indicate their

appropriate position on the ten-point scales, ranging from a totally wrong description (1) to a

perfect description (10).11 Based on this measure we can analyze the political characteristics

and orientation of those who described themselves as Internet enthusiasts, defined as those

scoring highly (from 6-10) on the scale. The survey found that 43% of the population

classified themselves as Internet enthusiasts, and this measure was significantly related to

indicators of online behavior, for example this group proved far more regular readers of

Internet news. To examine the characteristics of the cyberculture, the first model in Table

10.1 compares the difference between Internet enthusiasts and non-enthusiasts on the

identity scales without any social controls. To explore the reasons behind this phenomenon,

the second model then uses regression analysis to see whether these differences remain

significant even after entering the standard demographic controls of age, gender, education

and income.

The evidence confirms that, as suspected, there is a distinctive cyberculture found

among the most enthusiastic members of the online community in the United States (see

Figure 10.3). American Internet enthusiasts are far more supportive of progressive new

social movements, such as the gay rights movement, the pro-choice movement favoring

reproductive rights, the women’s movement, and the environmental movement. American

Internet enthusiasts were also more likely to be self-described liberals. Internet enthusiasts

also proved slightly less supportive of ‘new right’ causes like the National Rifle Association

and the pro-Life abortion lobby. Moreover this pattern is not simply a by-product of the

younger and well-educated population found online, since the difference between groups

remains significant in regression models even with the introduction of prior social controls.

The defining feature is less whether someone is online per se than how they feel about

digital technologies: those who see themselves most strongly as Internet enthusiasts are also

most likely to sympathize with the alternative social movements. Yet at the same time on

the economy there is a different pattern, since Internet enthusiasts are also more likely to be

pro-business, as well as describing themselves as being personally well off. They are also

slightly more likely to be self-identified Republicans, although this difference fades in

significance once social controls are introduced. Clearly rather than a single left-right

dimension, Internet enthusiasts display a more complex set of identities, suggesting an

orientation sympathetic towards a range of alternative movements on the social agenda but

also a free-market perspective towards the economy.

Cultural Values on the Internet

Does other evidence, such as the attitudes, values and beliefs of the online

population, confirm the existence of a distinctive cyberculture? To explore this in more

detail the Pew survey included 4-point Likert-type scales where respondents were invited to

express agreement or disagreement with a series of value statements. These items covered

multiple cultural dimensions and principle components factor analysis was employed to

identify the underlying dimensions. Sixteen items were eventually selected as falling into two

distinct scales: support for traditional religious or secular moral values, such as the belief in

God, the importance of prayer, and traditional attitudes towards marriage and the family;

support for left-right economic values including attitudes towards business corporations, labor

unions and the government’s role in welfare (see Table 10.2). Each of these proved highly

inter-correlated dimensions in public opinion and they formed consistent value scales.

Although lacking the classic Inglehart measure of support for post-materialist values, these

represent some of the traditional ideological cleavages that have long divided public opinion

and party politics in Western democracies, and a post-materialist orientation should be

indicated in support for secular morality. The analysis compared the proportion agreeing

with these statements among Internet users and non-users12. As before, the first model

shows the simple correlation between use of the Internet and support for these values. To

help explain this pattern, the second model presents the results of the regression coefficients

after introducing the standard demographic controls for age, sex, race, education and

income.

The findings confirm the existence of a distinctive cyberculture in America, even

after controlling for their social characteristics. Moreover the results broadly reflect the

pattern already observed concerning the identities of Internet enthusiasts, lending greater

confidence to the conclusions. Table 10.3 shows that Internet users are significantly more

secular towards traditional morality, such as fundamentalist Christian beliefs; for example

almost two-thirds of non-users believe in the importance of prayer compared with less than

half of those online. Internet users are also more tolerant towards alternative lifestyles like

homosexuality, less supportive of traditional ideas about marriage and the family, and less

approving of censorship13. Most importantly, these contrasts are not simply the byproduct of

the younger age and higher education of the online population, since the difference in moral

values remains significant across all items even after introducing demographic controls. This

evidence supports the idea that there is an alternative cyberculture, and one that is more

secular in orientation than non-virtual Americans. Many of the core components underlying

the theory of a post-materialist culture are reflected in these values of social tolerance and

rationalism.

[Table 10.3 about here]

At the same time this is not just a simple matter of a more liberal or ‘new left’

cyberculture across the board, since Internet users proved significantly more rightwing than

non-users concerning the role of the welfare state and government regulation of business

and the economy (see Table 10.4). The online community displays a more free-market

orientation towards these issues, for example twice as many non-users than Internet users

agreed with the value statements that ‘business corporations make too much profit’ and ‘it is the

responsibility of government to take care of people who can’t help themselves’, a pattern broadly

consistent with that already observed concerning economic identities. The online

community proves more laissez-faire towards the role of state, expressing lower support for

government intervention to alleviate poverty. Interestingly on the issue of the environment,

in contrast to the expectations of the post-materialism thesis, Internet users are less

supportive of government regulation. Again these findings about economic values hold even

after introducing the standard demographic controls, so this is not just a result of the age,

income, race, gender or education of Internet users.

Therefore on balance the evidence examined here suggests that the cyberculture

sympathizes with the values of openness, freedom and tolerance, on both the social and

economic agenda, perhaps reflecting the broader ethos of individualism and alternative

lifestyles that seems to flourish online. The typical ideological profile of Internet users in

America, illustrated in Figure 10.4, reflects a culture that favors secular values on the

traditional moral issues such as marriage and the family, sexual choice and fundamentalist

Christian beliefs, as well as laissez-faire values with a minimal role of the state towards

business and the economy. The evidence does not simply reflect a pure ‘post-materialist’

culture, as expected by Inglehart’s thesis, but it does contain multiple elements that are

sympathetic towards these values. The typical ideological profile crosscuts many of the

conventional cleavages in traditional American party politics, but Table 10.5 examines how

far these value priorities were reflected in party preferences and electoral behavior.

Compared with non-Internet users, the evidence shows a slight tendency for American

online users to vote Republican in successive elections, to identify more strongly with the

GOP, and to express disapproval of President Clinton and stronger support for the House

Republicans14. The difference between the online community and the ordinary public was

not large but it was significant and consistent across all items.

The cyberculture in Europe

Are similar patterns evident elsewhere? The 1999 Eurobarometer allows us to

monitor some comparable indicators within the 15 member states of the European Union.

One way to tap values is to compare a range of policy priorities for the EU, to see whether

the online community is distinctive from the general public. The survey asked people to

express their priorities for European Union policy initiatives using a dozen items ranging

from ‘fighting unemployment’, ‘fighting poverty and social exclusion’ and ‘fighting organized

crime’ (which reflect classic materialist concerns about economic and personal security) to

‘protecting the environment’ and ‘guaranteeing individual rights and respect for democracy’

(which can be understood as indicators of classic post-materialist quality of life values).

Following the same approach as before, the first models show the simple associations and

the second shows the coefficient after introducing the standard demographic controls.

The results in Table 10.6 show that compared with the general public, the online

community in Europe does leans more strongly towards a more post-materialist agenda,

reflecting the values of cosmopolitanism and participatory democracy. This includes

favoring expansion of the European Union and its reform, giving citizens more information,

and guaranteeing individual rights and respect for democracy. Internet users were also more

supportive of the introduction of the euro and of environmental protection, while the

general public gave slightly higher priority towards consumer protection and asserting the

importance of the EU around the world. In all cases the differences between the online

community and the general public were modest but they remained statistically significant.

The Eurobarometer does not allows us to examine all types of social and political

identities in Europe, as in the American Pew survey, but a related area where the

cyberculture may prove distinctive concerns support for globalization and internationalism.

Post-materialist theory suggests that the younger generation of well-educated Europeans,

who are most commonly found online, brought up in post-war conditions peace and

prosperity, are more likely to display an internationalist or cosmopolitan orientation and

support for removing the old borders within the European Union. In contrast their parent’s

generation can be expected to remain more supportive of maintaining distinct national

identities15. In the longer-term, the experience of the Internet can be expected to reinforce

globalization, breaking down the physical barriers of space and national boundaries in

communication, as well as fostering transnational networks linking social movements and

parties in different countries. This issue can be examined by monitoring the strength of

cosmopolitan, national and local identities, measured by how far people express a strong

attachment to different places such as their town or village, their region, their country and

towards Europe. The results in Table 10.7 confirm that, compared with the general public,

the online community in Europe proved more cosmopolitan in their orientation, identifying

more weakly with their local town, village or region, and displaying slightly stronger support

for Europe. This provides important evidence that in the long-term the rise of the Internet

may affect the globalization process, at least in more affluent societies, as well as reinforcing

and strengthening cultural linkages within the European Union.

Conclusions

The comparison within this chapter is limited by the availability of survey data

monitoring both cultural values and Internet use across a wide range of nations, and future

research will be able to examine these issues is much greater depth. Nevertheless the initial

results from this analysis present some interesting findings about the cyberculture that, if

confirmed in subsequent studies, promise to have important implications for understanding

how the Internet may affect society in the longer-term. The issue at the heart of this chapter

is whether a distinctive culture predominates among the online communities in the United

States and Europe, in particular whether the social backgrounds of Internet enthusiasts and

users means that they are more likely to display a more sympathetic orientation towards

post-materialist values such as individualism, cosmopolitanism and environmentalism, as

well as supporting alternative social movements such as those favoring gay rights or sexual

equality. The evidence remains limited nevertheless the results demonstrate that those online

in America can be characterized as located somewhere between the secular or progressive

pole on moral values and the laissez-faire pole on economic values, favoring freedom on

both dimensions. Internet enthusiasts favor the private sector more than government

intervention to produce economic equality, but they are also strong supporters of the

alternative social movements that arose in the counter-culture 1960s, such as those seeking

to promote gay rights, pro-choice, civil rights, feminism, and environmentalism. American

users also tended to be more secular rather than religious, although also supporting a limited

role for the state in terms of welfare, business and the economy, with a slight pro-

Republican-leaning. Nor is this simply an American phenomenon: the European evidence

suggests a post-materialist orientation among Internet users, who support the values of

expanding and reforming the EU, as well as favoring more cosmopolitan rather than local

identities.

What are the implications of this distinctive cyberculture? As suggested in the

introduction, this chapter is not suggesting that the experience of going online has changed

the attitudes and values of most adult users. In line with traditional socialization theories,

social and political values are understood as deep-rooted phenomena that are grounded in

early experiences in the home, school and workplace. Children may indeed be affected by

the experience of going online if immersed for long periods of time, just as they are shaped

by what they read or watch in the mass media, what they learn from their family, and what

they hear in the classroom, but adults come to the Internet community with preexisting

cultural dispositions. Given the multiple choices available on the Internet, even more than

with the experience of watching television news or reading newspapers, there is a strong self

selection process at work. Despite the role of popular search engines like Yahoo or services

like AOL, users select and filter their own bookmarks, not editors or journalists or

broadcasters. People determine which emails they respond to, which online chat rooms (if

any) they join, which list-servs they subscribe to, which engines they search, and which web

sites they prefer. As a result of this self-selection process, in the short-term the experience of

the Internet is unlikely to convert pro-life advocates to pro-choice, to remake traditionalists

into feminists, or to turn nationalists into cosmopolitans. As many commentators have

emphasized, and as advocates of direct democracy fear, at individual-level, the impact of the

Internet is far more likely to produce reinforcement rather than conversion.

But can digital technologies still exert a more diffuse collective impact upon the

broader social and political culture? The evidence examined here, while admittedly limited,

suggests that the online community in Europe and the United States is broadly sympathetic

towards post-materialist values like freedom and tolerance, although also more free-market

in the economic sphere. The cyberculture provides a public space particularly conducive to

progressive networks and alternative social movements, the insurgents challenging the

authorities. In the longer-term, socialization theory suggests that the cyberculture will help

shape the values of the children surrounded by this technology in their homes and schools,

as well as accelerating cultural changes by transmitting these values to developing and

traditional societies worldwide. But will the rise of the Internet mobilize people who are

currently disengaged from the political process? The next chapter goes on to consider this issue.