A Review of: Mapping E-Culture, Navigating E-Culture, Walled Garden

By: Sisi Yu
On: September 17, 2009
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About Sisi Yu
Yu Sisi, born in 1983, graduated in 2006 from Fudan University, and worked in Wieden + Kennedy Shanghai as copywriter since 2005. She talks less then she writes, writes less than she lives, and lives less than she thinks. After trying accessory design, marketing, and copywriting, she now gets into fiction writing. She loves movies, art, traveling, fashion, alcohol, money…and people. Everything inspires her. After all, universe is transformation and life is opinion.


Mapping E-Culture, Navigating E-Culture, and Walled Garden, the three books coming along in a box, picture the general look of the electronic scenery we are in through the decade. Besides interviews to several key influencers, research essays and some recent projects as showcase, it also documents an international conference on communities and networks in the post-web 2.0 era.

So firstly what is Culture 2.0?

People grow up in an environment in which culture plays a major role and, as in nature, people have a natural sense of being allowed to use elements from this environment. The ‘sharing economy’, as Lawerence Lessig has described this phenomenon, seems to be much larger and more powerful than expected.

If you are familiar with the Chinese modern history, you may have heard of the term Cultural Revolution. While people in China and even across the world were having a fever with sheer blindness during that period, few of them realized that it was an autocracy of culture, as Theo in the film The Dreamers says, ‘it is a book’, not books open and shared by citizens.

However culture 2.0 is the total opposite of that dark time. Quoting Machel de Certeau in his The Practice of Everyday Life ‘Maps do not only represent borders of one’s country with neighboring ones, but also invisible borders, geopolitical, cultural and society borders that exist inside the country, between countries or in any given community.’

‘The interaction between the various fields (science, art, commerce, technology and everyday life) sparked off something that can be called a ‘new media culture’. It covers or crosscuts all of these areas making it a phenomenon. Old tales and new stories merge together disseminating a new imagination around the world. And this has changed us.’

Humankind has created new views of its existence, which have changed ideas of identity.

‘Are people today the same as people used to be? They are born, grow up, fall in love, work, accumulate all kinds of material and immaterial stuff, have children, die.’ Maybe it doesn’t transform shortly, but the ways people live have altered within years.

Yes it is important to sign up on Facebook for connecting people. It is necessary to be a member in Linkedin for business sake. It is a must to use Myspace for the music love…we leave our profile everywhere on so many web 2.0 sites before we even realize. It is like the membership cards we keep in our wallet increasing beyond our needs. We are having multiple identities inside Internet, too much that sometimes we ourselves even forget. What is my user name for Youtube? Oh I lost my password for my Gmail again…once we turn on our computers or cellphones working wireless, we are opening a door for a flood of information. And to manage all of it requires us lots of practice and skills. No wonder in the book it sighs ‘the new luxury is not to be connected.’ Though after all, Public space, which now also refers to all the SNS, is the glue that holds urban society together. If you don’t want to be left there alone in the virtual world, sign in!

My friends and I have been thinking about a funny idea, what if we set up another version of Facebook? A Facebook for the dead. Facebook was founded in 2004. Imagine after 50 years, about half of the present users might have been gone. They are physically vanished, but how about their data? Will someone notify their death to their Facebook friends and groups, and to the world? If not, they are virtually still alive! Their existence lasts in a new form. Actually we also wonder, how many users are there right now on Facebook already pass away?

Talking about existence, the book writes ‘I am indexed in Google, therefore I exist.’ I find it a very interesting statement. Out of curiosity I googled my friends, my boyfriend and myself by names. The ones who are active and known in the creative industries can be easily found on Google with their profiles or portfolios on various social sites. Google is such a power engine that connects the entire SNS platform. You can almost say ‘search is becoming the new organize’. Want to know how successful I am? Just google me!

But in one article it shows the concern. ‘Google has become the invisible proxy to the WWW within a few years. You can almost say that the form of voluntary blindness is moving us in to the dangerous situation whereby we outsource the accessibility of the Internet to a company.’ We absorb the benefits as both individual and organization from this open cultural economy; meanwhile we are also taking risks.

‘There is no masterplan, rather, a dynamic has arisen ultimately responsible. Moreover, major commercial interests play a part in this dynamic. These interests, which focus on short-term financial profit, are far from always visible, but they do profoundly alter the social structure of global society in the long term.’

Here is a positive example from the band who knows how to play the game of sharism: Radiohead made their album In Rainbows available on their website from 10 October to 10 December 2007. Visitors were asked to pay what they could afford for the album, but could, in effect, download the tracks for free. Estimates of Radiohead’s income from this experiment range from 5 to 10 million euros. Open content can work as a viral campaign for events or products in the physical world. More important for the band itself was that this approach guaranteed them all the rights to their material. As the large record company EMI holds the rights to their earlier works.

We do or say we can get more or less everything from E-culture. Too much freedom generates chaos for our brain. If we call the electronic fantasyland gardens, we need walls. Walled Gardens was an event dedicated to the future of the web as ‘walled gardens’. It has entrances and exits, keepers with a gardener’s mentality, control at the gate, security, and surveillance.

About the idea of walls, the book shares with us a wisdom applying to beyond internet. ‘Unlimited possibilities are not suited to man; if they existed, his life would only dissolve in the boundless. To become strong, a man’s life needs the limitations ordained by duty and voluntarily accepted. The individual attains significance as a free spirit only by surrounding himself with these limitations and by determining for himself what his duty is.’ After all, it is our choice for our own mind.

In general I find the collection of the three books inspiring and also relatively experimental due to its documentary style. It can expand your view of contemporary digital scene in an international dimension. However I have to admit that it doesn’t go into depth of research. If you are looking for a systematic demonstration of new media field, this might not be the ultimate option.

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