Programmers have the custom of numbering successive versions of software. Beta versions are numbered from zero to one and fully workable versions – from 1.0 upwards. Decimals are added for small modifications while significant jumps in functionality increase the major number.
A couple of years ago, website developers hailed the beginning of the Web 2.0 era, suggesting that new-generation sites, like a new version of software, formed a wholly new World Wide Web. The fundamental change was in a novel user approach resulting from a full acceptance of the interactivity of new online tools and applications. Web 2.0 sites abandoned the sender/receiver distinction, a legacy of the broadcasting media, and expanded the circle of authors by accepting the crucial role of web users as co-creators. To use the words of Tim O’Reilly, the web learned to “harness collective intelligence”.
Culture 2.0 (Polish: Kultura 2.0), a term we proposed three years ago, alluded to the Web transformation begun not so long before. Speaking of culture 2.0, we pointed to the emergence of a new cultural circuit, shaped by the experience of using digital media and the possibilities they offer. A new version of culture means new practices, new tools, and erasing of the old divisions. Why then, dealing with culture, do we reach for terminology derived from the world of software? Because, even if we are not always aware of that, software is present today in most of our everyday practices. As a result, it is an important source of metaphors that aim to capture the nature of the changes we are witnessing and participating in.
Culture 2.0 isn’t based on digital technologies only; the term doesn’t reflect a blind faith in the power of technology. Unlike software programmers (or the makers of Hollywood sequels), we don’t intend to keep increasing the number after the initial word. Culture 2.0 means searching for new versions of existing content, new media forms, distribution and participation methods, or cultural canons.
In other times, we would simply say ‘new culture.’ Its ‘novelty,’ however, does not consist in a parting with the past – as media experts sometimes say, the old media don’t disappear: they become the content of the new. They also seldom die for good, subjected to cultural recycling or composting. We still read and write, but using the computer rather than paper. The older forms are more and more often mediated by the digital media. Or they become outdated, only to return later as retro cult objects. The character of culture 2.0 is thus both revolutionary and evolutionary.
At the same time, culture 2.0 is a utopian vision – one based on the premise that culture is not just a medium of certain values, but also a common good, a space of symbolic communication open to everyone. The value of this sphere depends not only on the value of the works created within it, but also on the aforementioned possibility of participation, co-authorship.
Thus, culture 2.0 is a culture that, by means of common access to low-cost tools of creation (e.g. the PC) and distribution (the Web), pushes the boundary between the professional and amateur, between production and consumption. Creation, and equally often reworking of content (the remix being one of the most fundamental forms of culture 2.0), cease to be a privilege of an exclusive group. They become available to all – though of course not all use the opportunity. Importantly, however, the authors can no longer be pinpointed by tracing the ‘traditional’ – that is, dominant only a decade ago – cultural institutions and distribution channels. What is the relationship of the area that we will be writing about in this column to traditionally construed culture? Simultaneous change and continuity, described in the language of pop culture, is nothing but a remix. In other words, it is the baroque figure of the fold (le pli) described by Gilles Deleuze. The fold is something that is outside a surface, but at the same time a part of it. The Web has ‘folded’ culture – the phenomena it serves as platform for are not phenomena from another order. Despite their different character, they are still part of culture. Culture has not been fragmented, version 2.0 does not dissociate itself from version 1.0, it only changes the logic of using it. Thus, the status of the surface that has been folded changes – no one doubts that the cultural landscape ‘after’ the Web looks differently than before it. Folds too have the ability to arrange themselves in various ways, being a mobile form, changing in time. As such, they are an embodiment of constant change. And so, many elements of culture 2.0 are variable, incomplete and ephemeral.
It is impossible to judge the value of the transformation the folding culture is undergoing – we are far from being uncritical techno-enthusiasts. Still, we are convinced that the phenomena that are part of culture 2.0 have already become today the axis of young people’s cultural experience and in the future will become dominant. And probably earlier than we think.
Digital technologies, the advance of amateurs, participation and interactivity, openness, media and media form convergence, new possibilities of remixing and archiving – all these are distinctive characteristics of culture 2.0. If we treat the year 1989 as a symbolic landmark, for persons born later, these features are very much natural. Those born before, to quote James Boyle, are like astronauts going into zero gravity for the first time – even with all the training, their basic instincts fail them. It is to them that this ABC is addressed.
The folded area of contemporary culture is a multidimensional space, eluding simple descriptions. The successive entries, of various weight, delineate a grid that structures the map of this new, but very promising territory. Writing in times of individualisation and cultural niches, we hope that the readers accept our selection of entries that, more than the Encyclopaedia Britannica, resembles a certain Chinese encyclopaedia in which the list of animal types included, among others, animals owned by the emperor, animals that have just broken a vase, and stray dogs.
translated by Marcin Wawrzyńczak