Online Communication: Linking Technology, Identity, and Culture

By Andrew F. Wood; Matthew J. Smith | Go to book overview

CHAPTER 10
POP CULTURE AND ONLINE EXPRESSION

The robot is going to lose. Not by much. But when the final score is tallied, flesh and blood is going to beat the damn monster.

—Adam Smith

Marge: What exactly is it your company does again?

Homer: This industry moves so fast it's really hard to tell. That's why I need a name that's cutting-edge, like CutCo, EdgeCom, Interslice… Come on, Marge, you're good at these! Help me out!

Marge: How about… CompuGlobalHyperMegaNet?

“CompuGlobalHyperMegaNet, a fictional company created by Homer Simpson in his attempts to cash in on the supposed Internet bonanza, illustrates the degree to which Internet communication has begun to saturate popular culture. Indeed The Simpsons Archive, the Web's most comprehensive resource dedicated to America's favorite cartoon family, lists dozens of Internet and computer references that have appeared on the show, including an episode in which Lisa, seeking to learn about badgers, visits the Web site whatbadgerseat.com. Anticipating the millions of people who might visit the site, Fox created an actual Web site that offers advice on feeding badgers. Reality following art, we find popular culture's embrace of online communication a sign of things to come.

In a way, this chapter's topic culminates the purpose of this book. It is important that we evaluate more than the technology of Internet communication. We seek to explain ways in which people interpret this technology, using it to make sense of identities and cultures in a changing world. In this manner, this chapter explores the popular culture that shapes our understanding of Internet communication. As Brummett (1994) explains, “Popular culture refers to those systems or artifacts that most people share and that most people know about” (p. 21). Artifacts are bits and pieces of human sense-making: books, magazines, movies, advertisements, comics, and the like. Popular culture research is certainly controversial (Jacobson, 1999). The study of The Simpsons, after all, can hardly be compared to the study of Shakespeare or Hemingway—can it?

We propose that the distinction between high and low culture implicit in that comparison is not nearly as important as this question: How do most people reading this book make sense of Internet communication? Theories and research projects offer useful and refined insights to answer that question. Historical and journalistic efforts further help us contextualize that question. But we are certain that most

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