embeddedness of subcybercultures

During the recent weeks and months quite some discussion about Wikipedia in general and its academical usage in particular has aroused—especially interesting to the anthropologist are the according entries and replies over at Savage Minds. Among those teaching at my institute the use of Wikipedia by students is an issue, too. In fact just the day before yesterday I gave my students the ‘order’ not to cite Wikipedia-articles in their papers. I did that for two reasons: 1) I have doubts in undergraduates’ abilities to judge the quality of an anthropology-related Wikipedia-article. 2) I take undergraduate-papers to belong to the genre of academic texts. The school I am stemming from has a rule: [special cases excepted] knowledge taken from encyclopaedias [in Germany there is the distinction between Konversationslexikon and Enzyklopädie—the latter being by definition more academic than the former] is taken for being commonly granted and the source has not to be documented in academic papers. An exception would be if a central argument was taken from a Konversationslexikon or the Wikipedia. But then an error has occurred beforehand: Konversationslexika are no appropriate sources for academic texts—primary data and other academic texts are. So take central arguments from the latter ones, and use the Wikipedia et al. for gaining an overview—not for more. And even for that academic works of reference are to be preferred. In case of sociocultural anthropology I fullheartedly recommend Barnard & Spencer 1996—without having any reservations.

Now, my ‘order’ described above may be worthy of discussion, for sure—and even more after having had a glance or two into my very own project-website and blog, as those contain a lot of links to Wikipedia-entries. For example the appendices lingo and listofgames. Why is that? Because: 1) I consider Wikipedia to be a part of my field—at least a part of the realm into which ‘my tribe’s’ realm is embedded. Therefore Wikipedia-entries touching topics like computergames, -mods, and all things g33k constitute primary data in the from of the cyberians’ emic knowledge and/or perspective. 2) I sense Wikipedia-entries on said topics to be of high reliability. Take for example the entries on l33t-5p3ak or the hot coffee mod. Cyberians, those who culturally appropriate ICTs—I am not speaking of passive ‘consumers’ or ‘users’—have a strong sense of history, of background-information, and feel an impulse to not only document but to share all of that. Gamemodding, open source, open content, creative commons, and collaborative efforts like Wikipedia are kin to each other—and they are all aspects of that part of cyberculture which manifests itself online. Norms, values, and ideas of the members of the ‘cyberian tribes’ become visible by means of the named examples.

A slightly different, but related case is my continuous preying on boingboing-entries. A lot of boingboing’s content fills the picture of what online-cyberculture is all about. The subject of my focus—the culture of gamemodders—is embedded therein. But it is also true that I should post less about wonderful things found at boingboing, and more about original things found inside ‘my community’, like e.g. dreamscream. The wandering astray has to be dammed up.