bombenkrater discussion

more aspective thoughts on cyberculture
Wireframe of mountainbike by Simon Chalk

First of all a big tnx to Jens and warauduati for pondering
bombenkrater fusion on such a scale and for posting
extensive comments—which in turn induced intensive pondering at my side … exactly the way I envision blogs like this to “work”… warauduati wrote:

I think the basic problems I have are that I am not quite sure as far I should think of the ↑Bombenkrater being a case study or a general statement on cyberculture as part of culture.

Your first missile heads right home upon a true anthropological core issue: “What is culture? How is culture defined?” Do not expect me to be able to settle this now, once and for all—I will try an answer nevertheless, which basically will revolve around the distinction of “culture” and “cultures“. The German philosopher Herder already used the plural form, Tylor, whose definition stemming from 1871 is most quoted, never uses the plural and sees “culture” as being synonymous to “civilization”—which in turn is neglected by most of the people who quote Tylor’s definition. Do we have both, culture and cultures? In their most known works contemporary celebrities of academia like Appadurai and Castells in my view clearly speak of culture at a large, at a grand scale. Hereby I do not imply that they are not aware of the existence of cultures. But they are painting the big picture, “Modernity at large” (Appadurai 1996) and “The information age” (Castells 2000a, b, and c,) entertain a global perspective—already the titles are telltale in this respect. Speaking of cyberculture Escobar does the same in his seminal article “Welcome to cyberia” (1994) wherein he deals with the interrelationships between humanity and computer-/biotechnology. For an overview of concepts of cyberculture please consult Macek’s “Defining cyberculture (v. 2)” (2005). Alas, again a grand scale is maintained, as: “The thesis deals with early cyberculture as a wide social and cultural movement closely linked to advanced information and communication technologies (ICT[s]), their emergence and development and their cultural colonization.” [emphasis mine]

There is nothing wrong with those grand-scale, bird’s-eye-perspectives, because “the global” is an empirical reality contemporary anthropology has to count in and deal with. But anthropologists are neither forced to begin with such a scale, nor to reach it as an ultimate goal—although the latter oftentimes is desired. I will put it in other words and thereby will try to answer your question if I view the Bombenkrater as “a case study or a general statement on cyberculture”: First of all the Bombenkrater is just something I observed, then associated it with other ideas and finally lured me into drawing conclusions. But if approached methodologically correct anthropologer-style the Bombenkrater could well become a case study allowing to tentatively phrase general statements on cyberculture. In my current view the Bombenkrater community is one particular manifestation of cyberculture, one of the many cybercultures “out there”, which may well be interrelated and -connected, or correllated with other cybercultures, drawing upon and/or contributing to cyberculture [singular!] at the grand scale. That is exactly what I suspect “to be the case”. With the entry “bombenkrater fusion” I as well maintain a grand perspective of cyberculture and tentatively try to shape it by the aspects cultural appropriation, cybernetics as a tacit but paradigmatical cultural topos, and the issues pondered and influentially diffused by the genre called cyberpunk. I am not at all at odds with Appadurai, Castells, Escobar, and Macek [in alphabetical order], but am trying to fuse their views with my views gained from my fieldwork on- and offline, plus until now quite eclectical observations like the Bombenkrater.

You talk about the era of cyberculture and I think you mean this special case. Then again I reflect and I see that we are almost all infected by some sort of multimedial, computer-based reception appropriating all kinds of things in everyday life vice-versa fitting things into the computer-based representation.

Same thing here, the mutual impact and influence between technologies on the one hand and human culture and society on the other hand is an almost global phenomenon, just as you phrased it. But not everybody is affected, or infected, by the same range of particular things. The interesting task is to isolate a definable group whose members are enough affected by the same kind of things, have developed enough shared ideas, and so on, to allow us to speak of a culture they share—homogeneity of course not implied. I suspect that the people at the Bombenkrater constitute such a group, just as I more than suspect that the MP-modding community does. Now my tentative extrapolation is that all those groups have something in common on an abstract level: they are manifestations of cyberculture in the sense of my broader perspective. [Besides, I do not hesitate to confess that talking about “the era of cyberculture” was a bit of bigmouthing.]

My first spontaneous questions was: when did cyberpunk get started? Besides a definition including computer-based whatsoever I think you could date back cyberpunk more than a hundred years. Then again it wouldn’t be “cyber” anymore, or would it?

You are of course right, and there are several attempts at a definition and chronological marking down of the genre at hand. But that’s not the point, the point is the question of impact. With what did the impact of cyberpunk on cyberculture at large start? With the artefacts produced by the 1980s’ literary movement called cyberpunk, I guess, because the people who created and shaped all technologies and artefacts “cyber-“, as we know them today, have read and seen that stuff and were influenced by it. Let’s have a look at computergames. “A gamer’s manifesto” complains about too many games being “set against the backdrop of a post-apocalyptic future. I understand that lots of game designers remember the futuristic cyborg movies of their childhood.” (Wong & Haimoimoi 2005) Here I again sense the influence of cyberpunk—observed by an emic voice from inside gaming culture.

Follow-up questions are: Which cyberpunk artefacts resurface in particular manifestations of cyberculture, how did they get transformed, with what have they fused, what innovations have been thrown into, what are the shared results now residing in the bodies and brains of a given community’s members? To understand all that is the cyberanthropologist’s task.

Pai Mei

This task of unearthing and understanding the diffusion, transformation, and recontextualization of certain topoi is, I think, a bit easier if you are philologically oriented and deal with artefacts in contrast to lived culture. But to a certain degree the cyberanthropologist has to do that, too. Take for example Tarantino’s “Kill Bill”, a fulminant remix of all kinds of pop-culture topoi and references. To me personally the chapter “Pai Mei’s cruel tutelage” stands out, as here mythical themes are remixed which play a role in gamemodding [see ↵equilibrium], and have to do with appropriation by mastership. A nice heuristical start to track down Tarantino’s Pai Mei are the wikipedia-entries Pai Mei and Bak Mei. [2R was inspired by bombenkrater fusion to write a blog-entry on his pet subject, the cultural appropriation of martial arts—see his ↑anthropology and martial arts. Just to please him I took my example from this area.]

But how far has the cyberanthropologist to go, how deep have this matters to be fathomed? The answers won’t be found at the library, the field has them. Go back there when you are stuck in the librarians’ labyrinthian mazes. In the field methodological decisions have to be made again and again, e.g. how deep should you participate and immerse yourself into the community’s culture and practices? For example I wouldn’t drive my bike over that particular ledge at the Bombenkrater. My loyal Steppenwolf surely would survive the feat, but I am not so sure about myself.

Another question was: what is the higher thesis or theory on your essay? I can follow and understand your argumentation. But can you understand cyberculture equal to culture? Reading again I understand that cyberculture is actually an aspect of culture. Does cyberculture then refer to the whole sub-culture of bikers at the Bombenkrater or do we only talk about a specific group of people here?

The higher thesis is that there are cybercultures informed by cyberculture as I sketched it abstractly. Or, the other way round, the anthropological scrutinization of cybercultures, followed up by comparative analysis allows us by extrapolation to generate an abstract model of cyberculture—which of course will have the shape of my sketch ;-)

If “individual and communal identities are constructed and expressed” by the terms of this specific example, is someone at the Bombenkrater excluded by the fact that he is just into biking and by case uses the same spot? Or is he still part of the same cyberculture, because he knows the terms of the group?

Maybe a network-metaphor approach would really help out here. Let us imagine for a moment that we had constituted defining terms, parameters, qualities of the social network in question, had sensibly defined how to weigh different kinds of relationships, and so on, in short: we would already possess a sound methodology, based on grounded theory, of how to approach the Bombenkrater community, and of how to chart it as a social network. Then, when viewing the resulting chart, the dispersion of the interrelationships’ density could help us to “see” who belongs to the core and who is maybe some kind of affiliated member.

Vice-versa, as Jens also questioned, does a gamer become a biker or skater in real because of having done so in the virtual world?

Honestly, again, I do not know yet. but I doubt that this kind of cause-effect relations can be validated empirically.

If someone only games or absorbs the computer-based media, is he a part of the same cyberculture, because he knows the terms of the specific lifestyle that combines real and virtual?

You know that I abhorr the dichotomy real-virtual, do you (see Knorr 2004: 253-269 or even better in this respect Knorr 2006)? But to answer your question, I’d tentatively say yes. If I’d say “no”, I’d imply homogeneity, in this case that all practices are equally shared by those sharing a set of cultural ideas. And I won’t do that.

Futurebike by designerbrett

Your argumentation, if I understand it right, states that bikers at the Bombenkrater use computer-based images and ideas to transform the way of use of the environment and of technology vice-versa use the environment and their doings-with-it to fit into the computer-based representation. In each case definitely a kind of appropriation, either way. The difference between “real” and “virtual” actually is not that much of a difference but “aspects of the same Lebenswelten”. Because of this type of appropriation we can call the crystallising lifestyle … cyberculture. This way the definitions of …

Cyberpunk = “Fast-paced science fiction involving futuristic computer-based societies.” (The Free Dictionary by Farlex) and

Cyberculture = “The culture arising from the use of computer networks, as for communication, entertainment (…).” (The Free Dictionary by Farlex)?

… would actually be confirmed, except for the “fiction” and the “futuristic”, which are frail to the fact, that the dichotomy of real and virtual is actually compensated or, let’s say, neutralised.

I do not think that they do anything out of the motive to fit something “into the computer-based representation.” Rather computergames, computer-generated or -postproduced imagery and sound [music included], the possibilities of the Internet-infrastructure, and doing tricks on bicycles all fit into their shared set of cultural ideas and practices.

I’m afraid, but I do not take the definitions you quoted to be feasible for the discussion. In respect to “cyberpunk” I recommend Collins 2002 and 2004, Sterling 1986, Sterling’s Cyberpunk in the nineties, Sfam’s heuristical What is cyberpunk?, and the cyberpunk reading list ;-)

In respect to “cyberculture” I recommend Escobar 1994, Gauntlett 2000, Hine 2000: 14-40, Castells 2001b, Wilson & Peterson 2002, Budka & Kremser 2004, and
Macek 2005.

On a higher level this lifestyle, the manifestations of cyberculture, could then be a conscious othering in the real world to escape from a homogenised global world, but on the other hand a conscious assimilation into the homogenised virtual world to bridge heterogeneous barriers. I don’t know if this makes sense at all, but I am just looking for an appropriation of your argumentation to a higher degree …

D’oh!—that indeed was a hard one. But I guess one could say so ;-) [Meaning that I didn’t get the idea yet]
Surreal bike by ray

image credits: wireframe of mountainbike by Simon Chalk, Pai Mei from Tarantino’s “Kill Bill vol. 2”, futurebike by designerbrett, and surreal bike by ray