Here’s a video with interviews from ROFLcon on the topic of “What makes a meme go mainstream”.

They use the phrase “internet culture” a lot. It annoys me a bit how they lay claim to “the internet culture”, as though culture meant nothing more than in-jokes. Most cultures have their in-jokes and shared references, of course, but what the ROFLcon folks are talking about is really the culture of just one corner of the internet — anarchic, anonymous image-posting discussion boards about nothing in particular — which generates a steady stream of silly jokes about how “longcat is long”.

To me, internet culture is something much bigger and broader and more subtle than that. A culture is a whole set of values, values that you can generally assume other people in the culture share with you even if they’re not explicitly mentioned. I think that internet culture comprises values like “I have the right to comment on, criticize, appropriate, and recontextualize anything I see.” And “My personal page about my garden and my political opinions has just as much right to be up on the web as http://www.microsoft.com does.” And “Nobody else gets to decide what information I do and don’t have access to, or what I should and shouldn’t be able to say.” And “If I can’t send a direct personal communication instantly to anyone on the planet, something is wrong.” We’re in a pretty exciting period right now, where these values are blending with, and in some places coming into explosive conflict with, various national cultures around the world. Think Iranian protesters posting videos of police brutality, or Chinese bloggers ridiculing Chinese censorship laws. Nobody knows how it’s all going to turn out or what new forms of expression will arise as a result of this period of rapid change.

If “internet culture” came to mean nothing more than “Epic FAIL” and Pedobear references, I would be very sad. I’ve got nothing against 4chan memes per se: I have been known to use “I can has” speak in casual conversation, and I even own an “all your base” t-shirt. It’s just that there’s so much more to internet culture than that stuff, you know?

(Digression: I’m a little sad already that “meme” has come to mean “joke that gets reposted a lot”, or “quiz that all your friends are reposting to their livejournals”. When Richard Dawkins made up the word, he was trying to start a conversation about the dangers of groupthink and self-reinforcing, self-propagating ideologies. It’s like how “avatar” — originally meaning the incarnation of a Hindu God! — has been downgraded to mean a tiny square picture next to your name on a message board. People are taking big ideas and defining them down to the level of what the technology currently supports.)

So anyway, question for discussion: Do you think there’s such a thing as “internet culture”, and if so, what do you think are its core values?