The Anthropologist’s Disclaimer

Many people I meet, even people I talk to on a regular basis, do not have background knowledge of anthropology, and I think that is fairly typical. Anthropology isn’t taught in the American public school system and most people have only had a limited introduction to one of Anthropology’s subfields.   Archeology or Forensic Anthropology are commonly brought up as points of reference. Indiana Jones and the tv show Bones being the most famous, albeit fictional, anthropologists today. These are indeed crucial parts of the holistic endeavor to understand human beings, but the methodology employed is so drastically different that I think people are still left wonder what exactly it is that I do.

Anthropology is the study of what it means to be human, and the wealth of variation of culture and physiology that includes. Cultural anthropologists are primarily focused on cultural groups and cultural issues around the globe as they pertain to currently living people; as you might imagine this takes an incredibly wide range of forms.  From studying HIV clinics in Bolivia to urban development in China to Forestry and Sustainability in the Philipines to grieving practices on Facebook, anthropologists do research anywhere humans are. This research is most commonly referred to as ethnographic fieldwork or sometimes ethnography for short, but an ethnography is really the written product produced documenting anthropologist’s cultural observations. The two most important methodological tools of ethnographic fieldwork are participant observation and ethnographic interviews.

The exact type of hard data each anthropologists documents during this ethnographic experience may vary, but one pattern repeats–tried and true. This method yields incredible, invaluable insight into the culture group being studied, allowing anthropologists to properly situate other more tangible data within its cultural context. Additionally, living with those we study and participating in their daily lives has offered anthropologists countless serendipitous opportunities for uncovering deeply insightful findings. These might come as a chance encounter, an illegal cock-fighting match, a midnight conversation, even in one case a late night police raid on the village an anthropologist was residing in (Greetz 1977; Bernard 2011). Such serendipitous events provide the researcher with an anecdotal stories that exemplify or illuminate key aspects of the human condition, which are frequently worth more than the several months of diligent pursuits of other methods. Other times such as serendipitous event is an experience that provides a unique perspective on the issue being studied, situating the researcher to have both the outsider objectivity and a momentary shared insider experience.

It is fair to say that participant-observation isn’t entirely well-defined even by and for anthropologists who employ it. How do you know when you are doing participant-observation? How do you know you are doing it correctly? These questions have probably haunted anthropology graduate students since the beginning of American Anthropology. Participant-Observation was invented when anthropology first shifted from an armchair discipline to one that required going to the “field.” Now part of the authority of the anthropologist claims comes from actually being there.  This later came under critique, as did the anthropologist’s authority, in general, but the necessity of going to field to gain firsthand insight into a culture weathered the storm.  In essence, participant-observation is about achieving the same type of organic first-hand exposure to a culture that language learners seek from language immersion programs.

Participant-observation might be defined as the process of living in a culture, alternately with the community of people you are studying, while keeping a detailed record of your observations of public events, daily life, and casual conversations. As anthropologists live in their field site, every communal activity, and human interaction offers the potential to yield insightful information. Anthropologists learn through immersion, living in the same cultural context as the people we are studying. We call it participant-observation occasionally even deep hanging out in an attempt to over emphasize the causal nature of one of our greatest tools. But the point remains the same; we need to absorb the social context while simultaneously analyzing the layers of that social reality and how they might affect the situation being studied.

However, the third vital gift of participant-observation is that it is the perfect set up for ethnographic interviews both formal and informal. Anthropological literature talks a lot about building rapport. What this really means is that you need to establish a relationship with your participants and your community. While informed consent in its strictest sense isn’t required, during the participant-observation stage of research, this is the ideal time to inform community members about your research. They need to know who you are, why you are there, and hopefully after you’ve shared some real genuine human interaction you can begin to build a relationship and trust. Being a part of the community, rather someone that just shows up one day out of the blue wanting to ask questions helps. Informal ethnographic interviews, in all honestly, are really just casual conversations. In participant-observation settings, think community social events, these can actually be allowed to start organically and on equal terms. Once the anthropologist has the lay of the land, after conducting participant-observation for a while (the length of time is always up to the researcher), then she can start looking for people who are willing to be interviewed in a more formal setting. But again, it helps here that the people already either know her or know people who know her. I still like to refer to these as ethnographic interviews albeit formal ethnographic interviews to emphasize that the interview is informed by participant-observation unlike for example interviews of randomly selected college students participating in a psychology survey or a sociological questionnaire.

Cultural anthropologists may also employ a host of other data collecting methods: household surveys, kinship charts, taxonomies, ethnographic decision models, photography, videography, cartography, online questionnaires, and even analysis of digital data like tweets.  But participant-observation and ethnographic interviews are our bread and butter.

I have explained them thoroughly to give you my warning, or disclaimer if you will.  Once you start conducting participant-observation and ethnographic interviews, you’ll never actually stop.  Sure, an anthropologist isn’t always keeping detailed notes about all of life’s observations. But come to think of it, even when I’m not on field note taking duty I still make notes about all my “Fascinating!” observations as soon as I can get to my nearest notebook, cell phone or laptop. After I tell someone or write it down, it keeps the idea percolating in my head and it helps me remember. But that’s not the important part. The important part, it that once you learn how to do participant-observation and then follow it up with thoughtful ethnographically charged questions, well… you sort of can’t turn it off.  These tools of inquiry become part of how you think and engage with the world. I was in the mountains on retreat with my friends last weekend and I caught myself doing it, but I didn’t realize what I was doing until I’d already asked the question. It wasn’t in any way related to my dissertation research or really any topic that I’ve directly studied, but I was curious. Then it happened again while I was in a fitness class on Monday. But that is the thing isn’t it, ALL of Human Diversity and what it means to be human, that is what I study.  So if you are human and you are talking and doing your thing, whatever your thing is, I’m probably unintentionally studying you. Dear friends, family, communities in which I live, my apologies and warning in advance.

An anthropologist is always conducting research to some extent. Once you learn the tools of anthropology, you cannot simply turn them off because you are at the dinner table with your in-laws or in dance fitness class or listening to someone tell you about their yarn store. I can’t possibly wipe out informed consent forms every time I get inspired, plus I think it might start freaking out those close to me.

So for my friends and family, this is a friendly reminder, I’m an anthropologist and this is what I do. Before I actually publish any stories directly about you, I will always try to go back and ask your permission and give you a chance to preview it. Don’t worry I always change names to protect the not so innocent. Excepting some of the members of my family, of course, who chose to be identified in previous research as it pertained to family history.

For all my past, current and future research participants reading this, I hope this gives you some insight into what anthropology is and what I do with it. I always want you to feel like we are collaborators in the research projects you work with me on. I want you to feel proud reading what I write especially when it pertains to you. I plan to always publish a public audience version of all my material well in advance of any academic publications. If there is anything that concerns you, please feel free to contact me at sydneyyeager@gmail.com

What Anthropologists Do

The strength of anthropology is that we are always learning, gathering data isn’t something we do in a lab or even something we can easily shut off. We learn through immersion, living in the same cultural context as the people we are studying. We call it participant-observation occasionally even deep hanging out in an attempt to over emphasize the causal nature of one of our greatest tools. However, the point remains the same; we need to absorb the social context while simultaneously analyzing the layers of that reality and how they might affect the situation being studied. Then when the moment is right, we start asking thoughtful questions. Sometimes formally in a pre-planned interview setting and sometimes informally while sitting on a couch in someone’s living room or at a local fair in the park. One thoughtfully worded question, placed in the right setting and time, can reveal far more insightful information than a thousand questions asked without context. That is the argument of our discipline.

Performance Enhancing Drugs – College Edition

Passing with Pills: Redefining Performance in the Pharmaceuticalized University”  is a very thoughtful and thought provoking ethnographic look in the mirror.  Tazin Karim of Michigan State University did an excellent job applying a critical, medical anthropological lens to academia and the pressures of the rite of passage in America referred to as college.  
When discussing the exportation/globalization of mental illness and Western pharmaceuticals, undergrads in both my Intro to Anthropology discussion sections admitted to knowing a ‘friends’ who used Academic Performance enhancing drugs …  I have to admit my own caffeine dependence could fall in the same category.  American culture in general gives preference to substances which promote productivity and the University is no exception.  A few of my students discussed being prescribed Ritalin and Adderall long before they entered a college campus.  One girl described for us how ease it had been for her best friend to get a prescription, which she used primarily to write papers and make it through finals week.  

I think this is a very serious issue which is largely ignored because it gets the desired results and is socially linked to productivity and achievement.  For my part, some might argue that I am part of the problem, as a graduate student and teaching assistant who was aware of these thinly veiled “confessions.”   But I am 25 years old which makes me only a few years older than most of my students and this time four years ago I was the undergrad who had close friends doing the same thing.  However, it also raises an important ethical issue.  This was information I gained from a semester of building rapport with my students and a safe environment for discussion in my classroom.  In that moment, I saw my responsibility in guiding my students to think critically about the social and structural pressures that make the need for academic performance drugs and in interrogating the problematic dichotomy between legal prescription drugs and illegal drugs.  I pushed them to critically think about any substance they put in their body and I urged them to be accountable for researching these medicines, their purpose and their side effects.  In that classroom, I felt that was the extent of my ability to influence the matter.

But as a medical anthropologist, I think this is definitely an issue which merits further investigation and careful attention to potential solutions that address this “inconvenient truth.”  Karim’s narratives demonstrate the hidden reality on our campuses.  I hope to see more work along these lines in the future.

 

Gunman Suicide – A Social Illness

The media storm follow the Newton school shooting has left our nation with heavy hearts and that unanswerable question “but why…?”  The shooting occurred the day left Dallas heading home for Arkansas to spend my Christmas break with my family.  These incidents which have become all too frequent always leave me initially dumbfounded, but as the social scientist in the family people expect me to have a more educated response than a look of horror on my face.  Within hours of the shooting Facebook and Twitter was aflame with arguments for gun control and explanations of mental illness.  I found myself driving home in the dark and trying to explain to my father on the cell phone that it was “more complicated than that”.

Do we blame guns?  Do we blame mental illness? Do we blame the media or video games?  Do we blame American culture itself?

Part of the reason it is “more complicated than that” for me to explain to my father or most of the people I grew up with for that matter, is that Living Anthropologically’s simple answer “measures to reduce and restrict the weaponry” would begin a debate met by deaf ears.  Saying the word “gun control” to a hunter is the equivalent of saying “Internet censorship” to a member of anonymous.  Certain topics trigger a panicked emotional response that jumps to the worst case scenario first.  I know that restrictions on semi-automatics and hand guns is not the equivalent of a universal gun ban, but both the audience and the bigger picture need to be kept in mind.  The weapon of choice is definitely one way to tackle the problem, especially if you see no use for the device,  but it doesn’t fix the “why” which can always find a new outlet.

In his Neuroanthropology blog Daniel Lende reminds us that “Mentally ill patients are not more violent than anyone else.” and “Guns don’t shoot themselves.”  in his response to the two easy answers which have been put forth by the media and the public following the Newton shootings.

Follow the Aurora shooting, David Dobbs argued that “Culture shapes the expression of behavioral traits. The traits don’t rise inherent as an urge to play basketball or a plan to shoot up a Batman movie. A long conversation between the trait and the surrounding culture shape those expressions. Culture gives the impulse form and direction.”

In talking to my father who is very anti-gun control, I realized that there is a very big difference between a hunter and a gunman.  Friend and follow Arkansan, Justin Snook makes a similar connection in his blog post Guns and Games, when he says “I learned to treat a gun sensitively and reverently whether it was in my own hand or someone else’s.”  Growing up in rural Arkansas my first experience with guns did not come from video games or even TV.  I remember being between 2 and 3 years old and my dad letting me pull the trigger on his .22 while he held the gun.  As I got older both of my parents always re-enforced strict rules and behaviors relating to guns.  Guns were always present in my household, but they were also always serious.  The first rule I remember my mother telling me was to never go near the place my dad kept his guns unless he was with me.  The first rule I remember my father telling me about guns was to never point one at anything or anyone I didn’t want to kill, whether I thought the gun was loaded or not.   Guns were to be respected and were only used to hunt.  My brother, sister, and I were taught that what we did with a gun was our responsibility.  But this is not part of how most Americans are raised.  While hunters-ed is required for hunting licenses it is not required to own a gun.  You have to take two exams to drive a car but all you need is a background check to own a gun.  This means that unlike me, many Americans are taught about guns by TV, movies, and video games.  These media are artistic expressions of our culture so it is hard to blame them in and of themselves.  Films no longer warn that “you’ll shoot your eye out” and instead depict firearm novices becoming epic heroes by picking up a gun.  People who have never witnessed anything larger than a spider die are allowed to own hand guns designed for shooting people and even semi-automatic weapons designed to shoot everything insight.

If the people using them and how they are used, not the guns themselves are at the center of the “but why …?” question, then we that we are to blame.  A cultural dialogue which allows people to assign the blame to others instead of accepting responsibility makes it possible for the gunman suicide phenomenon to become an accepted cultural script.

A young man (statistically most are males) has bad relationships with his family.  He becomes/feels disenfranchised.  He is alienated from his community and he begins to blame all the people in his life for how terrible his life is.  That blame turns to hate and when he cannot take it anymore and is ready to end it all by killing himself he turns to the pre-existing techniques his culture has provided.  Going out in a blaze of glory, maximizing his ability to hurt those who he blames for his state, and regaining control of his life in a hyper-masculine villainous act.   Gunman suicide becomes the last desperate attempt at significance.

Lende argues that “If we’re going to think of violence as a sickness, then it is its own type of sickness, different in kind and in expression from the mental and physical ailments that also possess us. Violence is red in tooth and claw, seemingly primordial, until we recognize how socially regulated it is.”

My best explanation is that the gunman suicide phenomenon is a social illness rather than a mental or physical one.  These gunmen which have become all too common are suffering from a lack of the social components necessary to be healthy in body and mind.  It is a social illness in that these gunmen are men who society has failed and in that the illness harms society itself.  It takes the lives of the incident’s victims, it wrecks havoc on the lives of the victims families and the community, but it also traumatized us as a nation, as a globally connected world.  The gunman is ground zone of the social illness, proving to us that in this hyper-connected and highly visible age a ticking time bomb can still remain in plain sight.

Freedom of Speech 2.0 #freeandopen

Google calls Internet users to Take Action

“it is ours and it is free
a free and open world
depends on a free and open web
and a free and open web depends on me” (Google’s Internet Poem)

A free and open internet is essential to democracy in the 21st century just as freedom of speech and freedom of press were essential to the founding father of the United States of America.

On the Internet we are free and we are equal. A sea of voices from all over the earth pour forth, and those voices, those ideas are judged for their worth, for their ability to resonate in the hearts and imaginations of others.

 

I know sometimes this means absurdly ridiculous things become wildly popular, but that just means that sometimes we (collectively) need absurdly ridiculous things in our lives.   The Internet is a collective expression of our humanity.  Yes, sometimes things get out of hand and people say horrible things to one another, but sometimes people are also able to truly come together and help each other out.  A free and open Internet contains all our flaws and all our potential.  Don’t allow politicians to in act policies which will quash our collective potential simply out of fear of our flaws.

Politics and Wikipedia

Wikipedia is currently in fundraiser mode.  It reminds of the PBS phone-a-thons of my childhood.  But it also reminds me of an interesting component people frequently neglect when discussing social programs and taxes in relation to institutions seen as a “public good.”  In the debate over who does a better job of address the needs of the public, the arguments are frequently framed in Public vs Private….  what about the 3rd option of non-profit/charity?  Websites like Facebook, twitter, Gmail, etc are free because they’ve figured out how to profit from data mining and running ads, while other sites like Wikipedia rely on user donations.  Comparing Wikipedia and the Recovery.gov site which the government spent over $9.5 million to redesign, makes me wonder if discussions on government spending should be aimed at government vs non-profit rather than Public vs Private.

Most people I’ve talked to about this in person tend to point out that most people won’t give willingly unless the government makes them.  But I have to wonder is this true?  Am I being too much of an idealist?  I know I prefer to directly donate $15 to an institution than have an additional $20 added on to my taxes.  Of course, I’m somewhat assume that at least $5 is lost in the bureaucracy it would take to get my $15 to Wikipedia if Congress decided to financially support Wikipedia.  Something I know will never happen, but the thought experiment is still the same.

This brings up a few questions for me.  Is it feasible to run all Open Access on a Wikipedia model or fundraising and user donations?  Is the model somehow better suited for the Internet?  I’d love to know if anyone has come across studies comparing Private, Public (government), AND Non-Profit models for providing public goods and services.

Happy Thanksgiving Part 1

I have so much to be thankful for a sweet and loving family, my fiance and future in-laws included, and dear friends. I am thankful I’m in a great graduate program and almost done with coursework, at least from the perspective of Arkansas and Texas it looks like the economy is mostly recovering just in time for me to think about the job market, and that I live in a beautiful country that provides me, my family, and friends with more security, liberty, stability, comfort, and convince than many people around the world will ever know.

But all that said, I can’t help but feel like these grateful utterances once on “paper” (ie facebook post) look a little more like bragging especially if you consider that they are being broadcast throughout our social networks and into the global space of the Internet. Thanksgiving has always felt like a very American holiday to me, but pondering its origins and meaning leaves me somewhat unsatisfied with what we are celebrating. Gratitude aside, are we celebrating Gluttony and Manifest Destiny? And if Thanksgiving is the day of Gratitude, Gluttony, and Manifest Destiny … are we ok with that? After all they play a big role in America’s past and present.

This blog entry is an expansion of a facebook post I made earlier today.  I am going for time’s sake, I’m going to split it up into 3 posts.

As far as holidays (holy days) go Thanksgiving seems to be a new world take on the traditional European harvest festival.  Considering how few of modern North Americans are still involved or connected to agriculture it seems a little strange the holiday is still such a big deal, however, in the United States Thanksgivings continued relevance seems to be tied to its more recent association with commercialism.   In the days following Halloween, we decorate with fall leaves and turkeys dressed a pilgrims.  We coordinate with family and friends to ensure we each have our own massive feast fit for a medieval king, except they didn’t have turkey or mashed potatoes or pumpkin pie because they are new world foods.   I watched my mother fret over orchestrating this massive feast for my extended family for years.   Family members drive or fly very long distances to be together on Thanksgiving day.  By the time it is actually time to eat, at least half the people at the table are exhausted, annoyed or at their wits end.

For many, the meal itself is only second place to the Macy’s Day parade and the afternoon packed with football games. Overstuffed with mom’s best stuffing, everyone half-passes out in front of the TV.  While all of the family’s big shoppers get busy circling the Black Friday Ads and go to bed early so they can wake up at mid-night.

The big question I want to ask is what exactly are we celebrating here and what does it say about our culture.  How is a holiday designed to express gratitude also a celebration of Gluttony and Consumerism?  And in what ways is this holiday ritual vital to the American economy.

Nationalism, Communitas, and Spiderman…

Considering I was in Ireland for the 4th of July, I decided to get a little imaginative in the way I celebrated America’s Independence Day.  Greg and I went out to eat, I got a milk shake and we watched the late showing of the new Spiderman movie in 3D.  (The 3D is totally worth it on this movie)  Now, one important thing of interest to note is that in Ireland, the Irish celebrate the 4th of July.  Greg was actually a bit surprised by the depth to which the celebration extended beyond simply going out to the pub for a drink to celebrate.

We took the day off, had a relaxing meal at one of our favorite pubs and then headed into Castlebar (the nearest city with a movie theater).  However, it was in this “time-off” that I had a major realization about the connection between Nationalism and Communitas, and it is all thanks to The Amazing Spider-Man.

So what is communitas, you might be asking? The best way to explain it to people who grow up in a Western culture is to say it is that feeling in which your sense of self is fully united with your sense of community.  It is a moment in which your sense of individuality is overwhelmed by a strong feeling of community.  Communitas is in essence community spirit, but a sense of community spirit which deeply resonates within you.  It is found in those moments in which you deeply connect with others because you know in that moment you and a those other people are experiencing almost exactly the same thing.  Anthropologists describe this happening in rites of passage, pilgrimages, and moments of community action.

Communitas is the feeling of oneness, togetherness, solidarity, and deep sacred connection with others.  Now the community can be as small as your cohort growing up or as large a nation.

What does this have to do with the Amazing Spider-Man?  Well, not to give any spoilers, during a particular scene I was flooded with a feeling of communitas.  It was actually a pretty profound moment for me because it was the first time I realized that that perticular feeling was communitas.  I’ve had an intellectual understanding of the term for about four or five years now, and I’ve experienced the feeling numerous times throughout my life without putting a word to it.  Experiencing during a movie, and realizing it, however, opened up a large can of worms for me.

Wow I just felt communitas during a movie…

1) If communitas can be generated, felt, and shared through movies …  then it is possible to share through all forms of digital media I bet.  This reminded me of my friend Jacob Oliver’s honors thesis about music and how people today have come to experience as sense connection to particular pieces of music which were really important to them really hitting home to their situation in the moment in time.  Movies do this as well.  Like it or not, movies, TV, and music connected all of us digitally long before the internet.

2)   Nationalism…  Sitting in a theater in Western Ireland, in a room full of 50 or more people, Gerg and I were the only Americans.  I am not always the most patriotic person, but in that moment, I was an American.  I was filled with patriotic pride and an overwhelming sense of connection to America and Americans.  I argue this is how communitas functions to make self-identity and group-identity unite absolutely, even if it is only for one moment.  The implications for humans as a social species cannot be underestimated.

However, beyond the importance of communitas to community building and group solidarity, I was also taken back at the notion of me feeling communitas while watching  Spiderman and people in New York City.  I was born and raised in rural Arkansas about as far from New York City as you can get and still be in the United States.  Both distance and culture separate me from these people.   I’ve never been to New York City outside of the airport, either.  And currently, I am not even in the United States.

Yet somehow, I was able to experience this deep-connection from Ireland.   Communitas at the national level was never something I considered before that moment, yet as I finished watching the movie it was staring me straight in the face.  Isn’t national communitas exactly what the nation as a whole had experienced in the wake of September 11th?

3)  Spiderman is a hero in American mythology.  Ok, ok… I knew this before but the profoundness of Spiderman as American mythology did not truly set-in until I realized there was a spiritual dimension beyond the “moral of the story.”  For me at least, “real” mythology has to not only guide its readers to culturally specific ideals and heroic behavior, but it also has to unite those readers on a deeper, spiritual level.  I suppose, in essence I am saying that while mythology from all over the world has lessons to teach us, it is the culturally specific mythology which holds the most power over the reader.  It gives us the cultural script of what it means to be heroic and villainous.  The aspect of mythology lost on many Modern Americans, is that the hero does not have to have actually lived to be REAL.  For a myth to truly be American, it must then speak to American culture and adhere to the Religion of America.

The concept of the Religion of America is something Religious Studies Professors and Theologians have put forward and it is something that my mind has toyed with since I took a course on Religion in the US with Dr. Jim Dietrich and Dr. Julia Winden-Fey.  The idea is that beyond the formalized religions and denominations of the United States, there is a separate and distinct Religion of America which is very much tied up with patriotism and matters of state.  The idea is that despite the separation of (a particular) Church and State, politicians, the government, and public events at large still very much acknowledge a form of spirituality which embodies American ideals and is devoid of the sectarianism that might indicate divine preference for one faith over the other.  In other words, the God of America is the God of liberty, equality, freedom of choice, and responsibility of freedom, but this God is no less Mormon than Catholic, no less Christian than Muslim.

Spiderman is an American hero and his story is a heroic epic of American mythology.  When his story is told well, it is capable of inspiring people to achieve the heroic ideals he stands for and it strengthens our connection to one another.

Questions to Ponder:

Did other people experience communitas while watching Spiderman?

Was this feeling of communitas limited to Americans?  How does nationality influence media’s ability to provoke communitas? 

What role does communitas play in social health?  Do moments of communitas impact our sense of social well-being? If so, what are the ramifications for our mental and physical health?

Where do people experience communitas on the national level?  What events, experiences, and media provoke communitas on such a grand-scale?

If you have an experience of communitas you’d like to share with me please feel free to email me at slyeager@smu.edu  I’d love to hear about other people’s experiences.

Also, please take a second and respond to my poll:

Home is Where the Heart is…

Listening to “Home” by Edward Sharpe & The Magnetic Zeros I was inspired to make the following realization:

The culturally prevalent concept “Home is Where the Heart is” which is found throughout American music and literature actually makes neolocality possible.  By valuing the notion that our sense of home is tied to those we love rather than a sense of place or a connection to the land, the nuclear family and neolocal residence patterns are made possible and even encouraged.  Perhaps this is an extension of the long history of American immigrant and migration within the nation.  It has definitely been perpetuated by urbanization, globalization, and the need to relocate for employment.  I think this is an interesting case of the a cultural idom which both is perpetuated by a cultural behavior and actually serves to perpetuate that behavior as well.

Though, I have to wonder if the increasing ability to “work from home” or on the computer/internet will change this cultural need to accept mobility as necessary for success.

OpenSource-Capitalism

While it is frequently difficult to identify paradigm shifts as they are happening, I believe I stumbled upon one tonight.  My boyfriend, Greg Wright, was telling me about this fascinating new project he discovered that will allow people to interact and play RPGs online in the dynamic new way in a world that is ultimately the players creation.  He found this project through a fascinating site called kickstarter, which allows people to share their creative new projects and to follow and fund creative projects posted by others.  Through a system which in many ways mirrors the concept behind microloans, creative entrepreneurs of the 21st-century are funded not by banks, corporations, investment firms, or entrepreneurial capitalist, but instead individual cyber citizens from around the globe. Each project sets a minimum required budget and posts what might be called a “business plan” which includes project related incentives promised each backer according to the financial pledge made.  Individuals can make small donations, most have a minimum of $1, or people can make substantial donations and become more directly involved in the project.  This site allows new business ideas a to flourish or parish based on their ability to convince other people on the Internet of the value of their idea and the utility of the project.

Hearing about the site reminded me of how growing up during the birth of the digital age my generation received innumerable speeches about how we would all be working in “jobs that the yet to be created.”  In my previous blog post, I wrote about the frustration felt by many in my generation about the failure of this promise to manifest immediately upon graduating from college and how in my opinion the occupied movement is a manifestation of my generation’s frustration at this failure and what is even many of the failure of the capital system.  My immediate response to hearing about Kickstarter was that this was the perfect springboard for all of those promised “jobs that have yet to be created” that I generation grew up expecting to make into their careers.

If the occupy movement is a global declaration of the “problem,” then the idea behind kickstarter is the solution.  Please don’t get me wrong, I’m not saying the specific website is the only solution.  However, the same way that eBay and its partner PayPal revolutionized online sales, kickstarter’s application of Kiva’s microloans system to creative projects offers creative individuals a means of turning cyber capital into the financial backing necessary for taking projects from imagination to innovation.  In this, I see the paradigm shift which might be categorized as being post-capitalist.  the paradigm shift being generated by the cyber market is not Marxist or Socialist because individuals and companies are definitely capable of making substantial profits. However, the global reality of cyberspace has left governments struggling to keep legislation up to date as evidenced by the recent attempts in the United States (SOPA, PIPA) and the international treaty (ACTA) to legislate against piracy.  Cyberspace has its own morality and self-governing mechanisms which it seems only “digital natives” understand.  cyber capital is intrinsically linked to the ability of a the website, idea, video, picture, or phrase to “go viral.”  going viral can have either a positive or negative impact through the equivalent of the social sanctions of honor and shame. While many people tend to dismiss things happening online as “not real,” viral honor and viral shame can have extremely real world implications.  In the United States, News/Media outlets and general public were focused to acknowledge the “real world” implications of cyber events during the chain reaction of cyber-bullying leading to suicides which led to the It Gets Better movement and the passing of cyber-bullying laws.  But there are other concrete examples such as the temporary stock crash of AT&T, KONY2012, Clint McCance, even the importance of the youth vote and Obama Girl to Obama’s election.

While that guy from the KONY 2012 video miscalculated when saying, “there are more people on facebook today, than were on the planet 200 years ago” that doesn’t mean powerful idea he was trying to monoplize on was incorrect.   The human race is infinitely more connected today despite our ever growing population recently hitting 7 Billion.  Digital communication is so much faster, and frequently more reliable, than the News.  This has actually led to the News reporting about what is being said and done online.  However, the importance of cyberspace, digital communication, and social networking can no longer be ignored or dismissed as a passing childhood phase.  Cyber capital generated by viral honor and viral shame shapes our lives in very real ways.  As more and more people are finding ways to “make a living” in cyberspace this is one subsistence pattern which can no longer be ignored.   This paradigm shifting subsistence pattern is post-capitalism or at the very least post-neoliberalism.  In honor of its importance to the digital age and the because its value system is one of the core cultural value of cyberspace, I suggest we call this new way of getting things done OpenSource-Capitalism.  After all people are still making money… eventually, but this isn’t your father’s capitalism.