NanoCulture

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Many people feel that, when music is rolled along in the online stream, its context is washed away and its value risked. They aren't just being wistful-- they simply want music to be special, and that specialness seems threatened. The same goes for lovers and critics of almost any artform. They see the stream's relationship to the art they love as parasitic: existing music, TV, art, books, comics-- anything is simply raw material.

At best this means the delight of discovery and the pleasure of curation; at worst it means art is ground up, swallowed, and forgotten. Is there another way to look at it?

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We could try and shift perspective, to think of the stream as a cultural form in its own right-- one with its own principles, virtues, thrills, and tensions. A thing we tackle critically, not simply celebrate or damn. In other words, we could stop imagining the stream as a vector for pop and start thinking of it as a kind of pop itself. To do this I'm going to need a more descriptive word than "the stream. He called the ideas, tropes, and micro-events that swirl about in the stream "nanostories," coining the word with a winningly self-conscious air.

So I'll call what I'm talking about nanoculture. It encompasses the streams we create, curate, and consume online, and the stories that flow through them, and the things we do to that stuff: sharing it, liking it, revivingit, changing it, arguing over it.

It's a collection of case studies of Wasik's own experiments in the field: the jokes he started, the ideas he got bored of, the sites he launched and threw away. One of them was the short-lived blog "Stop Peter Bjorn and John" , a fictitious cry of pain at the buzziness of "Young Folks" and-- by implication-- the fierce turnover of blog bands. Of course the blog simply accelerated Peter Bjorn and John's buzz, as Wasik doubtless guessed it would. One of the most energizing things about nanoculture is that it's a culture of making: building things, trying ideas out, and exploiting loopholes.

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Wasik's book has not entered the business canon. Business books thrive because they make you feel like you're being let in on a great secret. And Then There's This did too, but with a wink, constantly undermining itself and you, making you realize that the great secret might actually be a really dumb secret, and you were the rube for trying to chase it.

Between the lines you could pick up on a few points about nanoculture, though. The most useful advice being: just get on with it. One of the most energizing things about nanoculture is that it's a culture of making: building things, bodging, trying ideas out, working around limitations, and exploiting loopholes.

Implications of the New Technoscience

An idea is worth nothing unless you act on it. That ethos reverberates across the online world, from the current business fashion for "lean" and "agile" companies, right down to the reckless, constant self-sharing of stereotypical social media-ites.

But what gets made, and who controls it? In a series of posts several years ago on " spreadable media ," the academic Henry Jenkins put his finger on the great faultline in nanoculture-- its equivalent of "major label vs. Jenkins' posts were intended to destroy the concept of "virals"-- criticizing the idea for casting people as unthinking hosts for information and giving all the power to the media owner. Instead, he proposed, the same marketers and creators who cared about virals should start thinking about "spreadable" media, putting the emphasis on the people who passed it around, changing it and deepening it in the process.

Of course the idea of "viral" was not so easy to shift, because the concept-- far from being wrong-- tallies precisely with the interests of a lot of players in the online ecosystem. Jenkins' opposition to viral and spreadable content is at root an opposition to two kinds of copying: replication and imitation. Replication is perfect-- the content is preserved unaltered. Imitation is imperfect-- the content changes as it spreads. On the side of replication are advertisers looking for a spot that will "go viral," Facebook and its "frictionless sharing," Apple and its beautifully sealed interfaces, and most content owners.

On the side of imitation are fan communities, wikis, and the great meme-hives of the web like 4chan and Reddit. Most of the big social-media services have feet in both camps. Twitter, for instance, birthed the hashtag, a beautifully imitative conceit-- but it also changed its protocol on retweets to make them pure replicas of other people's content, cutting off one avenue for cultural mutation.


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Replication and imitation aren't just alternative ways of behaving in nanoculture: Different things bloom or wither under each condition. Imitation is collaborative: It might be technically possible to dig back and find the originator of, say, Socially Awkward Penguin or Privilege Denying Dude , but the knowledge would be perfectly useless. Whatever life or value these things have lies in their reuse.

When something replicates, on the other hand, following the trail backwards can be illuminating, perhaps ending up at digital marketing agencies, PR people, or political groups. All of whom could exploit imitative culture too, but often shy away from it because control over the message remains so vital to them. What imitation and replication have in common, more often than not, is transience.

Nanoculture: Implications of the new technoscience

Most critics of nanoculture point to its ephemerality as a serious problem: Even friendlier commentators, like Wasik, tend to agree. When he contemplates his nanostories en masse he feels a hollowness that's awfully familiar to anyone who's looked at a chart of "top virals. You could argue, with some justice, that we should hardly expect it to. We tend to see lasting artifacts as the purpose of pop culture, but maybe great movies and records were just the happy by-products of a particular energy that finds more efficient expression in the internet's punishing turnover.

Even if that's true, it's not a cheerful prospect. There's an awful inversion of effort in nanoculture, particularly the viral, replicating kind. One of the things that's great about pop is the way a few minutes of work-- a song, a performance, or a single photo-- could ripple and resonate for decades, not because it was consciously trying to stand the test of time, but because somebody happened to capture the vitality of a moment or gesture.

But the world of viral content is full of vastly elaborate work designed to produce a single fleeting effect-- a tremble of happiness or surprise that's just enough to make you share them. The effort that goes into making, for instance, a video where a herd of sheep form a giant LED display , seems absurdly disproportionate to the attention any given viewer will pay to it. Lit up! The End! Maybe that's a glorious absurdity, and making a lot of people briefly happy is nothing to be scoffed at, but even as a pop lover the constant diet of quick-hit awesomeness served up by virals grows sickening fast.

But that's more of a problem for the replication side of the stream-- imitation is just as transient, but the effort is distributed as well as the reaction, so it feels livelier and grows stale less quickly. It also exposes one of the most common misconceptions around nanoculture, a carry-over from broadcast media: the belief that the right way to measure the success of a thing is to measure how many people it reaches in aggregate.

This made a certain amount of sense for pop records or films, because the availability of those things was so tied to their popularity. Aggregation mattered because broadcasters used it as a guide: If 20 million people bought an album, its level of visibility in the mainstream media would be massively higher than if 20, bought it. Specialist media would see similar effects but at a smaller scale-- Pixies were a bigger deal than, say, Bitch Magnet because far more people liked them.

So it seems natural to look at social media in the same way and imagine that the aggregate number of hits or views is the important thing about it-- all the more so because, to advertisers and content owners, that often is the important thing.

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But at the individual level, this isn't really the case. New instrumentation and techniques have for the first time made possible materials research and engineering at this level, the scale of individual molecules and atoms. Extraordinary visions of material abundance, unprecedented materials, and powerful engineering capabilities have marked the arrival of nanotechnology, as well as dystopian scenarios of self-replicating devices running amok and causing global catastrophe. Largely a future possibility rather than present actuality, nanotechnology has become a potent cultural signifier.

NanoCulture explores the ways in which nanotechnology interacts with, and itself becomes, a cultural construction. Topics include the co-construction of nanoscience and science fiction; the influence of risk assessment and nanotechnology on the shapes of narratives; intersections between nanoscience as a writing practice and experimental literature at the limits of fabrication; the Alice-in-Wonderland metaphor for nanotechnology; and the effects of mediation on nanotechnology and electronic literature.

NanoCulture is produced in collaboration with the nano art exhibit at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art December September , created by an interdisciplinary team led by media artist Victoria Vesna and nanoscientist James Gimzewski. NanoCulture is richly illustrated with images from the nano exhibit, which also provides the basis for an ethnographic analysis of collaborative process and an exploration of changing concepts of museum space. The dynamic uniting these diverse perspectives is boundary crossing: between art, science, and literature; cultural imaginaries, scientific facts, and technological possibilities; actual.

The first book-length study focus on cultural implications of nanotechnology, NanoCulture breaks new ground in showing the importance of the new technoscience to contemporary culture and of culture to the development, interpretation, and future of this technoscience. Table of Contents. Twitter Tweets by ChicagoDistrib.

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