Could ‘digital culture’ refer to ‘an essentially heterogeneous reality’, a flattened ‘plane of consistency’ where’lines of segmentarity’ and ‘lines of flight’ weave into each other, excluding a dichotomy, and a relationship of power, a rhizome in one word (Deleuze & Guattari, 1987).
My analysis of a term into a root word and a modifier can be easily traced back to a syntactic tree structure where the noun forms a head and the adjective takes the subjugated position of a specifier. With Chomskyan transformational-generative grammar forming part of my background, I can’t help seeing the language in forms of aborescent structures, maybe rich the complexity of layers but with dichotomous relationships as an underlying organising principle. I can see movements mapped our but always with clear ports of departure and clear destinations, all of them subject to rules of government and power. Yet, according to Deleuze and Guattari (1987), this representation of the linguistic reality is not abstract enough …
If the language is indeed closely related to culture, then my linguistic musings on the nature of ‘digital culture’ are devoid of substance. If ‘digital culture’ is analysed from the rhizome perspective, the relationship between the two can be seen in a surprisingly different light.
Like in the famous example of a wasp and an orchid as a visualisation of the processes of deterritorialisation and reterritorialisation, the culture deterritorialises by becoming detached, disembodied and dis-embedded from its temporal and spatial contexts (Hand, 2008) as it flows into the capillaries of the Web as information. The ubiquity allows the digital to reterritorialise – ‘the project of everware is nothing less than the colonisation of everyday life by technology’ (Greenfield, 2006 in Hand, 2008) (although the term ‘colonisation’ reintroduces the notions of power). However, simultaneously, it is deterritorialised as it becomes part of the ubiquitous culture (by being infiltrated and taken over, to use Hand’s ‘power’ discourse) and then it reterritorialises the culture by transporting its artefacts.
The result is an emergence of new concepts and convergence of thereof with existing objects and practices, producing novel understandings (Hand, 2008). In the process of aggregation, repurposing, mashing-up and creative recombination, new cultural artefacts are released into the circulation (Off Book Visual Culture Online or Life in a Day)
This way the notion of imitation can be excluded as the claim that digital culture is a form of culture (either superior in utopian terms of inferior, disruptive in dystopic terms) does not hold truth any more as there are no universals, no dualisms. Rather fragments of code characteristic for one and the other are captured and mutually exchanged allowing the digital and the culture to become the other, a becoming-digital of the culture and a becoming-culture of the digital. The boundaries are blurred in the most fantastic post-human fashion (think also of the flattened relationship between the symbol and the signified as described by Kristeva and further illustrated by Bayne, 2008 in her example of how the avatar – the digital- often becomes what it signifies, that is the identity of the user). If so, there can be no clear answer whether digital cultures bring a promise or a threat, a utopian or a dystopic future as they are not subject to a cause-and-effect representation but a much more complex multiplicity, a machinic assemblage, surprisingly a relief for a person brought up on Chomskyan trees.