Living Online – Cybermind and online community

Posted by jerry on August 3rd, 2007 — Posted in Journal, New media, Theory

I’ve seen some exciting news on Angela’s blog: Jon Marshall – a very good friend of mine – has written a book about online communities – based on Cybermind, an email discussion list that began on 10 May 1994. How do I know the date? I was was one of the founding members.

Living Online - Jon Marshall

The discussion list was opened to discuss the philosophy and psychology of the internet, and in the process became one of the most remarkable online communities. It was founded and co-moderated by artist/musician/poet Alan Sondheim and film theorist the late Michael Currant began and could have gone the way of many academic online communities – exchanging a few theoretical snippets and eventually moving on. But it didn’t. The list was waiting to happen, and within days had more than 500 subscribers. There were a few fairly academic exchanges of a more or less formal nature, some discussion about the name – should it be capitalised or split into two words, and a few opening thoughts on the nature of community in the abstract.

The sudden death of Michael Currant was a physical and emotional shock, and abruptly the list went quiet, with a few bizarre appearances of response from Michael himself, that had been held up n this or that server and finally delivered. Soon a few started to write about their feelings about Michael’s death and the list transformed into a community of people sharing their feelings as well as their academic thoughts – a new phenomenon in the online world.

Cybermind went on to spawn physical meetings in cybercafes – flesh-meets – and an academic conference in Perth Western Australia which was the first of its kind probably in teh world – a discussion-list conference with simaltaneous chat being projected behind the speakers and the whole thing videoed and streamed live via cuseeme onto the web – and this only two years after the worldwide web was made fully public domain. At the after-conference party I played my first live-streamed fiddle concert onto the web. It was an extraordinary effort by many people working behind-the-scenes to keep the technology running throughout the conference.

And one of the early members was Jon Marshall, an Australian anthropologist/academic who lived among the online tribes, and one of the few who kept a good archive of the early days of Cybermind. I’ve met him several times and deeply respect his intellect.

His book deals with issues of identity and gender, the nature of community and online ethics. I shall be in the queue when his book launches – forget Harry Potter! Buy Living Online 🙂


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