Culture in a Virtual World

Sara Grace Stasi
8 min readMar 7, 2024


Defining creative value in an online era

I have always possessed a strong desire to understand how humans make meaning in our lives, how knowledge is constructed, and what purpose creativity has in our process of developing comprehension. Over the past few decades, how we view and interact with the world has been dramatically shaped by the existence of the world wide web.

The digital world as we know it today did not exist when I was in high school. Thirty years ago, when I was in 11th grade, the internet as we know it came online. It’s hard to express just how much of an impact this development had on how humans relate to the world, how we construct knowledge, and how we generate our local and global culture. Suddenly, knowledge and references that you would have needed to dig into an encyclopedia or special book to find were literally at your fingertips.

Along with a rapidly growing storehouse of knowledge, new opportunities for social interaction began to emerge. Chatrooms blossomed, dedicated to niche topics such as Animaniacs or growing long hair. Fringe niches were represented, and it was thrilling to connect with people all around the world who shared your same special hobby or interest. At the same time, the internet became a vehicle for rapid exposure and a means for cultural phenomena to “go viral.” The beanie baby craze , for example, was partially fueled by the existence of a website that could track limited edition releases and drive demand for rare items. In the beginning, there simply weren’t that many websites in existence, and those that were tied to popular culture blazed like bare bulbs in a dark room.

Email was also revolutionary when it was first developed. Suddenly writing letters to your friends from summer camp, an activity that I gamely pursued in the early late 1980s, was replaced by sending emails to all my recently graduated high school classmates from my dorm room computer. Soon after that, we could all send these short written messages called texts from a phone we carried in our pocket. Then the pocket phone got smarter and became a pocket computer. By the turn of the century, there was very little in life not touched by the internet. It became an integral part of how we experience the world and, in turn, a filter through which we created meaning from our experience.

I’ve always been a solitary person who also needs some time in community. I am hugely creative, but my creativity needs an audience to be fully developed. I can’t stand being in large crowds, but public speaking comes naturally to me. I’ve always felt that I have something that needs to be shared with the world, but have struggled to find “value” in what I create.

When I first started to write poetry, around age 15, I actually submitted it to the only publications I was familiar with, Seventeen Magazine! In retrospect this sounds completely ineffective and a poor strategy for publication, but at the time there was just no way to get your work out there other than submit it (via mail) to different publications. I wasn’t yet aware of the concept of a literary journal, and in my small town there was a community college but to other major cultural institution that would be developing or publishing poetry or literature. In the early and mid 90s, self publication meant a or that you would physically create and then make copies of at the library. The internet made it so much easier to get your work out to a larger audience. Suddenly, you could write something and it could instantly be read, anywhere, by anyone with a browser. The whole concept of value began to change. the nature of what could be written for publication began to change.

In the early 2000s, blogging began to gain popularity. What was initially primarily a mode for political discourse soon became a means of personal self expression. In the years before social media took hold of the digital experience, blogging about one’s daily activities, style, recipes, and other aspects of “regular” life became not only possible but, for some, profitable. Anyone could create a blog, start writing, and potentially make money off ad revenue. The idea of value in relation to creative output had shifted once again.

I think people are naturally curious about how other people live their lives. We compare ourselves to others because we are a social animal. We learn how to behave (and how to survive) by modeling our behavior after what we see other people doing. We monitor our environment in order to gauge whether or no our own behavior is “normal”. Culture is a shared understanding about the world based on a common understanding about how to exist -or how to rebel against — the world as we experience it.

As a meaning-making practice, ‘culture’ is viewed by anthropologists as a way of making sense of, adapting to — and, sometimes, resisting — economic, political, and other structural conditions. -Heather Paxson

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The rise of online culture is unique to the last 30 years of our human existence. Putting it in that context, it is remarkable to me how much the presence of the internet has changed our daily reality in only three decades. We are just learning how to exist in the shared virtual space. We have yet to fully understand how unrestricted access to the internet will impact our development as a species. And, just like in the past when a new technology (from building a fire to driving a ford) fundamentally changed our ways of being, we are struggling to adapt.

The only constant in life is change, and it can be difficult to gain a foothold when it feels like the ground is constantly shifting underfoot. It is fascinating to me how the internet has accelerated popular culture to the point of nearly erasing the process of shared meaning making across a broad slice of the American population.

In the past, culture traveled more slowly, and was largely limited to regional and geographic differences. Radio and then television changed this dramatically by allowing everyone with the newest technology to hear and see the same thing at pretty much the same time. With limited options, most folks were having a shared viewing experience and therefore a shared cultural understanding. Of course, just like today, there were always folks who didn’t watch TV or listen to the radio, and therefore weren’t as engaged with popular culture or politics. But for the most part, people’s understanding of the world was shaped by shared consumption of the same cultural artifacts.

The internet changed everything, and the nature of streaming and social media continues to further fragment and divide our cultural consumption. No longer are we all listening to the president address the nation on the radio as we did in 1933 , or sitting down to Must See TV on a Thursday night as we did in 1989. Instead, there is no limit to the content we may consume, be it made on the set at 30 Rockefeller Plaza or staged in the living room of a teenager in rural Texas or streaming from the heart of a war zone. Online technology has become both the great equalizer and the great fragmenter. How we create and consume culture has been completely transformed.

This period of relatively rapid change raises many questions for me as an anthropologist and as an artist. The traditional spaces for artistic expression are rapidly shifting, and in their place are a range of options for creating and putting unique and individual work into the world. With these opportunities, however, come a range of different challenges.

One challenge of the modern digital age is the question of how we show up online. Without the traditional gatekeepers of publishing houses or broadcasting stations, what regulates how we behave in shared digital spaces? How do we decide what to post, and why? What factors create value in our creative work? Is there inherent value in simply being present online? Is social media a permanent part of our lives, or will it be replaced by another new technology in 15 or 30 years?

These questions and other fascinate me and fuel my relationship to creating and producing content in the online space. Posting online is both an act of creation but also an act of cultural participation. We define ourselves by what we choose to post, but we also participate in defining the culture of the online spaces in which we participate. And these spaces are, by and large, also regulated by the community that sees and responds to them. Value and meaning are fluidly defined in a rapidly changing online context. It can be difficult to understand what part of the equation over which we have any control. It used to be relatively straightforward how content was consumed buy our intended audience. Now, with the development of algorithmic manipulation, there is a third party, an AI tool, also participating in how culture is shaped and seen. It’s not just what broadcasters think will be popular, it’s not just what is authentically in demand, it is also what the algorithm thinks we want to see in order to increase the amount of time we are present online.

I think the next 10 or 15 years will be incredibly fascinating in terms of how AI impacts cultural development in all aspects of life. I have already been experimenting with the text and image generators that have recently been made available to the public. Certainly, the future of how we show up in virtual spaces will be shaped by algorithms for some time to come. the question remains — will we shape these AI systems, or will we be more greatly shaped by them? The influence runs both ways, and without thoughtful consideration we appear to be at a crossroads where human thought and creativity will be even more heavily influenced by the platforms that distribute our content. And what we define as a “valuable” cultural contribution will continue to shift and mutate alongside these changes in technology.

Originally published at on March 7, 2024.



Sara Grace Stasi

Poems, short fiction, photography, musings on life. Santa Cruz, California. BA American Lit | BA Anthropology | MA Education. Patreon: sgstasi