Make up something good: the pursuit of attention and the evolution of Chinese user-created content

2017-05-26T06:54:54Z (GMT) by Lugg, Alexander Neish
This thesis analyses Chinese culture in cyberspace through the key theoretical lens of the attention economy, but also considers how attention is influenced by taste by referring to taste cultures. The idea of a taste culture is derived from Herbert Gans' work but has been significantly modified to explain the proliferation of varieties of cultural consumption in cyberspace. The idea of attention economy is taken from Michael Goldhaber, who uses it to describe how economic relationships change when attention becomes an object of scarcity in a networked world. Although the Web's ability to encourage community formation around different tastes has enabled the creation and sharing of diverse yet specific cultural material, the sheer volume of information available online also means that for people seeking publicity, the chance of being discovered in this environment is quite low. It is for this reason that the Web has been described as an attention economy. Web users choose to consume, or pay attention to, products that are most relevant to them. When these products are leisure or consumer products, their relevancy to each consumer is determined by each consumer's taste. A series of case studies drawn from Chinese cyberspace (2005-2010) are introduced and analysed to show how taste determines the appearance and culture of Chinese cyberspace. Because the case studies were of quite different forms, a mixture of interviews and surveys were used to collect data for textual and socio-cultural analysis. While the method of investigation differed from case study to case study, all research was designed to show how different aspects of Chinese Web culture are perceived and portrayed by consumers, content producers and in traditional media. This enabled a clear determination of how attention flows online and the role that taste groupings can have directing these flows. Chinese netizens (wang min) are using the Web to produce material that fills the gaps of traditional media, be it in news media and public opinion, popular fiction, or television. These attempts to fill the gaps in the traditional media's offerings compete with one another and the traditional media for the attention of other Chinese Web users. Web users who share similar tastes and consume online media relevant to them form online taste publics. These can evolve into organised groups as consumption of a shared interest is accompanied by communication between participants of taste publics. Thus unorganised aggregates can become organised groups. Chinese Web users seeking to raise their public profile in the attention economy that is the Web take advantage of these groups to more efficiently raise their profile and share their work with a more receptive audience.