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Cultural Evolution in the Digital Age$
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Alberto Acerbi

Print publication date: 2019

Print ISBN-13: 9780198835943

Published to Oxford Scholarship Online: January 2020

DOI: 10.1093/oso/9780198835943.001.0001

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PRINTED FROM OXFORD SCHOLARSHIP ONLINE (oxford.universitypressscholarship.com). (c) Copyright Oxford University Press, 2020. All Rights Reserved. An individual user may print out a PDF of a single chapter of a monograph in OSO for personal use. date: 27 October 2020

Cumulation

Cumulation

Chapter:
(p.186) 8 Cumulation
Source:
Cultural Evolution in the Digital Age
Author(s):

Alberto Acerbi

Publisher:
Oxford University Press
DOI:10.1093/oso/9780198835943.003.0008

Chapter 8 considers what cultural evolutionists call cumulative cultural evolution, that is, the idea that culture increases in complexity. For a cultural domain being defined as cumulative, it needs to show accumulation (more traits), improvement (traits are more efficient), and ratcheting (new traits build on previous innovations). The author proposes that this is not a necessary outcome, and that different domains show different signs of cumulation. It is suggested that the fidelity and the hyper-availability provided by digital media allow for more cumulation in domains where it was limited before. Not surprisingly, they also allow for the retention of vast amounts of useless information—junk culture. A central challenge for the coming years is thus finding efficient mechanisms of online cultural selection. Algorithmic selection is finally discussed, along with how mainstream criticisms, such as the fact that algorithms are biased or opaque to users, are not decisive arguments against their efficacy and utility.

Keywords:   cumulative culture, ratchet effect, online culture, junk culture, YouTube videos, algorithmic selection, algorithmic bias

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