Tag Archives: schaap

The Internets

Schaap writes that in the same ways social norms about gender, race, and so on, are constructed in the real world, they are also “encoded” in virtual worlds. As such, we tend to take them for granted: “much of our day-to-day cosmology is shrouded in the fact that it simply is ‘the way things are.'” (233) We tend to think of technology as a “transparent and neutral tool” (234) when in fact it reflects (and, as Nakamura argues, distorts) the ideologies and stereotypes of its creators and users. Basically, Schaap says, every aspect of a virtual environment comes out of an attempt to either translate (or break) the rules of “reality,” but in all these attempts bodily reality (or, for lack of a better term, “RL”) is implicitly preserved as “the one true and final reality” safe from the “disruptive forces” of virtual reality (238). Schaap argues that this dichotomy between “real” and “virtual” isn’t as clear-cut as some might like to think, and that actions in one realm have reprocussions in the other.

(Side note: Like a few of the other posters, I was struck by Schaap’s remarks about the need to avoid generalizations about the (singular) “Internet.” Maybe the infamous Bushism about “the Internets” wasn’t so hilariously wrong after all…)

Based on the readings we’ve done so far, it’s clear that even in the earliest online communities, some were oriented towards escapism and fantasy (roleplaying MUDs), while others (like the Well) were more interested in integrating online and RL interaction. Although as per Schaap’s advice I’d like to avoid generalizations about “the Internet,” I would argue that the latter mode, particularly in the Web 2.0 world, has become dominant in terms of the overall “flavor” of Internet usage in the public consciousness. While I’ll acknowledge that fantasy and roleplaying are still a big part of online interaction (and often in more subtle and unexpected ways than, say, pretending to be an elf), it seems to me that the majority of Internet users don’t go online with the motivation to become someone else, but more as a way of extending or supplementing their pre-existing social selves. When you ask most people what they do online, they’ll probably bring up things like e-mail, IM or Facebook (or, alternatively, totally passive activities like browsing websites, playing games, or watching videos).

Superficially, at least, the Internet(s) haven’t become the kind of transformative environment early thinkers predicted–people are responding to it (them?) in pretty much the same ways they have to older technologies of mass media and communication. Or are they? This is a pretty broad statement. I’m not so sure if I even agree with it myself. Prove me wrong?