Virtual Identity & Virtual Community

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Virtual Identity & Virtual CommunityConcepts& History RHET334 Spring 2011

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Who studies Virtual Identity and Virtual Community?

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Scholars of the VirtualSociologists Psychologists Philosophers Literary Scholars Scholars of Cultural Studies Scholars of New Media/Digital Humanities, etc.

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EmergenceWe have computer technologies for decades before we have the emergence of theories of virtual identity. Virtual community precedes virtual identity as a concept.

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EmergenceARPANET (Advanced Research Projects Agency Network) developed in the late 60’s and early 70’s by members of the defense research branch of the US military (DARPA) in collaboration with MIT scientists. ARPANET pioneered packet-switching and paved the way for the 1982 standardization of Internet Protocol Suite, TCP/IP, the basis for the Internet as we know it today.

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EmergenceThe combination of the emergence of the Internet and the popularization of desk-top computing enables the wider emergence of the concepts of virtual identity and virtual community in the 1980’s.

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EmergenceWWW: 1989, following a proposal by Tim Berners-Lee a research scientist at CERN (Conseil Européen pour la Recherche Nucléaire, or European) The first “virtual community” was the WWW constructed by scientists, for scientists to exchange information on the Internet in a standardized format.

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EmergenceIn the general literature on identity, scholarship, work on virtual identity begins appearing in the 80’s particularly in sociology & psychology (Cerulo 397) The concept of VI does not yet exist--but scholars focus on the changing relationship between self and others/self and environment/self and technology

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Meyrowitz (1985/1987)Looks at NCT’s (new communication technologies) and how they affect identity as they transform the “sites of social interaction” and “reconfigure the boundaries that distinguish collectives.”

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Altheide (1995)NCT’s reshape social activity & create new environments for self development and self identification. Focuses on the keyboard as a technology which opens new interactions but again blurs boundaries between traditionally divided “sites” like work and play.

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Beniger 1987The impact of NCTs on community formation and resulting collective identity Media generated communities provide a “psuedo-gemeinschaft” experience. The power in these communities in unevenly distributed/

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Cerulo, et al 1992 Later work describes technologically generated communities as more “real” and tangible, creating a feeling of “we-ness” And tracks various types of “techno-links” that bring together diverse and disparate participants

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Postman 1992 & Schlesinger 1993 Others are critical of and skeptical of NCT’s ability to bring people together in positive or productive ways.

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Haraway, 1985,1991“A Cyborg Manifesto, “ and Simians, Cyborgs and Women .

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Dibbell, 1993“A Rape In Cyberspace, “ on of the first major articulations of the issues related to virtual identity. Precipitated in the text-based virtual reality environment, Lamda Moo--big focus on Virtual Community. Can there be rape when there are no real bodies? Big focus on issues of community as the Lamda Moo Moo community is ripped

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Reid, 1994“Cultural Formations in Text-based Virtual Reality.” (MA Thesis) Focuses on: 1. Methods of textualizing non-verbal aspects of communication 2. The problematizing of the nature of the body & sexuality (lots of discussion of gender switching.)

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Turkle, 1995Life on the Screen: Identity in the Age of the Internet is one of the first comprehensive studies of Virtual Identity and Virtual Community. Impact of computers on identity. Includes many interviews with people who are spending time in MUDS.

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Turkle,1995Self is multiple, fluid, and constituted in interaction with machine connections; it is made and transformed by language. Blurring of boundaries between human and machines. Early instance of citing the shift from “machines are like people” to “people are like machines.”

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Turkle, 1995Much on the psychology of online life, the possible psychological benefits of virtual identities and the risks

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Reeves & Nass, 1996Approach NCT’s as objects relevant to identity building. Technology becomes a “viable other” in the building of the self. Human to machine relationships can mirror purely human relationships. Suggest that the human brain needs to “evolve” in relationship to technologies rapid advancement.

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Porter, 1997Internet Culture, an edited collection, focuses issues pertaining to virtual worlds, virtual community and virtual bodies Identity is cyberspace is more fluid, allows for experimentation with selves, may allow us to break out of the dominant social order and construct truer identities

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Hayles, 1999How We Became Posthuman: Virtual Bodies in Cybernetics, Literature, and Informatics. Develops a new theory of the “posthuman”: computers have compelled us to redefine our individual identies and our understanding of what a human is. Presence Vs Absence, gives way to pattern and randomness

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Hayles, 1999Draws on cybernetic and information theory rather than sociology or psychology or cultural studies Norbert Weiner (Cyberneticist) Draws similarities between living systems and digital systems Information loses its body Becomes a quantity separate from the materials that carry it Bodies are “information” (such as DNA)

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Smith & Kelleman, 2001“Community and its ‘Virtual' Promises: a Critique of Cyberlibertarian Rhetoric” Cyberlibertarians have misinterpreted the idea of community emphasizing too much the “disembodied individual.”

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Smith & Keleman, 2001 (cont.)Cyberlibertarian rhetoric (Turkle, for example) emphasizes liberation from earthly and embodied constraints. Says that it encourages new forms of self expression, democracy, etc.

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Smith & Keleman, 2001 (cont.)Critique: this perspective is technologically over-determined. Emphasizes too much the “cyber-alternative” to a society in decline. “‘Virtual community’ is constructed (like any other ‘community’) through individuals’ (temporal and partial) engagement in the production and the consumption of a sense of sharedness and belonging.”

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