Monday, March 19, 2007

Dibbell sparks a revelation!

Dibbell’s piece on the “Rape in Cyberspace” tactfully raised complex issues of a cyber world that is fundamentally linked to the real world and vice versa. I was most intrigued by a point he made in passing, when he mentioned that the “covictim” of the rape, who witnessed the verbal assault on legba’s virtual being, was in fact legba’s real life husband! All that remained in my mind’s eye for the rest of the article was this image of family members, couples, and friends having interactions, dates, sex, and much more in separate rooms on their computers, or (like Snow Crash) people sitting side-by-side but sharing no physical contact – only maintaining their relationship through the computer. Although I understand how important and real these virtual spaces have become for people – the experiences, relationships and money they make there cannot be separated from the lives they lead and are in fact a part of who they are in the real world, I cannot discount my inherent discomfort in the idea that we might lose the ability to connect on an emotional level in our own skin, body and eyes interlocked. Holly made the point that many thinkers criticize the use of the phone as another dehumanizing act that removes us from true individual interaction. I think that this technology, along with AIM and other non-physical interactions all reside on a continuum of ways for people to disguise certain parts of communication and augment ambiguity in order to avoid awkward exchanges, to decrease vulnerability, and to multitask. Although AIM comes close, the one major difference in virtual worlds is that the entire realm of identity is unknown and created by the user – the interactions (no matter how personal) are not taking place between real people but rather between avatars who are controlled and created by real people that can choose exactly how much of themselves they want to appear in their avatar. In real life, when engaging in a conversation over the phone, one has some idea of who is on the other line (even if it is a hotline with role-playing, there are markers contained in the voice, speech patterns, accents, etc. that simply cannot be received in a text-based, expressionless virtual world.)! Just as Dibbell began to reformulate his views about self-expression and the real implications of a virtual experience, I am beginning to wonder if we should take our analysis of the complex, de-personalizing elements of virtual life and put away with it all (not to mention try to cut down on phones!)