Apr 10, 2010 Comments Off
I found virtual ethnicity to be the most challenging topic that we have covered so far. That being said, I’ll do my best to regurgitate the most important parts of the readings. I’ll start with a brief review.
It has been clear throughout the progress of this course that the internet has the ability to connect people from many different locations and backgrounds. This has not been proven with data, it has simply been assumed to be true. When talking about virtual communities one of the strongest points for their value was that virtual communities allow people with similar view to find each other and communicate online. This in turn allowed for relationships to be completely dependent on interests and similarities. A problem with this model that we did not address until this week however was that relationships can also be formed based on disinterest and differences. Also, what happens when relationships are based on similar interest in hate? That is what these two articles attempted to figure out.
I had a very hard time reading Virtual Ethnicity: Tribal Identity in an Age of Global Communications. I just didn’t seem able to pull out as much information from it as I am used to in a reading. However, I did find a few parts of it very interesting and lead me to think a lot about virtual identity’s. One of these passages was the definition of the “superpanopticon.” A panopticon is essentially a structure which allows for prisoners to be viewed at any time without the observer letting the prisoner when they are being monitored or not. A so called superpanopticon refers to the fact that the Internet contains “records of information, databases,which construct identities of individuals outside their consciousness, with their (unwitting) participation, yet inscribed in institutional and practical contexts.” Poster then discussed MUDs and MOOs which are essentially virtual identities that people create when they are online. An interesting point in my mind was how “the predominance of white American users often leads to the presumption that one is interacting with a white American person.” Where it really got interesting was when Poster brought in the idea that online all ethnicity is dissolved. He then rebuked this idea and instead cited CyberJew as evidence that the internet does not make ethnicity disappear, it allows ethnicity’s to connect with each other. At this point I was getting confused. Each of these ideas alone were intriguing but they didn’t really seem to connect together, and some actually contradicted each other. The following is my attempt to resolve all of these ideas.
The reference to a superpanopticon is a reference to the fact that records of internet usage is everywhere. Information is recorded whether those people want it recorded or not. This information could in theory be used definitions of users ethnicity’s which relates to MOOs the more information online or the more time some one spends online the more solidified their virtual ethnicity becomes. However this information can be misread or misinterpreted, and example of which is that many users are assumed to be white Americans. But then if people’s information is mistaken much of the time can their really exist a virtual ethnicity? The proof is in CyberJew. Virtual ethnicity can essentially be used to connect people of similar backgrounds, experiences, or beliefs which can allow for diverse and stimulating interactions. So, in conclusion, I believe that Posters final point is that virtual ethnicity can allow for interactions with people of similar ethnicity even if separated geographically. Essentially it is our conclusion on virtual communities applied to ethnicity.
The other reading assessed a completely different side of virtual ethnicity. Although virtual can be used for good, it can also be used for bad things, such as racist comments and derogatory discussions. An example of this is 2-channeru, a japanese forum that is being used to put down others cultures. Largely at risk in these conversations are the “resident koreans,” people of korean descent that live in Japan. These people are given less liberties and privileges than “real” japanese citizens despite small if any difference between them. This racism problem is being amplified online. One of the major problems is that most of the primary languages on the internet are used in multiple countries. Japanese, although well represented in size on the internet, is primarily only spoken in Japan. Because of this, the internet in Japan is more of an intranet that is keeping discussions and connections within Japan itself. Above I talked about how most internet users are assumed to be white americans. Similarly, on the japanese internet, users are assumed to be japanese citizens and address each other as such. Caught in the middle of these cross country forum are the resident koreans, citizens who are accessing media and information that is not designated for them. To make it worse, many of the discussions are of a racist basis against resident koreans. This is isolating the poor citizens as they are surrounded by racist comments and don’t feel able to contribute. An example of a discussion on 2-channeru was one forum titled, “Who do you hate more, the Chinese or the Koreans.” Many resident koreans are resorting to using the internet in different languages to escape the hate. One resident korean posted his frustrations about his current citizenship online in english since he is not able to say such things in japanese.
Other examples of this racist culture is how when Japanese used on the internet is not native-level, posters are assumed to be Korean. Posts in japanese will also assume a race of another poster if they disagreed or agreed with what they had to say. Even worse, one post in the paper said “Speak japanese, language of your master!!” An interesting point to make is that all posts are completely anonymous, which is presumably not discouraging these negative behaviors since users are essentially guaranteed that their comments are never going to be able to be confronted based on their beliefs. These articles where obviously full of information, but especially the first one was difficult to understand and they were obviously incredibly very dense. Hopefully I was able to hit on some of the key points of the readings however.
Unrelated to this course I found my last point to be very troubling to my personal ideals. I am for all intents and purposes an optimist. I believe that people are mostly good and that bad behaviors are a small part of what makes a person human. You may know that some one has done bad things, but in almost all circumstances I would believe that anyone can change. There is always a choice. I have had many discussions with friends and family on this topic but have never been more troubled by a piece of information than I was by our piece on 2-channeru. Ignoring the sociological implications that we discussed, what I found most hurtful was that when guaranteed anonymity people would say such awful things. More than anything else, this class has exposed me to the ugly underside of the internet. Now that my eyes have been opened I find myself moving past a youtube clip and towards the comments when it is over. Even on clips with little kids playing an instrument or singing etc., there are always hurtful comments somewhere. 2-channeru to me was an extreme example of this kind of hate on the internet. Many of these comments would never have been made if there was a name attached to them. It was this realization that made me come up with a theory that I found disturbing. Is it possible that with complete anonymity people are able to shed the shell that is their life and express their true feelings? Are posts online more truthful than a discussion in person? Without worrying about reputations are people saying what is really on their mind? Is the Internet offering a glimpse into our worlds true colors? If it is, I can’t say I like what I see…