Apr 5, 2010 Comments Off
This week’s readings discussed the idea of virtual ethnicity and the exclusivity that can arise in cyberspace. The article by Poster looks at the impact of language in cyberspace and how that relates to the already existing gap between ethnicity and identity. The article also suggests that true ethnic identification requires physical practices that cannot be satisfied through virtual representations.
The article by McLelland takes a more interactive approach to the debate on virtual ethnicity by looking at specific Japanese sites. It begins by introducing the vast usage of languages other than English on the Internet, noting that while English constitutes 30.4% of all Internet communication and media use, it is rapidly decreasing in popularity compared to Chinese, which stands at 16.6%, and Spanish at 8.7%. The article then describes Japanese ethnic identification and its emphasis on division by blood instead of birthplace. The article concludes by looking at 2-channeru, a Japanese posting site that demonstrates the intensity of virtual ethnic divides.
For me, the two readings emphasize the pervasive natures of the Internet and technology in our society (technically speaking, for those who have access to the technologies). Poster proposes, “we have moved to a condition in which what is actual is now virtual, articulating an undefined set of possibilities rather than a fixed state of things.” (201). Essentially, real is becoming virtual: i.e. the notion of virtual reality. The idea of ethnicity, which existed in the concrete world, is also applicable in cyberspace. This idea combined with Castells’ notion of real virtuality proves that we are indeed approaching a society in which cyber-culture is becoming (and soon will completely be) the norm for a certain portion of the population.
The connectedness of concrete and virtual gives the idea of virtual ethnicity not only global importance but also validity. Ethnicity and race have always been hotly contested subjects in history, so it only makes sense that they reappear on the Internet. As Poster notes, the connectedness created by the Internet allows for very different people to interact with each other without necessarily knowing each other’s ethnic identities (184). Additionally, he notes that the Internet is a very decentralized means of communication; information can be distributed to a multitude of individuals regardless of location (190). As a result, different ethnicities are coming in contact maybe even to a greater extent than they would in the concrete world. Consequently, Internet sites that target specific ethnic groups are becoming “ a heterogeneous space characterized by diversity, segmentation and connection” (McLelland 814). The Internet is bringing together people of different ethnicities that are physically distanced but at the same times it is making clearer distinctions between these identities.
So what is the importance of the fact that ethnic distinction has become an aspect of cyberspace? In my opinion, it serves to prove the connectedness of the real world and the virtual world. Yet I also think the joining of the Internet and ethnic vigor can be dangerous. Racism has been a problem for all societies throughout history. And while many cultures have been able to greatly decrease the amount of hostility between people that identify differently from one another, the Internet allows this issue to re-emerge once again. The Internet is more or less anonymous. Therefore, it’s much easier for people to post racial slurs, and voice very strong and oftentimes offensive opinions. While many sites are moderated so that offensive posts can be removed, sites such as 2-channeru do not have this type of censorship. As a result, people can continually post their opinions regardless of whether they contain offensive material.
In a sense, I feel the emergence of virtual identification is going to cause civilization to regress. While many people spent a large portion of their lives trying to eliminate hate between individuals the anonymity of the Internet is making it possible, and maybe even encouraging, people to voice opinions of hate and distrust. While we would like to believe that racism is decreasing in our society, the connectedness of the Internet provides a completely new venue for people to connect and form hate societies. More importantly, they can make their opinions heard.
While this is slightly unrelated to my above argument, I also wanted to address the concept of Japanese ethnicity. I was appalled to find out that the Japanese base their ethnic identities on blood relations rather than birthplace. At first, I did not really see anything different about this distinction- I’m Italian because I have Italian blood from my grandparents. However, I then realized that this would drastically change the way in which we identify ourselves in America. Yes I have Italian blood, but I would say that I’m American, not Italian. From what I understand, I would be Italian according to the Japanese customs of identification. I base my ethnic identity on the fact that I was born in America, and I’m sure the same system is used for an overwhelming percentage of the country. If the people living in America decided to use the same type of mindset as the Japanese when discussing ethnic identity, the idea of “American” would almost disappear. The only true “Americans” are the natives that were here when other explorers arrived. Most people that now call themselves Americans had family members that immigrated to the country multiple generations ago. Very few people would actually be considered “American.”