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Tuesday, March 13, 2007

The unreal life of the internet? 

Over at the Poorman, Sifu Tweety has done what I think is a profound post on the Internet as a "fictional" or "unreal" reality:
. . . Every time I’ve seen criticism of communication on the internet it has made the point that people online feel free to say things they wouldn’t in real life. Well, yeah they do: they’re acting! Nobody would expect Carl Weathers to refuse to shoot a man while he was in character as Action Jackson. This is what makes the internet good: a fundamentally imaginative character. When people go online for anything, including work communications, they’re creating a character. They can create multiple different characters, with different timelines, different goals, different qualities. It’s exciting, and novel, for the same reason that creating movies is fun. Actors playing off each other. If I thought for one minute that people wouldn’t somehow hold it against me for being “Sifu Tweety” when I went to do wholly different things, out of character, as [REDACTED], I wouldn’t be so coy about my real name. And if I thought for one minute that community theater would be as intellectually engaging and entertainingly mean-spirited as blogging is, I’d put on a one-man show at the senior center.
Now, you don’t have to do things the way I do. You can create a single character, and attempt to have it hew as closely as possible to your self - goals, history, mores - but just because you do that doesn’t mean making everybody else do things that way won’t be crappy and boring for you, too.
None of this is to say that there aren’t things that can be done with the internet’s facilitation that have real world consequences. There are lots. We learn about more every day . . . the biggest problem: that so many people still don’t understand how the internet works, because they keep seeing it as one thing - an exact one-for-one copy of every person using it, rendered into smileys and cat pictures - when it really is something completely different: an almost infinite collection of anonymously written fiction, continuous, based on real events, with occasional, but very squirrelly, correlations with the “real world.”
It’s a problem pretty directly linked to age, and will hopefully peter out eventually, at which point the law can evolve rationally. Like ordinary literacy, computer literacy is only really possible in those who learn it young. The generation now running things, is in fundamental ways, computer illiterate, no matter how much they’ve used computers. Shit, I’m borderline: the technology just wasn’t there when I was young enough. Why do you think that seventeen year olds put so little thought into whether or not they should put things online? Because they intuitively understand that they aren’t providing a record of a “real life” . . . and they assume that everybody else understands things the same way, because that’s just how the internet is.
I'm going to have to think about this for a bit. I think maybe he's got something here -- maybe this helps to explain that we seem to be chatting with "personas" sometimes, rather than with people.
And yet, I don't feel that the people I have gotten to know from around the world through the comments on my own blog, and through reading other blogs, are "lying" to me or to themselves about who they really are. In fact, sometimes I think we find it less difficult to be the best that we can be on the internet, because on the net we are only our words; we aren't distracted by appearance or class or what kind of car we drive.
Anyone have opinions about this?

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