Wednesday, February 25, 2004

In response to Ben's first question...I realize the danger of censorship coming from a higher authority, but I also have some uneasiness with rules set by cyber community users. There is a sort of exaggerated sense of power from being able to construct your own world. For instance, celebrities have the means to do this and often appear to be arrogant or above the law/social norms. I have a concern with people being able to set explicit parameters for their interactions--it's just not what we encounter in the physical world. Will this lead to a partial loss of our ability to civilly interact with each other? This brings me to my first comment....

We, especially U.S. residents, live in a culture of extreme convenience. 24 hour service, same day delivery, overnight shipping, etc. are all part of our everyday experiences. We're pampered which is comfortable, but I also think that it is causing us to be less tolerant when our needs are not met. Consider road rage--if somebody doesn't have command of the road as they see fit, somewhat frightening anger ensues. Web interaction is part of the convenience culture. In the 'Virtual Communities as Communities' chapter, it's mentioned that people prefer email contact over face-to-face contact because they do not have to deal with people immediately. They can choose when and how they respond. My concern is that this removal from physical contact will affect how we treat each other when faced with immediate situations. If we experience little demand for immediate communication, will we lose the skills to do so reasonably? How will people deal with the demands of their children? with an annoying neighbor?

Second comment: Our readings have established that the web can foster meaningful relationships that have a great deal to offer people--emotionally, intellectually, for entertainment, and otherwise. This is positive in itself, but the benefit is gained through the sterility of a monitor, a keyboard, and network of wires or waves keeping it all connected. In contrast, there is an entire sensual world of wonder beyond the networks. I agree that web communication can facilitate experiencing the physical world; this is evident in physical meetings between initially on-line friends or learning more about a place you are going to travel to, etc. But what about the people and experiences who are already in your physical realm? I was struck with this thought when I read Rheingold's account of his daughter finding him weeping at his computer screen over an interaction with his on-line community. Not to discredit his honest emotion, but it is a shallow scene. It is one thing to have personal interests. Usually, those interests can be shared or explained to other people in your life. But on-line interaction is different; it is an activity that exists for the computer-user only. To pull this in, on-line interaction, whether it is shopping, socializing, reading, etc., removes us from the sensual world, including the people around us. I find that world too compelling to ignore and wonder exactly what people are missing by not interacting with it. Any insight from you all?

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