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In Which the Blogger Describes the Level of her Dorkosity

January 17, 2008 it isn’t what I’m working on now, my dream is to study the internet. I disagree with my supervisor that this will doom me to a lifetime of obscurity, but I understand that it will make it harder for me to get jobs and funding. However well I understand that there is something amazing going on with the internet, something that is simultaneously connected to and an integral part of “real life” (in “scare quotes” because I don’t think online life is any less real), and also so very different and new, many people don’t see it that way. When I tell someone that I am interested in the internet, online communities, and the practice of religion online, they look at me as if I said I want to do my dissertation on Smurfs. Why? Why would you want to study a bunch of nerds playing games and talking at each other? Why would you want to study something that isn’t real? What could be interesting about the internet?

If they are actually interested in an answer, I always direct people to the essay “A Rape in Cyberspace” by Julian Dibbell. This is the piece that got me interested. I have a short list of books/essays/films/music that changed my life, that BLEW MY MIND, DUDE, and this is on it. Dibbell described the impact this way:

No piece I had done before had managed to convey as vividly to readers the fact that there was something wild and different going on online, something that might profoundly alter the way they related to words and communication and culture in general.

Back in the prehistoric days of the internet, people congregated in online games/chat rooms called MUDs or MOOs. A Rape in Cyberspace happened in one of these, called LambdaMOO. Within this MOO, in the living room, a user who called himself Mr Bungle used a “voodoo doll” to attribute actions to other users. Thus, for one, he made a womans avatar sodomize herself with a knife. Although the actions happened as text on a screen, many of the people behind the avatars felt real life trauma. How does a person make sense of this? How does a community punish the offender? This story is

the story of a man named Mr. Bungle, and of the ghostly sexual violence he committed in the halls of LambdaMOO, and most importantly of the ways his violence and his victims challenged the 1500 and more residents of that surreal, magic-infested mansion to become, finally, the community so many of them already believed they were.

Yes, it is from 1993, which makes it roughly 3,000 years old in internet time. If this level of complex human emotion and community feeling could take place way back then, though, with the limited technology they had at the time, imagine what goes on now. Maybe you don’t use the internet in those ways, but many do, and not just freaks and geeks. My grandma’s cancer 25 years ago left her face deformed and her self-image shattered. She lives on a farm in the middle of Saskatchewan and has deep and intense friendships with other cancer survivors all over the world. She can freely socialize with other women her age without worrying about how she looks. These are not virtual friendships, they are real relationships, and they are what brings happiness to her life.

Crime and Passion in a Virtual World by Julian Dibbell (Book) in Computers & Internet

Julian Dibbell’s book “My Tiny Life: Crime and Passion in a Virtual World” is available for free in PDF format on Lulu.

3 Comments leave one →
  1. January 17, 2008 8:17 pm

    Hate to say it, but your supervisor has it absolutely wrong. It will not doom you to obscurity, and you won’t have problems finding funding, so long as you mix it with something that is highly fundable – i.e. my work that mixes sociology of health and illness with the Internet. BOOM!

  2. Dr. Jim permalink
    January 20, 2008 4:44 pm

    A little culture for you:

    Now I am alone.
    O, what a rogue and peasant slave am I!
    Is it not monstrous that this player here,
    But in a fiction, in a dream of passion,
    Could force his soul so to his own conceit
    That from her working all his visage wann’d,
    Tears in his eyes, distraction in’s aspect,
    A broken voice, and his whole function suiting
    With forms to his conceit? and all for nothing!
    For Hecuba!
    What’s Hecuba to him, or he to Hecuba,
    That he should weep for her? What would he do,
    Had he the motive and the cue for passion
    That I have? He would drown the stage with tears
    And cleave the general ear with horrid speech,
    Make mad the guilty and appal the free,
    Confound the ignorant, and amaze indeed
    The very faculties of eyes and ears.
    Hamlet, 2.2

    This book might give you some insights into this:
    What’s Hecuba to him? : fictional events and actual emotions
    by E M Dadlez Pennsylvania State University Press, 1997.

    I went through it quickly for my last book. There is a body of literature on how readers identify with key characters in fiction and plays even when they know it to be fiction (why do people cry during movies?). I suppose if people are creating the fiction as they go along as in Internet games etc. there can be even more of an engagement with the characters. Again I suppose writers really do identify with some of the characters they write about.


  3. Jake permalink
    March 11, 2008 8:18 pm

    I think the beauty of the internet how it captures thoughts and opinions in time. Just as linguists can piece together word origins and dialects through writings, music, art and folklore of specific periods to form a cohesive overview of each dialect, so too can the internet provide a sociological snapshot of any given time-frame.

    And if you want to get more philosophical about it, the internet lends your thoughts and words a chance at immortality (so don’t say anything stupid!).

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