David Gans (tnf) Fri 14 Jan 00 12:48
Date: Fri, 14 Jan 2000 16:32:56 +0000 From: Julie Ann Smith <firstname.lastname@example.org> Organization: Brunel University To: email@example.com Subject: Are online interactions idenity performances? Hello their to the people of Well. I am a student at London Brunel university investigating the use of identity online. I would be extremely grateful if the Well community could give me some idea of the importance placed on the identify of your members and to what extent you believe they are performances. I believe a personal view from those who use online facilities often, will give my research a valuable angle. Your views on this subject, any information or addresses of connected web sites that you are aware of would be of help to me. I thank you for any information you provide me with. If you are unable to help me, I appreciate your time and attention. Thank you JULIE SMITH e-mail address firstname.lastname@example.org
David Gans (tnf) Fri 14 Jan 00 13:06
I posted the following over on DeadNet Central -- a very different, nocharge, online community that suffers from drive-by viciousness quite a bit: David Gans - 08:59pm Jan 10, 2000 PDT (#3810 of 3932) I've been hosting online forums for 14 years, and I agree with wandy that it's a great way to sharpen your communication skills! I have watched the development of this forum with great interest over the last few years. One of the most important factors in keeping an online community reasonably carnage-free is accountability. That means knowing who you're dealing with. In my view, the most significant mistake that Hunter made in setting this place up was the decision to allow anyone to register with any unverified identity. That means anyone can go to hotmail.com and set up a false identity (or create an ad-hoc screen name at AOL, another online venue that pays a heavy price for allowing anonymity), register here with the knowledge they can't be traced, and spew whatever nasty, ugly and/or defamatory crap they want. I have been the victim of this anonymous posting thing, and it wasn't pretty. I've seen all sorts of creepy stuff here and in other places where account- ability is missing. The "entrance" to DNC says it all -- the thing about how if you forget your password, just register again with a different name. If the sysops were to make one change that was intended to improve the quality of the culture here, it would be to require that everyone who par- ticipates here be accountable for his/her behavior. That doesn't necessarily mean you'd have to use your "real" name here, but if the sysops were able to contact the real person behind the user ID, then a lot of cowardly, destruc- tive and hurtful behavior would be eliminated.
thecapokid (thecapokid) Fri 14 Jan 00 16:45
For what it's worth, I've been online about 3 months, and in that time have played with the Net obsessively, and in so doing have learned quite a lot about "role-playing," etc. First thing I learned was that real people are out there, regardless of their "identity," or "handle." Second thing I learned was that, given a fairly stable personality, I had nothing to "hide," and found liberation in dropping all masks and simply pushing my words and personality into cyberspace. Conferences, chatlines, whatever. No lies of commission or omission. It's sort of like: in a world where everyone wears a mask, the best mask is none at all! This is not to dis those who do. When it comes to "communities," I tend to agree with "tnf" above, because the word community implies some inherent degree of trust among the people who live there. Given my relative status as a net virgin, however, perhaps "tnf" can enlighten me as to how such accountability can be made, without recourse to credit card numbers and other seriously private information. I mean, my candor in cyberspace is one thing, OTOH I don't want to be stalked! lol
(ideo) was I ere I saw (esau) Fri 14 Jan 00 19:02
This is the only place I've ever hung out online. It never occurred to me to try to be a different person online than I was offline, and so this experience has only served to shape what my one identity is, rather than what performance I can put on.
token beast (satyr) Sat 15 Jan 00 09:48
Opinions as to whether your online self is, or ought to be, strongly identified with your real ("wetware") self vary widely. Here on the Well, we tend to insist that there be a tight association between the two, but I think posturing is far more common elsewhere on the net. Judith Donath of the MIT Media Laboratory has done some work in this field, including a paper called "Identity and Deception in the Virtual Community". See http://judith.www.media.mit.edu/
John Payne (satyr) Sun 16 Jan 00 14:30
<scribbled by satyr Tue 18 Jan 00 17:26>
carol adair (rubicon) Sun 16 Jan 00 22:11
I have wondered about that here too. Whenever I've commented on the on-line behavior of this or that person, especially if I've criticized the tone of a person's post, I've always read, "Oh but s/he's very helpful and kind in person." Then I read how, when met at WOPs or business institution, the person was not at all like his or her postings. As if the person here is NOT the person off line. This seems to be especially true when the online behavior is vile. So what's up with that? Are we or are we not our on-line personalities? Can our "whole persons" be held accountable for our on-line rudeness? Be praised for our on-line wisdom?
"Is that a British publication?" (jdevoto) Mon 17 Jan 00 02:02
I think that phenomemon is less a case of two "different personalities" than the fact that what's said in person can come across differently than what's said via text. It's a cliche that ASCII communication lacks cues such as eye contact, posture, tone of voice, and so forth. I think this factor is not so all-pervasive and determinative as it's often portrayed, and most people are pretty much the same in person as online...but for some people, the ambiguous elements of physical presentation do make a big difference in how their words are perceived. In other words, when that happens I think it's a matter of the person reacting, not the person doing the talking, being different online and off.
blather storm (lolly) Mon 17 Jan 00 03:38
I think there's an additional element sometimes; for some folks the online interactions are an opportunity to behave in ways that they would not, in real life. Sometimes this is just a subtle difference, but results in a more cavalier style here than in person. I agree that the greater differences tend to be associated with the more abrasive (online) personalities, but it's not always the case (for instance there are folks who are significantly shy in person but who can open up here). My own theory is that some of us think this is real, and others of us think it's imaginary. This is also true out in the real world, of course....
David Chaplin-Loebell (dloebell) Mon 17 Jan 00 08:48
I'm less shy with strangers online than in real life or by phone. I wish it wasn't true, but there it is.
Linda Castellani (castle) Mon 17 Jan 00 13:05
And, by contrast, overcoming my shyness online translated into overcoming my shyness in person. In most cases. There are still times when I want to die from being tongue-tied or feeling like I am expressing myself ineptly, both online and in person. I have to say that my online persona is pretty much indentical to my in-the-flesh persona. And being online helped me define myself in the real world. In many ways I am vastly different now than I was before I got here in 1991. But I am who I portray myself to be.
token beast (satyr) Mon 17 Jan 00 16:21
The paper "Identity and Deception in the Virtual Community" which I mentioned in <4> is cached on Google.com ... http://www.google.com/search?q=cache:postcards.www.media.mit.edu/Judith/Identi ty/IdentityDeception.html
carol adair (rubicon) Mon 17 Jan 00 19:12
Since Ms. Smith asked and since I always wondered this, I would like to push it a little bit more. I agree with Jeanne that the absence of physical clues does create a challenge for the reader, but that's so in all written discourse. I question something else altogether. I've watched particular posters here on the WELL, and elsewhere, whose online behavior would be thought appalling in any IRL adult group I know about. I watched particular individuals launch into spews of adolescent potty phrases whenever their viewpoint was challenged. I have read the most disdainful and dismissive and insulting answers to what seemed simple questions or remarks. I've witness simply vile behavior, and when I've mentioned it, I've heard, "He's really very nice ......" And I wonder, where's the "really". Are we all seen as "really" what we are here, or are we really acting? Should we dismiss online behavior as only that, or does it demonstrate the character of the real person pressing the keys? It's not the individuals I'm concerned about, but how we all see these individuals.
Andrew Brown (andrewb) Tue 18 Jan 00 07:31
I've never seen anyone behave worse here than they did at my schools. dominance hierarchies aren't pretty.
Cynthia Dyer-Bennet (cdb) Tue 18 Jan 00 11:28
> I would be extremely grateful if the Well community > could give me some idea of the importance placed on the identify of > your members and to what extent you believe they are performances. Julie, one thing that makes The WELL somewhat unusual as an online community is that every WELL member must have his or her real life identity verified before gaining admittance to the community. Taking that in conjunction with the fact that most of the conversations here are readable long after the conversational thread has waned, we are pretty much forced to be accountable for what we've said. If I were to post "puffball is a jerk," I couldn't later claim I didn't say it (unless I scribbled the post, of course). My post is there, where I put it, for all to see. Even years later, we can backtrack through topics to read an old, interesting conversation or look for useful information or even find an old argument we were involved in. This construct is one that, for me, took some time to sink in. But in the seven years I've been a member of The WELL community, I've learned to "think twice, post once," especially if I'm feeling upset or angry by the conversation. I want my online identity to match my RL one. I strive to be real and honest in my posts, just like I do in f2f conversation.
Daphne Merkin's spanking piece (chuck) Tue 18 Jan 00 11:44
A lot of people have trouble adapting to the accountability that the Well entails. There have been, in fact continue to be, users who deny their prior words, even when those postings remain visible for any other user to review. I can think of one user who has been caught contradicting himself at least once a week for five years or more, but he still posts as irresponsibly as ever. Knowing the true identity of the others in the conversation is very important to me, and to many others on the Well. Years ago we had an experiment with an anonymous conference on the Well. A special software feature was created for this purpose. It was a disaster. The experiment did not last long, maybe two weeks, maybe less. Stewart Brand, one of the co-founders of the Well, has said that the anonymous conference was the only regret that he has had about the Well. Our culture is so dependent upon our true identities here that we couldn't cope with anonymity.
token beast (satyr) Tue 18 Jan 00 17:25
Not every online forum qualifies as a community, but those that do are rather like social clubs or fraternal organizations, within which reputation counts for a lot, and which are, for the most part, self-policing. Of course criticism rolls off of some and sticks to others, just as is the case face-to-face, and those who are less vulnerable (and/or have a greater need for approval) are probably more apt to spice their online selves with fictional presentations ... and I think some do so as an art form. Then again, there's the question, in particular cases, of whether a performance is more deceitful or revelatory. For instance, I might pretend to be a secondary teacher, even though I've never taught a class, and misled by my pretense, your estimate of me might nevertheless be more accurate than if you knew my real history.
thecapokid (thecapokid) Wed 19 Jan 00 01:49
One aspect that hasn't been touched upon, I think, but which relates to the "perceived" identities we have of each other, whether we're performing or trying hard not to, is the literary. Online, still learning, I've become sensitized to another's style and tone; I test it, as if to compensate for eye contact, touch, body language. I think we all do this on some level, whether we do it to separate the cliche from the cliche, or to hear what we want to hear. Morally, I've come to the usual ambivalent conclusion. Of cowards who need masks to injure and spew ill-will, I feel like I want to dent the First Amendment. Of the truly imaginative ones, who find in performance some expansion, and who are convincing, I feel I should applaud them as I do the contrivances of a good novelist. Maybe even find them a good agent.
Daniel Lynch (ndjd88) Wed 19 Jan 00 10:53
How about the ones who use "performance" and feigned "imagination" as masks for an inner vapidity?
thecapokid (thecapokid) Wed 19 Jan 00 15:40
Dunno, though I think you're moving into a metaphysical realm. (Who is the "real" me, etc.) I've spent most of my life in the arts, with the emphasis on books and writing. Artists tend to understand the difference between "the real me" and the "me in the poem, the play, the song," etc., and they're forever trying to convince their audiences that the two simply ain't the same. The qualifying phrase in my comment is "convincing." To that extent, I'm not sure that an interiorly "vapid" person can, say, write a good poem or novel. No doubt writers, actors, can be boorish, cranky, shy or just plain mean, but I've never met an artist worth his/her salt who was vapid, in the sense of emptiheadedness. I might not have liked them, personally, but they had energy nonetheless. Out here, online, I find myself interacting with sensibilities, not bodies. Those sensibilities are revealed to me through the words people use to create their online personalities. Writing and teaching writing, I'm convinced that when people sit down "to indite," few seldom achieve "subjective objectivity" about themselves. Or really want to. Among the worst are memoirists. That is, some--in fact most, I think--try to put their "best foot forward," when they write, eager for others to like them. Others may take the opposite tack and be nasty and curmudgeonly, but their need for attention is the same. I guess the upshot for me is that the longer I'm online, the more the "division" between virtual and real diminishes. I encounter Janus-faced mountebanks, fools, cranks, pretenders and "liars in public places" in cyberspace, and am learning to deal with it just as I do on the street. I keep my antennae up and try to read between the lines.
token beast (satyr) Wed 19 Jan 00 18:07
Of course pretense isn't limited to cyberspace. People pretend to be someone other than who they really are in all sorts of circumstances, sometimes creating imaginary persona, sometimes infringing on others' identities. The limited bandwidth of cyberspace (as compared with the information available to you when standing face-to-face with someone else) just makes it easier.
Homo cervidae (satyr) Sat 22 Jan 00 17:49
There's a Virtual Society bibliography on "Identity and deception" at ... http://smg.www.media.mit.edu/classes/VirtualSociety99/IdentityAndDeception.htm l ... which begins with this introduction: "Embodiment is fundamental to our ordinary notion of identity. Thus, the online world raises a number of questions about the nature of identity and how it is transformed in an immaterial and intangible environment. Many writers (e.g. Reid, Turkle) claim that identity is very fluid in the virtual world; others (e.g. O'Brien) are more skeptical. Certainly, identity deception is far easier when communicating over a very limited medium. How does this affect the type of society that evolves in this environment? How is some notion of identity maintained in the absence of the body - and how is it different than our day to day experience? What effect do changes in the medium have - how is identity in a text-based world different than in a graphical one, in a synchronous vs. an asynchronous space? How can interface designers influence the way identity is established in an online environment?"
thecapokid (thecapokid) Mon 24 Jan 00 16:58
Thanks, satyr, the MIT reading list looks good. Turkle the only one I'm familiar with, and certainly looking for other perspectives.
Homo cervidae (satyr) Tue 25 Jan 00 18:59
You may have noticed (and shame on you if you haven't) that responses (posts) here are sometimes accompanied by what appear to be real names -- just ahead of the account names (in parentheses) -- and sometimes by expressions that are obviously not real names. That field is called "pseudonym", or "pseud" for short. While that might seem inconsistent with what's previously been said about the WELL insisting on real identities, from the inside it's a simple matter to find out a user's real name. And, in conferences where the feature is enabled, which includes this one, if a response is scribbled, that pseudonym field reverts to the name under which the author opened the account from which it was posted. Like so ...
John Payne (satyr) Tue 25 Jan 00 18:59
<scribbled by satyr>
David Gans (tnf) Tue 25 Jan 00 20:10
Good point, John.
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