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inkwell.vue.67 : Tom Valovic - Digital Mythologies
permalink #26 of 60: Harry Claude Cat (silly) Fri 10 Mar 00 10:00
    <scribbled by silly Fri 10 Mar 00 10:30>
  
inkwell.vue.67 : Tom Valovic - Digital Mythologies
permalink #27 of 60: a man, a plan, and a parking ticket (clm) Fri 10 Mar 00 17:17
    

Hi Tom. I've been following along here and am looking forward to
reading your book.

I get the impression from what you've said here, that while you don't
see the Net as a superior 'global space,' you do still see it as a
distinctly 'separate' space. It makes sense that you might write from
this perspective given that it is likely to be the view most widely
held by your intended reader.

I'm wondering if this impression is correct and if you explore other
perspectives in the book. Also, I wonder if you agree with the notion
that once we become sufficiently accustomed to interacting via the net,
it will stop being a distinctly separate space and will simply merge
into our everyday reality?  Do you think it might come to be seen as
not much more than an important aspect of the 'physical realm' --
perhaps in the way that the telephone or radio and TV are more
generally accepted today as being part of the real world?
  
inkwell.vue.67 : Tom Valovic - Digital Mythologies
permalink #28 of 60: Tom Valovic (tvacorn) Fri 10 Mar 00 17:38
    
<#27 slipped in>

My take is that everyone approaches the world of online communications
with a different set of assumptions and ground rules about these kinds
of issues. 

Discussions in the book about the complexities of role and identity
online and on the Well are not meant to be a definitive analysis of the
dynamics of virtual communities. They are meant to convey a sense that
there are complexities in cyberspace that don't necessarily have easy
answers. In fact, I actually ask a lot of questions about online
dynamics in the essays without pretending to have all the answers.
These are still early days. 

I do think there are many analogies between the virtual and real world
as well as many discontinuities. It's the discontinuities that I find
interesting and worth exploring. 
  
inkwell.vue.67 : Tom Valovic - Digital Mythologies
permalink #29 of 60: Gail Williams (gail) Fri 10 Mar 00 18:10
    

The questions you raise about whether a journalist has a duty to identify
his or her affiliation while witnessing a conversatoin are interesting.

There have been few headaches over the years surrounding journalists on
The WELL.  Not as many as one might expect, but a few doozies.  The great
Playboy story flap (years ago) was a prime example.   But generally, 
writers have respected the WELL and its inhabitants, and the 
presense of media folks has been edifying in many ways.  
  
It's a quandary when you find out you are discussing something you don't
want on the record and then find out the press is already there.  However,
I don't think it is purely a matter for online gatherings.  In fact, my
Mom told me a story about a town meeting conducted in the flesh in the
school in a very small community, where part way through a meeting which
included legal strategizing, a woman asked a question and revealed herself
as a reporter.  Shocked reaction, and same problem, sans technology.

I wonder if it has more to do with who is in the community than with how
the community gatherings are conducted. 

How do you find this problem different in a virtual world, or somehow 
specific to on online conversation?  And what can be done about it?
 
  
inkwell.vue.67 : Tom Valovic - Digital Mythologies
permalink #30 of 60: Tom Valovic (tvacorn) Sat 11 Mar 00 11:27
    
>27 

Good question. That perceived quality of "otherness" may be something
real or illusory or a kind of anthropomorphism. If real, then in a
strictly metaphysical sense as something fairly inaccessible to our
normal powers of description. But metaphysical doesn't necessarily mean
spiritual or religious. The two are not synonymous. There are many
things beyond our immediate knowledge that aren't necessarily matters
for religion to settle.

The deification of the Net has been fostered at many levels. As far as
I'm concerned it's a renegade meme without any serious portfolio. I'm
not going to go so far as to suggest, as Wendy Kaminer does, that it
represents a kind of threat to rational thinking but I do think its a
chimera. In the book I try to deconstruct the genesis of that view. In
most cases, however, I think people already have in some fashion
integrated the Net into their lives in the way you describe: as just
another tool or device for enhancing everyday life. So I don't see that
as happening at some distant time but rather as the expected norm for
most people currently. 
  
inkwell.vue.67 : Tom Valovic - Digital Mythologies
permalink #31 of 60: Tom Valovic (tvacorn) Sat 11 Mar 00 11:35
    
Gail, I'd just like to make one more comment on the role/identity
issue and what I call the strange obscurantism of the online world.
Decontextualization is a double edged sword: it both inherently
diminishes meaning and the nuance of content; but it also can be an
instrument of change with its power to scramble sign and symbol. But
knowing someone's name might be only slightly better than not as far as
supplying meaningful context. 

On the Well, the fact that it's a regional system and many users know
each other IRL combined with other factors such an inherent
semi-anonymity (even though the Well is less anonymous than most
systems) injects a heavy interplay of subtext into the online
experience for the more casual user. There's nothing "wrong" here, it's
just a naturally occurring phenomenon and a characteristic of the
online world. But users need to understand some of those complexities
and that they shouldn't make the common mistake of taking the online
world at face value. 

In terms of journalism, yes, lots of interesting issues can crop up.
The confusion of public and private roles seems to be part of the
package. My focus is not really on the high-profile episodes that can
occur although I'm sure those are instructive in their own right.
Rather, I'm interested in smaller issues such as whether the casual
Well user has the right to know that there are journalists hanging out
on just about every virtual street corner and what their roles are. Are
they attending in an official or non-official capacity? Can they or do
they "change hats" at will? What are their ethical obligations in
various situations without any posted guidelines by the Well (not that
the Well needs to "regulate" this) or any other entity? 
  
inkwell.vue.67 : Tom Valovic - Digital Mythologies
permalink #32 of 60: Sharon Lynne Fisher (slf) Sat 11 Mar 00 11:43
    
What makes journalists any different from a number of other fields?
Should the Well put out guidelines for how cops should behave on-line
if they see discussion of potential illegal activities?  IRS agents? 
Social workers?
  
inkwell.vue.67 : Tom Valovic - Digital Mythologies
permalink #33 of 60: Gail Williams (gail) Sat 11 Mar 00 13:47
    
(A quick aside to note that the "official" guideline is the Member Agreement
at http://www.well.com/member_agreement.html  There is also a
request for considerate quotational behavior by journalists in the
context of http://www.well.com/background.html )   

Interesting question about others who might have a duty or an interest in
disclosing information in ways which might harm an individual.
  
inkwell.vue.67 : Tom Valovic - Digital Mythologies
permalink #34 of 60: Tom Valovic (tvacorn) Sun 12 Mar 00 14:03
    
I would agree that subscribers involved in those occupations, given
the right combinations of event or accident, could run into some
complicated situations. But I don't see them that easily grouped with
journalists. There is a completely different set of issues at stake for
one thing. But the main reason is fairly simple: journalists are
primarily information gatherers and the Well is an information producer
via its subscribers. The issue for most users is not illegal activity
but rather potential invasion of privacy or mis-use of personal
information. 

That said, in actual practice, my experience is that journalists on
the Well tend to be quite sensitive to these kinds of concerns. Also,
the Well community's informal sense of what's ok and what's not goes a
long way towards keeping such things at bay. But we're talking about
the rights of subscribers in a very theoretical sense. And such
concerns could easily be applied to other systems.

Just to clarify, I don't think it's the Well's business to deal with
each and every one of these situations. I think it's great that there
are some guidelines but I'm primarily trying to describe these
phenomena rather than prescribe a set of solutions. Off the top, the
best solution seems to be awareness on the part of subscribers, however
that's achieved. 
  
inkwell.vue.67 : Tom Valovic - Digital Mythologies
permalink #35 of 60: Gail Williams (gail) Mon 13 Mar 00 12:15
    
Flaps with cops and IRS agents have been as vivid as those who are
journalists, but as infrequent.  People do a very good job of learning
about these complex gotchas.  The issues are not a whole lot different 
than joining another kind of immersive group experience -- be it going 
to college or on an expedition or possibly even just joining an 
organization, if you go to meetings and really give yourself to the 
group experience.  But the duties of disclosure and the assumptions we 
make about each other are not always obvious, no matter the medium.  

I think putting things in writing which *feel* spoken is another layer of
difference in this mode of communication which can pose puzzles for anyone.  
Witness the history of YOYOW arguments:  Do you own your own words?  If
they are fixed expressions (electronic or paper) they are copyrightable
and a kind of "property".  However, in social space, humans historically 
talk without regard to fair use, quote one another and consider off the 
cuff remarks non-fixed, part of common culture.  Not fair game for
unidentified reporters, usually.   

To me, it looks like it adds to all the puzzles of identity and social 
structure, which are not unique to the medium, but can still bite us.   
What do you think of the possibility that the confusion between written
and spoken underlies some difficulties figuring out what's going on
in this medium which is neither fish nor fowl?
  
inkwell.vue.67 : Tom Valovic - Digital Mythologies
permalink #36 of 60: Tom Valovic (tvacorn) Tue 14 Mar 00 17:59
    
Not to belabor the point, but I can't agree with your tendency to
continually conflate virtual experience with real-life experience.
Life in the physical world is not a "medium". There are some towns in
New England where you don't get to know someone unless they've lived
there for 10 years.

Much of online discussion is interesting and worthy, depending on the
nature of the participation and the disposition of the participants.
Much of online discussion isn't worth the paper it's printed on because
rendering an online opinion costs little in terms of true existential
involvement. 

If you have some measure of experience in the corporate world, you
know that producing something "by committee" is likely to become a
dog's breakfast because of the death of a thousand qualifications and
the fact that the uniqueness of the human spirit lies with the
uniqueness of individuals. I really wonder if that uniqueness is able
to survive the least common denominator aspects of many online
discussions.

The online world bears some superficial analogies to the world at
large but the differences are strong and resonant. Try getting 500
residents of Sausalito or Tiburon together for a nice cozy chat about
the important issues of the day and see what you end up with. Do it
online and does it somehow become an exalted exercise?
  
inkwell.vue.67 : Tom Valovic - Digital Mythologies
permalink #37 of 60: a man, a plan, and a parking ticket (clm) Tue 14 Mar 00 19:04
    

> Life in the physical world is not a "medium"

And yet folks in the business of describing in great detail the living
interactions that occur in the physical world, often use the word
"medium" in a variety of ways.

Purely as an experiment, as soon as I've posted this response, I will
also read it out loud in a normal conversational voice. (trust me on
this.) To complete the experiment, please let me know which of these
two modes of expression you found to be the most real. I expect them
to seem equivalently real from where I sit.

You correctly (imo) observe that:

> The online world bears some superficial analogies to the world at
> large but the differences are strong and resonant.

But wouldn't you agree that we might say the same thing about any
number of different aspects of what we are calling the world at
large? What I'm saying is that strong and resonant differences between
two things does not always imply that one must be less 'real' than the
other. What it implies is simply that they are quite different. The
world at large is *full* of things that are quite different.

One difficulty we can encounter as we try to communicate our thoughts
on a subject like this, is that we can drift into thinking (and speaking)
about a rich and varied reality as if it was a homogeneous set of
experiences. This tempts us into taking one category of such experiences
and holding it up as if were characteristic of the whole.

I get that you don't see online interactions as particularly 'exalted'
-- most folks I know don't either. Who do you think does?
  
inkwell.vue.67 : Tom Valovic - Digital Mythologies
permalink #38 of 60: a man, a plan, and a parking ticket (clm) Tue 14 Mar 00 19:08
    

I have to admit I was wrong! Reading that out loud just now was very
unreal!
  
inkwell.vue.67 : Tom Valovic - Digital Mythologies
permalink #39 of 60: John Payne (satyr) Tue 14 Mar 00 20:06
    
>  Life in the physical world is not a "medium".

Perhaps not, but I find it resembling one more and more as time goes on.
  
inkwell.vue.67 : Tom Valovic - Digital Mythologies
permalink #40 of 60: Thomas Armagost (silly) Tue 14 Mar 00 21:50
    <scribbled by silly Mon 9 Jul 12 16:01>
  
inkwell.vue.67 : Tom Valovic - Digital Mythologies
permalink #41 of 60: Undo Influence (mnemonic) Wed 15 Mar 00 07:41
    


'I really wonder if that uniqueness is able
 to survive the least common denominator aspects of many online
 discussions.'


I was wondering where my uniqueness went! Too many online discussions!
  
inkwell.vue.67 : Tom Valovic - Digital Mythologies
permalink #42 of 60: Gail Williams (gail) Wed 15 Mar 00 10:02
    
Well, the obvious (and hopefully non death inducing) qualification here
is that online discussions vary, and may even be as unique as their
participants at times.  While banality and least common denominator
discussions are available at the corner cafe, as well.  But you can find 
boring comments online, no doubt about it.

Tom, I think one of the differences in how I read your critiques now and how
I would have read them in 1993 is that this form of communication is
becoming much more integrated into "real life" for both oldtimers and new
users.  Some of the tricky confusing asppects remain, but many of the
problems posed by the idea of Cyberspace as an other (and maybe better)
realm have faded as the concept of shopping or chatting or getting expert
advice online has been commercially disseminated.

But I'm eager to talk about the next part of the book.
  
inkwell.vue.67 : Tom Valovic - Digital Mythologies
permalink #43 of 60: Gail Williams (gail) Wed 15 Mar 00 10:20
    

In the book you mention that you experienced conversations on the WELL as 
unfair in various ways, noting that some participants have hidden
advantages.  No kidding!

It's been five years now since WELL charged by the hour, but I 
remember from earlier days.  I had hated the sensation that I was 
arguing with someone who typed better and who, as a host in another 
conference unrealated to the discussion at hand, wasn't paying that
relentless $15 per month plus $2.00 per hour of the early days, 
(and who had a better job than I did at the time, too, for that matter) 
and it was intensely frustrating from a 'debate' point of view.  I 
spent over a hundred dollars per month on The WELL for a while in 1991.
That was essentially all of my disposable income at the time.  I also 
realized I was lucky to be able to read and write, and to have a 
second hand computer and the desire to learn what it could do.  There is 
a real and challenging digital divide, even though some barrier have
dropped.

I think many of the people who participate on The WELL in argumentative
conversations have had some of the same reactions you express in the book.
Can you talk a little about expectations and reality in terms of social
and persuasive power online?  
  
inkwell.vue.67 : Tom Valovic - Digital Mythologies
permalink #44 of 60: Gail Williams (gail) Wed 15 Mar 00 10:26
    
(Obviously typing better was a contest I pretty much ceded!)
  
inkwell.vue.67 : Tom Valovic - Digital Mythologies
permalink #45 of 60: Tom Valovic (tvacorn) Wed 15 Mar 00 17:18
    
> 37

I see the distinction you're making but I don't think I was arguing
that the online world was any less real but simply that it is indeed
different. People react differently, communicate differently, follow
different rules of engagement. Some subset of  individuals may take
liberties with their identity, experiment with being "genuine" or play
fast and loose with fact and fiction as if the medium were a fantasy
canvas while some other subset may do none of this. 

In terms of the "exalted" comment, I think that's a mindset that I'm
more or less trying to deconstruct in the book. I've seen comments on
the Well and elsewhere that the virtual world is superior to the
physical world as if the two were even comparable. That's like saying
you'd rather live in Nirvana than Boise, Idaho. <I fully expect someone
to come forth now and tell me that there really is a town called
Nirvana in Idaho....go ahead, at least I'm prepared>

My message here is not to say to online users: beware you are engaging
in an inauthentic experience. I spend a good deal of time online while
recognizing the real limitations of the medium and encourage others to
do the same. Rather the message is more directed to those who think or
feel that the Net is an idealized social space that can indeed be
pitted against organizations and entities in the physical world, that
whole Barlow-shaped, Wired-inspired mindset. The concern is that this
phenomenon is at least in part associated with the retreat from the
public spaces now seen as a societal trend and that the value of
cyberspace somehow justifies this retreat. You get to divorce yourself
from civic obligation and the concerns of larger society and there's
Barlow patting you on the back and saying "now you're doing the Great
Work..."
  
inkwell.vue.67 : Tom Valovic - Digital Mythologies
permalink #46 of 60: Tom Valovic (tvacorn) Wed 15 Mar 00 17:22
    
Gail, your point about the seeming infinite variety of Net experience
is well-taken. But I don't think it's impossible to make
generalizations about the patterns that emerge in the online world. 

In terms of electronic democracy and "how much free speech can you
afford today?", it sounds like we had similar experiences (and,
interestingly, at around the same timeline.) I also racked up some
impressive bills. But even with the payment structure changing, the
issue of time involvement still remains. The more time you are able to
spend online, the more "free" your speech, the more opportunities you
have to effectively argue a point or a topic thesis, and the more
possibilities that exist for sustained engagement and unique
expression. 
  
inkwell.vue.67 : Tom Valovic - Digital Mythologies
permalink #47 of 60: John Payne (satyr) Wed 15 Mar 00 19:46
    
> [snip] I don't think I was arguing that the online world was any less
> real but simply that it is indeed different. People react differently,
> communicate differently, follow different rules of engagement.

Art imitates life imitating art.  The "real life" to which we return when
we log off is heavily conditioned by other media and media-like influences
in contemporary culture, and largely lacking in the candor which is so
common in this and some other corners of cyberspace.

But then so is the net, taken as a whole, with it's high hype quotient.

Any hope that the overall character of the net, the average content that's
available and actually transferred, would be significantly better than
what's available through other media must, by now, have been laid to rest.

It isn't by virtue of this average that the net offers hope for the
better, but on the fringes, through people connecting with each other,
educating themselves, and organizing around all kinds of issues.  It
leverages this sort of thing more than it does capital-intensive
enterprise, which was doing just fine before the net came along.

The net shifts the balance of power a little closer to the people, but
like global temperature, a little change can produce dramatic results.
  
inkwell.vue.67 : Tom Valovic - Digital Mythologies
permalink #48 of 60: Undo Influence (mnemonic) Wed 15 Mar 00 20:04
    

I was pretty confused by the discussion of me, EFF, and my participation
on the WELL.

For one thing, EFF didn't pay for my membership on the WELL during the
period Tom discusses. I was comped as a host.

I spent a lot of time on the WELL during my term as an EFF employee,
but I spend just as much time as an American Lawyer Media employee, or
perhaps even more.

Tom's argument seems to adduce me as an example of how people with lots of
money shape online discussions, but I never had lots of money or needed it
to be heavily involved in the WELL.

All I needed was fast typing skills, an ability to write quickly and frame
an argument in a hurry, and a job -- any job -- that allowed me to hang
out online while I did my work.

Were there really many people on the WELL other than Tom 
who didn't know that when I talked about EFF issues in the EFF conference
I was speaking for EFF, and when I was talking about stuff that interested
me in the media conference and elsewhere I was, with only occasional but
obvious exceptions, speaking as myself?

I found myself resenting the reductive, muddled discussion of my role on
the WELL, which seemed to suggest that my WELL citizenship was a function
of being some kind of glorified spin doctor, subsidized by rich people.
To draw that kind of conclusion requires that you pretty much subtract 95
percent of my passionate attachment to the WELL and write it off as
political hackery, plus ignore the actual amount of money involved (Tom
prudently neglects to provide dollar figures).

What the passage felt like was a trumped up smear campaign by someone who
didn't interview me on the issue -- someone who disagreed with EFF and its
principals for someone reason or other and so just decided out of the blue
to publicly proclaim that my involvement on the WELL was little more than
an attempt to affect public opinion.

It's true that I have tried to affect public opinion now and then about
things I care about, both on the WELL and in my writings. But if Tom's
reasoning about me were valid, it would be equally valid to conclude from
the fact that I floss my teeth that I'm working as a dental hygienist.
  
inkwell.vue.67 : Tom Valovic - Digital Mythologies
permalink #49 of 60: John Payne (satyr) Wed 15 Mar 00 20:25
    
I'm not sure I ever ran up a $100 bill, but I had plenty of $35-$50 bills,
with CPN charges on top of the monthly and hourly fees.  I operated in
download and read offline mode, and was far more active as a lurker than
the number of posts I left behind might indicate.  Flat rate telnet was a
godsend for me.  It was practically free in comparison with what I'd
become accustomed to.  But before it came along I managed to participate,
even to make a pest of myself at times.
  
inkwell.vue.67 : Tom Valovic - Digital Mythologies
permalink #50 of 60: Tom Valovic (tvacorn) Thu 16 Mar 00 18:21
    
> 47

Interesting comments...thanks 

> Tom's argument seems to adduce me as an example of how people with 
> lots of money shape online discussions

Not people Mike, institutions....and no, funding is only one issue:
time and resources are another (although I seem to recall that the EFF
was fairly well funded) 

> Were there really many people on the WELL other than Tom
> who didn't know that when I talked about EFF issues in the EFF 
> conference I was speaking for EFF, and when I was 
> talking about stuff that interested  me in the media conference 
> and elsewhere I was, with only occasional but obvious exceptions, 
> speaking as myself?

What do you think?  And could "obvious" be subject to interpretation?

> my WELL citizenship was a function of being some kind of  
> glorified spin doctor 

If you were only representing EFF opinion in the EFF conference, then
I guess I would have to re-consider your role in terms of spending time
on the Well. But my point is that, as a fairly heavy user, I certainly
didn't know that and I doubt a lot of others did. If you can just step
back a bit from what you are incorrectly making a personal issue, you
would see that you're missing my whole point: that the lines are
blurred and confusing about such issues and that may well be inherent
in the medium. I am certainly not attacking your integrity. What I was
trying to point out in that essay was how easy it would be for someone
or some entity to spin doctor the Well under the right set of
circumstances. I'm sure you can at least appreciate the logic of that
conclusion.....

One last thing: we did have a phone conversation about this which you
seem to have forgotten.
  

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