Harry Claude Cat (silly) Fri 10 Mar 00 10:00
<scribbled by silly Fri 10 Mar 00 10:30>
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?
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.
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?
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.
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?
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?
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.
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.
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?
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?
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?
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!
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.
Thomas Armagost (silly) Tue 14 Mar 00 21:50
<scribbled by silly Mon 9 Jul 12 16:01>
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!
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.
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?
Gail Williams (gail) Wed 15 Mar 00 10:26
(Obviously typing better was a contest I pretty much ceded!)
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..."
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.
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.
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.
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.
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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