Identity by stariya


									                                                                  Matt Quigley
                                                              Olson, ENG 1102

      The nature of the Internet gives its users the ability to interact and

communicate across the planet with no geographical limitations or regional

boundaries. The new civilization, which has arisen in the past few decades,

has just begun to form its own culture and explore its capabilities. The

denizens of this world are unknown in our world. They traverse the circuits

of the network in anonymity, revealing their identities as they please. There

are those in our world that have no interest to live in the new world, and

although many of them visit from time to time, they never make any lasting

connections within that place. There are those who live in a symbiotic

relationship with the Internet by simply using the Internet's technology to

better their own lives in our world through e-mails, instant messaging, and

reference to the infinite knowledge lost and found within the Internet. This

thirst for better communication funnels money and research from large and

small companies across the world to constantly update and improve the

infrastructure of the Internet. There is an unknown and uncountable amount

of people actually living in the Internet. They can wander, they can hide,

they can lurk. Many of them eventually settle down in what we would call

homes; to them a chat room, a role-playing game, or a MUD. Many of the

denizens hail a new age where race, politics, history, and even gender no
longer matter. This idealist's utopia is the perfect playground for people to

change identities; they have a different mask to wear whenever they please.

In a safe environment, this identity role-playing can be fun and beneficial; in

dangerous circumstances, it can lead to pain and suffering.

      The Internet population is never secluded from one another. Each has

its own ideal of how their culture should be; everything from etiquette to

philosophy is argued and when an outsider with conflicting arguments

intrudes on their community, they are usually greeted with hostilities (known

in the Internet world as flaming) that immediately intimidate and ostracize

the newcomer. In many role-playing communities, however, where one

theatrically acts out a fabricated character, the citizens are players in a game

of adventure where arguments of our world are put aside, and objectives and

quests of the new world are in question. These places naturally pay no heed

to philosophies that generate argument, and instead rely on the life of the

game and the personality of the actors. According to Nakamura,

             "The 'architecture of belief' which underpins social
      interaction… that is, the belief that your interlocutors possess
      distinctive human identities which coalesce through and vivify the
      glowing letters scrolling down the computer screen, is itself built upon
      the form of fantastic autobiographical writing called the self-
      description." (Nakamura, 444)

      Here she is stating that how people have described themselves

changes how others perceive what they type. She is inferring that human
identities on the Internet come alive according to their self-description.

Many of these systems, however, do not offer the utopian promise of

absence of demographic characteristics; that is, without precise

specification, the characters can usually be assumed to be middle-class white

men, due to the general prevalence of such a stereotype within these

communities. While it is thought that these role-playing games escape

stereotypes of our world, they are in fact transferred to these worlds as well

(sometimes unknowingly), because many of these places cannot even be

entered without describing the character to enter. As Nakamura says, "The

first act of a participant in LambdaMOO performs is that of writing a self

description—it is the primal scene of cybernetic identity, a post-modern

performance of the mirror stage." (Nakamura, 444) Here she is saying that

one's description on LambdaMOO is the first and most grounded form of

identity assertion. She gives the example of the Asian character. When one

chooses to be an Oriental man, their descriptions are almost always

stereotypical Asian tokens: they are samurai, kung-fu experts, "potent,

antique, exotic, and anachronistic." Oriental females are exotic and sexual.

They are rarely, if ever, spiteful stereotypes, because they are a romanticized

version of who these people want to be. Tourism is the metaphor Nakamura

uses for such identity misappropriation.
      Bruckman notes in her essay of a different type of identity

misappropriation. She relates the story of Jack, a British student studying in

America. He pretends in chat rooms he is an American, yet reveals a

detailed knowledge of Britain. He is at the same time deciding his identity

in real life, whether to remain in America or return to Britain. Nationality is

another way form of "tourism" within the world of cyberspace. Yet the most

estranged and difficult form of tourism is not race or nationality, but the

demographic that separates humankind more than anything else: gender.

"Gender Swapping" is the most combustible. Gender structures the way

humans interact, even within cyberspace. The citizens of the Internet are

generally liberal and tolerant, but even when gender is misinformed most

feel violated. Compare role-playing different stereotypes or fantasy

characters to role-playing a real person of a different gender. It is much

easier to be violated by a seemingly real person that one can relate to in

cyberspace the same way they do in real life. The story related in Stone's

"The Cross-Dressing Psychiatrist" reveals the dire consequences of what

happens when identity misappropriation fails.

      There are a few cases when a change of personae can lead to calamity.

In Stone's narrative, a well-meaning male psychiatrist discovers that women

(even online) naturally communicate easier when, in one incident, a woman
accidentally mistook him for a female psychiatrist. It was evident to him

that there was no way to be a truly gender-neutral doctor and that he could

impersonate a woman in order to professionally help other women. This

case is the perfect example of why gender can be so much more important

than any other demographic characteristic. In the end, when the women

discovered the deception, these already venerable women were hurt and

violated. There is a hazy line between situations where identity masking is

acceptable or not. "We all change personae all the time, to suit the occasion,

although with on-line personae the act is more purposeful." (Stone, 73)

Here Stone says that changing personae on-line is more powerful and

intentional. It is the nature of the Internet to allow this "purposeful" and

powerful act, but it is the nature of situations like the cross-dressing

psychiatrist to be addressed by law and order as well.

      Identity misappropriation is, to the denizens of cyberspace, a benefit

and a disadvantage. It is a right most would never give up; it has existed in

cyberspace almost since its introduction to the public decades ago. The

Internet is still in its infancy; it has years of experimentation before it will

realize how to handle these faults. Nonetheless, there are situations of

dangerous and harmful consequences that go aside many types of

deceptions, and these important issues need to be addressed by some sort of
regulations. In the end, it will be those who have experienced first hand

what becomes of cultural tourism and identity misappropriation that will lay

the foundation of protocol and laws for the future generations of the Internet.

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