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ESSAY #1

Cyberphilosophy 224 The Internet: Medium Or A Way Of life Shanna Madison

When people think of the Internet, they think global communities and virtual reality. With countless pieces of information being stored, downloaded, traded, and shared, that is exactly what it is. It is the relatively new medium with which we communicate. With so much information readily available, it is hard not to get lost in it. The Internet is a world where dreams and fantasies can be achieved. It is a world in which anyone can be king. This is a magnetic lure that draws millions of people to their computers every day. This world where truth has no face and privacy has no body. This world where the pen is mightier than the sword. "The pioneers are still out there exploring the frontier, the borders of the domain have yet to be determined, or even the shape of it, or the best way to find one's way in it. But people are using the technology of computer-mediated communications to do things that weren't possible before."

The Internet is an alternative place to exist with infinite possibilities, yet it has no face or voice. The cold reality is that the computer is just a machine. We, as a society driven by consumerism, have breached the boundaries between what is real and what are mearly factory parts. We have attached meaning to this consumption of information and have given it a name, the global community. In this world, power is everything and means everything. The faster the better, the newer the better, it is a race for global domination through telephone wires. People get caught up in this deceitful web of power and are astonished to find that they are not in control. No one is, or at least that is what they want us to think. Whoever 'they' are.

The problem with reality on the Internet is that people abandon their inhibitions. This gives a false sense of security and a false sense of the self. Not only can people be the CEO of a huge company, but, they can also be a rapist. One's privacy is seriously questioned. With all the possible paths one can take on the Internet, it is almost impossible to regulate anything. How does anyone know who anyone is anymore? In essence we step out of reality to participate in a virtual realm with no limits or laws. We, in fact, break our own rules for society. So where do we draw the line? At which point does fact merge with fiction, reality with fantasy, and truth with lies. The Internet is a world in which the impossible can be possible, and it is this that drives us to connect with an inanimate object. It is the power to be who we want to be. The lure is undeniable. In this realm, the ugly can be beautiful; the uneducated can get a degree, and all the while have a million friends. But when do we wake up from this dream, when does the light come on and the world pop into view?

With so much information readily available it is a small wonder that it is heavily abused. Hackers think they are entitled to know everything on the web. Regardless if that is even possible, they sure try and why not? The information is all there waiting to be viewed, read and analyzed. Day after day we are bombarded with advertising and information. But where is this technological revolution going? When do we say we have gone far enough, that we have crossed over the invisible barriers of cyberspace? Is our future one where a computer does all our thinking and processing? One would assume so, for it would be hard to sever the umbilical cord that links us to the ever-expanding Internet. It is such a vital piece of equipment, but not only that it's powers are indomitable. Why would we separate ourselves from the one world in which fate does not hold a card?

The question of who we are cannot simply be answered anymore. For we are more complex beings than this Earth has ever known. We not only exist physically and spiritually, but we exist simultaneously in an ethereal world created by us. It is no longer a question of physicality. We are a society that is driven to succeed. The Internet is a place where anyone can do that. Regardless of age, race, sex, or culture, success is a keyboard.

In cyberspace we view others as words, as symbols and text. We do not know expression or feelings. We can only guess at who occupies the other end of this spaceless void. Entities can be singular or multiple, we can occupy one or many areas at a time. "We who populate cyberspaces deliberately experiment with fracturing traditional notions of identity by living as multiple simultaneous personae in different virtual neighborhoods." There are so many facets to a single personality that it is entirely possible to be two different people online, and one in real life. This brings up the interesting topic of multiple personality disorder. It fits right in with the virtual world. For each and every personality there are chat clubs, lists, and various information pertaining to a certain subject. A person suffering from this disorder might find it therapeutic to go online.

On the Internet, one only has to go to their favorite topics to find a group of people just like them. In a way it makes the world seem smaller and friendlier when we realize we are not alone. It promotes a sense of belonging and equality. It equates the kind of lifestyle we all want, where everyone gets along, that perfect utopia. We find ourselves relieved to know we can control our lives, even just a little bit. " In a virtual community we can go directly to the place where our favorite subjects are being discussed then get acquainted with those who share our passions or who use words in a way we find attractive."

Where are we headed as a society? When we achieve more technological advances, will we be ready for them? How far can virtual space reach? These are questions that are constantly being studied, answered and revised. We are always pushing the envelope for newer, better, and faster resources. The Internet as a medium will continue to serve us until such time as a new way of communicating is discovered. Because that is what our society is all about, communication.

Here is my second essay:
A look at Virtual Reality and the movie Existenz


The Question of Reality

Where are we? This becomes a more common question when we explore the possibilities of the Internet. Do we, or can we exist in two places simultaneously? People today are so concerned with escaping reality that we have created an alternate reality. The Internet plays a huge part in a lot of peoples lives and this technology is encroaching into every business and trade. When the Internet went mainstream, it was viewed as an alternate communications system. People naturally flocked to participate in this new world. The Internet not only provides us with a whole new fantasy, but it closes the geological gap, bringing us ever closer to global unity. But there is a problem, as always with things in life. Do we have privacy, and how do we maintain an identity on the Internet? And if we lose our identity, who are we and where are we?

Virtual Reality is an enticing and politically approved version of life. Though we seek a difference in creating these virtual worlds, they remain essentially the same as real life. We create our own realities and then make the choice to exist in one, and society trends towards this. We quickly become bored with our environment and seek to change it.

"Experiencing a reality which seems real, but is not, is as old as dreaming, and humans have been using technology to induce it ever since they began to paint on cave walls." (1)

When we create our alternate realities, we extend a piece of ourselves away from all that is observable, and we place it in a realm where it can be viewed by the masses. Is this the cry of a nation that wishes itself elsewhere? What could this possibly say about our society today? Society is bored, and creating a change that alters perception is just the ticket.

In the movie "Existenz", created by David Cronenburg, reality and the virtual world intermingle and become confused. The background of the movie was deliberately void of all technology, including clocks and phones, other than the flesh pods, which were to symbolize the tool with which these characters reached their virtual realm. They were players in a game with virtual properties, the object was to lose themselves. Throughout the movie one becomes confused as to which world they are in. It is increasingly difficult to tell. This brings up questions about our society today. Even if we create our alternate personas, and we are not physically connected to them, we are essentially a part of them and they of us. We exist in Cyberspace as a mental model, not a physical being. So when an entity commits a crime in the virtual world, does that , or should it have any recriminations in the real world? Because in some way we are not our Internet projections, but we are still responsible for the actions our characters play.

"Once they cross the boundary into the role-play frame, thy are in a different world where new rules apply. The rules can be just as demanding as those in real-life, sometimes even more so, and they serve to protect the play-frame against leakage from the surrounding real world." (2)

Creating an alter ego seems to be as natural as breathing. It is not only fun, but relatively

simple to establish on the Internet.

"The identities we create in cyberspace are rhetorical identities only, as honest/dishonest, revealing/reserved, emotional/rational, threatening/inviting, repelling/attracting, worldly/naïve- as complete or fragmented as our words make clear." (3)

A woman can be a man, an adult can be a child, a nice girl can be a mean girl, and vice versa. The Internet houses an extended choice of identities that are not available to us in real life. Some users have multiple identities that they have to create personalities for. Perhaps the Internet is but a way to glorify our selves and where we can experience the different aspects of our personalities without recrimination.

Our society is heading towards a highly advanced technological revolution. We continually create devices that help us in our quest for global unity, and virtual reality is at the foremost of this technology. The possibilities are awesome, as we get ever closer to developing an alternate world. In the movie "Existenz", the producers subtracted things rather than added effects. This was to send a signal to the viewer that something was not right, and it worked. Virtual Reality is like this, in the sense that no matter how far technology goes, it can never duplicate or clone the real world. Something would always be 'off', though the lure of the virtual world remains. To create an identical world that houses unlimited possibilities, is the dream of thousands.

Existing on the Internet is sometimes easier than existing in real life. It may be simpler for someone to make friends and get a girlfriend/boyfriend, buy a house, or shop for Christmas. Living in a virtual community can be satisfying, because there is not always another person like you, or who shares your interests, within fifty miles. It helps to hang around people that are like you. They have the ability to make you feel welcome and accepted. This is what drives a lot of people to use the Internet. Sometimes it is just easier to go online. But even this can have negative effects. What we don't realize is that the more it becomes easier to stay home and communicate online, the harder it is to communicate in person. Online we have the benefit of a faceless environment, one that has no emotions other than the ones we choose to show. This is a world of words, a text environment. It is almost a high to be able to be anonymous. Yet how long can we remain anonymous?

Hackers are a big concern to a lot of users. There are two types, the professional, and the ones who just do it for fun or to teach a lesson on security. These people have no barriers, cyberspace is completely open to them. They can roam around on anybody's personal computer. Never before in this world has there existed such an extreme perversion of privacy. It is disturbing to know that someone (other than the government) can watch us through our home computers. But like anything else in life, dualism rears it's ugly head. For every advance that we make in technology, someone is always quick to show us that it is not good enough.

The question remains. Where are we? The answer must come from ourselves, when we learn to accept our own mortality and limitations. Our alter egos can actively pursue a lifestyle within cyberspace, and we can continue to broach those boundaries. One day we may even discover a way to incorporate ourselves into a program and thusly gain longevity and acceptance, for this is what we seek.


References:

Grossman, Wendy M. Net Wars. New York University Press, 1997. Pg 193-201
Randall, Neil. The Soul of the Internet. International Thomson Computer Press, 1997. Pg 150-341
Tiffin, John and Lalita Rajasingham. In search of the Virtual Class. Routledge,1995. Pg 127-131
Wallace, Patricia. The Psychology of the Internet. Cambridge University Press. 1999. Pg 40-64
http://www.existenz.com. Rollercoaster Studios.



Foot Notes:
1) Tiffin, John and Lalita Rajasingham. In Search of the Virtual Class. Pg 127
2) Wallace, Patricia. The Psychology of the Internet. Pg 41
3) Randall, Neil. The Soul of the Internet. Pg 336