Hiding behind a ComputerAre computers and the Internet redefining human identity as people explore the boundaries of their personalities, adopt multiple selves, and form online relationships that can be more intense than real ones? Is the World Wide Web redefining our sense of community and where we find our peers? The answer is simple. An individual should not use a false identity to produce a life on the Internet. They should also avoid using an online life to influence their identity in real life.
Gender swapping is one way which the Internet has the ability to change ones identity. There have been many cases where someone has logged onto the Internet, and they have presented their identity as the opposite sex from what they really are. There is no way of knowing what sex someone is when he or she is logged in. The net is made up of hundreds of thousands of separate communities, each with its own special character. It is difficult to eliminate a certain sex from a specific community when people have the power to disguise themselves. Communication in cyberspace lets people explore their personalities by creating new on-line personae. This seems to be the main concern for frequent Internet users. A significant observation is the amount of men that will log on as women. Jodi Obrien put it best when she states, “Many men say that a common motivation for logging on as a female is because they are fascinated by the unusual amount of attention they receive from other men when they are perceived as women” (http://www.echonyc.com/~women/Issue17/art-obrien.html).
The one major concern that comes to mind is “cyber-rape.” It is apparent what kind of effect this has on people when Amy Bruckman, a doctoral student in the MIT Media Laboratory, states, “Unwanted attention and sexual advances create an uncomfortable atmosphere for women in MUDs, just as they do in real life” (Bruckman, 101). A MUD is defined as a multi-user dungeon or a multi-user Domain. It is a text-based multi-user virtual-reality environment. This is one of many virtual communities which users can enter. “When a person first logs onto a MUD, he or she creates a character’s name and gender, and writes a description of what the character looks like. It is possible for a character to be male or female, regardless of the gender of the player” (100). For instance, several players have observed that MUDs complaints of harassment are routinely dismissed with the logic that this is a fantasy space so anything goes. This displays how easy it is to perform cyber-rape on an individual. An interesting point is made by Jodi O’Brien in her article when she says, “Although the prevalence of gender switching online is not readily knowable, it is the case that gender policing is considerable. The tactic agreement seems to be that crossing is acceptable-after all, this is a space in which one is supposed to “experiment”-but the motives for crossing must not involve an intent to “deceive.” Women who cross as men in order to avoid harassment or dismissal are just being reasonable” (http://www.echonyc.com/~women/ Issue17/art-obrien.html). In another argument, one could say an individual provokes the cause of sexual harassment on the Internet. Our romantic energy is carried by standard electronic impulses across wires we will never see. With fantasy aside, just how elastic is the institution of gender? How likely is it that cyberspace will be a site for complicating the customary gender dichotomy? How likely is it that we can interact without differentiating characteristics to provide a guide for whom to be and how to act? What is reality where ones emotions, future plans, and recipes for interaction are concerned? Much of the current hype about cyberspace implies that the body is a barrier to experiencing a wider range of interactions.
Gender is one of the first means by which persons introduce and represent themselves to others in electronic communications. For instance, one of the most frequently asked questions on bulletin board systems is “are you male or female?” Individuals who evade this question are not considered to be creative mavericks; they are assumed to be hiding something. If someone persists in maintaining a gender-neutral position, others online will inquire of one another about what the person’s gender really is and why he/she is reluctant to reveal it. The failure to reveal gender is viewed with suspicion. These questions underscore rather than erase the significance of gender. Additionally, on almost any system, the System’s Operator requires a real name, address, and phone number. For many chat lines, where presumably individuals intend to cruise for friends and possible romance, users are required to specify sex and sexual orientation. These designations, which appear as biographical information available to other users, can not be changed without going through the System’s Operator. There are also reports that for some spaces the System’s Operator attempts to verify aspects of user-identity, particularly gender, by making unannounced phone calls to the person’s home and/or checking credit card information. I do not have enough information to verify the veracity of these claims, but it does seem reasonable to conclude that gender, conventional binary gender, is being transported into online interactions as a significant, perhaps the significant, feature of identity.
There is not a lot of support on the existence of conversation of reality being used on the Internet. Amy Bruckman uses this statement for support, “However, in some communities such as those based on the Dragonriders of Pern, series of books by Anne McCaffrey, talking about real life is taboo” (101). The Internet is abused quite a bit. People will use the net to meet acquaintances, friends, and even significant others. With the various forms of sexuality in the world, it explains the various chat rooms and virtual cities that can be found on the net. It is unexplained why one doesn’t obtain their true identity if what they are really interested in could be benefited from the truth. In an article by Paul Judge, a sociologist mentions, “She believes computers provide people with the means to explore the boundaries of self by shifting from one persona to another, even when they jump from writing a memo in one window to joining an online chat in another: Different roles are required for each task” (Judge, 99). She also states people interact through personae they have created, and they navigate through virtual cities. I suppose there are other reasons to support the usefulness of the Internet. The certain functions don’t always relate to psychological matter. People do use it in a reasonable fashion, yet they should try to avoid the hiding of their identity.
The identity crisis could come to and end with proper identification of oneself on the Internet. “Anonymity policy, admissions requirements, and advertising strategy all contribute to a virtual community’s character. Without such methods of distinguishing one online hangout from another, all would tend to sink the least common denominator of discourse-the equivalent of every restaurant in a town degenerating into a dive” (http://www.techreview.com/articles/jan96/Bruckman.html). There needs to be better techniques with helping members of communities develop shared expectations about the nature of the community, and to communicate those expectations to potential new members. For many Internet users, the desirability of erasing gender as a form for organizing interaction is based on the premise that gender is a hierarchical form of differentiation. This will make it easier for people to find the community that suits them. With the result of a true identity, random users will be influenced by their interested findings on the net, and they will not have to rely on their online life to provide them with a false persona. Let’s divide the online life and the real life into two. The life we live on the Internet can stay with the Internet, and the life we live while away from the computer can remain in the real world.