My Virtual Life

September 24, 2006

One of my assignments for my class required us to visit the virtual online world of Second Life: http://secondlife.com/ The intention was to introduce us to a gaming/online presence.

I thought this a strange thing to do, having always been careful about keeping my real life free from virtual reality (important, because I can be a daydreamer). But after signing up, choosing an Avatar (my online presence), I found I really enjoyed being there. It’s better than TV, but most things are…

At first I was awed by the graphic richness of the environments created by other “Residents” there. People have put alot of time, creativity, effort, and probably money into creating this world. But it’s more than just a place to view. You can interact with much of the environment. You can find items to keep, as well as make your avatar dance. And best of all, you can fly. You can also teleport to many places, a quick-fix for impatient travelers.

I had, at first, avoided contact with other residents. When I finally tried it, I met a couple of “housemates” from London. It was fun “chatting” with them. Actually it was a little strange to think I can be in my house in Connecticut, communicating with people from London through make-believe characters in a game. It’s way beyond email. I even made a couple of friends that I can keep on a list and contact later.

I found it disconcerting at first that people can create completely fictional characters and go out into the (virtual) world presenting themselves as something they aren’t. When I thought more about it, I realized that we really only know what people present to us in real life anyway; we make alot of assumptions about people we meet, so why should this be anymore disturbing. So, now I just enjoy my travels and chats and don’t concern myself with the reality or virtuality of it. After all, what’s a game for?

-Mark

The New News

September 18, 2006

Traditional Journalism has consisted of either straight “truthful” reporting, or opinion-based editorial work. With the advent of the Weblog the lines have blurred. Anyone can have a presence on the internet and espouse their opinions on anything. But some of the large news organizations also have a presence there; see: http://www.cnn.com/ and http://www.guardian.co.uk/. Other sites are just kind of wacky, yet provide news information: http://www.madville.com/.

As yet the internet is free and the style of presentation is left to the writer or provider. As quoted in Matheson (2004), Jay Rosen observes: “There’s plenty of journalism on the internet but very little of it is of the internet.” (p. 2). He is leaving the door open for a new form of journalism, born of the internet. But what would this look like? The Weblog is new, yet the style generally reflects the print media we are so accustomed to. What differentiates the Weblog at present is the inclusion of links. Now we don’t have just a reporting of events, but a virtual library of sources and resources related to what is being written about. As Matheson observes: “In the weblog, news does not happen through the newspaper’s reporting of it, but through a wider range of texts.”(p. 18). This is the new news where…”…meaning must be more actively constructed by the user. ” (Matheson, p. 19).

It seems a little outrageous to think of the reader creating their own news by discovery and exploration, yet this seems to be what internet-users want. Matheson proposes that “The discourse of weblogs as journalism is also organized, particularly in the US, around the idea of challenging mainstream journalism.” (p.10). We seem to have become tired of the limited scope of our newspapers and the “talking heads” approach to news acquisition. People want more, faster, better.

We were content in believing that news stories were researched and verified before being presented to us. The freedom of expression on the internet means we run the risk of reading false, highly, or even subtley distorted information. See the article by Tom Foremski at: http://blogs.zdnet.com/Foremski/?p=119 which talks about a “trust talkback” to verify the sources we are reading.

Lastly, one of the more “democratic” and revolutionary aspects of the Weblog is that it is interactive. You can write back. It’s somewhat like the “Letters to the Editor”, but you can comment directly to the specific writer of a post. A whole series of interaction can occur based on one post. You can even comment to someone at a link, and further down the chain. And a post doesn’t easily become “yesterday’s news”; it can live on and even receive comments and references, possibly indefinitely.

References: Matheson, D.(2004). Weblogs and the epistemology of the news:some trends in online journalism. New Media & Society, 6(4). 443-468.

 

 

 

 

Virtual Friends

September 17, 2006

I have gone beyond email and have a presence on MySpace and a couple of other such sites. This adds yet another dimension to electronic communication. It adds a photo and a personal profile to the communication process.

I often wonder at the reality of a relationship with someone I’ve met online. How can I say I have a friendship with someone I’ve never met or spoken to? We’ve seen each other’s photos, shared alot of personal information, and “talk” about work and children, and other such things one normally shares with friends.

More puzzling is that I’ve developed emotional ties to some of these people. I actually care about them and their lives, and they mine. Is this not the essence of friendship?

I like these people, and in this hectic world we’ve created for ourselves, it may be the most expedient way to make and develop friendships. So how does this translate in the “real” world? Well, I have, on occasion, met some of these people. It’s somewhat like meeting a familiar stranger. I find that the in-person part of the relationship is almost like starting all over again, and it becomes a different relationship. The only difference is that there is a history, knowledge base and understanding that isn’t the usual first in-person experience. In some ways this is better. But it isn’t a guaranteed translation. I have had a few experiences of having an online, and even a phone relationship with someone that just didn’t translate into a good in-person relationship.

I think the risk with virtual relationships is that we have an idea and an ideal of what this relationship is. This may or may not coincide with the real experience. On the other hand, it has the potential of enhancing the “real” relationship. And that’s what I like to focus on.

I think, as with most experiences, it’s all about perception. So virtual, or in-person; it really depends on what we are presented with and how we perceive it. Just the fact that we are still reaching out and trying to develop relationships keeps my faith that the human in the electronic age is still directing the technology to enhance humanity.

-Mark Cotrupe

Welcome to the Neighborgrid

September 12, 2006

Our concept of a social network has evolved tremendously since the advent of “computer-mediated communication” (Wellman, p54). We no longer visit with our neighbors by walking around, visiting on the front porch, or stopping in for tea and cookies. We are all way too busy for that. But we haven’t forgone neighborly interaction. We have, in fact, increased our social scope to include people we would not otherwise have had interaction with. Wellman refers to this as a “network of networks.” (p 54).

We still communicate with friends and family in person, but also through electronic means. In addition, we are communicating with friends of friends, family we don’t see, or who live far away, as well as communicating with complete strangers we meet online, or through a special interest group. We can send email to someone in a different part of the world, perhaps having seen something they wrote, and choosing to respond to it.

Wellman asks, “Are online relationships as good as face-to-face relationships?” Probably not, but at least we are still talking. In our transitional, mobile society it is sometimes the glue that holds us together. We no longer have time for letter-writing, or stopping at a Pub to spend the evening with friends. So we email and text-message. We haven’t lost our humanity with such contact; it is merely a part of our communication evolution. After all, “Internet accounts and Mobile Phone numbers are people-based and not place-based” Our communities are changing: “from being a social network of households to a social network of individuals” (Wellman, p 55). This is the new neighborhood.

Teenagers were early adopters of modern electronic communications. It has changed their social circles and interactions dramatically. They can now communicate and assemble in new ways not available to them in the past. They can “conduct conversations that can’t be overheard.” (Rheingold, p 4). They can now “…construct a networked alternative space that is available from anywhere they are.” (Rheingold, p 5). This hasn’t replaced interpersonal interaction, but has, rather, enhanced it by adding another layer to the social fabric. Teens use text-messaging to say things they might not have the courage to say in face-to-face interaction (Rheingold, p 16). Rheingold states: “Such chatting hardly resembles real exchange of information or even intercourse, as much as merely sharing one’s life with others in real time.” (p 16) He goes on to quote a 17 year old college student, Tammy Reyes: “If I don’t receive a text when I wake up or I receive only a few messages during the day, I feel as though nobody loves me enough to remember me during the day.” (p 21). This shows how important the new means of communication has become to at least a segment of our society. Remember, these teens are the ones who will be running our society when they are adults. They will be bringing this technology with them and helping shape our society as they go.

Perhaps the role of text-messaging is best expressed by the Norwegian ethnologist, Truls Erik Johnsen: “The content is not that important. The message has a meaning in itself, it is a way of showing the recipient you’re thinking of him (or her).” (Rheingold, p 25).

So whatever means we can, we find a way to stay in touch with others. We seem to have a need as a society and as individuals to communicate with others. We have moved from drumming and smoke signals to writing and telephoning, and now to emailing and text-messaging. The new electronic communication methods are just the latest means of staying in touch, and sharing our neighborgrid.

References:

Wellman, B. (2005) Community: From neighborhood to network. Communications of the ACM, 53-55.

Rheingold, H. (2002) Shibuya epiphany (pp1-28). Smart mobs. New York: Perseus.

Electronic Servitude

September 5, 2006

The year was 1974. At the end of the upstairs hallway of Tator Hall was a table. On this table was a device that was considered an object of derision. It was chained to the table…as if someone would want to steal this device. What was it? It was the first and only computer for the Psychology Department at Quinnipiac University. Most of us students didn’t really know what it could be used for. As for me, I never touched the thing. We all knew that computers were going to be the downfall of humanity.

In the article, “The Computer as a Communication Device” Licklidder (1968) states: In a few years, man will be able to communicate more effectively through a machine than face to face.” (p 21). That’s a rather bold statement and it addresses clearly the fear of that early generation of computer-fearful idealists. But what if it is true? Is that a bad thing?

Fast-forward to the present. By now I am writing this on a computer; I have my own website; I email people daily; a couple of my jobs have been computer-based; I have dated women I’ve met from online dating sites; and I even handle all of my artistic expression in photography on the computer. And I think it’s safe to say, I’m not alone in this reliance on the computer and it’s abilities.

Vannevar Bush, in the article “As we May Think” (1945) says: “Science has provided the swiftest communication between individuals; it has provided a record of ideas and has enabled man to make extracts from that record so that knowledge evolves and endures throughout the life of a race rather than that of an individual.” (1) So the computer as a record-keeper and resource seems to make the best use of a computer’s abilities. It leaves the responsibility of evolving knowledge to the humans who utilize it. I think technology is best thought of as an adjunct to human abilities that either enhances them, such as seeing farther with a telescope, or moving on roads in vehicles, or functions as a resource that the creative human mind can access to manipulate and formulate new ideas. Licklidder(1968) says: “When minds interact, new ideas emerge”(21). So using a computer can enhance this interaction by being a reference and a storage device, to be referred to when developing ideas.

So are we servants to the machines? I think not. I think we still have ownership and control over them. It still takes the creative thinking of humans to make computers useful, otherwise they would be dumb devices full of useless information. It seems they are our servants, and humanity is safe afterall.

References:

Licklidder, J.C.R. (1968) The Computer as a Communication Device. Science and Technology, April 1968.
Vannevar Bush, (1945), As We May Think. Atlantic Monthly, July.

Greetings

September 4, 2006

This is my first post on what promises to be an interesting adventure in media exploration.
While this is being created as part of an Interactive Communications course, my long-time interest in media will, I’m sure, cause me to continue beyond the need.

I’m a late-starter to grad school. If you have been interested in media for a long time, you will recognize the name Marshall McLuhan. It was a television presentation on him which ignited my interest in understanding media (allusion intended).

While I have been interested in Photography since high school, my occupation has taken many side-steps. I have a BA in Psychology; worked in mental health, sales and marketing, pre-press as a color specialist, landscape design (my own business), and now in higher education as a transcript evaluator in the College of Professional Studies at Quinnipiac University.

A very brief and very incomplete history of my personal journey: After my college graduation I traveled from my native Connecticut to Tucson Arizona. That led to an 18-year stay in the Southwest. On my journey home, I spent a year in Overland Park, Kansas while pursuing a Marketing career. I eventually found my way back to Connecticut, otherwise known as home.

I hope to tie together my experience and personal interests into a new career direction. That’s why I’m pursuing a Master’s degree in Interactive Communications. I believe we should always be growing and achieving. This is my effort to do so.

-Mark Cotrupe