These articles really made me think very deeply about the online world and how it compares to the “real” world. Baym creates a really philosophical argument in terms of the unique characteristics of the virtual vs. the analog when it comes to defining the self. The part of this argument that really got me thinking was when the question of, “what is a self if it’s not in a body?” was asked (Baym, 2010, p. 3). I consider the self to be what guides and is guided by one’s experience of reality. For some, the worlds that exist in the digital universe, such as on Second Life or virtual environments like it, are reality. Players become willing participants in the new universe and make it their own. Perhaps that is why so many become addicted to maintaining their digital self; the reality of the game, with the ability to bend and change with relative ease, becomes better than the reality of non-virtual life.(image from Deviant Art user RndmChibiGirl)
In the virtual world, from my experience, one is free to change their self and become anyone they want to. Imagination is a wonderful thing, but it can also be the deciding factor when choosing what world to focus on, the real or the virtual. More evidence of this can be seen in the “social politics” of Second Life that “look awfully familiar” to those in the real world (Bans, 2008, p. 56). Beauty and sex are of high priority in the world of advertising and entertainment, from commercials to television shows. The same can be said, to a more excessive degree, about the universe of Second Life and its participants. I was very surprised at first to see how much sex was a part of SL, but then I remembered that those who take part in this virtual world want to escape reality and create a new self. The world they live in has been hidden away by the world they have complete control over.
(image from Flickr user Oakley Foxtrot)
After reading the second chapter of Baym I was rather surprised at how many dystopian views of the Internet and new communication technologies exist. I for one have always seen the Internet as a safe and creative place with the ability to change lives and how society works for the better. Sure, there are dangerous websites and, of course, a dangerous person using the Internet, but that does not mean it is less safe than anything else. Dangerous people will always use the tools available to them to commit their crimes. If we as a society avoid using a technology because it is home to criminal acts, then we are letting fear control us. Also, it really surprised me to learn that Socrates “decried the invention of the alphabet and writing as a threat to oral tradition” (Baym, 2010, p. 25). Something as simple as the alphabet was considered to be dangerous to society when it first came about. Now I cannot even imagine a world without the alphabet existing, so perhaps the same can be said about the Internet? New technologies are always deemed unsafe until they change the world for the better.
(image from http://www.youmotivation.com)