What does it mean to dwell in Cyberspace and why do we go there?
A look at theories and definitions
BY SHARON A. ANGLEMAN
ARKANSAS STATE UNIVERSITY, JONESBORO, DECEMBER 2000
A Project Presented to Dr. O Dr. O. Amienyi, Professor of Radio/TV, and the ASU College of Communications in Partial Fulfillment of the Requirements of Theory of Mass Communications, November 2000
Most people would agree that the rapid evolvement and ensuing popularity of the Internet has resulted in incredible changes in our method and experience of communication. Although there is still some debate and a variety of theories concerning the level of social presence and media richness found on the Internet, there is certainly evidence that these factors do positively exist. Studies indicate that there are definable groups of Internet users containing members who actually seem to prefer the gratification of the Internet to gratification received from interpersonal communication (Angleman, 2000).
The Internet connects users from across the globe, effectively removing, redefining, or obscuring the traditional barriers of nationalities, cultures, religious groups, social classes, professions, ages, genders, and political affiliations (Benschop, 1999). These people bring together a rich and complex diversity of beliefs, expectations, likes and dislikes, ideas and traditions. It appears that the world’s "melting-pot" has been relocated from the "Big Apple" to the mysterious and seemingly infinite realm of Cyberspace.
Intentional uses of the Internet include activities such as satisfying the desire to communicate and acquire knowledge, convenient tasking, entertainment and socializing. Others factors influencing use may include the sense of dimensional transition, a sense of control or alteration in time, social inclusion, control over one’s environment and personal enrichment and empowerment.
The Internet allows expansion and experimentation in users’ emotional and perceptual schema. Unconscious motives drive our behaviors (Young, 1996), and just as we have particular behaviors "off-line" in various situations, we have particular, and possibly different, behaviors online. Young found that users she defined as dependent reported a "sense of being able to unlock parts of themselves that have been submerged in their real lives…." Psychoanalytic theory, which examines the repressed, unconscious parts of ourselves, may actually be taking place as we travel through Cyberspace. Users become in a sense, they own therapists of sorts, allowing themselves to express ordinarily repressed emotions or issues. Instead of virtual experience becoming an alternative expression of self, it becomes somewhat of a parallel life (Turkle, 1995) where users can test and refine personas in a new environment
Benschop (1997) identifies three "particularities" of the Internet:
To answer the question of what Cyberspace is, we have to ask ourselves who we are. We are people who use typed words to "exchange pleasantries and argue, engage in intellectual discourse, conduct commerce, exchange knowledge, share emotional support, make plans, brainstorm, gossip, feud, fall in love, find friends and lose them, play games, flirt, create a little high art and a lot of idle talk," (Rheingold, 1993). We are people who are bound to the presence of our senses in order to experience the presence of others. We are in charge of our own time and our own behavior. We are individuals in constant flux, always defining and redefining who we are by straining against the boundaries encountered or erected by our predecessors.
When we log on to the Internet, we leave the traditional laws of physics at the keyboard. We "move faster than lightning across the earth and beyond; therefore we can walk through solid walls and descend to the bottom of the largest oceans," (Benschop, 1997). Internet poet Alan Goodson (1999) expresses similar thoughts in a stanza of a poem inspired by chat room experiences:
walk through walls without a sound,
In Cyberspace, contact is made from one mind to another via the written word. And as Storm King (1994) points out, both the mind and the word are being transformed in the process. Much to the dismay of those in power, societal control is shifting from the public to the private (Shapiro, 1999). Individuals are beginning to make decisions for themselves instead of allowing traditional entities to make choices for them. They are taking responsibility for productive, harmonious social relationships, rather than allowing external forces to create the order (Shapiro). Control and understanding is primary to human happiness (Lefcourt, 1982). We come to the Internet to broaden our personal domain, to learn and express who we are and what our society is made of.
While the Internet is not utopia, it is a considerably safe and inviting place where we can "reconstruct" our social realities to better accommodate and express what we have come to know as ourselves. Beliefs and understandings are mental constructs, and therefore, they never truly clarify what reality is. The mind filters and interprets experiences and accepts pre-established beliefs, thereby reinforcing its own thoughts. With presence, a means of gratification, a rich environment, and the ability to alter states and control our environment, the Internet can be many things to many people. And in this place, many people come together.
If social reality
construction is indeed based on the principle that what we think to be
true is true, then our experiences in Cyberspace are just as real as the
events we experience throughout our daily lives. Cyberspace can be seen
as a sort-of manifestation or extension of the informational world. The
conscious and unconscious minds have no definable residency, yet they
make up a large part of the informational world. The informational world
is not tangible, but is nevertheless still there, containing all the information
known and unknown to man. What happens in Cyberspace is as relevant to
our lives as what happens in the "physical" world. After all,
if we purchase the Complete Works of Plato online, we do expect
it to show up at our real, physical address.