The Internet as Continuity of Human Existence

by on Monday, 31 October 2011 9366 hits Comments
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Between the years of 2006-2007 I engaged in an ethnographic research about players of the Massively Multiplayer Online Role Playing Game (MMORPG), World of Warcraft (WoW). Ever since then, I have had the impression that a lot of what has been said and written about the internet is in fact, hot air. Let us have a quick look at the two sides of the raging debate about the internet.

On the blue corner are the custodians of the 'old ways'. Much has been made of the internet censorship laws in China. Chinese authorities defend their measures by arguing that an unregulated internet would turn into a means of spreading rumours and propaganda. Similarly legislation in countries like Turkey and Iran limit content access on the internet on the grounds that it damages their 'moral fibre'. The 'affluent west' has it's own brand of conservatives, who unscrupulously use clinical language to describe the relationship between man and the internet. We see a new industry emerging around the 'curing' of 'internet addiction'. The problems with this approach to the internet are too obvious and hence, offer scant intellectual delight.

On the red corner, we have the champions of 'enlightenment'. Here are the bookie's favourite. The self appointed crusaders of progress are a very mixed bunch. In the Chinese context for instance we have the brave men and women of Google who have valiantly turned their failed investment in China, into a PR spectacle featuring themselves on the lead role as the stout hearted warriors waving the banner for freedom of speech in the land of the uncivilized heathens. In the western front the same battle is waged by groups like 'Anonymous' or 'Lulzsec' with varying degrees of success. There is far more intellectual flesh here for the enthusiastic polemicist to get their critical teeth into. Although crushing the dreams of stary eyed digital utopians provides a sense of immediate gratification of a predatory nature, it is scarcely productive nor satisfying in the long run.

Homo sapiens for good or ill, has a tendency to pick sides on issues that vary from the utterly trivial to existentially critical. Families can break up over potato salad recipes, just as generations can slaughter each other in the name of religion.

"What is your bloody point?" I hear you cry impatient reader. My point is that polarisation of the debate about the internet unfortunately misses some interesting things that are actually going on. We are struggling with the inevitability of change on one hand and the necessity to protect what we hold dear as a society. The assumption that both sides have in common is that the internet presents a massive rupture in human existence. An alternative is to look at the internet through the lens of continuity.

For instance during his aforementioned research your humble author has discovered that WoW players tend to model their social organisation on conventional organisational structures they have familiarised with outside the context of the internet. Also, contrary to the common belief that the particular form of anonymous interaction forged over MMO platforms dissolve sexual identity, I have observed that young boys and girls actually learn to perform their sexual identity through their interactions with the rest of the community.

What I am trying to get across here is that if we had spilled as much ink describing the effects of the internet as we have over the question of whether the Internet is a 'good thing' or a 'bad thing', we would have by now reached a state where we can accurately evaluate the direction that we want the internet to take. But where is the fun in that?

(Detail of a drawing by Bendu)

Last modified on Wednesday, 08 January 2014 17:34
Efe Levent

業非(Efe Levent)是國立交通大學應用藝術研究所博士班的學生,目前正以寶藏巖作為民族誌的田野場域,處理關於藝術與都市更新之間的關係。他同時在進行網路遊戲社群的研究,以及在「ROFLCOPTER」樂團中擔任吉他手。

Efe Levent is a phd student at Jiao Da university (Hsinchu), doing ethnographic fieldwork in Treasure Hill about the relationship between art and urban regeneration. He also does work on video gamer communities and plays the guitar in a band called ROFLCOPTER.

Website: twitter: @STBcollective

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