Blogging is coursework, n'est pas?

Response: Berners-Lee & Dibbell

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What to say.

Firstly, regarding Berners-Lee’s piece, there is very little to speak on. The essay details a very technical view of W3, including topics about HTML code, URL coding, and network protocols. It’s very dry and intended for those beginning to immerse themselves in the early days of the internet. As such, given the time period of the writing, absolutely everything involved is highly outdated knowledge, and in our contemporary culture, this information is: much more easily explained; much more widly understood by common users; much useful given increasing changes and advancements in coding.

Our second piece, A Rape in Cyberspace…, is an essay by Dibbell, where a pomous academic nutcase waxes poetic on a disgusting instance of internet usage. Dibbell’s tone is obviously only intened to stoke flames for his own personal gain, trying to make this event as grisly as possible for his audience to then praise him about. It’s actually quite offensive that he uses the events described in the manner than he does. But I digress from the heart of the matter.

The matter discussed in A Rape… is an instance of a networked database “multi-user domain,” or put more simply, a virtually realistic place on the internet shared (in the same way as a forum or BBS board) by users, but with scenes, settings, and characters, all entirely virtual in design and text-based in presentation, part of the creative imaginings of the people sharing the MUD, the “world.” This was a fad of the 90s, and has since come to pass as such. It is to be noted that Dibbell was one of the participants in this virtual world.

In this MUD, there is a character – created and “played” by a very real life person – named Mr. Bungle. The instance that Dibbell details with such frivilous reminiscence is an instance where the user of Mr. Bungle spun a fiction with another of the characters that “inhabited” this world, whereupon the Mr. Bungle user used a magical voodoo doll to force another character to commit unwanted sexual acts with his character. To put more simply, he wrote a fictional rape-fantasy involving himself and another user. Dibbell simply recounts the happenings with flowery language, which does the severity of the entire affair an extreme unjustice. But again, I digress.

The true heart of this matter is the connection between people and the virtual worlds they inhabit. Dibbell explains that the person who acted as Mr. Bungle, creating this rape-fantasy and sharing it with the other users, was none other than an ordinary university student, lackadaisically writing at home. Dibbell then explains that when he spoke to the girl who was chosen to be a part of this rape-fantasy, against her will, she was very much – realistically – affected emotionally by what happened. She cried over the heinous actions in the virtual world she shared.

While I completely disagree with Dibbell’s disgusting manner of presentation, it does illuminate two issues that have become vastly more apparent to us since the release of this article in the 90s. Firstly, that people are very emotionally attached to their lives in cyberspace; secondly, that the line between what constitutes reality and what constitutes unreality (concerning the internet) is very slim.

To address this first point, indeed, people are very emotionally invested in their internet lives. This is obviously a very subjective issue, as some people put very little credence into their online activities. But with the increasing ubiquity of internet usage, many people’s daily lives – very emotional things, in and of themselves – are spilling into their internet life. Many people talk to significant others, or dear friends, online. Information shared may be very sentimental, or also very private, and the spread of such information can very realistically affect people. The most notorious signs of this are the misuses, such as the gay teen that was bullied by having his compromising pictures shared on the internet, ending in his suicide. Many others suicides – especially by young people – have been recorded due to bullying and ugly events happening in cyberspace. I am of the belief that people are much more aware of these issues. That does not decrease their merit or the dangers associated with online interaction. But if we are to be interacting in a shared, networked, open location that the internet provides, this is something we’re going to have to learn to deal with. To only focus on the terrible negatives does a discredit to the vastly more positive things that can be seen with the acceptance and use of the internet, including the young girl who inspired millions of loners with a video-poem, or the Google promo that shows the real life impacts of an Kenyan farmer using the internet. There are always negative aspects to everything in our lives, including the internet; it is best to remain optimistic in the face of great pessimism, not glamourize rape-fantasy as Dibbell does.

My second point is that reality, as Dibbell calls it “RL,” and the internet life “VR,” are not as disconnected as we’re often think. In fact, I would argue that there is no disconnect. Our internet life is an extension of our real life, not “another world” as it is often spoken of. When our society realizes this truth, we’ll understand the full power of connecting the way we now do.


Written by Chris Fox

9 October, 2011 at 15:14

Posted in assignment

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