“Pandora’s Vox: On Community in Cyberspace” was posted 6 years ago onto a forum by someone with the username “kolber”. Kolber discusses the online community in this “rant” by telling anecdotes of her first experiences and common misconceptions of the online world, saying that “it is fashionable to suggest that cyberspace is some kind of island of the blessed where people are free to indulge and express their individuality” and that some write and think of cyberspace as “though it were a 60’s utopia” (1). Do you view the online community as a utopia free of thought and judgement? Kolber noted a feeling of dissolution of gender categories when people assumed she was a man. Does this feeling of anonymity, without gender, race, age, appearance and all physical qualities create a utopia online where all are free to express themselves? Or does it create a “free” space where any can spread negativity and discriminatory ideology?
Kolber refers many scholars like Marx, Beaudrillard and Nietzsche in her post like when she describes the web as a black hole that “absorbs energy and personality and then re-presents it as a spectacle” (1). In other words, when someone is represented online, the Internet takes the “realness” of that person’s self and personality through their typed words or recorded actions (or some other form) and by being posted and presented to others it becomes a commodified product. It is turned into a product, and Kolber compares this to Marx’s description of mass production and commodification in which the “means of production” being exploited would be the feelings and thoughts of users posting rants online, and the “capitalists” would be the corporation who owned the board being posted onto. Kolber laments the idea of her words being “made immortal”, the fact that she would be paying “for the privilege of commodifying and exposing” herself, and that she was making herself subject to the scrutiny of others, like the FBI (2). Do you think ranting online is just a way of “selling your soul” like Kolber seems to believe? Or is it a sort of catharsis which can be helpful or interesting to others reading it with minimal negative repercussions?
In one of his works entitled, “Encoding, Decoding,” Stuart Hall discussed how when taking real-life content, in order to share it with others it must undergo a process of encoding and decoding in which it is presented to others in a certain way, and each person then “decodes” said message based on their own context and knowledge. Kolber talks about how we generally prefer simulation to reality and this likely has an impact on how we perceive what is presented to us online. For example, Kolber tells us about the opening of Couple’s Topic in 1994. A mother discussed her marital issues and then her daughter’s well-being was brought into play, and her daughter used the program as well. Others online could relate to the daughter’s posts and took comfort in the arms of the mother who became a sort of leader on the page for people struggling with the same issues as her daughter and she was seen as a comforting “Virtual Mommy” for the virtual “Inner Children” (4). Mental health professionals were horrified and many didn’t believe the situation to be genuine. Without intention, it seemed that the mother “commodified her own tragedy” (4). Do you think this example shows the negative or positive effects of cyberspace? Or, if both, what effects do you see on either side of a situation like this?
I feel like this can somewhat be compared to our ELIZA discussion in class. While the virtual mom was there to offer consolation and comfort to those suffering online, she is not a certified mental health professional, and also initially took to the forum to discuss her own problems and request advice for herself, only to find herself in the position of giving advice as others watched silently and anonymously from behind their screens. Kolber seems to look down upon the electronic community because she thinks it leads to dehumanization in society, saying “it wants to commodify human interaction, enjoy the spectacle regardless of the human cost” (4).
Did Kolber’s argument on the dehumanization and commodification of human interaction and exhibition of emotion affect your view and future actions online? Does the idea that your online activities are always being monitored affect the way you surf the web, and if so, what are your thoughts while doing so and how do you adjust your behavior? Do you agree with the view that contributing to things like forums publicly online is just selling yourself for free and eliminating your own privacy and realness? Kolber’s idea of our thoughts and postings as a sort of economy in which the goods are ourselves opened my mind to an entirely different side of the web and our use of it. I would love to hear your thoughts on this!