Kolber’s Pandora’s Vox: The Online Economy of the Self

“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!

5 thoughts on “Kolber’s Pandora’s Vox: The Online Economy of the Self

  1. I found it really interesting how humdog describe our relationship with cyberspace and the commodification of our interactions online as a voluntary experience. At this point, it is almost common knowledge that all our online activities are always being monitored, but when I make conscious decisions to not post something online it is because I fear it could be found by a future employer or could be used against me later on. Other than this, I do not actively think about the government’s role in surveillance or change how I interact on the web. This is reminiscent of the controlled society that we discussed in class, and how we do not believe we need to fear this surveillance if we have nothing to hide.

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  2. Great analysis of the piece Nicole!
    In terms of answering your question about its effect on my perspective and future actions, I certainly now view the Internet in a much more nuanced light. While the Internet can be, to some people, empowering through its interface of interactivity (which is also mentioned in Lisa Nakamura’s text Digital Racial Formation), users such as Kolber may find that there are varying degrees of interactivity that can occur within the digital platform. One example Nakamura gives is the fact that “women and people of colour are both subjects and objects of interactivity; they participate in digital racial formation via acts of technological appropriation, yet are subjected to it as well” (646). Different user groups, despite experiencing a universal access to the Internet, can easily become commodified and objectified in the way they are perceived and viewed in digital media, which is manipulated according to the perspective of the Internet “majority”.

    As a result of this variation, this can ultimately lead to a dehumanisation and commodification of content that displaces different user groups, particularly certain minority ones. Just as Nakamura mentions in her text, “we must now view the interface as an object that compels particular sorts of identifications, investments, ideological seductions, and conscious as well as unconscious exercises of power” (646). Therefore, we must be more conscious of what we do on the Internet. Furthermore, we must also further consider the implications of the Internet as a democratic force, as we are beginning to see segmentations in terms of gender, race, class in the virtual dimension as well.

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  3. Thanks for summarizing humdog’s reading so well!
    I think I’ve always been careful with how I present myself online and on social media, as I am always somewhat aware of the fact that there is always a sense of surveillance in whatever I do online, and also the fact that I will always be judged by my peers and others that may find me. I think this idea of the glorified cyberspace giving the illusion of freedom and agency goes back to our discussion of control society and the misconception that we think that we have all of this control and independence in cyberspace, when in reality we’re always invisibly watched and monitored, and even commodified through the actions we make online.
    In regards to your question about anonymity and freedom of expression, I think cyberspace has definitely provided a needed platform for minority voices of many different identities to anonymously speak out their thoughts and opinions freely and openly without restraint.

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  4. Thank you for a great summary and analysis of the reading!
    As for your questions, I think I agree with Kolber for the most parts. I have always aware that somebody might be monitoring, even tracking me online, (not necessarily the governmental or FBI’s surveillance) and that’s why I’ve been almost “paranoid” according to my friends about exposing myself online—no real name, no identifiable picture of mine, no geotag for my current location or residence on social media. I’ve been trying to minimize the exposure of information, only to realize again and again that as long as I am online and on social media especially, there is no absolute way to conceal myself, partially because social media is meant to be the place for self-expression. This is also one reason I think that discussion about the dehumanization of human interaction online is more complicated these days. When I see people fighting and swearing to the strangers online, I see the dehumanization happening, but when I see people interacting on social media, sympathizing to someone else’s story, or people with same interest or hobby creating their own community and subculture, I see how internet allows people to have better and more diverse interaction with others. I acknowledge that the more people express themselves and share things on social media, the more the social media platform thrives and thus earn money, but I don’t think that it necessarily has to do with “eliminating” our privacy and “selling” ourselves.

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  5. Thanks for such a great analysis of Kolber’s reading. I have to agree that the online/cyberspace community presents itself as inviting,free, and entertaining yet there is a drawback. There are some problematic conditions cyberspace user will encounter, for instance the invasive advertising that pops up while your on the web. The tracking of what you type into the search engines and the almost non-discreet monitoring. What I also found interesting is that this is an example of a control society. Within that control society in cyberspace/online the production of commodification is inevitable. I think internet users experience a catharsis that feels like freedom, or an escape but the price for that is your information. Social media in our present day perhaps is a mechanism that helps perpetuate our innate and biological social behavior even further which is a progressive. Yet the downside to this I believe Kolber is saying is that we are selling our privacy for free.

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