Anonymity: Stereotypes and the Internet
Internet users replace their physical lives with their virtual lives in order to conceal and ignore the problems that they face in their physical lives. The Internet allows people with social anxiety to communicate freely with other Internet users. Internet users can be selective about who they communicate with over the Internet. The Internet provides a way of relieving the users stressful lives by giving them a place to have fun and relax. The use of the Internet at home can drastically affect how a user will act at outside of the home. The Internet allows users to be anonymous and unconstrained with their physical life stereotypes. The Internet allows users to adopt multiple personae, which helps them to realize what it is like to see from a different point of view and help relieve the stereotyping of others in the physical world.
Reporter Jo Twist describes the contrast between a certain female's home life and her Online life in “Virtual Gamers Reveal Themselves”. Twist is reporting about Internet users who live a life of stress and responsibility in the daytime and by night they live a life of Online entertainment and role-playing. Hardworking people need an emotional outlet instead of bottling all of their stress and frustrations inside of themselves. The idea of role-playing helps to attract stressed out users by giving them a place where they do not have to be themselves for a while.
One woman he photographed is a full-time mother with two young children. Chalmaine looks just like any other busy parent. Online, her life could not be more different. 'She plays Jova Song, this character that hardly has any, or few, clothes on. She was playing a second life in a 3D chatroom where the competitive element has been removed.' (2)
During the day Chalmaine is a responsible mother of two children while at night she logs into a world where she takes on the persona of “Jova Song”, a scantily clad, stress-free female. She can then commence in her “second life” in which she relaxes with her Online companions and vents her frustrations to them. The Internet can be her escape from the hardships of reality to a place where she is welcome despite her age, looks, and personal background. Chalmaine's Internet companions do not care what she wears or her personal hygiene routine; they only care about her personality and which role-playing facade she feels like acting out on that particular day. Her personality is all that matters in her online community, and that helps create a relaxing, judgment-free environment.
Author Sherry Turkle describes the Internet and its good and bad aspects and how they influence lives in “Cyberspace and Identity” from the anthology Reading and Writing in the Academic Community. Turkle speaks of the Internet as a place where users can take on different personae to escape from reality. Users can make up their personae by using text to describe themselves.
In cyberspace, it is well known, one's body can be represented by one's own textual description: The obese can be slender, the beautiful plain. The fact that self-presentation is written in text means that there is time to reflect upon and edit one's 'composition,' which makes it easier for the shy to be outgoing, the “nerdy” sophisticated. The relative anonymity of life on the screen – one has the choice of being known only by one's chosen 'handle' or Online name – gives people the chance to express often unexplored aspects of the self. (462)
Internet users can have “time to reflect upon” their description which is something that is impossible in the real world. Users can make a first impression by just revising their own description many times until the description sounds perfect. In the real world first impressions are not completely up to the user. The user can not control their weight, race, or sex so they must make due with not having the best first impressions. Online the only thing users are judged by is their personalities and what they have written as their description, which makes beauty and hygiene concerns
almost nonexistent among Internet users. Users are known by a word or phrase which can only give a glimpse into their personalities, and requires other users to interact with them to learn more.
Author Yair Amichai-Hamburger explains how certain types of people find the Internet to be a large part of their life in “Personality and the Internet” from the anthology The Social Net: Human Behavior in Cyberspace. Amichai-Hamburger explains that human behavior in cyberspace helps create an identity both in cyberspace and in the physical world.
Amichai-Hamburger discusses certain types of people and their use of the Internet:
The concept of the real me enables us to understand the importance of the Internet for certain types of people; for example, those people who find it better to express themselves on the Internet than through the more traditional channels of communication. This implies that for a significant number of people such as introverts, neurotics, lonely people, and people with social anxiety, the Internet may become a very significant part of their lives and perhaps the only one in which they truly express themselves.(37)
Amichai-Hamburger explains that the Internet helps “introverts, neurotics, lonely people, and people with social anxiety.” As such these people use the internet as a main communication medium in which they do not fear “more traditional channels of communication”. The Internet has given these people a real life and has subbed their physical lives to a secondary venture. People with social anxiety have found a place where they feel comfortable talking to people, and the continual use of the Internet may even strengthen their physical lives socially.
The Internet is not a completely separate entity from the real world. Reporter Jeannine Aquino explains how the Internet can be a great social tool and can enhance a user's social life in the real world in her article “Study: Internet Users Are More Social” from The Minnesota Daily. Aquino suggests that the Internet can enhance relationships in the real world by creating a medium in which a single user can converse with multiple other users at the same time.
Aquino reports, “Contrary to the image of the lone Internet user holed up in a room for hours, the study finds that e-mail does not 'seduce people away from in-person or telephone contact.' Americans today actually are more in contact with their social networks than they were before the advent of the Internet.” Aquino argues that people are better off socially after the invention of the Internet, which is contrary to what most people think. According to the stereotype, the nerdy Internet user is anti-social and socially awkward, but according to what Aquino reports on the study, that is incorrect. The Internet is a handy social tool that can allow users to talk directly to an unlimited amount of people or leave an unlimited amount of messages for someone. A user's social life can flourish greatly from the ability to multi-task conversations as opposed to using the telephone which only allows a single conversation at a time.
Steve Mann explains how the Internet has affected his everyday life in his piece “Cyborg Seeks Community” from the anthology Reading and Writing in the Academic Community. Steve Mann is what most would consider a cyborg, due to the fact he walks the streets wearing computers. Mann was the first to come up with the concept of wearing a computer around in everyday public space. As a cyborg, Mann is in a more literal way explaining how the Internet has affected his everyday life, as he is literally wearing the Internet.
Mann describes one of his actions:
First, I secretly climbed up onto the rooftops of buildings around the city to put in place the wireless data communications infrastructure I had brought with me from Canada. I had to quickly deploy my base stations at the top of elevator shafts or anywhere else I could find warm dry places. This way, whenever I wanted an Internet connection, these gateways would be ready to send the data to me, no matter where I was – Even if I was in a basement or riding on the subway. (456-7)
Mann states that he “quickly deploys
” these “wireless data connections” on the rooftops of buildings almost as if it is a necessity of life to be able to live as a cyborg. The Internet and transmitting of information has become of great importance to Mann showing how much it influences his life. The Internet has inspired Mann to don a computer system and wear it at all times, thus the Internet has changed how Mann acts in public space.
Stereotypes have trouble existing in the Internet. Author Brent Staples speaks of his many accounts of prejudice in “Black Men in Public Space” from the anthology The Bedford Reader. Staples experiences a lot of frustration from being a victim of prejudice on the streets of Chicago. He is perceived to be dangerous before people even get to know him which can be discouraging. If Staples had been stereotyped today he could easily vent his anger in an Online community.
Staples states, “Over the years, I learned to smother the rage I felt at so often being taken for a criminal. Not to do so would surely have lead to madness. I now take precautions to make myself less threatening”(207). Staples has to “smother” his “rage” and tries very hard to make himself “less threatening”. “Smothering” all of this pent up anger can be dangerous to do. He has to struggle to fit in, whereas if he were able to live in the computer age he could create a second life Online. Staples could create a persona that did not have a particular race. He could find a community that he could vent his frustrations to. He could even take on the role of a black female or white female and no one would know the difference. The Internet is indifferent to race and religion, thus anyone can find their niche Online.
Christine Leong explains how the word “chink” is used in her piece “Being a Chink” from the anthology The Bedford Reader. She explains the first time she heard the word “chink” and how it affected her and her family. Leong further explains how she and her other Asian friends use “chink” openly among their circle of friends.
...we may use the term chink rather casually, it is only used that way amongst ourselves because we know that when we say it to each other it is truly without malice or harmful intent. I do not think that any of us knows exactly why we do it, but perhaps it is our own way, like that characters in Naylor's piece, of dealing with a label that can never be removed. (494)
Leong explains how her circle of friends use “chink” openly and have no idea why they do so. When such a word is used openly in an online community some users may be offended if they do not know that no “malice or harmful intent” is meant. Users that do not know the group of friends is joking have no idea that they are Asian.
Director Paul Haggis portrays the idea of stereotyping in his movie Crash. Michael Pena plays the character of Daniel, who is a lower-class locksmith with a wife and daughter. Daniel is an honest character who cares deeply for his family. Daniel experiences many stereotypes throughout the movie including being stereotyped as a “gang member”.
Daniel the locksmith tells his daughter:
She had these little stubby wings, like she could've glued them on, you know, like I'm gonna believe she's a fairy. So she said, 'I'll prove it.' So she reaches into her backpack and pulls out this invisible cloak and she ties it around my neck. And she tells me that it's impenetrable. You know what impenetrable means? It means nothing can go through it. No bullets, nothing. She told me that if I wore it, nothing would hurt me. And I did. And my whole life, I never got shot, stabbed, nothing. I mean, how weird is that?
Daniel creates an imaginary cloak for his daughter that will protect her from any harm which helps her feel safe and escape from the dangers of the real world. The impenetrable cloak is very similar to how the Internet creates a stereotype-free environment. Stereotypes can be a dangerous part of the physical world and the Internet creates a place where these stereotypes do not exist. The Internet can be an impenetrable cloak to stereotyped users.
The Internet is a place where users can experiment with drastically different personae and can change their perspectives on certain social aspects, which is conveyed in Turkle's “Cyberspace and Identity”. Turkle explains how taking on different personae Online has lead to strengthening the users confidence in real life occurrences. She speaks of how even switching a user's sexual persona can make a person more comfortable in real life situations involving the opposite sex.
Turkle describes a specific case:
Case feels at a loss when it comes to confrontation, both at home and at work. Online, in a wide range of virtual communities, Case presents himself as females whom he calls his “Katharine Hepburn Types.” These are strong, dynamic, “out there” women who remind Case of his mother, who “says exactly what's on her mind.” He tells me that presenting himself as a woman Online has brought him to a point where he is more comfortable with confrontation in his RL as a man. (464)
Turkle is describing Case who is male but pretends he is female Online so that he may see from a whole new perspective, which not only helps him with confrontation in real life but also helps him appreciate his mother and the way that she acts. The act of taking on a complete opposite persona as Case did, helps one to feel more comfortable with himself and with other people. He could also have multiple other personae, maybe of different race, or different age. Users can gain respect by claiming that they are older than they really are or younger if they want to relive their days of immaturity.
Twist's article “Virtual Gamers Reveal Themselves” reveals the people behind the Online avatars and has insight on how these avatars help boost self-confidence in the person behind the avatar. Users can utilize these avatars to fill their self-conscious defects in order to make them feel better about themselves. Users can live out dreams that would never be tangible in the real world, in which they may live the life of a sorcerer or an evil demon, and at the end of the night transform back to the real life user.
Twist tells the story of a young man, “Jason has muscular dystrophy, is wheelchair-bound, and breathes with the aid of a respirator. Online in the game “Star Wars Galaxies”, he is Boba Fett-like. Swathed in silvery armour, with his face obscured, he is the masked epitome of strength.” Jason is not what most would consider a healthy child, however on this Internet-based game he is a valiant warrior. Internet gaming allows Jason to break free of his health problems and act like a normal child. He does not have to worry about what physical first impressions he gives off to his Internet companions because he is hidden behind thick plates of steel armor. Jason's companions believe him to be a strong, fearless warrior, not the small, ill child behind computer screen. Jason gets to see from a completely different perspective than what he is used to seeing. Jason is no longer immediately judged to be a sickly child, he is a fearless warrior that will smite any evil that may cross his path.
The Internet is a great way to help everyday workers and students to relieve the stress and frustrations of their everyday lives. Users can sit down at their computers and have unlimited access to information. There is always a place for everyone on the Internet. Users do not have to worry about how they look Online because their avatar is always perfectly dressed and in perfect shape. Users use the Internet to try out new things and can always find something new and interesting to talk about and dispute. Stereotypes have trouble existing in the online community due to the anonymity of the people using it thus creating a safe haven for stereotyped users. Internet helps users to see from different perspectives and helps them to resolve problems by putting users in the shoes of a type of person they do not quite understand. Users can try being old or being of the opposite sex. Users can see how people react to themselves as opposed to how they react to the persona that is most like one's real life counterpart. Using the Internet can allow an Internet user the ability to substitute their physical lives with a safer virtual life.
The Internet has split users' personalities into a hardworking physical mentality during the day and a relaxed virtual mentality at night. Users can conceal their physical life identity while in their virtual persona. Concealment helps to strengthen users' personalities and self-esteem which helps their social life flourish in both worlds. Users also conceal their identities in order to ignore the problems they face in their physical lives. One's virtual life has the capability of being nothing like their physical life. Users access their virtual world and are not judged on appearance or financial status, thus other Internet users are required to get to know the user's personality before judging them. Users should experiment with this duality so that they can know what it feels like to have a safe haven to experiment and relax in.
- Amichai-Hamburger, Yair. “Personality and the Internet.” The Social Net:Human Behavior in Cyberspace. Ed. Yair Amichai-Hamburger. New York: Oxford University Press, 2005. 37
- Aquino, Jeannine. “Study: Internet Users Are More Social.” The Minnesota Daily. 31 January 2006. 22 March 2006 http://www.mndaily.com/articles/2006/01/31/66893.
- Crash. Dir. Michael Curtiz. Perf. Michael Pena. 2004. DVD. Lions Gate, 2005.
- Leong, Christine. “Being a Chink” The Bedford Reader. Eds. X. J. Kennedy, Dorothy M. Kennedy and Jane E. Aaron. Boston: Bedford, 2006. 494
- Mann, Steve. “Cyborg Seeks Community.” Reading and Writing in the Academic Community. 3rd ed. Ed. Leah Jewell. Upper Saddle River: Prentice Hall, 2001. 456-7
- Staples, Brent. “Black Men in Public Space.” The Bedford Reader. Eds. X. J. Kennedy, Dorothy M. Kennedy and Jane E. Aaron. Boston: Bedford, 2006. 207
- Turkle, Shelly. “Cyberspace and Identity.” Reading and Writing in the Academic Community. 3rd ed. Ed. Leah Jewell. Upper Saddle River: Prentice Hall, 2001. 462-4
- Twist, Jo. “Virtual Gamers Reveal Themselves.” BBC News. 07 October 2004. 20 March 2006 http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/technology/3683260.stm.