A rebuttal
August 11, 2002 10:27 AM   Subscribe

A rebuttal to the "cult of Turn Off Your Computer," or as might be more familiar here: "It's Only a Website."
Curious about others' views on this. I've been on-line for so long(shut up, not consecutively), avatars/personas/whateveryoucallem just seem like silly extra work to me, outside appropriate contexts like on-line RPGs and the like.
posted by Su (16 comments total)
Having been on the internet since, as I say, the days when you had to laboriously explain what it was, this isn't an especially new phenomenon. Of course some people will take what goes on online more seriously than others. I think the extreme of treating it as pointlessly trivial entertainment leads to phenomena like trolling, so at that extreme the TYOC folks are themselves vulnerable to criticism. I have at least one friend who used to be an online chatterbox, and now (for good reason, involving a relationship that went sour) eschews online contact. She just bugged me to stop sending her "fram" (friendly spam, e.g. news links I've though would especially interest her), and insisted I use e-mail to actually e-mail her, but she generally doesn't answer or engage that kind of contact either. She just uses it for perfunctory business tasks, for the most part.

For the most part, I do prefer when online to deal with people who reveal their real personas, but I understand that sometimes anonymity is a preference. I've seen it abused, though, so I don't consider it an impregnable choice.
posted by dhartung at 11:29 AM on August 11, 2002

I'm not a big anonymity guy (this from someone not using his own name as a username), and in a discourse context, I fail to see what you get out of it. I guess that if I actually checked out the bestiality and penis-enlargement spam that I receive every day I wouldn't want to give them my real name, but I figure that people knowing who I really am can't possibly hurt our chances of communicating effectively.
posted by Ignatius J. Reilly at 11:57 AM on August 11, 2002

This on the other hand makes me shudder. An old friend of mine was in town earlier this summer and he readily admitted to me that his gameplay-time (akin to uptime I'm assuming) playing Everquest in the last year was like 81 days! Not 81 days, he said, of it idling by while he was at work (ala SimCity--I remember those days myself), but 81 days of active gameplay. His girlfriend is quite concerned to say the least. That he even has a girlfriend is even more concerning to me however.

A couple of years ago, when news that Star Wars Galaxies was in production, I palpitated in unfulfilled youthful fantasy. Now? You'd have to pay me dearly to even think about trying it. I think in a decade or so, the fallout of so many minds wasted away on MMORPGs is going to be stupefying.
posted by crasspastor at 12:18 PM on August 11, 2002

The same problems exist in real life. Some people like small towns where everyone knows everyone else, some people like cities for the ability to be anonymous. And some people like to be able to move in different circles under different identities, or to reinvent themselves. I've always liked to live anonymously in big cities and visit small towns. I tend to change countries every few years and change my circle of friends. How do you do that online?

I've lurked in lots of different places online for years, and often it feels like I'm happily sitting in a well-located cafe in a big city, watching people come and go. MeFi is the first community I actually felt like joining (and then I had to wait ...). But communicating on the Internet is so low-bandwidth compared to RL that I feel like I need to take time to see if I can actually express myself online. You spend an entire lifetime learning how much of yourself to give away and when to trust people, and then you go online and the rules of communication are completely different.

So for now, it's only a Web site, but maybe I'll find that this identity fits me.
posted by fuzz at 12:20 PM on August 11, 2002

i think it's an experience thing. (i'd be interested to know if the use of aliases etc has increased over time - i predict it has). if computers/the internet have been part of your life for as long as you can clearly remember then it's "just part of everything else".

i'm not sure what dhartung is identifying as not a new phenomenon. the toyc thing? i would guess that toyc has always been around, but that the number of people who have integrated computer/internet use into normal life, rather than feeling it's some different world, has increased with time. otoh, given the exponential rise in use, the relative number of people in that position is decreasing.
posted by andrew cooke at 12:47 PM on August 11, 2002

andrew cooke, I think it's also a generational thing. I know older people who are not comfortable getting to know people on the telephone, or "just chatting". They use the phone only for utilitarian purposes. I've been that way about the Internet, but I think people younger than I am have grown up with online communications as a way to build relationships. It just seems more natural to them.
posted by fuzz at 12:56 PM on August 11, 2002

the odd comment here might be taken to support the idea that as users become more accustomed to life on-line they start to use their own name more...
posted by andrew cooke at 2:10 PM on August 11, 2002

the "cult of Turn Off Your Computer,"

This isn't entirely related to the above topic.. but.. I am really sick of people who leave their computers on all night doing nothing while they're asleep!

Energy conservation people! You must remember what LA was going through last year with the outages and brownouts. People who waste electricity by leaving computers running all night are evil!

(And if you think SETI is a good reason to leave your machine on, then please, defenestrate yourself and realize that even if you computer does find an alien, you sure as heck won't be getting the credit!)
posted by wackybrit at 3:18 PM on August 11, 2002

I think a lot of people, even people in their 20's, see the Internet as this mysterious fantasy world that doesn't exist, that there's no one at the other end of the line, kind of like talking to an answering machine or watching TV.

Even if they're chatting with someone, they still have this feeling that they're basically talking to a TV set that happens to answer back. It's not "real" until they hear a voice or see a face.
posted by ligeia at 3:25 PM on August 11, 2002

This article makes a good point regarding the reality of online interaction and so forth, but I don't quite see the link he's making to anonymity. I personally value my anonymity online, not because I don't take my interactions there(here?) seriously, but because of the potential audience. It's far easier to control the spread of personal information in person than it is on a web site where literally an almost unlimited number of people have access to it.

Those things I choose to make available online in association with my real name I look at as though they were being published in the NYT--they've entered the public domain (access-wise, not in terms of copyright) and become available to anyone for years to come. I wouldn't want my every conversation with friends published in the Times; likewise, I don't want my every comment in innumerable online fora available to an even larger audience.
posted by IshmaelGraves at 4:16 PM on August 11, 2002

Hi fuzz. I'm an "older" person who avoids the telephone and loves the internet. The telephone is intrusive; the net lets you pick the time and place for getting in touch with people, and also gives you the time to think things through--including whether you really want to respond or not. I'm kind of a lone wolf because I can't stand mindless chat. The internet gives me more of a life than I'd have otherwise.
posted by gordian knot at 4:21 PM on August 11, 2002

I think community is important, that it doesn't matter where you find it. When I first came online on GEnie in 1994, I found a whole new world of people. I would not have had the opportunity to meet them if I hadn't been online. It's so great to be someplace where you feel like you belong, why begrudge that to someone else?
posted by ericableu at 4:24 PM on August 11, 2002

there was previous discussion about anonymity and information here, if anyone's interested.

i'm not sure how much community matters. i don't feel (or want to be) part of the metafilter community despite having been a member for a fair time. at least, not if "community" is taken to be that group of people who name check each other, pop up in references made by each other, etc. if "community" means something more general then i feel that way about most of the 'net - apart from big commercial sites.

i'm sure this is a personal thing - i'm not (and don't want to be) part of "real world" communities either (using the same disctinction as above). so what i'm trying to say is that community may be important for some people, but i don't think it's important in deciding whether or not you treat the internet as "real life".

(and maybe it helps if you have a tendency to be rather direct/open in "real life" too - i sometimes regret posting things, but i also sometimes regretting saying them to people's faces; i publish a fair amount of personal info on my site, but am happy to talk about that same info in conversation.)
posted by andrew cooke at 4:56 PM on August 11, 2002

depending on the physical community in which one finds oneself, a 'virtual community' can sometimes be the most rewarding social environment available.

for the six month period covering the end of 2001 and the beginning of 2002, i lived at my parents' house in poughkeepsie, new york, working at a job i hated in order to save up money with which to finish college. poughkeepsie is located in exurban dutchess county; essentially the suburbs of the suburbs of the suburbs of manhattan (which is an hour and a half away). so you can just imagine the demographic makeup of the area: families, families, and more families. i don't think you'd need even three digits to enumerate all the twentysomethings (my age group) living in the region.

so i spent my weekends with friends in manhattan, worked at my awful job, and spent a lot of time with my supercool family. but other than 'family time', my weekday evenings were totally bleak. metafilter, weblogs, email (and the telephone) constituted the whole of my day-to-day relations with members of my peer group.

i suspect that there are lots of people in lonely situations offline whose membership in 'virtual communities' and network of 'online friends' keep them sane. i know it made me somewhat less depressed.
posted by mlang at 6:07 PM on August 11, 2002

gordian knot: yep, I'm with you both in demographics, and my feelings about phone and net.

crasspastor: I think in a decade or so, the fallout of so many minds wasted away on MMORPGs is going to be stupefying.

I thought the same thing myself, once.

Every go shopping for an 18th century card table?

Very good ones are expensive, like all good antiques, but ordinary nice ones can be had for remarkably little money, around US$400. I've got one in my living room. Why so cheap? Because there are a ton of them on the market. They played a lot of cards in the 18th century. Everybody had a card table.

I think every age has its entertaining timewasting entertainments. A generation ago it was TV. Before that it was radio. Before that, I dunno, I wasn't alive then. But I'm pretty sure there was some equivalent of Everquest in the 1920's and before. I suspect time spent in MMPORGS is just time subtracted from other stuff of equal worth, or lack of it.
posted by Slithy_Tove at 8:14 PM on August 11, 2002

Personally, I can't wait to move into Star Wars Galaxies and leave this revolting flesh existance behind.
posted by Leonard at 7:56 AM on August 12, 2002

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