Tuesday, June 27, 2006

Cyber adventures

Be all you want in cyberspace


From The Statesman

On the Internet nobody knows whether a person is a dirty old man trying to seduce teenagers, a gender-swapping woman playing with big boys in a virtual game room, or a teenager posing as an expert. It is also true that eventually no one can hide in cyberspace. Cyber opacity is an illusion.
A few years ago, a California teenager Marcus Arnold, using his knowledge gained from television programmes such as Court TV or Judge Judy, and taking advantage of the pseudonymous freedom that a knowledge sharing company had provided, turned himself into a legal expert and began to dole out free legal advice. And he began to be noticed by people hungry for information.
Arnold’s direct and jargon-free approach to tough legal questions had a great appeal. Soon people began to call him at home seeking his legal advice. But then his conscience or may be the fear of being found out began to bother the 15-year-old boy. And one day he revealed his true self to his admirers.
Real lawyers poured scorn but the public rallied around him and he continued to give his non-expert common sense expertise on legal matters for sometime. AskMe, the online knowledge sharing outfit closed its free Website, but at its height about 10 million registered visitors posted questions and answers on everything from Armageddon to Zen mediation.
The Internet has created a new media environment that not only enables people to communicate, discuss and exchange information, give and receive feedback, but also provides an interactive collaborative environment in which words can become deeds and speech can become action.
Networked computers, the building blocks of the Internet, are much more than mere productivity tools and informatics appliances. Unlike the traditional media, they are capable of creating the cyber-environment that can be designed to be persuasive, that can motivate people to act and change their social behaviours. Stanford University researchers call this rhetorical concept as Captology, which “focuses on the planned persuasive effects of computer technologies”.
The next challenge for software programmers is to design virtual environments to motivate people, for example, not to drink and drive, to have healthy sexual behaviours, to avoid pregnancy, or to be successful corporate leaders. Professor Lawrence Lessig of Stanford Law School believes that computer codes have the potential to control behaviour the way law does, that programmers in a manner of speaking could become lawmakers.
But the rhetoric of software design, the persuasive code that entices, builds relationships, arouses and fulfills desires and keeps the users coming back has not been fully explored in areas other than cybersex and virtual reality Internet games. There may be a fortune in developing codes that persuade the user to change his attitude, behaviour and actions.
One of the great strengths of the strength of the Internet is its interactivity, its ability to respond and give instant feedback. Feedback not only regulates the flow of communication but also gives some of the control back to the receiver of the message. Two persons in conversation establish a dynamic relationship to create shared meanings.
Human communication is essentially a transaction that takes place effectively if people have or can create a common field of experience.
Islamic jehadis share each other’s vision of “Paradise”, and for them suicide becomes a door to that mental image of the promised everlasting beauty, as Omar Khyyam said, “…A Jug of Wine, a Loaf of Bread, and Thou Beside me singing…”
Persuasion works through sharing of mental models. The Internet makes it easy to share mental models whether they are of instant access to Paradise through self-destruction, buying and selling on a virtual platform such as e-Bay, or sharing experiences in MySpace as millions of teenagers do.
Internet communication can transcend face-to-face communication, can be very persuasive, and in certain circumstances is even more desirable. Lack of face-to-face cues, physical appearance and vocal inflections, which might arouse scepticism, are absent in Internet communication especially when it is time delayed such as in e-mail or question-answer Websites.
Selective self-presentation makes it possible for people to open themselves up to others, which they would hesitate to do in face-to-face conversation for fear of contradiction, lack of control or sense of shame.
Even in chat rooms and instant messaging, communication can become what one researcher, JB Walther, called as “hyperpersonal”, that is, socially more desirable than we are likely to experience face-to-face. It allows the play of fantasy partly to compensate for the absence of aural and visual information that gestures and voice create in interpersonal encounters. Fantasy lowers our guards and makes cyberspace so seductively persuasive ~ and dangerous.
Many teenagers go astray in chatrooms because cyberspace lets them assume fake identities and gives them the freedom to pretend ~ 13 going on 18 ~ what they fancy themselves to be. Some of them become victims of con men and predators, who too assume identities desirable for their teenage victims.
The playfulness of virtual environment, an environment of “Be what you want to be”, creates a pleasurable experience, a sensuous flow, in which we feel control of our environment that real life might deny us. The strength of teenagers’ most popular portal MySpace is also its vulnerability, as many parents have been discovering.


  1. Prof.Batra
    Is burning the American flag still permitted in USA?

  2. Yes, Mr. Choudhury. Burning the American flag is permitted as a form of free speech.

  3. the fake identities when i chat on webdate*dot*com is quite given. but i'm pretty not gullible to end up with someone i don't want to be with. it's the art of playing sexually.