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We Are The Machine…Aren’t We?

Though I enjoyed some aspects of all the readings this week, there was one article that had me shaking my head a lot.

Though Sherry Turkle makes several keen points in her article “Identity in the Age of the Internet,” (1999) several other aspects seem woefully dated and simplistic. Her concentration on MUDs, for instance, seems quite out of touch with the current reality of the ‘net and user experiences, even though there are, doubtless, still thousands of people that use MUDs still today. They represent, however, but a tiny niche when compared to the “rest of us” who use text and the internet in a different way.

In her examples, she shares several anecdotes about the “Mikes” and “Andys” of the MUD world, who spend their time creating elaborate fantasy worlds with their words. And all of this is text based. Fast forward twelve years, and most of the users of Second Life or Sim City would deride such a ‘boring’ and limited form of “play” or participation. And even though Twitter’s popularity would seem to support the idea that there is still a space for “text based worlds” today, I would counter that the vast majority of Twitter users represent their real selves to their followers, rather than made up characters or aliens. Though their tweets may be mundane (140 characters’ worth of info about their daily eating habits, for instance) they are still “real” slices of life, news, entertainment and information.

With a few areas, such as online dating sites, people may be tempted to present their “ideal selves” (Zhao et al, 2008) instead of their “real selves,” yet these are still anchored relationships in most cases, or will eventually become anchored in face to face, real world contact. This is the same reason that Facebook pages and profiles tend to stick closer to fact than fiction: because most people know each other on Facebook and are therefore aware of any major fictions presented, unlike in the MUDs where the fantasy is part of the package.

In my opinion, modes of communication like Facebook and Twitter will remain “mainstream” while MUDs and other games that require obfuscation and outright lying will remain niche and underground.

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