"Are There Virtual Communities?" by Leigh Clayton
Summary by Gordon Ziniewicz
1.  The web is not merely an information and communication system; it is a new kind of "imaginative environment."  It is an electronic meeting place for disembodied minds or imaginations.  To that extent, it is a world which is constantly being refashioned.  Clayton points out some of the unique features offered by virtual communities:
  1. Electronic communities can afford us personal reaction and personal intimacy, where there has been fracturing through modern ways of life; and we can communicate as equals with anyone by email.
  2. Geographical boundaries become meaningless; hierarchy becomes irrelevant; individuals can associate with whomever they wish.
  3. The physically confined and politically oppressed can freely communicate with others.
  4. Political democracy is facilitated through Internet debate, polling, and voting.
2.  The term "cyberspace" suggests that the Internet provides a kind of environment different from that of three-dimensional physical space.  There is an assumption that there is a space to inhabit, a place to travel to, that allows individuals to transcend the limitations of their own body.  It is more than an electronic library; it is a virtual environment with its own rules.

3.  Virtual life means to some that one's "true persona" can enter cyberspace freed from the limitations of the body.  Of course, there is no need to limit oneself to one "persona"; one can present many different faces to others in the virtual community.  There is no moral "judgment" associated with this variety of "personae."  One's life on the web need not have anything to do with one's life in the physical world.

4.  "Community" generally refers to the interactions of members of the same region.  Although usually refers to a geographically defined area, one could conceive of cyberspace as a different kind of region.  [Recall Mitcham's meta-technology, an Internet culture that transcends particular cultures.]  Community can be narrowly defined as so as to include persons living in a specific geographical locality, or it can be broadly defined to include those who have similar interests.

5.  It is not satisfactory to define virtual community by taking virtual in the dictionary sense of a "semblance of reality."  The virtual community is not an apparent or false community; it is a different kind of community.  In fact, the virtual community of the internet was preceded long ago by the scholarly communities of those who shared written texts, but without necessarily ever meeting face to face.  In fact, scholarly communities have linked individuals to those who have shared their interests even in past times.  And in this community, body and looks are irrelevant.

6.  Scholarly communities can exist across time.  Academic societies and libraries are similar kinds of communities.  What virtual communities add to this older notion is interactivity and immediacy within time.  Some types of Internet communications which allow for different kinds of personae and different kinds of ethical responsibility are:

  1. E-mail -- including discussion groups and personal communications.
  2. Newsgroups -- posting of one's views.
  3. Text pages -- all sorts of information pages and interactive sites (html).
  4. Text-based communities -- organized "communities" such as Geocities (requires more ethical responsibility).
  5. VRML -- role playing, virtual "walk-through" worlds.
7.  VRML worlds seem to be the type of Internet communication wherein ethical responsibility has been completely reworked or has become irrelevant.  It is a pure play of detached imagination or consciousness detached from one's body.  One might claim that this is the liberation of one's true self from bodily limitation, and is not a kind of deception.

8.  Cyberspace is the apparent realization of bodily transcendence, a realm of pure mind or imagination, constructed and reconstructed by imagination, and where one person's imaginative projection meets the imaginative projections of others.

9.  The problem is we need our bodies.  Thus, virtual worlds may be "imaginative escape" rather than real liberation from the body.  However, the projection of personae does have some impact on my biological life.

 "The Virtual Neighborhood and Its Social Implications," by Tad Beckman
Review Questions by Gordon Ziniewicz

The Concept

1.  What is Beckman's view of the term "virtual neighborhood"?  What meaning does he assign to the word virtual?

2.  What does the word "neighborhood" signify?  What is missing in one's relation with a "virtual neighbor"?

3.  How does Beckman regard substituting global virtual relations for local intimacies?  Discuss.

The List of Uses

4.  According to Beckman, how does the sharing of information on the Internet stack up against other forms of publishing one's views?

5.  What is the greatest potential of the Internet, according to Beckman?

6.  How does this greatest strength conceal its greatest dangers?  What problems of authentication exist in Internet publication?

7.  Why is the Internet unlikely to become a great medium of education, according to Beckman?  What does education mean, according to Beckman?

8.  When does Internet "use" become abuse, according to Beckman?  Whats sorts of problems does he refer to?

"Anarchy and the Internet," by Gordon Graham
Review Questions by Gordon Ziniewicz

1.  What is meant by "anarchy"?

2.  What are the positive and negative views of anarchy?

3.  What can be said in favor of a positive view or ideal of anarchy?

4.  How could one argue in favor of a coercive state?

5.  What was Thomas Hobbes' view of civil society or government?

6.  Does the state always prosecute justice and protect the innocent and vulnerable?

7.  Does the Internet lead to anarchy?  If so, is it anarchy in the positive or negative sense?

8.  What is meant by the internationalism of the Internet?

9.  How does association on the Internet differ from civil society?

10.  In what ways is the Internet politically subversive?

11.  Do states, even working together, have control over the Internet?

12.  What does the Internet do to the authority of government?

13.  What is meant by the "populism" of the Internet?

14.  Are there any credentials required for exploring or contributing to the Internet?

15.  What does the optimistic anarchist have to cheer about with regard to the populism of the Internet?

16.  What two assumptions are made by this optimistic view?

17.  How does the assumption, "Knowledge is power," relate to the Internet?

18.  What is then assumed about the power of the state?

19.  What is assumed about contributing to the Internet?

20.  What condition does Graham place on accepting some of these positive views of the Internet?

21.  When raising the question of the empowerment of criminal conspiracies on the Internet, is the pessimist case any stronger than the optimist's?

22.  What is meant by moral anarchy?

23.  What is meant by moral education?

24.  How are preferences altered by socialization?

25.  How are desires altered by inherited and uninvented values and practices?

26.  What happens to moral education with regard to the Internet?

27.  What is meant by "mere congruence" as opposed to "co-ordination"?

28.  Why does this aspect of the Internet lead to anarchy in the bad sense?

29.  What is meant by moral fragmentation, as opposed to moral community?

30.  Can submission to socializing influences ever be completely avoided?

31.  What is wrong with the widespread release of "free spirits"?

"Cybersobriety," an Excerpt from Democracy and Technology, by Richard E. Sclove

Virtual Community?

Why virtual communities are unlikely to provide a foundation for a democratic society.

  1. Electronic communication leaves out face-to-face encounter and all the warmth and nuance that that entails.
  2. Screen-based technologies (including televisions and computers) contribute to certain "democratically unpromising pathologies":
  3. Virtual communities lack stability.  Individuals can leave any time.  Other types of community are rich with cultural meanings.  Deprivation of cultural community may affect psychological and moral development.
  4. Even though our imaginations may fly away to distant places on the Internet, our bodies remain where they are, next to our neighbors.
  5. "One function of democratic community is to provide a social foundation for self-governance and individual political empowerment."  But dispersal in virtual communties diminishes political power of individuals to govern the region their bodies inhabit.
The prospect of virtual community replacing local community might lead us to at least control the Internet so that it augments rather than supplants "traditional forms of democratic community."

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