Saturday, June 19, 2010

The Internet and Information Warfare

After finishing the second half of Strate’s “Communication and Cyberspace,“ I have a clearer understanding that communication technologies alter the relationship between space and navigation and the positives and negatives linked to that statement. Both the body and mind are necessary for concept of self and physical interaction stimulates body, which in turn, stimulates the mind. However, the line between living people and artificial environments is blurred when one interacts online. We can never get a sense of who we are REALLY talking to online, where we are in the electronic environment, or who WE really are. When I say who somebody REALLY is, I’m not talking about their identity. Indeed, a lot of people online are honest about their age and name. I’m talking about acquiring a sense of what they are like in person, their behavior, and their body language. I learned in Communication classes that body language speaks volumes of truth that vocal language can not. Therefore, a concept of self can not be developed properly without face to face interaction. However, to remediate this, webcams change what I was just talking about so we can have face to face interaction, but is it really face to face interaction or face to machine interaction? This blows my mind because sometimes when I’m talking to someone online, even if it’s a personal friend who I know, I forget that the person I’m talking to is a real human being with thoughts and emotions. Thinking like this can cause someone to just say whatever they want, not realizing that this very real person will respond to your every word. From my experience, its easier to say harsher words online than it is in person.

Symbol systems of cyberspace involve oral, literate, and iconic modes. Everything about a computer, except the hardware itself, is symbolic. Thinking about computers in this way actually makes me feel immersed into cyberspace. The illusion of immersion in a virtual landscape is based on the interface between user and computer and boundaries between form dissolves. Everything in cyberspace is symbolic and these symbols are mere representations of what should be there in real life. Therefore, links and icons become symbols of what they should be, such as a virtual trash can on the interface representing a real trash can. Traveling in cyberspace takes on new meaning by clicking links because we can travel across a virtual country that is supposed to be a symbolic representation of a real country. Even the language used in conversations online has taken on a new form of rhetoric where we abbreviate words, misspell them, and use symbols as substitutes for words. I have already asked whether cyberspace is real or not, but thinking in terms of symbols, then cyberspace is not real because everything is a representation of what it should be.

Jurgen Habermas and other communication scholars believe that public opinion emerged from the discussions and deliberations that took place in 18th century salons and coffeehouses of Europe and emerging from these communication scholars in the twentieth century came ideas of public opinion theories. Habermas developed strict criteria for what he believed should constitute the modern day public sphere. Habermas argued that for the public sphere to be successful, one must be able to express his opinion freely and logically, one must have access to the public sphere, there must not be a hierarchy present, and those in the public sphere must have equal footing in there participation. The Internet is considered by many scholars to be the modern day equivalent of a true public sphere, but my argument is that this clearly not the case. In trying to form a virtual community, I would argue computers actually decentralize us. Cultures, that are continuous, colonize cyberspace and results in information warfare (I like the phrase information warfare) because everyone HAS to have a voice now. Rarely does mutual agreement among discourse in the public sphere leading to peaceful democratic deliberation occur. Most of the time one simply sees a repetition of the same voices. Though freedom of speech should be a guaranteed right online, some scholars fear there are those who abuse this right and courts, owners, and corporations do enforce laws when they feel discourse is threatening to their goals. Also, their are those who choose not to or simply cannot afford to participate in the public sphere due to disinterest or economic restraints. Finally, flaming, or cyber bullying, is common online and caused by the limitations of computers. I find it rather funny when one becomes mad at a post by a complete stranger who they will probably never meet and feels absolutely compelled to strike back. What’s the point? Anyway, keeping in mind the fact that a virtual community does not necessarily mean an online public sphere, even still, how can an online public sphere exist with this many obstacles in the way?

Online publishing requires less distribution, its cheaper, and breaks up monopolies. That, to me, is a good thing. The problem that is always on everyone’s mind, however, is how easy it is to plagiarize another’s work. Let’s look at students and teachers for example. On one hand I don’t think the authors mind if a student takes quotes directly from their work. In fact, I think most authors would be happy the student chose to pick them and write about their works. If all a student did was mention the author’s name and cite them, then all would be fine, but the problem is not all students do this or not all students do this correctly and that’s when plagiarism becomes an issue. Teachers believe the student simply took another’s work and didn’t bother to cite them or rewrite their words out of sheer laziness. In larger scenarios, like Disney … well I don’t understand Disney. They are way too stingy. I also don’t understand why an author has to turn his works over to the public domain after a certain number of years. The poor guy probably has died, can’t defend himself or reclaim his work, and the only contributions he made to society and means of remembering him has been handed over to the public domain for someone else to take credit for. Also, the reading claims that traditional classrooms will forfeit books and replace them with hypertext, but this is too expensive to imagine at the moment. Even if hypertext replaces textbooks, hypertext still limits readers and I doubt readers will absorb the information on a screen better than they would in a traditional textbook. That’s an example of taking technology a little too far.

Technology also made information into a commodity that is bought and sold. This idea is very interesting to me. Technologies, which deliver information and have advanced over the years, cost money. We pay to acquire information, which at one point was thought of to be free of charge, and most people are not even aware of this. In addition, most people are in denial of the side effects of computers. For example, unstimulated by actual reality, people seek virtual reality, online interaction, and video games. Now I don’t know if Neil Postman is saying the magnitude of this problem is huge, but I don’t see it as a big deal. I mean, you can not spend every minute of every day outside interacting with people. These new interactions and technologies are alternative forms of entertainment in the same way one would go see a broadway show or catch a movie at a theater with a friend. Just because they are done inside the house, does not necessarily mean people are unstimulated by actual reality. Also, a lot of technologies can be performed outside of the house nowadays anyways. For example, an arcade is a real place that exists in reality. One has to travel to an arcade in order to interact in a technological environment and play video games.

The last highlight of the reading I’d like to point out is the idea of a computer as a clock. This part of the reading was yet another new way for me to think about computers. The computer is a numerical extension of a calculating machine. Computers and clocks are devices to be set up and produce information (kind of reminds me of Deism - we are the gods and designers of computers). The computer is a clock that determines when one’s operation has ended and another begins. The clock is a self operating automated machine. The processing speed is the speed of the clock inside computer. One can obviously draw parallels here between a clock and a computer, but what is interesting to me is that digital time displayed by the clocks in computers offers a new concept of time. That is, time as a sequence of numbers. Microseconds are turned into information to give an EXACT time. This EXACT time was never available on analog clocks. Computers also represents time symbolically and the interactions people perform on computers is not necessarily time based. For example, we do not have to be on a computer at a certain time to receive email. It gets stored and we access it at our own time, like phone messages.


  1. Personally, the only way cyberspace can work as a true system is by enforcing the clear distinction between work (business) and entertainment. Unfortunately, this blur of lines needs to be resharpened. Look what happens when you blur the lines. An example is the blur that exists in banking. No longer do we have protection over the individual depositor at commercial banks. Rather, the commercial banks engage in sometimes risky investment banking, and this principle had been resolved under Presidient Franklin Delano Roosevelt back in the 1930s in his New Deal. However, Bill Clinton and his administration came and "screwed" everything up by deregulating this system for the sake of "exploring new business options". yes, say what you want for the sake of brainwashing, but there needs to be a separation of some sorts to protect those at a disadvantage, just like we have a separation of powers in our government. What do you think would happen if the Executive branch attempted to overthrow Congress, the legislative body? Chaos, entroy, etc, you name it! The same rests for cyberspace. If we want cyberspace to function the way it should and to serve a purpose that we TRULY can control, maybe it's time that pleasure activities like video games do not "creep" into entities like education or business webpages. There is a time and a place for everything, and this is where we need to draw the line.

  2. great point about Habermas, and there has been considerable discussion about the internet's potential to revive or serve as the public sphere, or perhaps to eliminate it for good. Glad you liked the bit about clocks, too!

    Jantzen, it was Reagan who started us down the road of deregulation, Clinton just went along with what had been for most of the 80s and through the 90s a successful economic policy, albeit one that was not sustainable, and came to a disastrous end.

  3. Thanks Professor, I was forgetting Reagan, and you are right, Clinton only "freeloaded" on the deregulation bandwagon, I almost forgot that, but the investment bank/commercial bank merge came to be a reality in the 90s.

  4. Good point--I understand how cyberspace communication is an alternate way of communicating. It is the ONLY way of communicating. Additionally, it is also our decision on how and when we choose to communicate through cyberspace.