Endnotes - Identity and the Internet


1 Rheingold asks an appropriate question: "Is telecommunication culture capable of becoming something more than what Scott Peck calls a ‘pseudo-community,’ where people lack the genuine personal commitments to one another that form the bedrock of genuine community? Or is our notion of genuine changing in an age where more people every day live their lives in increasingly artificial environments?" (in Jones, 1993: 273).

2 It is interesting to note that the thought on community has moved from the "breakdown of community" thesis and a focus on social isolation (Simmel, 1955; Park-Wirth; Riesman et al, 1950; Faris and Dunham, 1934 (see Thoits 1982)) to a renewed faith in technology, a community "liberated" (Wellman 1989; Mulgan 1997; Castells 1996) and the development of ideas entirely opposed to isolation (e.g. Gergen’s "saturation").

3 Robert Anton Wilson (1995) writes at length about the nature of belief, logic and evidence, and thoroughly condemns the Aristotelian logic of "either/or," also known as the principle of the third excluded term, or syllogism. "Although still resisted by the majority of Academia in the Western world," writes Wilson, "non-Aristotelian logics, including the previously excluded middle, have appeared from sources since the 1920s" (1996: 76), citing mathematicians such as Brouwer and Lukasiewicz, von Neumann, Korzybski, Rapoport, Zadeh (the ‘inventor’ of fuzzy logic, a type of logic incidentally used by internet search engines to locate specific web pages).

4 cf. Habermas 1987: 4, Gergen 1991:39, Arendt 1958:43.
Mead’s exceptional contribution: symbolic interaction is an interesting juxtaposition between behaviorism and its foundation in "sameness" or "typology/categorization" (cf. Foucault, The Order of Things, on analogy), and pragmatics, which identifies the uniqueness of character in an individual that is due to the infinitely complex social circumstances which help to shape his or her consciousness. Profound, because symbolic interaction begins to evade the problem of scope in sociology: the micro/macro distinction which sits upon that same peculiar philosophical fence as sameness/uniqueness, specificity/generalizability, abstract/concrete.

5 cf. Geertz on primordial attachments, in Fischer 1977:8.

6 cf. Goffman 1959, Gross and Stone 1964.

7 "As Korzybski and de Bono (among others) have demonstrated, Opinions result from perceptions, and perceptions reinforce Opinions, which then further control perceptions, in a repeating loop that logic can never penetrate. (Only a shocking new perception, too strong to get edited out by Opinion, can break this self-hypnotic loop)" (Wilson, 1995: 73; original emphasis).

8 see Jean-Francois Lyotard, The Postmodern Condition, 1979.

9 Nietzsche (1982) : "We are all greater artists than we realize."

10 cf. Marx (1978) on false consciousness.

11 Says Bertrand Russell, "essence is an intimate part of every philosophy subsequent to Aristotle, until we come to modern times. It is, in my opinion, a hopelessly muddleheaded notion" (A History of Western Philosophy, 1945).

12 Among a very few of the philosophers and sociologists included in this group would be George Mead, Charles H. Cooley, Schiller, Anselm Strauss, Erving Goffman, Peter Berger, Thomas Luckmann, Stone, Farberman, Michel Foucault, Pierre Bourdieu, Jean Baudrillard, Jacques Derrida, Umberto Eco, Jurgen Habermas; the list goes on and on.

13 For instance, the plot of a recent popular sit-com, Seinfeld, involved the characters coming up with the idea for the show, pitching it to NBC (the network that it aired on), and casting the characters (who were, themselves, characters); such scenes are reminiscent of two mirrors facing eachother, creating an infinite feedback loop. See also, Gergen 1991:134-138.

14 Nietzsche (1982): "The joke is the epigraph on the death of a feeling."

15 As Marx (1978) said: "The history of all hitherto existing society is the history of class struggle."

16 One aspect of the law that is rapidly growing today is that which covers "intellectual property," due to the issues that cyberspace raises regarding copyrighting information and ideas.

17 For instance, see Foucault’s The History of Sexuality, 1978.

18 For comparison, see Stryker and Serpe, "Identity salience and psychological centrality: equivalent, overlapping, or complementary concepts?" Social Psychology Quarterly, March 1994 v57 n1 p16(20).

19 The logic of the current, "informational mode of development" is defined by five characteristics which together form the "Information Technology Paradigm" (Castells 1996: 60-65). 1. Information is the raw material as well as the outcome. The new technologies act on information rather than on matter. 2. Because information is an integral part of all human activity, these technologies are pervasive. 3. Information technologies foster a networking logic, because it allows one to deal with complexity and unpredictability, which in itself is increased by these technologies. 4. The networking logic is based on flexibility. 5. Specific technologies converge into highly integrated systems. (Stalder, CTheory, 19 Feb 1998).

20 cf. Durkheim (1984) on division of labor and specialization.

21 Wilson (1995: 244): "Since the human nervous system, including the human brain, encounters and endures literally hundreds of millions of electrons and photons every minute (at a conservative estimate) the masks or models which compose our experienced reality-tunnel always exclude more than they include. The world of masks, the social world, has limits and laws; the unmasked remains infinite and (as Nietzsche liked to say) abysmal. All "paths of liberation" (brain-freeing schools) know that we cannot remain in the abyss of the nameless forever, unless we choose to become hermits. (Very few do.) Once we have returned from a school of brain-change to the ordinary world, we again must see and think in masks, or we will not have the ability to communicate with and deal with others."

22 I don’t know what to make of this God of Science. He seems to be a god of two faces. He may have given me my disease in the first place, by creating chemical fumes that I daily inhaled at the factory, and now he claims that I can be resurrected with his modern medicine. I am torn by a tempest cast by his hand. I stand before the chasm that separates rationality from reverence. The God of Science cleaved the world when he banished the old gods from the pantheon. He seized an unmappable empire and disregarded the needs of his people under the guise of gaining freedom, yet this freedom is that of the orphan, fettered by emptiness. Science offers no solace for the trauma of the living. I abandon myself to the wisdom of my people, with anxious fears and hopes.

There are certain oracles who claim that healing comes as an act of will, that impassioned expressions have a healthy physiological response. I believe this. I am also my own salvation. I have faith that my convalescence can be enhanced by the revelation of emotion… the gateway to self-knowledge… wave-laden reservoirs, in hidden caverns, of timeless human tales. Reason has no place here. There are messages of mythic realities etched in the sunken sands of a collective, yet individual Atlantis. Emotional discovery is the archaeological exhumation of a civilization suspended in disaster. It is the release of a kaleidoscope of passion. The intuitive awareness of self and spirit, of religion and reality, roll and blend with fluid grace like liquid elements of an elixir that purges dis-ease. I have learned to let free every emotion, from those that come in whispers to those that come in howls. With ancient awakening, I love; with deliberate upheaval, I cry. Every feeling that is revealed, a panacea; every one left buried, a poison. All of my expressions, no matter how painful, are a glimpse at the monument of my own humanity, a sip from the cistern of my soul. I feel; therefore I am.

In my experience of these newfound, superlative pains and joys, my capacity for empathy is magnified. As one can feel vibrations, the underlying resonance of musical instruments, I feel the emotions of others. I am shaken by grand orchestrations both delightful and haunting - the ethereal overture of the birth of a child, the sweet serenade of lovers held in fond embrace, the operatic wail of a handicapped man struggling to walk, the cacophonous, riveting cantata of a soul in mourning. I listen to the music of the everyday world.

There is death all along the roadway and it is putrid. Ed and I frequently discussed our hopes of healing while we played cards; he had the room next door. Same age, same disease… scared soldiers caught in a war we didn’t want, bonded by sharing agonies. He had one of those contagious laughs, wildly uproaring, one that made me smile even when I heard it through the wall, especially when I knew that he was toying with the nurses. When he died I shook my head from side to side frantically, unconsciously, as I did daily, hourly, in my bed, shaking the vomit from my mouth, expelling the bitterness, the rancid reality.

Watching my blood brothers and sisters die is watching my own death. I have seen their sheet-covered, lifeless bodies wheeled by the open window of my room. This is the most penetrating fear that I have ever known. I have to constantly remind myself of my uniqueness… a tenet of my personal religion, an attempted step away from my proximity to my fallen friends. There will undoubtedly be people on the bone marrow ward that will die. It is an unbending law. In my search for strength I preach that there are denominators, personal practices that increase my odds. I am constantly the focus of my thoughts. I search for elevation as the flood waters rumble. The secret to my health is the secret to my happiness.

As I explore myself, I explore my gifts. I preach sharing them. This is the conscious recognition of my humanly worth. We all give birth to fruits on the trees of our lives, talents and traits mighty and small. Quantity is not important, provided that what we cultivate is available for the nourishment of others. This is the sustenance that fulfills our social needs. It is a beautiful cycle of sowing and reaping. I am a storyteller: my friends enjoy listening, and with animation and vibrance I breathe new life into common tales of the past, of childhood scheming, of foibles and glories. I fabricate hopeful visions of the future. Then I listen. I am held by the hands and lore of others. As we are with one another there is joviality and love, there is catharsis in the sharing of pain, there is bond… we are somehow mysteriously in these moments interwoven, and I feel tingling, as though a magical medicine were released into my blood. - Josh Webb, Oct. 20, 1969- January 31, 1998.

23 cf. Thoits 1982:8; Fischer 1977:20.

24 Fischer (1977:20): "The concept of social network is new neither to the social sciences nor to the public at large. The common phrase ‘It’s not what you know but who you know’ testifies to our general experience with using our contacts to achieve our ends."

25 The term "network theory" is somewhat misleading, as there is in fact no central theoretical core which analysts rely upon to guide their research. According to Mitchell’s 1974 review of the network analysis, in spite of a large literature and refined methodological techniques there is no writer among those using social network theory to analyze field data who does postulate a formal network theory (Van Poucke, 1979). In 1983, Wellman noted that some reject network analysis as mere methodology that lacks due regard for substantive issues, while two years later Rice and Richards (1985) find that network researchers use an approach or method based largely upon accessibility or cost and less on conceptual foundations. In 1988, Haines concurs in noting that "attempts at developing the theoretical side of social network analysis have not generated a satisfactory account of its methodological implications." The state of network theory today appears no more consolidated. Certain conceptual foundations do, of course, exist; however, the state of the field is in flux regarding any strong canon or ideology which each of its members follows.

26 Here the connection of network analysis to identity research is clear.

27 A recent book review of Castells’ trilogy by Felix Stalder (CTheory, 19 Feb 1998) states, "Undoubtedly, this trilogy is one of the, if not the, most significant analysis of the current transformations which center around the uneven spread of information technology around the globe. In scope as well as in quality, Castells' opus magnum is outstanding."

28 cf. Hannah Arendt, The Human Condition, 1958; Mills, The Sociological Imagination, 1959.

29 cf. Galaskiewicz and Wasserman 1993; Wellman 1978:3; Habermas, 1987.

30 "Between 1989 and 1993 the proportion of computers in America connected in networks rose from under 10% to over 60%." George Gilder, " The Death of Telephony," The Economist, 11 Sept 1993: 75-78.

31 cf. Ithiel de Sola Pool, ed., The Social Impact of the Telephone, 1977.

32 "As the cafe became more established a ritual for ‘entering’ it emerged. In an environment with very little ritual, these women follow that associated with real bars. By posting notes stating that they are ordering drinks, placing wagers over the pool table, and holding intimate conversations next to the fire, a common sense of reality is created on which future interactions can build" (Correll 1995: 279).

33 Again note that Gergen’s saturated self is in a condition diametrically opposed to the "social isolate" (see Thoits 1982:1) hypotheses posited fifty years ago (Park-Wirth; Riesman, etc.)

34 cf. Granovetter 1973, "The Strength of Weak Ties."

35 This was, in fact, one great drawback Fischer (1982:144) admitted to in his network study of San Francisco; because of the difficulty of asking each respondent about every possible pair of names, his survey was limited to asking about a special subsample of up to five people.

36 Fischer is more reserved in his prognostications, even as late as 1985: "Forecasts of a wired society seem premature. Projections of how many computers will invade the home are falling short, in part, because analysts are not sure why people would want home computers in the first place" (296). The answer seems to have become obvious: for communication.

37 A great number of anecdotal narratives have emerged regarding these subjects. See for instance, "A Death On-Line," NY Times, 4/23/95; "Virtual Community," New Statesman & Society, 2/4/94; "Intimate Strangers," Time Special Edition, Spring 1995, etc.

Back to Title Page

Back to the Infospace Page