The Identity Masquerade: Can it be true?

Posted: August 4, 2012 in Uncategorized

A while ago, Chat Roulette became a worldwide phenomenon that sparked interest for all internet users. Here, a person from India can meet a person from China with the click of a mouse. Sometimes, the face is blocked or some other image appears, however, it did reveal a user’s identity through race or maybe even gender. It’s a new take on the idea of the chat room, in fact, the concept of the chat room has evolved far enough from being textually-based to visually-based. In relation to Lisa Nakamura’s article, “Head-Hunting on the Internet,” in the cyber world, identity can be more important than you think it is.

This calls into question of the importance of identity on the Internet – is it true that the Internet is an outlet where one can express their own opinions without being discriminated based on gender and race? Nakamura calls attention to “cross-dressing in cyberspace,” which can lead into “identity tourism.” This “industry” is a way to use the internet to surf around the cyber world one identity at a time. However, can you freely choose to reveal your true identity online without being discriminated in one way or another? Recalling, Hobson’s article I think Nakamura brings a point of the digital world being portrayed as a white world, because the revealing of one’s identity can cost the value of his/hers opinion online. In fact, Nakamura brings up the topic of how Orientalism on LambdaMOO where the Asian male or female is stereotyped as being a samurai warrior (male) or a Geisha (female). These avatars are portrayed by, according to her research, white individuals. Those who are ‘real’ Asians, are forced to hide their true identities because they’re not like the stereotypes at all. In fact, they will be looked down upon. I think, for the most part, Asians are expected to be the white construction of Asians. As Nakamura pointed out, it is reflective of the colonialist narrative. Have we resurrected this “colonial narrative” into cyberspace? I mean, Nakamura seems to have suggested that this is the root of this problem. The Internet is supposed to be seen as a democratic space, where one can express their opinions or be able to play digital dress-up, but reading this article complicates this notion of freedom in the World Wide Web. Is it really free? Or are we still chained to the confines of social constructs?

In my opinion, I think we still are. The internet is a reflection of the real world. Unfortunately, the ‘choice’ that you are asked to make about choosing your gender or your race is not really a choice. It’s a must, even if you call yourself neutral. Facebook, just like the majority of social media, always asks us whether or not we’re male or female. As a human race, we’re always categorizing ourselves into specific groups and it is definitely displayed on the Internet. You can easily run away from your true identity by masquerading it with an avatar, but revealing it may be more dangerous and difficult. Chat Roulette and the various chat rooms that Nakamura also brings up are supposed to be anonymous. However, Chat Roulette relies on the visible rather than the textual. You may not know that person’s name or who they really are, but one thing you will learn is whether or not they are male or female, Caucasian or Asian, White or non-white. It’s supposed to be stepping away from identity, but in a world full of constructs, we still group people by their looks and by how they’re portrayed. In this respect, do you really think the Internet is a space where democracy can thrive? Or has it even thrived at all?

This article on the New York Times website, has brought this question of identity to a new platform, in terms of the Chat Roulette Websites and how you can Google Map the person that you’re talking to:

http://bits.blogs.nytimes.com/2010/03/11/new-site-unmasks-chatroulette-players/
Viel T.

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