Head Hunting on the Internet

Posted: August 5, 2012 in Uncategorized

Author Lisa Namakura in her article attempts to explain how interaction takes place in online social role-play sites. She investigates how stereotypes that have been socially constructed are used in the creation of identities online. With the click of a button you can choose your gender to even your colour. She explains how people engage in “identity tourism” as they have the option to create digital bodies that can either reflect who they are in real life or who they desire to be in online communities. She concluded that a lot of white users of such sites tend to choose names or avatars that represent common Asian characters.

The common belief that the primary users of technology or in this case cyberspace is still dominant. Therefore she further affirms and contributes to the very important discourse, the digital divide. The author believed that when a person decided not to disclose their race, they were automatically labeled as a white user. I agree with Lisa, as I still picture many online users as white when I email people to inquire about items listed on Kijiji or even when I am buying used textbooks through websites. Even in many online gaming sites, the majority of players are white. And when you engage in the game over headsets, that is when you realize that the person who just defeated you is an Asian girl! Can an Asian person assume a person on the other side of the computer screen to be an Asian too? Can an Arab assume a person on the other side to be an Arab as well?

If we think about it most people have joined various sites and online communities that are more accepting than our society. Individuals who face the fear of being judged for their beliefs, aesthetics or just not fitting in resort to such mediums in order to be accepted. It can be said that the Internet does not discriminate or distinguish between one’s race or gender, as you can choose to be whoever and whatever you want online. You have the option of disclosing your personal descriptions and therefore your information is often invisible to others. I personally think that the Internet is “raceless” and most surfers cannot find out about the background of users unless they disclose certain descriptions to sites.

Given the freedom that people have online, they have the ability to choose their race and gender and depict themselves as who they would prefer to be in order to be accepted. Now what about online spaces that do not have those visuals or avatars? In website such as the Oprah blog or even in the various mommy blogging websites, people can choose to participate in any way they want. It is obvious that websites likes there are open for predominantly middle class white women that are married or in a heterosexual relationship. Therefore any one under any username and using any email address can contribute their thoughts. Can we label this as “textual identity tourism” where people have the opportunity to explore?

I don’t agree when she argues that that people can pick up one’s race in cyberspace by looking at the type of language you use. The way people express themselves is unique as many factors contribute to your language. Your education, occupation, the type of friends you have and even your interests shape you. I find this very vague, as it is really hard to make judge a person’s race based on their language used. People use online forums and social networking sites in a broad context that does not necessarily fit the norms or stereotypes that are attached to the different races. How long are we going to let these standard visuals or avatars define who we are?

Check out this video! There are guys that are playing a Nintendo game online with players from an Asian country. They keep saying, “ Who are these guys? They gotta be IT guys…They must play everyday?” This is a great example of how identity is always an ambiguous concept in cyberspace (in this case gaming).



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