Hyperbole over Cyberspace: Eleonor Wynn

13-4 Hyperbole over Cyberspace, TIS

Futurist sensationalism, journalistic attention, constructivist theory, and appeal to technical determinism, all make the genre of literature on cyberspace, described as postmodern, visible and possibly influential. This paper takes issue with assertions in this literature that Internet communication alters cultural processes by changing the basis of social identity, and that it provides alternate realities that displace the socially grounded ones of everyday synchronous discourse. A main theme of the postmodern perspective on cyberspace is that Internet technology liberates the individual from the body, and allows the separate existence of multiple aspects of self which otherwise would not be expressed and which can remain discrete rather than having to be resolved or integrated as in ordinary social participation. The concepts under review presume a prior definition of self as a psychological unity, when the term is open to many definitions including the one that the self is a product of varying social contexts and is normally managed to accommodate them. Arguments from phenomenological hermeneutics are available to counter the plausibility of programming multiple selves, as the postmodern literature on cyberspace suggests can be done. The notion of fragmentation contradicts a substantial body of theory in social interaction based in the premise of coconstruction. Evidence of the socially grounded nature of interaction exists everywhere in cyberspace. Empirical examples include: list discourse that illustrates the situated significance of authentic identity in Internet professional groups; secondary research suggesting electronic communication is most successful as one genre in a communication repertoire; cases of home page self-presentation mediated through socially defined links; and evidence that the “virtualness” and alleged anonymity of Internet are illusory and therefore could not over time support a plausibly disembodied, depoliticized, fragmented “self”.

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