Sunday, May 23, 2010

Anonymity and Community

As I started to explore in my last post, I'm looking into the Mormon "bloggernacle" and moving away from Raymond's "Cathedral and the Bazaar" because cathedrals aren't usually "carefully crafted by individual wizards or small bands of mages working in splendid isolation." In reality, and especially in context of the story "Cathedral" they are community efforts. As Dr. Burton said in a reply to my last post, "the building of a religious edifice as an act of community (and community building) is well established." I found a quote today in Reading Raymond Carver by Randolf Runyon that goes well with this idea: "In a question and answer session at the University of Akron in 1982 Carver said that in his view to build a cathedral was to engage in a collaborative endeavor" (185). The bloggernacle is definitely this type of endeavor. What's more, Runyon later quotes Carver as saying "You don't know who built those cathedrals, but they're there" (185). I think this relates to the anonymity of the the bloggernacle. Just as Robert can connect with the narrator even though he can't see him, I assume that contributors to the bloggernacle rarely see each other face to face, and yet they build a community. How does the anonymity of the web affect the relationships that are formed there?


  1. Ben! Such an interesting idea! I found a great article regarding "digital relationships"
    It's the first option which pops's in PDF format. Here's a little sampler:
    "Relevant to the development of interpersonal
    relationships is the processing of social cues [8]. Research in social psychology has indicated that when people perceive social context cues, these can trigger cognitive interpretations and related emotional states. In response to these cues, people adjust their communication depending on their subjective interpretation of the situation. When social context cues are strongly perceived, behavior becomes more other focused and carefully managed. Conversely, when communication of these cues is weak and cues are not perceived, feelings of anonymity result in more self-centered and unregulated behavior"
    My thoughts are based off of this notion of subjective vs. objective
    When we are in an online environment our perception of others is subjective. We create the person with whom we are interacting based upon a pic, profile and their own words. When we have face-to-face relations, our perception becomes less subjective and more objective as we pick up on other factors of communication (body language, tone/inflection of voice, etc.)

    In reply to your comment, anonymity creates a subjective environment as well as subjective relations within that environment. Hope this helped a little!

  2. I can't remember if this was already posted in this class but there is a man in Tokyo who actually married his Avatar.

    His obsession with his relationship with an avatar has now affected his real life. He doesn't date and doesn't want to get married because no girl will ever be as good as the one that he has created. He has cut himself off from human contact. As more people become as obsessed as he is, how many people are going to become recluse and view human contact pointless?

  3. Ben,

    I think your change in direction is an interesting one...but here are a few ideas that push back:

    While building a Cathedral is a communal project, not each person contributes equally, nor does each person have the same amount of power or control. The Architect is the mastermind, and there can be only one (long live highlander!); or at least the ratio of architects to carpenters, painters, etc, is inverse. So while each person offers something to the project, there is a definite hierarchy and an overarching plan that is pre-determined and cannot be changed willy-nilly, or the building risks structural instability or aesthetic inferiority.

    By contrast, the bazaar still offers a more equal environment, one that does not require an architect that everyone must listen to and follow his direction.

    The "bloggernacle," then, is perhaps more like a bazaar in some ways than it is like a Cathedral. Any member of the bloggernacle is free to follow their own design...unless you want to talk about the ecclesiastical pressure of towing the "party" line as an "architectural" pressure.

  4. Ben:
    I'd be cautious about looking too much at the literature about online relationships -- mostly because I think those are dealing in one-to-one relationships and are not about groups. Also, the subject of anonymity is very embedded in issues about privacy or the actions of individuals. With both strands, keep your eye focused on collective online behavior.

    In that regard, you could research the effects of social networks as being a type of "ambient intimacy" making group action a sort of online potential energy (like voltage?). But I would urge you primarily to look into crowdsourcing and associated collaborative online activities. Clay Shirky's Here Comes Everybody is a seminal text about crowdsourcing, as is James Surowiecki's The Wisdom of Crowds. You can readily find summaries online, though the books themselves are very good.