In this meeting we discussed in more depth our interests related to
social spaces in virtual communities. We can group these interests into
three general areas:
We scheduled a date and time (11/1/99 at 6:00 pm) to see our first science
Interpretation – We are interested in communication theory that highlights
the role of the opinion leader in social communication. Is there a substantive
difference in the communication model between physical and virtual communities?
Who interprets for others? Should they interpret? Does this lead to a process
of integration or disintegration? It seems to us that even in a virtual
community, there is a level of interpretation that happens in the provision
of information. We want to explore whether this interpretation is any different
from that which takes place in non-virtual communities.
Public Participation – We want to reflect on the role of so-called virtual
communities in public life. Do they increase or decrease citizen participation
in local or political affairs? When and how? Are protest movements on the
web examples of virtual communities? There has been a lot of rhetoric about
how information technologies will increase participation and further democratize
society; we are skeptical, however, and look forward to looking at the
experience of virtual communities.
Public Space – We are interested in looking at the production of social
space and the idea of the public good or commons in virtual space. What
in the virtual world is public and what is private? How is the digitalization
of life impacting physical public space? Is virtual public space different
from physical public space? We will be looking at the privatization of
public information and reflecting on the policy implications of these trends.
We watched "The Time Machine," made in 1960 and based on H.G. Wells’s
1895 book of the same name.
Here are some links to a few sites about H.G. Wells:
Below is a summary of the movie and our discussion:
Scenario: The film describes how a British inventor, George, created
a "time machine." With the machine, he was able to travel from his time
period (year 1899) to the future (year 802,701). In that period, humans
(called Eloi) had become passive fodder for cave dwelling cannibals (Morlocks).
The film holds a pessimistic view that technology, instead of facilitating
a better life for human beings, may destroy human civilization by means
of war and therefore return humans back to a primitive situation. There
is no government or law in this future dystopia. Human beings are passive
and not interested in acquiring knowledge, lack self-motivation and critical
capability, and show indifference to each other.
Do past visions of future information technologies have come true?
The film imagines a fourth dimension (virtual space) outside the three
dimensions we are living in. With the time machine, people are able to
surpass the limit of time. Presently, we do have a fourth dimension (virtual
space). It is cyberspace. The virtual space in the real world, however,
enables human being to transcend the spatial limit.
Information Storage: In the film, "talking rings" passed on knowledge Books
were nonexistent as forms of information storage. Human beings don’t even
remember how to spell. It implies that machines will replace the role of
print in accumulating knowledge. We do have a machine with the function
like "talking ring" such as electronic media; but it is too early to determine
whether that electronic machine will replace or supplement print.
According to the film, the groups with knowledge control the power. This
seems true in a closed political system such as communist or authoritarian
regimes. The ruling class strengthens their power by means of suppressing
dissenting viewpoints. In an open system such as the capitalist system,
knowledge can be used to make money.
Desensitization: In the film, while the girl, Weena, almost drowns to death,
no one even tries to save her life. It was a terrifying signal of desensitization
brought about by technology. A good example of desensitization in our world
is the downturn in political participation and decrease in election turnout.
However, tribalism enthusiasm may increase in the information age at the
same time. We can see more and more protesting groups or subgroups occurring
in our society. As some scholars argue, the two forces of integration and
disintegration exist simultaneously in the world.
At the end of the movie, George goes back to 1899 for a few hours and then
decides to go "back to the future" to help the Eloi "rebuild" their society.
The only things he takes with him are three books from the bookshelf. What
three books would you take with you if you wanted to construct a new society?
Last modified: 03 November 1999
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