10/25/99

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:

  1. 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.
  2. 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.
  3. 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 scheduled a date and time (11/1/99 at 6:00 pm) to see our first science fiction film

11/1/99

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:

http://www.crystalinks.com/wells.html

http://www.bath.ac.uk/~lisjpo/wellsian.html

http://members.tripod.com/~gwillick/wells_hg.html

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?

  1. 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.
  2. 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.
  3. 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.
  4. 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.
  5. 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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