HyperNews Conversations

This page is an attempt to recreate the HyperNews conversations which we had about virtual communities. We are providing this current page in order to preserve these conversations. However, the links and feel of the HyperNews environment will not be represented. This page merely provides the content of our discussions in case the original HyperNews link goes down. This page recreates our conversations about George Easterbrook's "The Heart of the New Machine".

Easterbrook's The Heart of a New Machine

Base: Virtual Communities Discussion
Date: Tue, 26 Mar 1996 23:48:07 GMT
From: eclasson@sils.umich.edu (Emily Classon)

I really enjoyed this article, which appears in the 1991 publication, Questioning Technology: Tool, Toy or Tyrant?

Easterbrook says that some people use computers because they seek companionship of some sort. The computer is always there, is not demanding, does not have any emotional attachments, always pays attention to you, can be insulted, can be turned off, cannot be hurt, has no rights, and can communicate on some level. Easterbrook claims that many of the conversations people have are "mundane" and could be programmed into a computer. People may be happier if they had computers which would speak to them.

However there may be some problems if people rely on computers for their only companionship. People will become loners and will isolate themselves from the rest of society. Computers do not require anything from people other than input and electricity. If people learn to deal only with computers, they will lose people skills.

This article also relates to the topic of virtual communities. Can long-term use of virtual communities cause problems with human interaction? I don't think so. I think that communicating with people online is a supplement, unless people use them as a sole communication device.

People will always need other people with whom they can communicate. Virtual communities do not have to create problems unless they are used instead of other interactions. As a supplement, virtual communities allow people to meet more people they may never find in real life.

Thoughts on Easterbrook

Base: Virtual Communities Discussion
Re: Easterbrook's The Heart of a New Machine (Emily Classon)
Date: Tue, 02 Apr 1996 23:44:41 GMT
From: plefr@umich.edu (Paul Lefrak)

I also tend to agree that participation in a VC would be a supplement for face-to-face human interaction, not replacing it. Some alarmists have raised the fear that if we're all communicating online, we lost our ability to have real human companionship, conversation skills, etc. - that we'd lose a part of our humanity. I'm not so sure that really gets at the heart of the question. Now we all have this image of a person who sits in front of the computer and does not interact with people on a "live" basis. We picture recluses whom we label "losers" anti-social types, slobs, weirdos, etc. But how grounded in reality are these stereotypes? Also, what if someone who lacks social skills - not caused by computers, but by life in general - finds VC's to be a tool for social interaction that is satisfying to them? So what?! Some of us might judge this person as incomplete or inadequate because they don't "really" interact with people, but if they're happy, what difference does it make? It could be answered that this person is not really happy, that they simply don't know what they're missing, but really is unhappy. I don't think we can make that assumption. We can't force people to interact on a face-to-face level with others. We can't teach everyone social skills. People are distorted by this very alienating culture that we live in. But do computers and VC's exacerbate this? In one sense, yes, in another sense no. If someone who withdrew from human interaction into books or TV, now interacts with people over VC's, is this an improvement? For them it might be the social interactions they are comfortable with. For people with disabilities, or have difficulty leaving their home, these forms of communication are very valuable.

But what about the majority of people on the Internet who do interact with people "live" on a daily basis and are not disabled and use the Internet as a communication tool or a fantasy medium. Is their use of VC's detracting from "more important" or more "rich and fulfilling" forms of human interaction. Well, it might be. But it could also be a supplement to these types of interactions and lead to new ones. I know I've spent a lot more time communicating with people I don't know over the Internet in the last year and a half, and yes, there are some times that I consciously choose to "do email" rather than interact with people on another level (socialize, use the phone), but I don't think this has made me any less "human" (others may disagree), although I know that I'm a lot less accessbile on the phone and frequently am too exhausted at the end of a day (which now includes 1-2 hours of email) to return all my phone calls. This is a problem, but it's not like I've lost any social skills - except for not returning calls as much as I used to - but this is a trade off and a question of time management (or is it?). I'll stop here. I apologize for the rambling...

This document was created and is maintained by the Virtual Communities group in Howard Besser's ILS 604 class (Winter 1996).