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Author Archives: Harris

He is the man who changes spaces, who circulates, who changes sex, clothes, and habits according to fashion, rather than morality, and who changes opinions not as his conscience dictates but in response to opinion polls

This week’s readings – Nationalism, Postnationalism and Digital Power

[Frost] Internet Galaxy Meets Postnational Constellation

Being a nation is about being on the same page. Nationalism developed, according to Benedict Anderson, in the 18th century when print media began “fostering a new sense of attachment, in this case among those who read the same newspapers, or imagined the same fictional communities through novels”. This allowed:

  1. The conception of community – a sense of attachment with people you have never met
  2. A shared worldview – a common sense of meaning of the experiences of life (with secular nationalism replacing myth and religion)
  3. A new, population-centric, mode of political engagement – replacing religious or dynastic authority
  4. A new set of social and political relations – new modes of inclusion and exclusion

And therefore, linguistic bondaries crystallized into national boundaries.

If the print media provided the landscape in the 18th century on which various historical factors crossed to develop a sense of community that what we now call nationalism, then can the new media also create “a new sense of attachment” and generate “a common political culture” that would make possible a “just” and “well ordered” post-nationalist order.

Habermas hopes it can. Because the Internet allows being on the same [web]page! “In both cases,” says Frost, “a powerful new medium arrived into an environment already experiencing shifting political, economic, and social ideals, and was adopted at an unprecedented rate.”

Note: Anderson looked at history in retrospect. The Internet is too new for us to be able to look at it that way. It is still evolving.

Why ask the question? “If we are to make responsible decisions today, we need to think about what might lie ahead”

Frost looks at the advent in the context of the four factors in community formation that she identifies above:

1- Conception of Community

“Communities exist in a symbiotic tension with identities (whether self-defined or ascriptive). Without one, it is difficult to develop the other, because there is no reference point for differentiation or affiliation.” But online interaction is either anonymous or identities are “disposable”. There is no commitment and mutual obligation. “The internet… is a site of great social flux and uncertainty.”

“In fact, anonymity not only makes the growth of new communities less likely,” believes Frost, “it can act to dismantle existing social bonds.”

Question: when anonymity and privacy are no longer the norm, how will this change?

2 – Systems of Meaning

According to Hannah Arendt, this requires:

  • a) a basis for mutual understanding, “the sharing of words and deeds”
  • b) boundaries or “stabilizing protection” to hold together this shared experiences

As “a vehicle for social or collective projects”, the Internet “can provide a basis for shared norms and meanings in those instances”, but what it “currently offers in these regards is insufficient”. Citing Lessig, Frost says “the increasing trend towards commercialization online may simply be too strong for such projects to resist”.

“It is not clear, therefore, how any new political or social solidarity associated with the Internet would manage to resolve the problem of meaning”. Any transformation to post-nationalism will require this.

Question: The newspapers and novels that laid the foundation for nationalism were also commercial. Anderson calls the phenomenon Print Capitalism. Does commercialization hinder community building or make it sustainable?

Question: Can the boundaries that hold together common experiences be drawn on a new cultural plane – e.g. Can the copy left movement or the free software movement compete with nationalism for loyalty?

3 – Political Engagement

While more people can participate in a democracy when it is “internet-enabled”, Frost thinks “what matters in democracies… is not just the volume of participation, but its quality”. In order to be the site of a new “public sphere” the internet has to:

  • a) be equally accessible for all
  • b) allow equal participation

The internet “fails the requirement for inclusivity and is “not necessarily more equal in its treatment of participants than you would find in an offline setting”.

While the Internet can “free the individual from the restrictions of ascribed identity and communal attachments” and “replace them with more voluntary associations”, these “loose constituencies of shared interest cannot lay the groundwork for the demanding task of political life”.

4 – Social Inclusiveness

Since “the internet favors loosely bounded communities characterized by loosely democratic and non-democratic social relations”, a major problem for a new social order would be of cohesion.

  • Solidarity can arise out of new innovations made possible by the new communications practices
  • The Internet can deepen the existing experience of exclusion or just enhance its awareness, thus becoming a source of new solidarities

The digital divide – the fact that some countries or demographic groups do not have as easy and efficient internet access then others – is key. “The need for expensive computing resources and telecommunications infrastructure to support the medium means that it will inevitably favor the developed and affluent populations over others”. Similarly, “the language barrier, which played such a large part in the birth of nations, is still as singificant as ever”.

But “the Internet’s capacity to heighten the experience of exclusion… represents its greatest potential for change”.


“The difficulty in assessing the prospects for post-nationalism in the wake of the Internet then is not that new political forms or social ideals are unlikely to arise. The problem is that we might be looking for change in the wrong places and with the wrong expectations”.

According to Frost, “It may not be the people with the most extensive access or highest profile online who will champion deep social and political change… it is the grounds with limited access judt enough to see what they are missing out on, who may have the most to gain from pioneering new modes of social relations, meaning and engagement.”

She explains the scenario in our second reading, in a response to a chapter in Collaborative Futures titled “Solidarity” [that cites her article].

Catherine Frost’s response to Mike Linksvayer

On the post Collaborative Futures 5

“Could the collaboration mechanisms discussed in this book aid the formation of politically salient postnational solidarities?” Mike Linksvayer asks. His thesis: “If political solidarities could arise out of collaborative work and threats to it, then collaboration might alter the power relations of work.” Therefore:

  • a) Despite ease in international trade barriers, workers cannot simply move between jurisdictions for better salaries or working conditions. But an increasing share of wealth via distributed collaboration does mitigate some inequalities of the current system
  • b) When knowledge is locked in through intellectual property rights, a worker cannot afford access to it. But with the GPL license, “the means of production are handed back to the labor”, and that makes possible “a feeling of autonomy that empowers further action outside the market”.
  • c) Collaboration allows workers more autonomy in the market or the ability to stand outside it, but it also gives significant autonomy to communities outside the market. Some such communities, eg wikipedia, “are pushing new frontiers of governance” and could lead to community governance and postnational solidarities

Frost’s intention…

… was not to say that the solidarities generated by the Internet echo the nationalist solidarities of the past. Anderson had looked at the emergence of the nation state in retrospect and the same is not possible with the internet. “Consciousness very often follows real life realities”.  Her concern, she insists, “was to see whether we could learn FROM the rise of national solidarities to understand how any new orders might take form”.

One lesson she learns is that “exclusion is a powerful force for forging solidarity”. She explains this more precisely with the following scenario:

“If the global future really belongs to the developing world with huge populations of well educated people who by and large don’t relate to the glossy consumerism of the internet, then they may use this very versatile tool in their own, more innovative ways. Which leaves everyone else playing catch up. And that catch-up process shifts power subtly but consistently in a new direction.”

[Morozov & Shirky] Digital Power and its Discontents

At the time when the nation states were emerging – a time that Habermas celebrates for “cafes and newspapers” which “were on the rise all over Europe” and “a new democratized public sphere was emerging” – Kierkegaard was concerned that with so many opinions floating around, people could be made to rally behind a number of shallow causes with no strong commitment to anything. This concern is shared by Shirkey and Morozov.

In the words of Morozov, “there was nothing to die for”. Online activism, he says like Kierkegaard, “cheapens our commitment to political and social causes that matter and demand constant sacrifice”. Citing Habermas, Shirkey says that those newspapers “were best at supporting the public sphere was when freedom of speech was illegal, so that to run a newspaper was an act of public defiance”. And so, “a protest which is relatively easy to coordinate at relatively low risk” is “less of a protest”, and “draws off some of the energy that could go elsewhere.”

Discussing an example from failed flash mob protests in his home country Belarus, Morozov asserts that a virtual movement was, for those protesters, a way to avoid “the dirty and bloody business of opposing a dictator, a business that often entails harassments of all kinds, as well as bloodshed, intimidation, expulsion from universities”. “They thought they could just blog the dictatorship away.”

“Does a movement need a martyr?” asks Shirky. “Does it need an intellectual focal point that’s willing to take a hit in order to make the point? And the second question is does that have to be one person?” Morozov believes a movement does need a charismatic leader, but “my fear is that a Solzhenitsyn would not be possible in the age of Twitter.”

The discussion…

… includes the potential of the internet to provide the landscape for the emergence of this new public sphere that could make possible post-national communities, as well as how nation states are coping with this potential threat. I began with a topic that develops towards the end, only to connect the discussion to the previous readings. I have focused on the questions when they arise during the discussion, instead of re-cycling them in the end.

  • Shirkey and Morozov agree that the cyberspace is not “a separate sphere unconnected to the rest of the planet” which would transform politics in a way “the internet utopians” think it would. Citing his critique of John Perry Barlow’s 1996 text “A Declaration of the Independence of Cyberspace”, which he calls one of the seminal texts of cyber-libertarianism, Morozov says “we are currently facing a huge intellectual void with regards to the Internet’s impact on global politics”. But this “lack of a coherent framework does not really prevent us from embracing the power of the Internet”, he says, and both democratic and authoritarian governments are trying to harness the power for political purposes. A lot of the earlier theories were developed in a context that is no longer relevant however, and so, “We do need a new theory to guide us through all of this”.
  • Morozov believes the State Department should use the potential power of the Internet to promote freedom, but is critical of its alliance with Google, Twitter and other commercial organizations. “We’re promoting Internet freedom for freedom’s own good,” he says. “So the real question is how to leverage the undeniable power of these companies without presenting them as extensions of the U.S. foreign policy.”
  • “There is definitely a greater level of politicization attached to the use of Twitter, Google, and Facebook in authoritarian conditions,” he says however. “People who are now using Twitter in Iran are marked as potential enemies of the state.” Asked by Shirkey if the Iranian ban on Facebook even before the elections meant it was over-politicized, Morozov says “the fact that they blocked Facebook doesn’t mean anything” to him. “All it means is that they could block Facebook — and they did.” Citing the example of the three-day ban on texts in Cambodia in 2007, Morozov says there is a “symbolic value attached to censorship” as it helps a government “signal to the rest of the world that they are still in charge”.

But Shirkey cites the examples of Burma and Ukraine to argue that the regimes are also trying to “dampen the public sphere” by censorship because these technologies allow the citizens to better coordinate their protest movements. “Conditions under which a public that can self-identify and self-synchronize,” he says, “even among a relatively small elite, is in fact a threat to the state.”

Morozov responds by saying that the “very vibrant” online campaign of Iranian protests, did not extend into real world coordination. “There was synchronicity of online actions, I’m not sure that it translated well into coordinated protests in the streets.” Shirkey said one way the coordination manifested itself on the streets was through the participation of women. But Morozov points out that Iranian women had been using social media for a decade, and therefore “most social media activity is just epiphenomenal: it happens because everyone has a mobile phone”. The Iranian government, he says, was brutal despite the social media hype.

Shirkey says his focus is on the coordination made possible between otherwise uncoordinated groups, but they can’t be as organized as hierarchically-managed groups. He agrees that such political engagement can make the regimes even more brutal rather than being more tolerant towards change.

Other similar questions, according to Morozov, include Whether it is “making people more receptive to nationalism” or if it could drive them away from “meaningful engagement in politics” by promoting certain hedonism-based ideologies? Or whether it could empower certain non-state entities that might not be “conducive to freedom and democracy?” – in short -  Who will get empowered by these better coordination opportunities and by the Internet in general?

So, “if the question we are asking is, ‘How does the Internet impact the chances for democratization in a country like China?’, we have to look beyond what it does to citizens’ ability to communicate with each other or their supporters in the West,” Morozov says. Compared with the $70m China had spend by 2003 on censorship, it had spent $120 billion on e-government. “Will it modernize the Chinese Communist Party? It will. Will it result in the establishment of democratic institutions that we expect in liberal democracies? It may not.”

  • Shirkey mentions his “bias” that “non-democratic governments are lousy at managing market economies over the long haul. That’s a baseline assumption, and it affects the context of digital publics.” Morozov says this was true even before Twitter, and most previous revolutions such as against communism in Poland, were not a result of such interventions as smuggling in of Xerox machines, but because of economic collapse. Referring to Iran’s announcement to ban Gmail and replace it with a national service, Shirkey says that by placing such bans, authoritarian regimes are “acquiring a kind of technological auto-immune disease. They are attacking their own communications infrastructure as the only way to root out the coordination among the insurrectionists.” But Morozov thinks that announcement should be seen in the context of the revelation of Google’s ties with the NSA. They want to be seen as: “We absolutely want to make sure that our citizens are not being watched by NSA”, which can be effective domestic propaganda.
  • Since the dawn of the Internet, Shirkey says, “in overestimating the importance of the value of the access to information, and we’ve underestimated the importance of the access of value to people.” “If we could lower the censorship barriers between the West and China, could just remove the Golden Shield altogether, while the Chinese retain the same degree of control over citizens and citizen communication, not much would change. If the Golden Shield stays up in its full form, but the citizen communication and coordination gets better, a lot will change.” Asked if this change will be good or bad, he accepts that “there will be national movements whose goals are inimical to the foreign policy objectives of the West”, but adds what really matters is that these countries are democracies.
  • But what comes first?” asks Morozov, “Democracy or Internet-based contention?” And when democracies are new, they are vulnerable. “If you have a weak state entering a transition period — and it’s fair to say the Internet would mobilize the groups that would make a weak state even weaker — chances are you would not end up with a democracy in the end.”

Responses to Shirky and Morozov:

Rebecca Mackinnon

the changes brought about by the Internet cannot be exclusively good or bad.“It’s everything all at once because it’s an extension of human activity and an amplification of human nature.” While Shirkey’s arguments on how the Internet empowers people to organize themselves sounds true, Morozov is also doing an important job of deflating utopia fantasies. “The Internet’s future — technically, culturally, politically, and content-wise — is up to each and every one of us who uses and inhabits it.”

Nichaolas Karr

the Internet is both a tool of control (as a computer network) and of emancipation (as a medium of personal expression). “We are at the beginning of a long cat-and-mouse game between those who would use the Net to exert central control and those who would use it to break that control.” Whether the Internet “might be promoting a certain (hedonism-based) ideology that may actually push [people] further away from any meaningful engagement in politics?”

“As far as opiates of the people go,” he says, “the Internet is a particularly intoxicating one.”

Geroge Dyson

“Tis considerable, that it does not only teach how to deceive, but consequently also how to discover Delusions,” Bishop John Wilkins, founding secretary of the Royal Society, said about digital communications in 1641. “Wilkins was concerned with the case where the good guys are within the government, and the bad guys without,” Dyson says. Shirky and Morozov are talking about the case in which the bad guys are in the government.

Douglass Rushkoff

“Neda was still killed despite the fact that there were people taking those videos,” but “the function of the Net may not have been to save Neda’s life”, he belives, but “to allow the entirety of networked society to bear witness to the atrocity. Neda did not die alone, unnoticed and undocumented.”Similarly, “the function of Twitter in Iran may not have been to launch a successful challenge to a corrupt election — but rather to help those in Iran experience at least momentary solidarity with one another and the rest of the world.”

“It’s not that the Net doesn’t allow for the creation of the required charismatic leader,” Rushkoff believes. “It’s such a leader is no longer necessary. The ground rules have changed with the landscape.”

Jaron Lanier

“It seems apparent, alas, that Facebook, Twitter, etc. have not improved American democracy, and yet we expect these tools to promote democracy elsewhere.” According to Lanier, “The basic problem is that web 2.0 tools are not supportive of democracy by design. They are tools designed to gather spy-agency-like data in a seductive way, first and foremost, but as a side effect they tend to provide software support for mob-like phenomena.”

“Governments oppress people, but so do mobs,” he warns. “You need to avoid both to make progress.”

Cyborgasms – Sex and the Internet

In what ways have developments in new media changed the landscape that we may call the playground of sex, pornography and gender roles?

Required Readings:

Required Readings and Viewings:

  • Sex 2.0: Keynote by Melissa Gira Grant
  • Technesexual by Micha Cárdenas and Elle Mehrmand
  • A New Playground: Sexual Predators and Pedophiles Online: Criminalizing Cyber Sex Between Adults and Minors by Tyler Patrick Lovejoy [St Thomas Law Review 20 no2 311-57 Wint 2008]

The You in Youtube – Conclusion for Travelogue 4

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Face Off – How do people react when their online identity is questioned?

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Mirrors and Masks – performing identity on the web

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Cyborgasms – Concluding Travelogue 3

“The fashionable ideology that ‘artificial’ lacks the inherent goodness of ‘natural’ is an appealing, but hopelessly simplistic notion of the intellectually chic. Artifice is the result of a deliberate intent to make. Nature also ‘makes’ things…” – Syd Mead

Language, gender, ethics and social rituals of ‘real life’ – all appear to be ‘natural’, but are in fact ‘artificial’ – constructed by a society’s ideology and discourse, in a specific historical situation. These self-referencing systems of symbols are at once liberating (for some) and constraining (for others). Fundamental changes in artifice/technology are capable of transforming this landscape, liberating those who were once constrained. Those who were once marginalized now find themselves privileged. The ‘margins’ are thus ‘folded back to the center’. But this practice creates new margins.  In turn, some other people are marginalized.

That is my conclusion after three weeks of exploring the phenomenon of the use of the internet for sexual interaction.

In the modern society, norms in courtship rituals are defined by the commercial media. For those who are not ideal consumers – such as obese teens who do not fit mass-produced clothing, isolated individuals who do not belong to predefined subcultures, desperate  adults who have lost the ability to communicate – these rituals sometimes become impossible to negotiate. “How does Web 2.0 change these norms?” I asked.


The answers were surprising, as I became a regular reader and contributor to the ‘Casual Encounters‘ section of the free classified ads website Criagslist. From Jane Austin’s protagonists to veiled women of my third-world country, gender-role constraints make women focus whatever little power they have in courtship rituals for social mobility. On Craigslist this power becomes subversive.

“My body looks like a 51 year old fat womans body, like it should,” says one woman. She has no qualms about her looks and age and is incredibly honest about it. In fact she uses them as a source of power that she can exercise on a young boy, “and if he can hold my interest out of bed, I will keep him”. Earlier in the ad, she says: “I am… looking to have a sex partner that is a White or Latino male ONLY, either 18 or 19 years of age ONLY, and must have NYS ID to prove it.” Seeking an ID is an act associated with authority, especially the police, and is the ultimate expression of who is in control here. While she might feel marginalized  because of her age, skin color and body type in the meatspace, she is certainly in control on the web. Such women, my experiments show, have a sizeable fan following.

  • Ads by mature women looking for younger guys were the most successful of all the types I posted. On the average, they received 30 responses in the first hour after posting.

    "I am a classic BBW and I love my body..."

  • BBWs were surprisingly the second most popular, with 26 responses in the first hour. These ads did not include pictures and were firm, controlling and non-descriptive. Almost all men complied with the demand for a picture in the first email. This is significant because women with higher than average weight are portrayed as unattractive, and weight is a major concern with most women.
  • Straight white female under 30, without specifying a body type, followed closely behind with an average 25 responses in the first hour.
  • Ads for straight African American women without no specific body type only received 14 responses. While this is substantially lower than other women and implies racial biases, it is significant in terms of gender, as no ad by any straight black male got any response at all.
  • Young white girls looking for mature men, although conforming the gender-role norms, received a strikingly low response of only 7 in the first hour after posting.

Men, it appears, need major PR boost. Responding to female ads, a large number of men would send pictures of only their genitals either out of privacy concerns or because of a desperate attempt at re-gaining the lost authority that they have in ‘real life’ only because of their genitals. “So what’s the secret to getting some tail on CL?” asks a user posting in the ‘w4m’ category. “All I get is spam, dudes and working girls. what am I doing wrong?” the user asks. “If you can’t tell by now I am a MALE.” Maybe that is all you’re doing wrong, I said. Being a male. While it may be useful to be a male in the meatspace, in the virtual public space of Craigslist personals, it is apparently a major disadvantage. Women make the choice and they are in control.

  • Ads by straight white males received only 6 responses on the average in the first hour. But most of them were concealed ads for dating sites and even some prostitutes (who understand that men are ready to go the ‘real-life’ way and spend money for sex). Occasionally, gay men responded too. The average number of actual responses in the first hour was: 0.33!
  • Young males looking for older women received one response in the first hour, excluding spam
  • Large males, African American males, and older males looking for younger girls received no responses other than spam.

Queers received fewer replies than women, but more than men.

  • Men looking for men and women looking for women received an average of three responses each in the first hour. Lesbian ads received the most superior responses, they were respectful, description was precise, and included face shots.
  • Transsexuals and cross-dresses looking for other people like them received two responses in the first hour, with pictures and contact details.
  • Transsexuals and cross-dressers looking for men received four responses on the average, in the first hour after posting.

The number of responses received by queers is very manageable, compared with those received by women, and significantly higher than those received by men. I look at these results not in terms of how many people write back to queers, but in terms of their ability in the first place to reach out to an audience that might not be possible without Craigslist. Overall, I think Craigslist is the most workable for queers. “I know exactly what I want tonight,” said one woman responding to a lesbian ad. “And I could use the company as well.”

Reality 2.0

Like gender, the cyberspace is a social construct. It is at once a fiction and a lived social reality. Part of my research was to go out in the 3D virtual world of IMVU and live this reality in order to observe, talk about and participate in its sexual rituals. I played as many roles as I could, limited only by my imagination and time. I also attended a virtual wedding, bought and traded slaves, helped a woman with childbirth, flew naked with a fairy like me, and got abducted and sexually tortured by a dominatrix.

As a site of escape and fantasy, the audience that IMVU attracts the most is girls aged 18 to 25. For a large number of these girls, especially from countries where their social life is more constrained, IMVU is the exclusive space for intimacy and sexual activity. For others, it is a matter of choice.

  • Cyber sex risk-free. There is no risk of disease, no liability and no social consequences.
  • It takes much less effort and resources to connect to a person like yourself in a virtual world than in real life.
  • It is anonymous and thus liberating in terms of what you can say and how you can say it.

“Where else can a girl from India fulfill her bondage fantasies?” one user remarked. “It is like reading a comic book,” said a male user. “Only better because you can participate and be someone.”

Contemplating over an appletini at a strip club for cats

The meaningfulness of their sexuality and multiple identities that form their whole selves are tied exclusively to the web – where they play not only human roles, but become cats, foxes, fairies, or monsters, blurring the boundaries between humans, machines and animals. They are cyborgs.

But as the IMVU society is getting more established, these users taking their fantasies more seriously. They take their multiple identities as parts of themselves and owning up to virtuo-social responsibilities. People now have relationships online. Although they have never met or seen their partner outside of IMVU, men do not cheat on their virtual girlfriends. If they do, “that is SO real life”. Girls, like real life, go on to get married with loyal and caring men, and have children. Others make single men spend virtual currency on them by being strippers and prostitutes.

The virtual currency can be bought with real money, and thus like many of the ‘real life’ public spaces of the modern society, commerce seems to be eroding into IMVU as well, and certain fetishised goods become symbols of authority that mean nothing in themselves but are possessed because they invest power in whoever owns them.

But despite these tendencies, women seem to generally control these courtship  and sex rituals. Both the power that women can exercise in choosing a partner and the money as the last resort for men to gain some authority are remarkably similar themes in my experiments with both Craigslist and IMVU.

Do you wanna date my avatar?

In 1995, Annabelle Chong was promised $12,500 for having sex with 80 men for a film. She was never paid.

“The act itself took place between me and these guys, who were doing it for free. Why should I get paid for it then?” she said on being asked why she didn’t pursue it.

“The reason why everybody was pressuring me to… get the lawyer, get the money, fight for it, was because in this society, people tend to see things in terms of money,” she said. “It’s not really my money, because I don’t want it. I’d rather starve.”

I will not comment on if I beat Annabelle Chong’s 80 in the virtual world of IMVU, at least not until my conclusion post later tonight, but I sure did beat her in the diversity of my experience.

I have been a fairy in a magic land:

A prehistoric man fighting animals with fire:

A stray cat:

A nurse in a kinky hospital:

A female stripper who was paid in virtual money:

An African American ‘BBW’:

And even a Na’vi – one of those blue natives of Pandora in the movie Avatar:

And many many other things.

For now, I am still awaiting responses for some Criagslist posts and will write conclusion post later tonight.

I leave you with this very imaginative music video about virtual romance:

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Do you wanna date my Avatar

Hang with me in my MMO
So many places we can go
You’ll never see my actual face
I’m craving to emote with you
So many animations I can do
Be anything you want me to be
Come on, come on, share a potion with me

Do you wanna date my Avatar
She’s a star
And she’s hotter than reality by far
Wanna date my Avatar?

You can type commands
I’ve got slots for what I hold in my hands
Don’t care what’s in your character bank
How ’bout, How ’bout a little tank and spank

Grab your mouse and stroke the keys
Here in cyberspace there’s no disease
Pick a time, send a tell to me
Just pay, just pay a small subscription fee

Hang with me in my MMO
So many places we can go
I’m better than a real world quest
You’ll touch, my plus 5 to dexterity vest

What role do you wanna play
I’m just a click away night or day
And if you think I’m not the one
Log off, Log off and we’ll be done

Love in the time of Craigslist

“So what’s the secret to getting some tail on CL?” asks a user posting in the ‘w4m’ category of the ‘Casual Encounters’ section of Craigslist peronals. That is the precise question I intend to find an answer to. And for that, I began with looking at what other people post. “All I get is spam, dudes and working girls. what am I doing wrong?” the user asks. “If you can’t tell by now I am a MALE.” Maybe that is all you’re doing wrong. Being a male. While it may be useful to be a male in the meatspace, in the virtual public space of Craigslist personals, it is apparently a major disadvantage. Women make the choice and they are in control.

Let’s look at some interesting real ads posted in the New York tonight:

Are you lonely tonight? – m4w – 55

I can come over .Turn down the lights , light some candles. Give you a great sensual massage …..bring you to orgasm !! Your pleasure is my pleasure. Age or race is not important .Pleasure is ……get in touch if this sounds good to you .

This person’s offer to “come over” shows that he lives with someone. He is probably married or maybe even lives with his son or daughter. “Sensual massage” is an overused phrase with men on Craigslist and is meant to lead the women to believe that the person is caring and cuddly and will make an attempt at foreplay. The fact that he puts a space before rather than after his full stops and exclamation marks possibly means that he is not familiar with rules of typing and therefore most probably new with computers. In saying pleasure is more important than age and race, he touches on a recurring theme on the web: some basic human human feelings, emotions, aspirations can reach across cultures and demographics. No comments on the picture:

Black BBW Cougar ISO Super Young White/Latino Male – w4m – 51

I am a college educated professional… 5’6 inches 250 lbs, very big, flabby, big belly… My body looks like a 51 year old fat womans body, like it should. I am very very kinky and I really want a super young boy… and if he can hold my interest outside of bed, I will keep him.

This ad speaks of the control this woman exercises over this interaction. She has no qualms about her looks and age and is incredibly honest about it. In fact she uses them as a source of power that she can exercise on a young boy, “and if he can hold my interest out of bed, I will keep him”. Earlier in the ad, she says: “I am… looking to have a sex partner that is a White or Latino male ONLY,” (reversal of ‘racial’ power?) “either 18 or 19 years of age ONLY, and must have NYS ID to prove it.” Seeking an ID is an act associated with authority, especially the police, and is the ultimate expression of who is in control here. While she might feel marginalized  because of her age, skin color and body type in the meatspace, she is certainly in control on the web. Because unlike what most of us would think, older women have a sizeable fan following among traditionally good looking younger guys, as in the ad below:

Milf or cougar for younger guy? – m4w – 22

Like every young guy i have a milf fantasy…i love hot older women…. I have face pics and i can host… let’s go.

The fan following for older women is so large that this boy includes “every young guy” in it. He mentions “face pic” because most people on Craigslist post pictures of their bodies – it is arguable though if it is because they think that’s all the viewers are interested in, or if it is because of privacy concerns. This boy is 22 and can host, which means he is fairly well off. As seen in the picture below, he is in good shape and not the kind who would need to find someone online out of desperation. Why is he on Craigslist then, looking for old women?

I need someone – w4m – 21

Let me start by saying that I am a small bbw but I promise I am beautiful and that you will like me. The type of relationship I want is friends with benefits and I would love if you don’t have a girlfriend. I’m a European girl studying here… I really don’t care that much about looks but I do prefer someone who is intelligent, spontaneous, and has a dark side to him.

So, not everyone is confident about their body type. This 22-year-old girl, not originally from New York, had to use Craigslist to find someone. She is clearly aware that her height and weight do not conform with the aesthetic norms of this society, “but” she thinks she is beautiful and had to “promise” that – a desperate assurance. She, in return, does not “care that much about looks”. Compared with the woman who posted the ad cited earlier, this girl does not talk about “keeping” but would only “love if you don’t have a girlfriend”. For me, this ad was really touching.

How far is too far? – w4m – 36

I always thought I was too good to be unfaithful. Not even imagined someone else. But now that I really have it going on, he has lost interest. He is more interested in going fishing with his stupid friends and going to work conferences. Anything that keeps him from being with me.

Conferences and fishing with friends – does this come from a typical desperate lonely housewife, or is it just a stereotyped pornographic image of a desperate lonely housewife being used by a dating site to lure men into joining them? When a user will reply to this ad, he will be led on and then asked to join the dating site (or webcam models site) for the woman’s contact info.

After having looked at a lot of personals, one can recognize a fake one after reading one or two lines. March has just about begun, what kind of a husband has been going fishing in the winter? Weird, right?

No Strings Attached – Does Web 2.0 Aid Sexual Liberation?

In the modern society, norms in courtship rituals are defined by the media. For those who are not ideal consumers – such as obese teens who do not fit mass-produced clothing, isolated individuals who do not belong to predefined subcultures, desperate  adults who have lost the ability to communicate, or alienated professionals looking for instant passion – these rituals sometimes become impossible to negotiate.

How does Web 2.0 change these social rituals?

1) Does it facilitate sexual liberation by providing an alternative public space that:

a) De-complicates these rituals or make it possible to bypass them altogether to initiate a ‘real-life’ sexual encounter?

b) Enables alternative sexual simulations involving humans, machines and fantasies to allow encounters that are more meaningful than real life?

2) Or does it create a new set of rituals that, in turn, also alienate some users?

I will work in one real and one virtual environment:

I will post and respond to ‘Casual Encounters’ ads on Craigslist adopting various identities and record the responses I receive. And I will participate in the IMVU virtual world using various real and fantasy personas to woo other users. In both cases, I will use trial and error as well as any help I can get online to increase success rate and determine what norms are being carried forward from real life and what new norms are arising or evolving.

Cyber Sex and Booty Calls

So I wasn’t in the mood to go out tonight and decided to stay in and usually it’s not such a bad thing but for some reason now I’m feeling lonely =( Anyone care to chat? I won’t respond to messages without a pic

- A 35-year-old woman on Craigslist

Isolation, loneliness, fear, inhibition, a lost sense of companionship and trust, and desperation – welcome to the modern society, where every man is for himself. ‘The power of touch’ means how smart your digital phone is, because public spaces have become transitional zones of commerce. For this lady, social rituals surrounding sex are at this point impossible to negotiate. For her, and for many other people like her – obese teens, alienated adults, people who are not good consumers. She resorts to the Web 2.0.

Sex is about sharing, and so is the Internet. I will switch between the fantastic and the real, in my travelogue, to explore if the multidirectional and multidimensional social web also facilitates meaningful sexual interaction.

the real:

A Booty Call is a communication made for the purpose of arranging a meeting for sexual acts, when a traditional romantic date is not likely or not desired. But this quick-fix solution is not the only option on the free classifieds on Craigslist.

I will create fake profiles of gay, straight and bisexual, men women and transsexuals of various ages with different personality and body types and different relationship preferences. While I am very interested in gender, orientation, and relationship-type based statistics, I will also analyze the text of the responses to look for clues to meanings behind how people behave.

the fantastic:

Cyber sex involves interactive description of erotic fantasies that lead to sexual stimulation. While web cams are a common visual aid, I will focus on the newer, more fantastic 3-dimensional virtual reality applications that greatly increase the bandwidth of communication by a) providing an alternative reality that enables long term virtual relationships, and b) allowing diversity of experience by blurring the boundaries between humans and animals, humans and mythical creatures, and humans and machines.

My platform is IMVU. I choose it because of familiarity. Research will be ethnographic, based not only on observation and interviews but also conversation and participation. The people I interact with will remain anonymous, and there will be some demographic data.