In Chapter 5 of Hubert Dreyfus’s On the Internet, the virtual world called “Second Life” is discussed. An issue about online interaction is “ ‘…lack of expression. Emoticons [smiley faces, etc.] help, but there’s always an uncrossable line where expressions, tones, and body language lie…’ ” (pg. 112). The author is pointing out that while users may feel immersed in a parallel world that has become very real to them, they are actually unable to communicate to the full capacity that they are able to in reality. When humans talk and interact with others face to face, they pick up on and observe body language, tone inflection, and other subtle identifiers absent from virtual interactions. The possibility for “whether an avatar’s gestures can be made similar enough to ours to cause a direct response in the person controlling the avatar” is interesting, but Dreyfus is quick to point out that “even if avatars could be programmed to make such realistic gestures that a person seeing the avatar on her computer would directly respond to it, she would still have to conscious[ly] command… [making it a] canned response” (pg. 115). Dreyfus goes on to talk about the latest advances in avatar technology, but I was left questioning whether or not people really would want to communicate all their subtle emotions online. People obviously participate in virtual worlds to escape the real world they live in. If you make virtual world avatars able to communicate every passing emotion with no barriers, would users enjoy this? And when does a virtual avatar, equipped to display all emotions, become indistinguishable from the actual human user?
I feel like throughout "On the Internet", Dreyfus was very selective in what he chose to focus on. Second Life is not nearly as popular as it was when it was first released, and especially when compared to social networking sites like Facebook, which he spent no time discussing.It also seemed like he attacked positions that very few people actually hold. For example, in the chapter on distance learning, he focuses almost entirely on whether or not internet lectures could fully replace classroom lectures, asking "[C]an the bodily presence required for acquiring mastery of one's culture be delivered by means of the internet?"(47). The primary focus on the internet as an educational tool has not, nor has it ever been as a substitute for a full classroom education, but rather as lectures to help teach or clarify basic topics in various fields and/or to be used in Third World countries to assist students who do not have the means to learn in a well-off school. He even partially admits this in the conclusion, in which not a single mention of the highly-successful Khan Academy was apparently warranted.I also felt like the chapter on nihilism could have been much more heavily expanded upon, as again, he spent no time discussing Facebook, Reddit, Tumblr, or any website where millions of people can communicate through easy pathways.
I agree with Brandon that there are points in Dreyfus' argument that seems obsolete because he compares the Internet experience so often to the pre-digital age without considering how mapping the standards of the old onto the standards of the new results in a misunderstanding. The view of distance learning as a replacement rather than a supplement to the classroom makes me question why Dreyfus doesn't reconsider the many ways in which humans learn, that distance learning could work with a do-it-yourself curriculum and a co-facilitator, rather than an instructor lecturing in person. I also wondered about his discussion of blogging, which sounded to me me like a crisis of literature that didn't necessarily make the Internet obsolete: "the readers who are supposed to do the job of recognizing the enlightening blogs by clicking them are no themselves experienced and wise, makes the contribution of blogs to serious public debate unlikely." We have bloggers that can't write because no university teaches how to compose new media, and what Dreyfus is doing is blaming Internet surfers for not knowing what good media is, but traditional education does not even teach what good media is, which is why the Internet is not a perfect communicator. In a cyber world where space for good information is endless, it seems strange to me that Dreyfus would condemn the Internet and press for their lack of commitment rather than taking a more moderate view in which humans retain their individual voice but improve the experience on the Internet they way we do with all tools.
As I was reading the book I found myself intuitively agreeing very strongly with the section on nihilism in particular. As I thought back to the attitudes people around me have toward the Internet I could definitely see a thread of apathy and non-commitment that seemed central to the experience of being online.My personal experience with the Internet (anyway, with getting involved in arguments on the internet) is that people generally dismiss discussions that go on with the attitude that because something is on the internet it doesn't matter in any way. Take the average message board flamewar or long Facebook debate and eventually someone is going to come in and say "Hey, why is everyone getting so mad about words on the internet? Who cares?" Which is understandable if we think of the internet as an entertainment tool where people casually sort of hang out, but isn't the whole point of this thing to enable actually effectual and broad-ranging discussion, debate, information sharing, education etc. between every human being on Earth? If not, can we really defend the lofty claims futurists make about something we ourselves admit is basically Idiot Box 2.0?If Dreyfus had the chance to talk about Facebook the chapter on nihilism could have been even more damning, I think. Facebook is essentially a way to get people to quantify all their consumer desires into little bits which advertisers can easily personalize and capitalize on, under the guise of keeping us "connected" with people to whom we ought to already have connections (our friends) - a connection which in reality either creates a bizarre flattening of social barriers (basically requiring you to act the same way in front of your mom, your drinkin buddies, your partner, your partner's parents, etc. which leads inevitably to conflict and/or a completely shallow, lowest-common-denominator image of oneself) or causes you to choose your friends so selectively you end up in an endlessly pleasant echo chamber in whatever little consumer subgroup you choose to fit yourself inside. And then you change your Political Views to "Communist" and "like" Marx and suddenly you're a revolutionary (and can now get little ads for snarky Communist slogan tees presented to you whenever you log in).
I too found Chapter 4 interesting, particularly the bits about nihilism and the media. I'm a communications major (all we do is talk about media), so it was nice to see something that's not "Newspapers changed our lives because of..." or "Media is important/life changing" Instead we are introduced to the idea of levelling. It's intriguing to think that nothing is important enough to die for.The juxtaposition of the ideas of democracy compared to that of levelling is interesting. We are almost looking at how democracy can be detrimental."This is seen by Habermas as a triumph of democratization, nut Kierkeggard saw that the public sphere was destined to become a detached world in which everyone had an opinion about and commented on all public matters without needing any first-hand experience and without having or wanting any responsibility." (75, Dreyfus)These words definitely ring true when I think about how the internet is structured. Immediately I think about news sites. You can post comments on news paper articles, leaving your opinion for anyone to see, but without having any real world experience on the topic. The internet builds a world that you can access with the touch of a mouse, which may or may not be a good thing.
I found Chapter 2 to be a very interesting understanding of how we learn and how we advance in our mastery of a skill/sort of knowledge. I fully agree with Dreyfus that distance learning is missing out on key elements in the learning process. As I read the methods which one advances along the ranks of expertise, I was capable of relating this to my own areas of learning. Dreyfus believes that if that which is missing from distance learning that is only available to a traditional learning environment is somehow simulated and applied to distance learning, then only can distance learning be successful. Although I agree with him on this subject, I cannot begin to fathom how we would go about simulating a learning environment with the technology available to us today. With that said, I don't think that the ideal future of learning being available to everyone at an extremely low cost will be available to those who are less fortunate in the very near future. Although there are plenty of online classes available today, they simply cannot take an individual beyond competence in understanding.
While Dreyfus focuses on the prospect of the Internet and other forms of simulacra coming at odds with reality, there lingers in one's mind the question of simulacra in general. As creators of "the dream", or representation of the world we know as the Internet, and simulacra in general, why should we threatened by it? As we created it, shouldn't we feel at home with it? Is it in our control or are we in its?
As many people have already commented on, there seem to be some aspects of the internet that he doesn't address well. However, it must be daunting to write a book on the internet because it is changing daily. Because of this, I had difficulty finding validity in what he was saying. Despite this, I found the section talking about trust really interesting, and it has the bonus of not being a transient issue. Dreyfus says, "So it seems that to trust someone you have to make yourself vulnerable to him or her and they have to be vulnerable to you. Part of trust is based on the experience that the other does not take advantage of one's vulnerabilities. You have to be in the same room with someone who could physically hurt or publically humiiate you and observe that they do not do so, in order to trust them and make yourself vulnerable to them in other ways." (69) Since so much online activity involves no risk, it is almost impossible to make strong, viable connections between people. Without interpersonal connections, one is living an unfulfilled, perhaps even incomplete life.
In the conclusion at the end of Chapter 3, I think that Dreyfus makes an interesting comment/analysis about how "our ability to interact effectively with them (people) depend on the way our body works silently in the background." I believe that this comment is valid because the internet is sort of a testing ground for the real world, as he states "gives us a sense both of our power and of our vulnerability to the risky reality of the physical world". We can see the real world without actually being in the real world, because we have the technology to see it.
ry to make it explicit what the net is doing for us or to us in the process:I think the net wants us to think that it is purely benevolent, at least in the beginning and for the majority of our generation. however, as these conversations about the detriments of the internet have come to a head I'm sure the marketing, PR/MR and communications people behind the internet are playing into this 100% in several aspects of our internet use. One of which could be the way we use Facebook. It plays into this feeling of anonymity by creating a community for us behind our screens. while we've already touched on this aspect of a community or lack thereof depending on the perspective behind Facebook, I think that they definitely play into the role the internet has as being detrimental to a community by allowing us to create one in a different light. This in turn feeds the "individual has the power" thought process by providing a seemingly commonplace thing in a different light. Particularly now, people love the idea of something old being new and unique again. This simply feeds that.
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