Psychology 459: Cyberpsychology
Generation 31, Spring 2010
Dr. Leon James
Defining the Worlds
The Power of Touch
Life is but a dream…
Report 1: Cyberspace and Cyberpsychology
By Kelsey Kaplanek
Since the internet was invented, it has changed the way people see and live in the world today. Most people have their entire lives uploaded on servers. Everything from shopping, to banking, to peoples social lives can be found online. People are relying more and more on technology to go about their daily activities. There is debate, however, if this is good or bad for society. On the extreme ends, some argue that it is the best thing that could have happened to humanity, while others say that the internet will destroy us.
In this report I will be discussing how cyberspace and the “real world” are slowly starting to merge together. I will discuss my predictions for the future, as well as the events that are taking place that are bringing these two worlds together. I will also be discussing the importance of physical relationships, gender roles and gender switching within virtual communities. Finally, I will discuss what happens when people spend too much time in virtual worlds.
Defining the Worlds
The real world, defined on dictionary.com, is the realm of practical or actual experience, as opposed to the abstract, theoretical, or idealized sphere of the classroom, laboratory, etc. Online, this is often referred to as RL, first life, or “real life.” To some, it can even be defined as “being offline.” (Boellstorff 18) Engaging in the real world means gaining experiences and face-to-face social interaction with other humans. However, as the real world and virtual world begin to merge, I believe these definitions will become harder to define.
The dictionary.com definition of virtual world is a computer-generated, three-dimensional representation of a setting in which the user of the technology perceives them to be and within which interaction takes place. The book Coming of Age in Second Life defines the virtual world as “any computer-generated physical space that can be experienced by many people at once” (Boellstorff 17). This can also be called a virtual environment or virtual space. What people generally do not realize is that a virtual world can be something as simple and common as email or Facebook. This is a very novel idea because humans have never had this type of opportunity before: The ability to talk to a mass amount of people from all over the globe at the touch of a button. It is simply amazing.
On page 19 of Coming of Age in Second Live, the author states that “humans make culture in virtual and actual contexts.” Because virtual worlds compose of thousands of users all with different cultures and histories, it is only natural to assume that when these cultures combine, new cultures will form:
The virtual world brings forth an entire new world and culture into our own “Real World”.
I feel as though my generation got one of the first little tastes of everything the internet is going to offer. The “fads” and novelties of the internet and virtual worlds are slowly starting to move from the online communities into the “real world.”
Fame is something that people can now acquire online with a little bit of determination, perseverance, and talent. There are even YouTube stars now that are now icons that can be recognized worldwide. These are just ordinary people with a creative mind that use the internet’s free audience to their benefit. People in other virtual worlds can also find fame within these communities. There are plenty of singers and bands that perform at virtual nightclubs in virtual worlds such as Second Life.
With all these new opportunities, new jobs and professions will begin to open up. Throughout history, any time a major invention or revelation has occurred, it has opened up a mass amount of jobs and opportunities for people; the internet in no exception. There have been thousands of businesses and employment opportunities that have opened for people within the past 20 years. Google, for example, is one of the most popular, successful, and well known companies throughout the world. This company is purely internet based because it is an internet search engine. EBay is another large company that has gained popularity and an international reputation. People shop and sell goods online to make money all the time because it is fast, convenient, and they don’t even have to leave their home.
Stay-at-home jobs are now available for those who want a home office. People can work from home and not have to worry about dealing with traffic and going into offices. My dad has a home office and I found this to be very beneficial to my family life. It was very nice having my dad at home most of the time instead of being away at an office all day. I feel as though it brought my family closer because I had both parents around the house.
Even small businesses can get a quick start online. One of my friends is starting a small, online jewelry website so she can make some extra cash. On Second Life, people make clothes, furniture and other useful items and sell them to make real money. I have even been thinking about learning how to make clothes or something.
Another unique way to make money from virtual worlds is by selling avatars. People make money selling World of Warcraft characters that are high levels and have good items. They spend hours playing the game only to sell off their avatar to people who aren’t as willing to spend their time playing the game. They would rather spend money and not waste their personal time. This gives a whole new meaning to the phrase “time is money.”
One idea that has been discussed for years, but doesn’t seem too far in the future, is the idea of the virtual world and the real world coming together, literally. This is known to many as virtual reality. In Coming of Age in Second Life, the author states that “virtual reality technologies are different from virtual worlds” (p. 20). Virtual realities bring the real world and virtual world together, while virtual worlds are the platforms people participate in online, like Second Life.
Although there are a lot of science fiction movies and TV shows, virtual reality does not seem that far away. There are already prototypes for virtual reality-type helmets and glasses. One website I found had developed something called augmented reality which is “is the registration of projected computer-generated images over a user’s view of the physical world” (Tinmith Augmented Reality Project). This idea is kind of like putting objects around your house, or virtual world in Second Life. The only difference is that this is in real life.
Small internet cults are even starting to make their way into the real world. According to Yahoo, there are now 34 cyber-religions on the Internet. Some even make statements and protests on the streets. Many of these may not seem like cults at first. They disguise themselves as support sites to lure in unexpected, weak-minded people. There is one Japanese online cult where “142 men and women who met on Internet chat rooms in Japan have died in groups since October 2004” (Slocombe, A.). Cults use the internet as a quick and easy way to promote themselves and obtain members. One man even mentioned that “There are some vicious sites which really encourage people to die” (Slocombe, A.).
Although there aren’t many of these harmful virtual cults, it is still an important issue to address. On the MTV show True Life, I saw an episode where a girl was anorexic and was part of an internet “support group” that promoted and praised anorexia. There was even a goddess of anorexia called “Ana.” There were many members, most of which were young girls. This group was using the internet to gain quick, easy members. I found this to be very disturbing. Anorexia is very hazardous to the mental and physical health of humans. For someone to promote and encourage anything that can kill you to people who are looking for honest positive help seems very wrong.
Therapists have discovered the internet and used it to their advantage as well, only they use it to help people. There are many websites that have anonyms chats and emails aimed for people who want to talk about their problems, but are too embarrassed to do so face-to-face. We don’t like people to know our flaws, so that is the advantage of an anonymous audience. Because we don’t have to stress about people judging or knowing our real identity, people seeking help can be more open and the therapist is able to help more.
This type of therapy is already being used in many cases. It is already being used to treat depression, anxiety, agoraphobia, and many other kinds of mental illnesses. There are a lot of CBT therapists that are using the internet to treat people. Through my research, I found a bunch of websites promoting online therapy.
Although this seems like the perfect way to help people, there are some important things that the therapist misses out on. Therapists can “miss out on visual cues, gestures and speech intonations.” These are all very important in finding out what the real problem is. Although this type of therapy works, and works well, it probably won’t replace in-office sessions. (CNN)
The Power of Touch
With all the promises that are possible with virtual reality, there are many things that can question if we need real emotions or face-to-face social contact. Virtual reality has the potential to open up new doors and explore things that humans never thought could be possible. Imagine, for example, having a virtual pet like the ones online or on Facebook, except it is in the real world with you. Imagine a pet that you never have to feed, and that can never die. This brings up the idea of having “real” companionship:
It brings up the idea of human contact and social interaction in the 'real world'. Both people mentioned in the end of the review ended up rejecting technology in favor of surrounding themselves with people in the real world. It seems that they became jaded with technology, and desired more physical and social human contact, focusing on relationships. If everything is "virtual" in the future, can you see this happening? Or will the online relationships and social interaction, which are becoming more and more complex, be able to satisfy our need for human contact? I think this could be possible, but I don't think anything can replace a good hug etc.
I have a friend who I have known for years. We talk every day, and know almost everything about each other’s personal lives. When I have a problem, he is one of the first people I go to for help. I would consider him to be one of my best friends. The thing is though, is that we talk almost exclusively online. I met him in person one time years ago, but we have only ever talked online. It is amazing how fast you can get to know a person and feel comfortable talking to them over the internet.
I have met many other people online, and gotten to know them quickly. On page 156 of Coming of Age in Second Life, the author states that people “come to feel that their very best friend and closest friends are members of their electronic group whom they seldom or never see.” When I talk to people I meet online, I tend to immediately open up and express everything to them. Even in my experiences in Second Life, it is simply astonishing how fast people start acting like friends.
Boellstorff states on page 159 that friendships in the virtual world can be even more real because “one does not prejudge persons based on factors such as gender, race, and age.” Another idea stated in the book on the same page is that “you can only go based on someone’s heart.” To me, these generally define why people can be much closer online.
Online relationships are a very novel idea as well. It can help couples stay together and help people meet each other. However, this type of dating is slowly becoming more and more complex. There are many opinions about whether online relationships are a good thing, bad thing, or something that doesn’t even matter. Weddings online are starting to become frequently more common, which brings in a whole new set of ideals.
Pure online dating can be a challenge. This can be compared to having a long distance relationship. For most people distance relationships can get difficult. One of the most common complaints I have heard is that there is no physical contact where it is needed. I have been in several long distance relationships, but they ended quickly because the physical contact wasn’t there.
One thing that could become a potential problem with online dating is cheating. As if it wasn’t complex enough already, cheating is a big topic that will continue to become harder to define. Someone could have a relationship online and in the real world at the same time, and that would be totally fine. Some couples even have their real world partner meet their online partner, and both are excited to do so. Others don’t even want to meet their online partner in real life. I believe that if everyone is happy, it is ok; however the standards for what defines a relationship are becoming more and more open.
Some feel like it is worse to cheat online then it is in real life. They think that in real life, it is more of a physical connection, and online, it is a more mental connection. The importance of physical and mental, however, varies from person to person.
Others can in fact handle a long distance or online relationship. Some people have even gone years without seeing their partner and they are fine. This brings up the importance of human contact. How important is physical contact to humans? Studies show that even as an infant, mother-child contact is beneficial to the baby’s physical development as well as the ability for form a positive attachment. Gentle touching has also been shown reduce stress, relieve pain, and increase the ability to cope with problems (The Health Benefits of Physical Touch).
Physical intimacy is also very important in relationships. Prairie voles are one of the few animals that exhibit monogamous behavior. They have close relatives and ancestors which do not display this behavior, so why do they? After these voles mate, two hormones called oxytocin and vasopressin are released. These are the hormones known to promote monogamous mating behavior. If these hormones are blocked, then the monogamous behavior is stopped.
The same hormones are released in humans after intercourse. Although the true role of oxytocin and vasopressin is unknown at this time, it is known that it is somehow involved with love in humans. The act of a simple hug is very healthy to us. We need physical contact to live healthy, fulfilling lives.
Sexuality is another topic which could become more complex as online societies develop. With users simply creating avatars with a different gender then their own, it pushes new boundaries about sexual orientation in virtual worlds. This may seem very similar to people who change their gender by transforming their bodies or choosing to identify as the opposite sex, but these ideas can be quite different:
I wonder what that means for people who are born as hermaphrodites or with gender mishaps - is this just a mistake of the physical body interpreting the "mental body" (Dr. James, previous message) incorrectly or is it that the mental body can't make up its mind between female and male? You could even extend this discussion further by exploring sexuality as well. For example are people attracted to the same or opposite sex because of their mental-body? If so wouldn't that be a little contradicting since most homosexuals report being repulsed by the idea of heterosexual relations which seems exclusive physical to me...Also how does virtual reality relate to this? Especially since several have mentioned the ambiguity of gender on virtual reality - I would find situations like attraction in the cyber world to be a good debate topic - Like what if you are a heterosexual girl that gets attracted to a another girl in the cyberworld ( but you don't know it because you think it's a guy or something?
People generally create avatars to be a virtual representation of themselves. A lot of thought and time goes into avatars, and sometimes people even spend more time on how their avatar looks then how they look in the real world. If you are trying to represent yourself in the best way possible, then why switch genders?
At first, it seems pointless to switch genders. Why would you want or need to? This is actually more common then we may think. One theory suggests that people who are actually LGBT do this to freely express themselves without judgments or fear. It is “a place where they can easily represent themselves as the gender they identify with” (Cross-Gender Avatars). One man explains that most people are open-minded about it, although there are people who openly express their negativity towards the idea.
Another theory proposes that people do this because they feel like it best represents their avatar in some way. It could be a completely straight, feminine girl who chooses to have a male avatar. Others do it out of pure enjoyment. Some people find it fun to try and trick people. They see it as a game and do it for their own amusement.
Based on my own, and others observations it has been noted that males are more likely to switch genders online then females. Although the reason why is unknown, there are many theories as to why this is true. One of the more obvious reasons is because they are gay and want to experience being a woman without having to do so in the real world. The theory I found to be most interesting was that “due to the pressure of cultural stereotypes, it may be difficult for some men to explore within themselves what society labels as ‘feminine’ characteristics. These males may rely on the anonymity of cyberspace to express their ‘feminine’ side which they feel they must otherwise hide. Some of these males may strongly identify with women more” (Gender Swapping). I found this interesting because in today’s western society, it seems more acceptable to be an openly gay female then an openly gay male. This offers a way for a man to freely express himself in secret without having to deal with the judgments of his friends, family and society.
Even though more males tend to switch gender online then females, there are still some theories why girls do this as well. There were two reasons which I thought to be the most interesting: “To find out how other females act with men,” and “to experience ‘power’ that she had not been able to experience in real life” (Gender Swapping). I have found both of these to be quite true with my own experiences of having a male avatar. It is very interesting to me to watch how girls come on to boys. It is also extremely amusing to be a girl controlling a boy avatar. One reason is that I am a girl and they don’t know that, which I find to be humorous. Also, it is interesting to see things from a male’s perspective. It gives me a new insight on how to act, and how males act in certain situations.
I have also had the opposite happen. I would find myself becoming slightly attracted to someone online, only to find out they are really female. This can be confusing because we normally do not have to question someone’s gender and true identity upon meeting them.
What I find to be most interesting is that people’s attitudes tend to change after they realize you are something they don’t expect. When I had a male avatar, I realized that people who were talking to me because I was a male didn’t talk to me quite as much, or completely stopped talking to me when they found out I was female. A friend of mine had similar experiences to mine while playing World of Warcraft. He played as a female character and received a lot of attention from guys. He said he would get free weapons and clothes and people would treat him a lot better than if he were a male. As soon as they found out he was actually a male in real life, their behavior changed. He said that people stopped giving him things, and some would completely ignore him after.
Something interesting I found online was a gender guesser (Gender Guesser). This takes samples of people’s writings on forums, essays and blogs and makes an educated guess on what their gender is based on writing style and word usage. I tried this on myself, and it was fairly accurate. Something like this could possibly eliminate the anonymity of gender online.
Life is but a dream…
“So the actual world is Wendy’s dream, until she wakes up in Second Life?”
-Coming of age in Second Life, 176.
It was a different perspective in viewing the term and, thus, the essence of the virtual world. We, especially in this generation, tend to interpret the term as being associated with being futuristic or completely fictional, as I personally viewed it. In contrast, though the virtual world is not “real” per se, it stems from the actual world in a way that it imitates many of the various aspects. As defined in chapter 1, it is almost “real” without actually being “real.” I thought that was interesting because I had always derived the concept of being virtual as having to do with computers and technology: virtual reality games, virtual worlds, etc. are mostly computer generated or accessed through a computer. It’s interesting to think that my dreams are, in a sense, types of virtual worlds.
In dreams, you can do anything your mind can think up. People can do tasks that would be impossible to do in real life. Lucid dreaming is something that has fascinated humanity for years. It is when you are aware that you are dreaming, and can then control your dreams and decide how they go. Some people declare that they have never had a lucid dream, while others practice doing this every night.
In some sense, this can be compared to virtual worlds. Each online environment allows for the users imagination to soar. In Second Life, you can fly, walk underwater for hours, make things appear out of mid air, and do many kinds of seemingly impossible tasks. It is almost like a dream world; accept the only difference is that you are conscious. I believe that the virtual world comes from our imagination. Humans thought up these virtual worlds, therefore it is the imagination of humanity. Without the real world, there would be no virtual world.
There are some, however, that misinterpret these virtual worlds for real ones. They become so involved in their virtual life that real life becomes their second life. Boellstorff states on page 167 of Coming of Age in Second Life that you can see addiction when a person is “distracted from time that they could be doing real world activities,” lack sleep and an improper diet. Some argue that internet addiction is not real, I believe that it is.
One extreme case is the two parents from Korea that were charged with child abuse and neglect because they “spent close to 12 hours each day at internet cafes playing a Second Life type of game known as PRIUS” and killed their 9-month-old child (Kreyg). There was another man from Nevada that was charged with the same thing. His two children were hospitalized after nearly starving (QJ Staff). Although this does not happen often, I would consider this a form of internet addiction.
There are therapists that go online to help people that are addicted to the internet. I read an article last summer about a new type of therapy to help treat people that are addicted to the internet. Therapists are now starting to go online and treating people that spend too much time on virtual worlds. I believe that this will help people because people who are online are less likely to leave their homes and get help.
The virtual world is expanding the world as we know it very rapidly. There are new opportunities being created every day as the virtual world and real world are slowly colliding. New ideals and expectations are taking form which will eventually shape how our society develops.
However, too much technology can be hazardous. People can get sucked in and lose contact with the outside world. All the wonders of the real world could get lost in the magic and novelties of the virtual community. Although technology is beneficial to humans and our survival, it can be hazardous if we are not careful.
Like everything in life, you need to find a balance.
Boellstorff, T. (2008). Coming of age in second life. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press.
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Kreyg. (n.d.). Parents Online Game Addiction Caused Child to Starve | Hot Blooded Gaming. Hot Blooded Gaming. March 31, 2010, from http://www.hotbloodedgaming.com/2010/03/04/parents-online-game-addiction-caused-child-to-starve/
QJ Staff. Because video games make kids starve: couple jailed for neglect. (n.d.). QJ.net - PC Gaming, PlayStation, Wii, Nintendo DS, Xbox 360, News, Reviews, Downloads, Custom Apps, Homebrew and much more.. Retrieved March 31, 2010, from http://www.qj.net/mmorpg/off-topic/because-video-games-make-kids-starve-couple-jailed-for-neglect.html