Social Identities: Multidisciplinary Approaches

By Gary Taylor; Steve Spencer | Go to book overview
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13.

Cyber Identity

Anthony Rosie

In this chapter I explore aspects of 'cyberworlds' and their implications for the study of identity. The study of cyber life and culture has gained impetus since its inception in the 1960s and 1970s. In this chapter I suggest the potential for ongoing research derives from two features: (i) an eclectic European philosophical background that is open to other traditions of thought, (ii) an emphasis on the interdisciplinary. This interdisciplinary focus has enabled anthropologists, architects, information specialists, novelists, software engineers, theorists, web designers, and many others, to explore cyber worlds in ways that illustrate their complexity (See Bendikt, 1991; Bell and Kennedy, 2000; Bell, 2001). In this chapter the emphasis is on cyberspace and identity rather than theories of information and information usage in a direct sense (see Webster, 1995). Information theories and their social and cultural realisation are of course extremely important for the study of identity because they address issues of economic, cultural, spatial, social and temporal experience. All such are sites for the emergence of identity. A concluding section to the chapter provides a brief commentary on recommended readings, including some on information theories.

We enter cyberspace if we hold a three-way telephone conversation, or enter a newsgroup email discussion group. If we play a computer game or enter a virtual reality setting designed by an architect for a building yet to be built we enter cyberspace. One example out of many that could be cited is the rebuilding of Potsdammer Platz in Berlin. This is an area that was severely bombed in World War II and is only now under reconstruction. The funding for the rebuild is part German, part EU based and also incorporates contributions from a number of global companies interested in German markets. Throughout the construction phase (1998-2001) visitors could 'walk the building' through a virtual reality tour. But cyberspace also involves human-machine interaction through, for example, prosthetics. The replacement hip links machine and body but so does plastic surgery whether used for cosmetic purposes or for organ replacement. Films such as Blade Runner and The Matrix show humans in contest with replicants (cyborgs) who have an apparent human body but a machine technology. All these phenomena have implications for how we construe identity. Can identity be viewed as stable? Have new forms of fluidity emerged? What is the role of post-modern thought? Can existing institutions and forms of thought,

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