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The Romanticism of the Electronic Era (VII)

Translation MUD- e-mail

 

Although the e-mail, as an interactive electronic environment, is far less capable of speaking one's mind "the word" being its only mean of communication, it could also be interpreted as a possible virtual space of imagination. The e-mail has limited possibilities and it is asynchronous but it gives a much more opened way of expression by abandoning the standard formulas of the common and much slower letters. The written destinations are getting easily lost among public servers so the words are becoming the only ones that matter.

If we look to the e-mail as a means of communication, twofolded connections involve a high degree of subjectivism and also of intensity of association - two persons coming to develop a love affair. The remoteness between the real world frame of the relation and its elaboration into the virtual frame could have a very interesting evolution: the correlation will appear cyclical when the frames are interfering (the virtual relationship is therefore based upon facts - part of the relationship’s real experience – the standard case) or it will change as the reality will get away from the virtual. This last situation occurs when one of the partners stands out against a virtual character, without being aware of the other. He converts himself into an alter ego and initiates a relation that is established exclusively on communication through e-mail continuing, meanwhile, the relationship that he has in the real world. Using this cover up along with the unstated virtual construction of a third character. A relation en-trois is actually developed, at the communication level, into the virtual space and in spite of the fact that, physically, there are only two persons. This situation is very much similar, in its facetious aspect (in the beginning this was meant as a game) and in its transposition of the physical person in complementariness, with a potential interaction within a MUD. Yet, if in the case of a MUD window the real identity continues unrevealed to all the participants, in the case of this double relation, the equilibrium of such anonymity does not exist anymore.

A virtual triangle was build despite the fact that in reality there was only a straight line between two points. Certain hallmarks were released in the received mail but they were far too subtle to permit an analogy between the real person and his virtual equivalent. Most interesting is the fact that the dual relation was experienced not only by the one that related himself/herself differently to reality and to virtuality but also by the one who deliberately created his own character. His persona, the mask that he had once worn, has become alive, independent, with its own existence even if only an imaginary one.

It is interesting to compare the end of this virtual relation with the end of a MUD character. In a MUD, death is generally natural (the actor decides to permanently abort his session) or the specific instruments - the words – "kill" the character. The words of the character are "frozen" and it dies because it does not exist any longer. "If you are unable to communicate, you are dead" is the basic rule of a MUD.

In the above-analyzed situation, that of a dual relation: one with a real person, another with his/her virtual image, the character was annihilated when his constructor revealed his his real identity. The words were taken away from him so he died.

Conclusions
The challenge of the virtual reality exists. The switch from DOS system (which, nevertheless complex, could have been known through profound study) to graphic interfaces whose logic no longer rests upon the knowledge of the entire computer system but upon the association of ideas, upon experiments and imagination, represents for Turkle the mutation of the modernist paradigm of science into the post-modernist one. So far, we employed the terms "using the computer"; nowadays they turned into "interaction between human and artificial intelligence".

 

Uncommon always seduces. However open and flexible from the point of view of the various identities it can enable, however exciting the mystery of its characters, the electronic environment would never have the humanity of the real, of life. It will stay as an extension, an extremely complex one, but still an extension.

Sherry Turkle:

  • Author of "Life on the Screen: Identity in the Age of the Internet" (Simon & Schuster, 1995)
  • Writer and scholar who analyzes technology’s cultural and psychological impact
  • Professor of sociology of science at Massachusetts Institute of Technology
  • Graduated in clinical psychology

 

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