Virtual Communities and Technosocial Relationships: Omnipresence, Omniscience, and Omnipandemonium

To ‘go virtual’ is to free the self from the weight of the flesh incarcerated by ‘heavy modernity’. Cyber Ethnologist Sandy Stone discusses the theoretical benefits of joining virtual communities:

Electronic virtual communities represent flexible, lively, and practical adaptations to the real circumstances that confront persons seeking community in what Haraway (1987) refers to as ‘the mythic time called the late twentieth century.” They are part of a range of innovative solutions to the drive for sociality—a drive that can be frequently thwarted by the geographical and cultural realities of cities increasingly structured according to the needs of powerful economic interests rather than in ways that encourage and facilitate habitation and social interaction in the urban context. [Benedikt 1991: 111]

Entering into a network by becoming part cyborg creates the ability for the subject to augment social and physical capabilities. The cell phone allows people to be more omniscient and omnipresent. Technology allows one to transcend more readily the confines of the flesh-burdened human body. Information stored on the computer can be seen as accessed by many at once, allowing copies of a person’s essence to be present in many places at once.

The desire to upgrade the cell phone is also a desire to upgrade one’s body to the next best state in evolution. It is a means of purchasing power in the form of better, faster communication. It is what Cyborg Anthropologist Donna Haraway calls a symbiotic relationship: a co-production of existence.

“In this context,” she says, “electronic virtual communities are complex and ingenious strategies for survival” (Benedikt 1991: 111).

Without human support, technology could not survive, but without technological support, a globalized society would not be able to sustain itself.

Cyborg Anthropology and the Extension of Physical Boundaries

Donna Haraway discussed the compression of dichotomies as a result of technology, pointing out that, “the cyborg myth is about transgressed boundaries [and] deepened dualisms of mind and body, animal and machine” (Haraway 1991:154).

Instead of delineations between place and non-place, or delineations between public and private, the hybrid state decays the delineation between dichotomies and reduces it to a state the is neither public nor private, place or non-place, or ‘here nor there’. Thus, non-place is not separate from place, but is both a place and a non-place at once.

The realm of the cell phone is a place that may be heard, and only liminally lived in. Augé defines the idea of the communication network as one that lies on the plane of extraterrestrial space (Augé, 1995:79).

Thus the cell phone is a liminal extra-terrestrial space, or a space that is actually a place removed from place (the isolation of urban reality) that can be accessed simply by logging onto the Actor Network of cell phone users. It is natural that so many disconnected individuals would so quickly adopt a technology that allows them some semblance of former society, even though it is mediated by technology and a payment plan.

But what is an online community? It is more than just a liminal space. It is more than the hybrid nomadic auditory state that a cell phone presents. It is a multiplicity of individual representations of self, co-created human/non-human spaces existing in semi-temporal, semi-permanent space. An online ecosystem of fluid personality and dynamic information exchange, accessible at various points by a multiplicity of surfaces and haptic relationships.

As pervasive technologies mature, they pave the way for more pervasive social networks to fit into the social fabric of the online and offline spheres. One can now talk to many, instead of one. This omniscience and omnipotence is an object of extreme social value in one’s built network of followers or friends.

One’s ability to place temporary privacy boundaries up between certain groups and themselves will become increasingly important as the scope of the communication landscape widens.

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