Hiding behind a Computer

Are computers and the Internet redefining human identity as people explore the boundaries of their personalities, adopt multiple selves, and form online relationships that can be more intense than real ones? Is the World Wide Web redefining our sense of community and where we find our peers? The answer is simple. An individual should not use a false identity to produce a life on the Internet. They should also avoid using an online life to influence their identity in real life.

Gender swapping is one way which the Internet has the ability to change ones identity. There have been many cases where someone has logged onto the Internet, and they have presented their identity as the opposite sex from what they really are. There is no way of knowing what sex someone is when he or she is logged in. The net is made up of hundreds of thousands of separate communities, each with its own special character. It is difficult to eliminate a certain sex from a specific community when people have the power to disguise themselves. Communication in cyberspace lets people explore their personalities by creating new on-line personae. This seems to be the main concern for frequent Internet users. A significant observation is the amount of men that will log on as women. Jodi Obrien put it best when she states, "Many men say that a common motivation for logging on as a female is because they are fascinated by the unusual amount of attention they receive from other men when they are perceived as women" (http://www.echonyc.com/women/Issue17/art-obrien.html).

The one major concern that comes to mind is "cyber-rape." It is apparent what kind of effect this has on people when Amy Bruckman, a doctoral student in the MIT Media Laboratory, states, "Unwanted attention and sexual advances create an uncomfortable atmosphere for women in MUDs, just as they do in real life" (Bruckman, 101). A MUD is defined as a multi-user dungeon or a multi-user Domain. It is a text-based multi-user virtual-reality environment. This is one of many virtual communities which users can enter. "When a person first logs onto a MUD, he or she creates a characterís name and gender, and writes a description of what the character looks like. It is possible for a character to be male or female, regardless of the gender of the player" (100). For instance, several players have observed that MUDs complaints of harassment are routinely dismissed with the logic that this is a fantasy space so anything goes. This displays how easy it is to perform cyber-rape on an individual. An interesting point is made by Jodi OíBrien in her article when she says, "Although the prevalence of gender switching online is not readily knowable, it is the case that gender policing is considerable. The tactic agreement seems to be that crossing is acceptable-after all, this is a space in which one is supposed to "experiment"-but the motives for crossing must not involve an intent to "deceive." Women who cross as men in order to avoid harassment or dismissal are just being reasonable" (http://www.echonyc.com/women/ Issue17/art-obrien.html). In another argument, one could say an individual provokes the cause of sexual harassment on the Internet. Our romantic energy is carried by standard electronic impulses across wires we will never see. With fantasy aside, just how elastic is the institution of gender? How likely is it that cyberspace will be a site for complicating the customary gender dichotomy? How likely is it that we can interact without differentiating characteristics to provide a guide for whom to be and how to act? What is reality where ones emotions, future plans, and recipes for interaction are concerned? Much of the current hype about cyberspace implies that the body is a barrier to experiencing a wider range of interactions.

Gender is one of the first means by which persons introduce and represent themselves to others in electronic communications. For instance, one of the most frequently asked questions on bulletin board systems is "are you male or female?" Individuals who evade this question are not considered to be creative mavericks; they are assumed to be hiding something. If someone persists in maintaining a gender-neutral position, others online will inquire of one another about what the personís gender really is and why he/she