Virtual Reality and Living Online


by Megan Ryland


[Photo: Older, white[?] hands type on a silver Mac laptop]

When people tell me that the Internet doesn’t matter or isn’t real, I just want to ask, “Have you ever been there?” For many people, “virtual” reality is as real as it gets.

There is no solid line between the virtual and the so-called “real” world. I don’t turn into pixels when I sign on to the Internet. My personhood, personality, body and feelings remain just as real when they’re expressed in text or built online, unless I’m purposefully building a farce. Who I am and how I experience virtual space is still tied up with the facts of my physicality and offline limitations, although it offers a new set of tools to navigate space and establish identity.

I have the privilege and tendency to spend much of my life in front of a computer screen and, as a result, I live out a lot of my life online. The Internet is not just a series of wires and electrical signals to me (or a “series of tubes”). It’s one of my favourite places to be. Online space often offers opportunities to develop myself, learn things, make friends and achieve goals - just like offline spaces only without the trouble of actually leaving my house! (My desire to complete as much of life in my pajamas as possible isn’t the pinnacle accomplishment of the Internet, but it’s up there.) This kind of accessibility can open up virtual doors for people with limited mobility, disabilities, geographic isolation, or caregiving responsibilities that keep them at home. For me, it makes it possible talk to family, friends, co-workers and strangers across Canada as easily as if they were across from me.

Some negative aspects of human experience also translate online, from discrimination and oppression to harassment and stalking. The Internet is not a utopia made out of binary code - a self-evident statement if you’ve ever read the comments section on virtually anything - but we often take the barbs of the Internet even less seriously than we do the benefits. However, as we’ll be exploring later this week, the discomfort, disappointment, anger or fear that people experience online can be just as real as it is offline. Again, we remain people, not pixels.

If life happens online, so must love. I officially met my partner in a cafeteria, but really (if we’re honest) we met online. Past a shared lunch, our relationship first took shape over Facebook chat and instant messages and texts. Just words on screens, but the emotion carried in that text translated. We felt closer. And closer. While we hung out offline too, some big conversations between us happened online. Were they any less real because they weren’t face to face? Do all those long distance “I love you”s count for only 50% of the spoken version? How about 75%? It’s a ridiculous question. Most people now know someone who is dating online and approximately 1 in 10 Americans have tried online dating. Virtual sparks feel pretty damn real.

Often, I find that online relationships of any degree may develop intimacy faster than in-person meetings simply because you don’t have be to be so afraid of losing face. Being honest is easier with just that little bit of distance, and the lack of tone and facial expressions can force you to make explicit things that might have only been implied in person (at least if you’d like to be understood). In my experience (and your mileage may vary), there is a complex “realness” to speaking online that can be hard to replicate: who are you when you aren’t restricted by time, space, location or physicality? Online, you can be anyone. What then?

That’s where this gets interesting for me. In a virtual conversation, who do you become? And what does your body mean in a digital world? Online more than anywhere else, we can self define. To me, this is a place of radical openness. Possibilities are endless. People can wave their own little freak flag if they so choose, and they are likely to find others who hail from that same forgotten country. (Of course, this personal understanding of virtual space makes me flabbergasted by those who choose negative, hurtful or malicious online expressions or personae; more on this later in the week).

Multiple identities are also possible across different websites and platforms, giving us space to try things out and express different aspects of ourselves. This is part of the similar process of multiple identities or performances offline; your work identity may differ from your conduct with your family and be different again from how you present to potential romantic partners. Is one facet of yourself more true than the others? Perhaps, but perhaps not. Personally, I don’t mind accepting that code switching happens. They can all be true. Online, you may have different usernames or approaches in different spaces, but if you’ve met up with a friend you only knew online, you may be familiar with the surprising ease of transitioning into your offline identity - but it’s really not such a surprise at all, considering the fact that it was still you the whole time, virtual or not.

This week, I want to take a closer look at virtual space, virtual bodies and virtual communities, and how real they are to the participants. As we talk about bodies and radical love, I don’t want to leave out talking about the very space we’re having those conversations: the Internet. Everyone will have their own relationship to the advantages and pitfalls of the Internet, especially if they face issues of access - whether that’s for reasons of cost, ability, language or education - but I hope this week will act as a reason to think about why you’re here online with us. Thanks for coming. Pull up blog and stay awhile.

alkonium: Well, that certain sums up my feelings towards…


Well, that certain sums up my feelings towards Google.

Net Neutrality Isn’t Quite Dead Yet

Net Neutrality Isn’t Quite Dead Yet:


On Tuesday, a federal appeals court issued a ruling (PDF) that’s largely being described as a big setback for open Internet advocates and users in general. The court ruled against a Federal Communications Commission (FCC) mandate that Internet service providers must treat all web traffic equally. The move is largely being discussed as a death blow to the Internet as we know it—the place where you can log on and go to any website without your ISP putting you in a slow or fast lane and where communities of color, in particular, have been able to flex their economic and political muscle. 

The decision came in response to Verizon’s vehement objections to the FCC’s 2010 decision that all Web traffic, at least on landline computers, must be treated equally. But it was a decision that didn’t make anyone happy. Critics accused the FCC of meddling to fix a problem that didn’t exist while even open Internet advocates argued that it left enough wiggle room for some ISPs to unfairly charge users (which MetroPCS quickly exploited).

Mignon Clyburn, a commissioner who would later work as acting chair, said as much after the ruling.”The commission has worked tirelessly to offer a set of guidelines that, while not as strong as they could be, will nonetheless protect consumers as they explore, learn, and innovate online,” Clyburn said, according to The Hill. Shortly thereafter, Verizon appealed the decision, which led to this week’s ruling. The company challenged that the FCC’s mandate was too vague and that its classification of the company was an overreach in first place.

U.S. Circuit Judge David Tatel wrote for a three-judge panel that the FCC tried to regulate Verizon and other broadband companies under the wrong legal framework.

“Given that the commission has chosen to classify broadband providers in a manner that exempts them from treatment as common carriers, the Communications Act expressly prohibits the commission from nonetheless regulating them as such,” Tatel wrote. “Because the Commission has failed to establish that the anti-discrimination and anti-blocking rules do not impose per se common carrier obligations, we vacate those portions of the Open Internet Order.”

Translation: The FCC has not classified broadband service providers as “common carriers,” like landline telephone providers, so the commission cannot legally regulate them as such.

In an e-mailed statement, current FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler wrote that the FCC will consider appealing the court’s decision.

Who Can Help the FCC? The FCC

For many observers who were following the case closely, this week’s court ruling did not come as a big surprise. For them, the ruling is the expected outcome of what happens when an agency tasked with oversight relies instead on piecemeal, middle-of-the-road, policymaking. Currently, broadband Internet is not classified as a communications service under the 1996 Telecommunications Act. Instead, it’s considered an information service which is subject to more lenient oversight. The push to reclassify broadband was an integral part of the battle leading up to the FCC’s 2010 decision, but then-chair Julius Genachowski instead opted for a “third way” compromise that eventually left reclassification off the table.

Amalia Deloney of the Center for Media Justice says that she’s confident that the commission will now move toward rectifying their approach. “I think [reclassification] is imminent,” Deloney tells Colorlines. “We have tried this third [way] that Genachowski first proposed and it did not end well. As technical as it might be, this is the way that we’re going to be able to create real change.”

The good news is that the commission recognizes that reclassification isn’t a radical move. In fact, Genachowski moved toward reclassification back in 2010 before deciding against it. In a town hall meeting in Oakland, Calif. last week, FCC Chair Tom Wheeler said that he would be willing to move reclassification forward.

Users of color

The issue is a particularly pressing one for communities of color, which have been adopting new technologies at a faster rate than most anyone else in the country and have used that access to engage in political action.

“Latinos and other people of color have long faced discrimination at the hands of mainstream media,” says Jessica Gonzalez, the executive vice president for the National Hispanic Media Coalition. “Over the open Internet, we have been able to push back against this discrimination, tell our own stories fairly and accurately, and even earn a living. Today’s court decision jeopardizes this Internet freedom. It is up to Chairman Wheeler and the FCC to assert its authority to preserve Internet equality.”

Rashad Robinson, executive director of ColorOfChange (and a board member of Colorlines’ publisher, Race Forward) added similar sentiments.”Our communities rely on the free and open Internet to speak and access information without a corporate filter,” Robinson said in a statement. “The court’s decision today gives a handful of major corporations — the Internet service providers we’re already paying too much to each month due to the lack of competition — license to determine for us what we can see and do online. Black folks’ ability to be heard is in real danger, and we urge the new FCC chair to take this opportunity to take a strong stand for the public he represents.”

anarcho-queer: NSA Collects Hundreds Of Millions Of Text…


NSA Collects Hundreds Of Millions Of Text Messages Daily

The National Security Agency has collected almost 200 million text messages a day from across the globe, using them to extract data including location, contact networks and credit card details, according to top-secret documents.

The untargeted collection and storage of SMS messages – including their contacts – is revealed in a joint investigation between the Guardian and the UK’s Channel 4 News based on material provided by NSA whistleblower Edward Snowden.

The documents also reveal the UK spy agency GCHQ has made use of the NSA database to search the metadata of “untargeted and unwarranted” communications belonging to people in the UK.

The NSA program, codenamed Dishfire, collects “pretty much everything it can, according to GCHQ documents, rather than merely storing the communications of existing surveillance targets.

The NSA has made extensive use of its vast text message database to extract information on people’s travel plans, contact books, financial transactions and more – including of individuals under no suspicion of illegal activity.

An agency presentation from 2011 – subtitled “SMS Text Messages: A Goldmine to Exploit” – reveals the program collected an average of 194 million text messages a day in April of that year. In addition to storing the messages themselves, a further program known as “Prefer” conducted automated analysis on the untargeted communications.

The Prefer program uses automated text messages such as missed call alerts or texts sent with international roaming charges to extract information, which the agency describes as “content-derived metadata”, and explains that “such gems are not in current metadata stores and would enhance current analytics”.

On average, each day the NSA was able to extract:

• More than 5 million missed-call alerts, for use in contact-chaining analysis (working out someone’s social network from who they contact and when)

• Details of 1.6 million border crossings a day, from network roaming alerts

• More than 110,000 names, from electronic business cards, which also included the ability to extract and save images.

• Over 800,000 financial transactions, either through text-to-text payments or linking credit cards to phone users

The agency was also able to extract geolocation data from more than 76,000 text messages a day, including from “requests by people for route info” and “setting up meetings”. Other travel information was obtained from itinerary texts sent by travel companies, even including cancellations and delays to travel plans.

In similar news, President Obama gave a long-awaited speech on Friday about ‘reforming’ the NSA.

Obama said the government should no longer hold databases of every call record made in the United States, citing the “potential for abuse”. But Obama made clear the intelligence agencies should still be able to access call records information and gave no details of how that information will be stored.

Instead, private companies will be used to store the metadata and Telecoms giants are already concerned with what that may mean:

Privately, telecoms executives have expressed concern that they will be forced to retain customers’ metadata – information about call duration, recipients and location. Speaking anonymously, one executive said the firms were concerned about how long they would have to keep data, which government agencies would have access to it and what protections they would have should there be legal challenges to their retention or distribution of the information.

Check out my NSA tag for the latest updates on the Mass Surveillance Revelations.

Libraries Aren’t Dead, and Your Librarian Knows More About the Internet than You Do


History, Wells College

"The Effects of Digitization and the Internet on Libraries and Librarians"

goodfucknvibess: skipxd: esurfing: The goal. I love…




The goal.

I love this


goodfucknvibess: skipxd: esurfing: The goal. I love…




The goal.

I love this


Twitter, self-therapy in 140 characters or less


English, University of New Hampshire

sourcedumal: spokenelle: Just a few highlights from the…



Just a few highlights from the #BeAMan hashtag I began tonight on twitter. Inspired by this video by The Representation Project about the burden of masculinity on boys. Come join the discussion! 

All this.

globalvoices: The Russian Federal Protective Service is asking…


The Russian Federal Protective Service is asking software developers to design a system that automatically monitors the country’s news and social media, producing reports that study netizens’ political attitudes.

Monitoring the Russian Internet for Big Bucks