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digital cartographers, narrative realization. image workers & pixel [re]searchers. emographers. memetic mappers. space cadets. polytopians.
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    Love & Death in Cyberspace
    Project: Polytopia
    This is a comment that grew too long - a continuation of the polylogue following Xárene's post, Social Networking Tools and Our Future Society

    It got me thinking about two experiences I've had recently.


    The first one involved someone that I met who had just moved to Europe 20 days before from New York. He moved here to be with his girlfriend, who he'd been together with for two years - all in cyberspace. They met on myspace - talked on the phone - video chatted (and who knows what else). Finally it came down to it - she asked him if he would move to Europe - against the advice of all of his friends and family, he left his stable job after saving up for a few months and bought a one way ticket.

    Now, 20 days later he's spilling his guts to me as we sit outside on a break from a freelance gig. He's telling me that their relationship is completely different from what they experienced in cyberspace. Physically, it's awkward, "even our first time having sex was really wierd". They tried to take it slow and it's not helping. Now he's having doubts, and so is she.

    I ask him, "so the communication is completely different than it was when you guys were together online?"

    "yes, completely, yes. We used to have such long conversations - I think our longest was 14 hours on the phone - this girl changed the way that I live my life, and I know I changed her's too - and now I don't even know what's going on. She throws up barriers in real life. I can't talk to her completely openly without her misinterpreting what I'm saying, or me misinterpreting her. I'm trying hard to keep the same level of communication, the same openness that we had online - but its completely different. Completely different. I don't know what's going to happen now. I'm trying my best, but I thinking this was a big mistake. But I'm not gonna give up."

    What this guy's story helped me understand is that there are significant barriers that can crop up in the transition from cyberspace relationships to real life. In this case, cyberspace allowed them, somehow, to both escape their physical environment and interaction with the people around them - and they were able to be completely open and experience deep and meaningful communication between each other. When they came together physically, the translation of that strong communication had to undergo a change - and it wasn't a smooth process.

    On the flip side, here is an example of social networking that brought two people into close communication, and futhermore inspired a leap into the physical. Whatever the outcome of that physical communication that they have is up for grabs. As he said, he's not gonna give up". He wanted to try, to really try to make it work. But I believe thought needs to be put into this area - what are the challenges of virtual relationships gone 'real' and 'real' relationships going virtual (we already know some about this - as many communicate with our 'real' life friends in cyberspace.

    I don't know how this story ends, I haven't seen him again - but to overcome those problems requires, I believe, is the utilization of aspects of communication in both meatspace and cyberspace - making the best of what both have to offer.


    Recently a friend of mine from high school died. She had been terminally ill for years, was expected to die young, and was already years past her life expectancy. I found out about her death during an online chat with a very close meatspace and cyberspace friend. She was going to the funeral the week after.

    Finding out about a death through the internet is a increasingly more common thing, I believe. I have a friend who doesn't want to look up someone they know to see if they're still alive, as the last time they saw them was several years ago and he was very sick. They just don't want to find out through the internet.

    Started with finding out about deaths through letters, then the telephone - it's removed the physical aspect of death for those who aren't there - or don't feel the absence in meatspace.

    I am a member of facebook - I've never been able to get into it competely - it was the same with myspace - I can't be bothered to update my status every day, tag people in photos, etc. But I'm still there, still communicate with people when I need, and still observe. I use it for, I suppose you could say, useful communication.

    Whatever the case, the other day I was scrolling through my list of friends, and saw my dead friend's profile. It struck me - here she was still alive.

    The definition of "Friend" needs to be examined - the last time she wrote on my wall on facebook, I never responded. The idea of a friend (when speaking about it in terms of someone you got to know in meatspace then transitioning in some part to cyberspace) has spawned a strange type of aquaintance - before if you did not keep up with that person in real life, they probably were not your friend. or at least a relationship was not being continued. There's a dichotomy between how meaningful an online 'friend'ship (as facebook and myspace define the term) is without any giving and receiving. It's almost as if it's in stasis until there's a reason for one of you to contact the other, or if you meet in real time (but you're still caught up on all the new gossip that's happening in their life whatever the case).

    Which brings me to what my friend who was at the funeral told me. She said the funeral was very awkward. There were a huge amount of people there who didn't know the deceased very well, who were never real friends with her in the physical, but were her 'friends' on myspace and facebook. No one knew what to say to each other, and she (as a very close friend of the deceased) felt that awkward energy, almost like a class reunion where no one's having any fun, but you HAD to come to see what everyone else was doing.

    But its not up to me to judge anyone who was there either way. Maybe those who did not befriend her in the physical befriended her in cyberspace, and when she died were able to feel a stronger connection with her and made the jump to the physical (albeit, a bit late). I don't know.

    But as I looked at her profile two weeks after her death, looked at her wall and read the posts that people had left -

    *************** wrote at 4:06am
    I havent seen you online recently. Whats going on?

    *****************wrote at 11:29pm
    to my dearest - i have been stalking my i chat for you... please sign on because inevitably i will be on

    then, a few days later...

    ********** wrote at 4:41am

    I'm so sad.

    From **** to ***** - you were always an inspiration to me.

    You have left a legacy that is nearly impossible to duplicate.

    Cheers to an amazing woman.

    I'll miss you.

    ************ wrote at 8:26pm
    I will always love you like a sister. You will always be dear to my heart.

    wrote at 7:20pm
    ****** I will always remember hanging out at family reunions when we were little and talking our parents into letting us have a sleepover that night, playing at your house when our parents got together for dinner and so much more...

    You were an inspiration me and to so many others.... You will always have a special place in my heart! I will miss you :)

    There are still being photos tagged of her - her facebook page is still present, though it has transformed from her living online presence to a digital monument to her - inaccessible to anyone else. The transition is almost seamless - if it wasn't for a few references to what happened, she could still be alive to all those who have been waiting for a response to their posts on her wall. She is most likely still alive to some.

    I don't know exactly what to make of this transformation, though it has affected me deeply, perhaps even deeper than the news itself that she died.

    I'm leaving this open...I don't know how to approach this issue of digital death, digital gravestones, or living online monuments and how they differ from our physical experience of them. I would like to hear your thoughts on this.

    But this all got sparked from the idea of meaningful interaction and Xarene's last post.

    In response to Xarene's question:

    What can we do to ensure that digital habitation of the human specie does not result in the demise of the specie?

    Our cyberspace interaction is in its infancy. The current structure of social networks allows only rudimentary interaction that allows it to be very easy to be superficial (but as read above, can bypass physical barriers as well).

    Physical touch and interaction is important. I would venture to say that social interaction in cyberspace and meatspace are about the same mix of superficial and meaningful. A given person will have greater ease in one or the other, depending on their individual circumstances.

    Xarene, as I understand your concern, it is the loss of physical sense interaction that you critique.

    Rene, you then point out the very crux of the issue - Western culture's obsession with mind-body split and the fear that technology will take over in some science fiction type manner. This is also connected to the dichotomy between the rational and the emotional in Western culture, which is in fact unnecessary and in need of balance.

    It is my opinion that the depth of our interaction with one another, as well as the emotional, empathic connections between each other, can be heightened in both meatspace and cyberspace to create more meaningful interaction in both.

    Xarene, I'd like to hear what you think about Mirror Neurons in the brain found during research on Mirror-touch synesthesia, and how this could be one of the 'tools' in cyberspace.

    This relates to what you said about the importance of not just a physical contact (for they're not touching) but an empathic one. This, for me, shows as well the possibilities of empathic connections in cyberspace.

    But I'm just imagining a time in which I can interact with someone in the physical at the same time as interacting with them in cyberspace - another way of saying this is interacting through both my senses and tele-senses - and that dynamic exponentially increasing the depth and value of both.

    As the technology that extends our tele-senses progresses, we will have more and more access to meaningful cyberspace and meatspace interactions, and new and exciting ways to combine the two! the most exciting part for me.

    It is rather the interface, as it exists today, that is limiting. The interface, rules, and programming of social networking sites defines this interaction to a certain extent. Beyond that, of course, you could say that people could and should use these same interfaces for much more valuable purposes - which is true, but we must continue to work towards the implementation of these tools to enable valuable interaction.

    What are the ways in which technology can bridge the gap between cyberspace and meatspace and define possible connections between the two? What interfaces can be used to enable a balance between them?

    The identification of these tools will allow us to work towards a balance of sense and tele-sensual interaction, and therefore new and involving ways to reconcile this mind-body, rational-emotional split.

    Please share your experiences of love and death in cyberspace - perhaps if we can understand how these two basic experiences can change in cyberspace, we can use that knowledge to help us bridge the gaps that create the unbalances of our interaction.

    Tue, Nov 25, 2008  Permanent link

    Sent to project: Polytopia
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    Robokku     Tue, Jan 13, 2009  Permanent link
    These are some very telling real-world stories: food for thought - thanks. I don't know how I failed to spot this post and Xárene's when writing about the informational realm... Would have been useful inspiration.

    "The current structure of social networks allows only rudimentary interaction that allows it to be very easy to be superficial (but as read above, can bypass physical barriers as well)."

    The current structures make the differences between informational and concrete beings' interactions very clear. Reading your examples, I thought...

    (1) that those beings are just different kinds of things - because, (e.g.) to the gangly human, online friendships seem to be "in stasis" - and

    (2) that there is not necessarily even a correlation between fleshy and electronic beings - because those two tron-like lovers had something distinct from the chubby hands that fingered them into existence: the long-pigs weren't in love.

    The conflation of digital and boney personae led to disappointment in your first story. In the second story, it led to some stress and, perhaps afterwards, to some comfort. It is a powerful confusion and we should be cautious about it.

    When technologies improve and attitudes change enough that online and "real-world" beings resemble one another more closely, the incongruences will be less jarring and maybe easy to forget. What then? Will we assume that our models of ourselves are just like the real thing? I suspect they will look the same before they are the same, and we shouldn't forget the underlying differences that are obvious now, even if they get harder to see.
    Infinitas     Wed, Jan 14, 2009  Permanent link
    I belong to a private online forum made up of a bunch of people who met through an online game and became friends; we shared some very personal information about their lives. There are people from all over the world so it was hard for people to meet up. But there are several folks who do live within a couple hours of each other and hang out every once in a while or maybe even often. One male member, who was in his mid-40s and lived pretty far the majority of the members, suddenly died from an odd sickness. We knew the guy fairly well as he posted often and was well liked. Some people traveled long distances to go to his funeral. It was quite amazing.

    It's sad thinking back to some of his posts and his family that he talked so much about. But because of the physical barrier, his death never really affected most people. I feel like most of us, including me, just bowed our heads, left one last note online for him and continued on with more "real" stuff.

    His personal thread on the forums is locked and stickied now.
    gamma     Wed, Jan 14, 2009  Permanent link
    Well, as emotions start to heighten I tend to print out my own self content.

    All is one across the network world remains one.

    I don't sympathize so much with indecisiveness or attaching to positive-negative duality to obtain motives for further activities. I am feeling strongly nevertheless, about the emotion in your post.

    I am still trying to organize people to be friends or to communicate. I don't see that much seriousness or purpose like when people follow some hobby.

    Networks mean lots of content and spreading thoughts. There are new activities like people's own TV streams.

    If in life or love network brings me seriousness then it has edge. In normal case it does because of access to identity, life and death. I had to mention identity because being a jerk, I can't be quiet about this road to reality working like underground transport system... I'm now shutting up.

    My equation for seriousness:
    man the willing + difference to something = surprise

    I don't like mentioning word "meat" as a bad thing. Meat is great.
    meganmay     Fri, Jan 16, 2009  Permanent link
    This post sparks a lot of thoughts in in my brain. For one, I recently confessed to a friend that when i stop seeing someone online for a long period of time i start to worry that they're dead, which just goes to show how much of a place this kind of connection has in my life (this has only happened a couple of times though, i promise). Knowing that the moment i turn on my computer I'm connected is a pretty profound feeling, and even though i don't talk to all the people on my buddy list, I feel a certain closeness to them. The online connection is an emotional one.

    Of course, I also thoroughly believe that physical contact is hugely important. This is going to get too long, but Laura Huxley, wife of Aldous, started a program where elderly people would hold babies, providing the physical contact much needed in these two stages of life. I was always touched by the elegance of this idea.. maybe we just need to hire feelers to touch us when we communicate with someone online? My theory on the physical digital akwardness you mention in the love section has something to do with chemical interference, which should probably be elaborated on in a proper post, but as for the solution...I'm not exactly sure...i was thinking of becoming an avatar for hire in meatspace to bridge the gap.

    Also, you might want to check out mydeathspace, which is an aggregation of myspace profile pages from people who have died.

    And I just thought the following image was apt