Archive for October 8th, 2010

Although a useful tool, a vital instrument of communication, a bridge between people and cultures, a marketing dream, an unparalleled method of widely dispersing information, and on and on and on with the positive applications that come with, the Internet is also a toy. In the hands of those of limited scope … usually sporting their own personal joy stick … what can be found within the confines of their screen is reduced to a video game.

Like the logical extension of Pong, moving from a virtual Atari ball to dot-munching smileys to aim-shoot-drive-take-over-the-world gee-those-guys-look-realer and realer, the step to webcam ease-of-play can feel a natural progression in the gaming world.

It’s not. It’s different, and it’s time peeps got with the programming.

This Slate Mag article illustrates only too well the potential outcome of aiming a cam with the intent to damage.

Tyler Clementi wanted privacy. Like countless college freshmen before him, he needed a place to make out, but he had a roommate. So he asked his roommate to clear out of their Rutgers dorm room for a couple of hours.

The roommate, Dharun Ravi, obliged him. But Ravi left something behind: his computer. It had a webcam and an Internet connection. That’s how Ravi got back into the room, according to police. He never touched the door or window. He just tapped into the webcam from a friend’s computer down the hall. Through it, he saw Clementi making out with a man. Ravi tweeted his discovery, inviting 148 of his closest friends to access the webcam. A day later, Clementi jumped off the George Washington Bridge and died.

The idea that images that show up on a screen are somehow less than human is prevalent in today’s world. Virtual vultures clog Skype, MSN, Yahoo, Google and iChat with artificial wooing on a point system whose payoff is a peak at privates … SCORE! then move along to score again. “It means nothing. It’s just virtual,” is a common refrain when the practice is called into question and consequences … well … what consequences? After all, these people aren’t real. It’s a game.

Fact is, however, it is a real person on the other end of the connection, a person who may have other ideas and not be scoring according to the same card. A positive response to “Will you respect me in the morning?” is an easier lie when it’s a simple matter of defriending or blocking, and what’s the worry when the sense is that there’s nothing more to that than to choosing Bugs over Daffy? After all, does Minnie mind if folks decide to spend time with Daisy? Of course not. She has no mind to mind with.

Don’t get me wrong … if gamers choose this version of PokeHeMan, share the rules and are over the age of consent, who cares? Mutual agreement on the unhuman nature of the other players can establish an avatar-to-avatar relationship with no holds barred and no potential outcome but outscoring. That seems to me a waste of life moments, but they’re not mine so it’s not in my realm to give a shit.

Unfortunately, it’s more often that dehumaning happens without someone realizing they’ve become a cartoon character.

Of course, voluntary relinquishing of privacy is something completely different than turning on a webcam surreptitiously. That is truly malicious, yet in the case of Tyler Clementi the on-screen-so-not-real aspect seems to fit.

No doubt, Ravi is a nasty prick, but also most likely a spoiled brat raised on video games that encouraged the disconnect it would take to invade another person’s personal life, then broadcast the invasion as widely as possible.

Ravi was watching him from a computer down the hall. You’d think a guy peeping at his roommate through a webcam would understand how public the Internet can be. But Ravi, too, was blind. “Roommate asked for the room till midnight,” he typed. “I went into molly’s room and turned on my webcam. I saw him making out with a dude. Yay.” Then Ravi hit a button, posting the message to Twitter.

Then, later:

Ravi’s exact tweet was: “Anyone with iChat, I dare you to video chat me between the hours of 9:30 and 12. Yes it’s happening again.”

The technology is new-ish, and perhaps hearts and minds will eventually catch up, incorporate the projected person with the human in the cam’s eye. We can hope. That can’t happen too soon, as it’s already too late for some …whether it be some pitiful chick thinking she’s found love only to learn she means nothing because she “means nothing, is just virtual” or a Tyler Clementi

It turned out that he wasn’t a username, an avatar, or some random two-dimensional dude making out with another dude on a video feed. He was flesh and blood. His body hit the water. He died.

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