Cyberliteracy(3) – Anonymity and Interactivity

Gurak, L. J. (2001). Cyberliteracy: Navigating the internet with awareness. New Haven Conn.; London: Yale University Press.

Beyond Reach and Speed, the features of anonymity and interactivity define cyberliteracy even more.

Anonymity refers to the fact that in most settings, we can never really be sure who is on the other end. A website supposedly created by a woman with cancer could actually have been created and maintained by a male. An online chat conversation might also contain many people misrepresenting themselves and, providing it is purely textual, no one is likely to be the wiser. Even with some static or video element, the person could still be fully, honestly representing him- or herself. This is really about identity.

“[W]e make judgments about the credibility of an argument based on the credibility of the speaker, and for thousands of years, this rhetorical appeal–known as ethos– was based on knowing who the speaker was.

With the OVC, one can see and “know” the speaker. Also, at least when housed in the AOC, there is a higher likelihood that participants will accurately represent themselves in the OVC, since they have a responsibility to the class and to the instructor. Furthermore, the ongoing nature of a class (15-18 weeks on average) creates a certain sense of community, as oppose to a single chat room where one can pop-in, has no ties to the individuals there whom they do not know, and need not ever visit the room again.

“Unlike television, online communication technologies allow you to talk back” (44). Whereas many of online technologies’ were one-sided, such as television and radio, the internet has the potential to open communication to a two-way interaction. This interactivity, as Gurak notes, offers several features:

Access to the inner circle
Whereas it has historically been quite difficult for one to contact his or her favorite author, in the cyberliterate world, just about anyone can be an author of a piece on just about any topic. Furthermore, most online authors provide at least one method of contact, so readers can easily contact them. Of course, with the OVC in the AOC, the contact is direct, since one who is part of the community can merely respond visually or textually to any member.

The capacity to talk back
Gurak notes that interactivity and lack of gate-keeping means that we can talk back to anyone with an mail address. While the OVC in the AOC does provide gate-keeping, anyone on the inside of that “gate” can contact any other member. Therefore, she is still accurate in stating that, “This ability to interact, combined with the encouragement we feel because of the speed and reach of the medium, encourages talking back” (44).

A two-way presence online
Television, radio, books, articles, etc. all provide a one-way presence or identity: that of the author, speaker, actor, etc. But, with these technologies, the audience is silent. The internet emerged as, among other things, a communication technology that offered the audience the ability to reply back to the author and have its own online presence. “The two-way presence happens because of the interactive nature of cyberspace technologies” (45). A defining element of the OVC is the ability to have such two-way presence in which one presents an identity through both voice and image.

Having now written three posts on Cyberliteracy, I’ll note that some concepts are somewhat outdated, while others are still fitting in out current age, but apply more to the larger concept of the internet than is useful to me. However, it is a solid stepping stone in my research, one that comments on the characteristic of the internet that shape the way we use it to communicate in a certain quick, and often informal manner. The OVC provides many of the noted benefits of such communication: reach, speed, and both oral and textual information and communication.

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