Trimming more branches

Posted: July 26, 2010 in Uncategorized
Tags: , ,

Shortly after writing the last entry, I narrowed things down a little, leaving me with two options: The Rhetoric of Misdirection in Discourse and The Rhetoric of Personal Identity Online. I was advised to go with the second, which actually makes me happy. The burning question of personal identity had already rekindled itself, and I’m glad to get to work on that again.

But those six words aren’t close enough. Personal Identity is a huge field. What part of it am I looking to talk about? What interests me about it? This is where I need to turn my sheers now. I need more focus. So I’m going to start lopping off limbs, rather than full branches.

One thing I want to get rid of is personal identity in online games. I feel like everyone is looking into games with avatars and the options of body when considering online identity. I don’t want to start playing World of Warcraft, not even for academic purposes. I’m not really all that interested in those parts of identity. The body is a part of personal identity, but a very small part. My philosophy background shows me that. So while I will need to address the question of the body, I’ll be able to dismiss it relatively quickly.

As long as I’m cutting, I also want to get rid of social networking. I don’t want to look at how people develop their identities and communities on Facebook. There’s a lot there, and it’s a pretty huge field, but I want something more specific.

So what DO I want to look at? I’ve got a few major ideas to look at:

1. Identity on Dating Sites: on any dating site, you have a few words to attract people. Can you still attract potential partners with just one sentence? How many paragraphs is too many? What kinds of cues need to be used to be able to effectively communicate who you really are? If it’s true that 1 in 5 long term relationships now start online, this is a pretty serious issue. There are pictures involved in these sites, and pictures do improve the likelihood of response, but I’m curious what the other factors are. Some of these sites are ripe with scammers (at least, when the site is free) or people pretending to be someone/thing they are not. I’m interested in what sorts of things can be done to spot these scams, and how the scams manage to pull people in. I think if I wanted to look into this, I’d want to get even more specific, and look at dating sites for specific sub communities (gays, transgendered, the kink community, etc) along with a control group of a ‘normal’ dating site to see what the differences are. My guess is there will be vast differences in techniques for success.

2. Experimenting with other identities. I think it’s very interesting that someone could potentially pretend to be something they are not online. With no way to immediately prove otherwise, someone could pretend to be a different age, gender, race, economic class, have more or less education, different experiences, etc. People can role play as other people. Why do they do that? When they get ‘caught,’ what is it that tips people off? Are there certain cues that groups have that we need to be able to identify? Should someone pretending to be younger than they are avoid longer words? What ‘mistakes’ should be made by someone pretending to be non-native speaker? What information/attitude does someone need to have to pass as the other gender? There’s that old saying “The internet, where the men are men, and so are most of the women”; whether or not that’s true, I have to say that I don’t think it matters. My initial thought is that the identity a person constructs online is real, even if their offline life doesn’t match that identity. This is really fascinating for me, because it effectively allows someone to have more than one identity without having multiple personality disorder.

3. Artificial Intelligence: What parts of speech identify something as a computer rather than a person? There are chatbots out there that ‘pretend’ to be any number of people, be they random or specific historical (or fictional) characters. It doesn’t take long to see that these aren’t real people. How is it we can tell? Is the Turing Test even possible to pass (I think it’s not; it’s too biased)? What would we need to do to make sure an artificial intelligence could convince people it was real? If it knew how to use those cues, would it be really intelligent? And, in the other direction, how difficult is it for a human being to convince others that he or she is actually a computer?

I’m seeing some overlap here, which is good. It means my branches are starting to take shape, and my bonsai is forming.

I think it’s time to start researching.

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