Cyberculting

A blog about Cyberculture and ICTs.

Archive for August, 2008

You sexy thing

Posted by candacewhitehead on August 19, 2008

For some people, picking a profile picture is an art. I have a friend who goes through literally hundreds of photographs of himself going “Hmm, the light’s not right on this one,” or “I wish this had been shot at a different angle” or “Oh wow, look at how the shadows fall in this photograph – I really like the composition, though I wish the branch of the tree was just a little lower, it would just balance out the whole photograph”.

A self-proclaimed social media addict, “Ms Herr” claims that one’s avatar is “a tool, an iconographic representation of self, serving to frame perceptions of their unique identity”. Ultimately, your profile picture becomes a logo to the brand that is you, and every aspect of that photograph (or cartoon, or lolcat image or whatever) says something about yourself. I, for one, am infuriated by people putting up images not of themselves. People who put up silly cartoons of Homer Simpson or the South Park characters grate my carrot – and I won’t even get started on people putting up photographs of fashion models. YOU DO NOT LOOK LIKE THAT. Most likely.

I found this little gem which had me laughing out loud (and all the people in the computer labs started looking at me funny). One blogger looked at what your avatar says about you – and it’s nothing if not hilariously entertaining.

Online, you get one image to represent all the glamour that is you – just one. So why waste it on an image stolen off Google? There’s a lot of interesting writing – not all of it academic – looking at “avatar psychology” – which includes real photos of you, and things like Second Life avatars. Obviously everybody has a different theory, but Digital Natives claims that teenagers are happier with their carefully constructed avatars of themselves (on SL etc) than they are with actual photographs of themselves. For the first time, you have ultimate control of how the world views you. And as a teenager, as we all know, what the world thinks is everything.

A lot of employers now look at your Facebook profile –  which in itself is a whole other can of worms – and a profile picture of you licking chocolate off someone or chugging down a bottle of tequila is not going to earn you any brownie points. As I wrote in my last post – first impressions are everything, even online.

You need to think about what you want to achieve with your avatar. Putting up a photograph of you and your boyfriend in bed in your underwear because you think it’s cute is fine, but when it comes time to go on the job hunt or it comes time for performance reviews, maybe change it to something a little more sophisticated.

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The little things give you away

Posted by candacewhitehead on August 18, 2008

In Real Life (IRL) you are able to create a first impression in a number of ways. You market yourself in whichever way you choose to, with an almost unlimited range of options.

Your Gucci handbag and snappy, bad-tempered little dog screams “poppie” – plastic, Barbie-doll. Rocking up on your first day of work at a law firm wearing flip-flops and smelling like rum might see you out on the kerb. Everything from the scent that you wear to the timbre of your voice helps to create an overall impression which can win you a date or lose you a job.

Online, the ways in which you can create a first impression are severely limited. For the majority of chat sites, forums, and Instant Messengers you are limited to a nickname, a limited “About Me” section and an avatar. And in a world where first impressions are everything, these are all you have to go on.

Logging on to an online chat room aimed at “free-minded individuals” contained a character called “Horny_male_69”. Classy. I picture some sleazy, creepy guy hanging at his computer waiting for the most desperate female in the room to latch on to him, and logged off. The next chat room contained someone called “nuttygirl”, another person called “jacobzuma” (I hope our ANC president isn’t trying to pick up chicks online on while his corruption trial looms over his head) and yet another person called “angeljelly”. (Seriously, “angeljelly?”).

Each of these nicknames conjure up a particular image in our minds – and accompanied with this comes the all-important avatar.

And then there is the all important “About Me” section. It’s on Facebook, Twitter, MySpace, on the majority of Forums I’ve visited, on dating sites and some chat rooms. I’ve taken profiles from an online dating site, and will examine them, for interest’s sake.

wotsup my name’s nic and i love supermoto.i love going 4 jol wid da boys and jus having an awsum time all the time.yeah,i live in south africa and no we dont go 2 school on a frigging elephant u dumbass.

Wotsup? Wid? What is that? Awsum? Oooh he’s a South African, that’s nice. “And no we don’t go 2 school on a frigging elephant u dumbass”?! Way to make a “frigging” impression, mate. Call me stupid, cause that makes me feel sexy. Gar. Learn some spelling and grammar, moron.

I’m a combat veteran in the U.S. Army. Soon to be a civilian again. I enjoy reading and writing poetry. I’m an amateur magician and will be going pro once i’m out of the army. I’m from Oklahoma but will be moving to Paris, France in about 5 months.

Reading between the lines here (and read it as a woman): combat veteran – possibly slightly broken, will need fixing. We love fixing things. Enjoy reading and writing poetry – wow, sensitive. Amateur magician? He loves children! And Paris? I’m sold. Will you marry me?

Which one would you most likely send a message to? (And ignore my biased little assessments of each) My point is that online, bad grammar and bad spelling can be as much of a deterrent as body odour or bad teeth. Language is one of the prime methods through which we can identify ourselves, but it’s one thing to say something stupid, and quite another to have it recorded for leagues of mean bloggers to criticise.

I mentioned one’s avatar as being one of the most important means of identifying one’s self, and ultimately a logo to your personal brand, but I think I shall leave that discussion to my next post.

And in the meantime, I think I’m going to change my forum nickname. I think I’ve grown out of mine.

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Man, I feel like a woman.

Posted by candacewhitehead on August 12, 2008

I find it fascinating to see how men and women represent themselves on the Internet, in terms of the avatars or images that they use, the way they represent themselves in their “About me” sections, or how they “speak” online.

In 2006, Elizabeth Coverdale, a student at the University of Southern Indiana, wrote a paper called “Cyberculture and Gender Identification in Online Chat Communities”. Her interest lies in the linguistic aspects of online interaction – basically, how men and women talk. She conducted an experiment on Second Life (SL) where although she kept the same ID, she changed her avatar to a male one for a week – albeit a slightly feminine one. As she began interacting with people – both long-time friends and people she was beginning to meet – she found the way she spoke to people changed dramatically.

She writes “I found that my sentences were shorter, more direct and filled with less chat detritus: meta-language like emoticons, laughter, and other emotional responses”. There she highlights one of the key markers differentiating the language that men and women use on the internet: what she labels “chat detritus”. I find this a very useful description: it is those conventions which can be deemed as “excess”.

Women tend to do it a lot – they add smiley faces such as :), 😦 or 😉 more readily than men. They often inject giggles such as “heehee” or “hehe” into paragraphs or at the end of a sentence – they use more words like “lol” or “hugs”, and are tempted to add dozens of little kisses at the end of each conversation. Research conducted in 1994 in Multi-User Domain Communities shows that female-presenting characters used almost three times the amount of emoticons and representations of laughter than their male counterparts. I took a look at my friends’ Facebook pages to see if I could spot these conventions, and I found this little gem:

“Hey Sally,
Iheard about you and Johnny shit I’m so sorry my lovvie but you know what he wasn’t worth it at all. I think you and me should hit [the club] this weekend for a little jam-jam, if you’re feeling up to it? 🙂 Also just wanted to check if you are free for a little dinner tonight? 🙂

I’m making lasagne so if you could bring some wine that would be oss-um. Heeheehee.

Many lovvies and hugs
xxxxxxxxxx” *

I would love to see the male version of this, applying Coverdale’s rule:

“Hey Johnny
Sorry about your chick. I’m heading off to the pub for a pint later, you keen?
Shot for the burger last night, it was lank awesome.

See you at the rugger at five. GO BOKKE!!!!!!
Cheers bra.”

Generally, women seek more acceptance in everyday speech than men do, which is something that Coverdale points out. Women use flippant extras to their speech in order to convey enthusiasm, support and a desire to keep the conversation “buoyant” – something that is translated into their online interactions.

I know I apply a number of these conventions: I love using smiley faces – they make me happy, too. (Ha, I sound like a woman there) And I’m really sensitive to when friends of mine use or don’t use smileys. Although I don’t go as far as using “lovvies” or “whuggles” or other nauseating phrases, I am just a part of this linguistic convention as most other girls I know.

Man, I feel like a woman.

*Any similarities to persons living or dead are not coincidental. That’s because I stole this off your Facebook page.

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Lose yourself

Posted by candacewhitehead on August 3, 2008

In my first blog post, I talked about how people could lose themselves in their Internet identity: they choose an avatar, a nickname and ultimately, an alter-ego if they wish. The same is true of gaming – and the escapism for me is more intense than any of my cyber alter-egoes.

I researched this topic quite thoroughly throughout my July vacation. I clocked Dungeon Siege II, started and finished Fable: The Lost Chapters and carried on a bit more with my Morrowind character (which has been a work in progress since December, really).

The majority of the games that I play are fantasy-genre, you see. I love to take on magic-using characters, and for a couple of hours I can be a powerful sorceress (or sorcerer, if your game constrains you to one character of one sex) who battles against the evil of the world. I love the freedom, I love the possibility, but most of all, I love the story.

Successful games, I have decided, are actually good literature. The ones that I love the most have strong storylines which carry your character through the game. The only difference with literature is that you are shown what the character is doing – either through reading about Harry Potter’s last and great battle wih Lord Voldemort, or through watching the aliens battle it out in Aliens vs Predator, you aren’t in control. However, in a game, you are in control – or at least, in as much control as the developer allows you to be.

The hundreds of literature-based games available reveal just how important the story has become within the game. Mobygames.com gives a relatively comprehensive list of these. Serious gamers I have spoken to criticise a game on a number of criteria: one of the most important of these being the storyline. Is it plausible? Does it carry through the game? Am I still interested half-way through?

Gaming series such as The Elder Scrolls series have created an entire world for their games which resemble the worlds of great fantasy writers. Indeed, fantasy writers are often brought in by game developers to write storylines for games, or even to assist in developing games based on their books. Raymond E Feist, author of The Riftwar Cycle and novels such as Magician and his latest offering, Wrath of a Mad God, was approached by game developers to assist in developing games based on Midkemia, the world his books are set in. Eventually the games were turned into books, and have become an integral part of the Riftwar Cycle. Good games become good literature.

It boils down to escapism. I want to get lost in a good story – I want to sympathise with the main character and share their triumphs and their losses.

Gamers often cultivate their characters, rearing them as they would children, where each level-up is a personal triumph and a decision that is the gaming world’s equivalent of where to send your favourite kid to university.

I know that this is what I do. I want to forget how crappy my last week was, and I want to delve into a world as far-removed from mine as possible. And what easier way is there than to actually become someone else for a few hours, even if they are just a few pixels on a computer screen?

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