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Planes, Trains, and Internet Blogs

jlebouvier's picture

Planes, Trains, and Internet Blogs


            Looking back on the panel discussions and the questions asked, one stood out in particular to me. This was perhaps due to the question was asked directly to the group I was representing, the Wampanoags of southern New England in the 1620s. The question asked pertained to different means of communication and how they effected the overall interactions of three groups. I found it interesting because it is not really a topic that we have touched on since the beginning of the course.

            If you look at Turkle’s article, she introduces the idea that many other panelists grasped to. She looked at the anonymity of a MUD, and how it gave users power to be whomever they wanted to be. This anonymous interaction is possible because the users are not physically meeting. This virtual interaction carries into Facebook and Youtube users. Though they generally do not remain anonymous, users can pick and choose the characteristics they wish to display on their homepage. You put pictures or videos up that only show part of who you are, whereas in person things can come out that you cannot control. Yes, a friend might post an embarrassing picture, but you can immediately untag it so that no one can see it. This was not something possible for the group I represented.

            All forms of communication were generally done in person for the Wampanoag people. If a sachem wanted to contact another tribe they sent a human messenger. Sometimes letters were sent, but they took even longer to deliver than sending a messenger. By this time some Wampanoags had learned English, and other European languages, and could speak directly with the Pilgrim settlers. However, physical interaction created many issues for both groups. Firstly, European-Wampanoag meetings alarmed the enemies of the Wampanoags and made them want to wage war against the Pilgrims. Had other circumstances not intervened, then the Pilgrims surely would have been wiped out by the Wampanoags’ enemy, all because they met with the Wampanoags. The other issue created by these physical interactions was the spread of disease.

            As Anne pointed out, the spread of viruses is the common link between both my group and the internet based groups. Though “virus” is used in two very different ways, the outcome is somewhat similar. The viruses brought by the Europeans to the Wampanoags, were generally fatal and killed about 90% of their population in less than five years. Online sites, like Facebook, Youtube, and Gmail, are all messaging systems that can transfer viruses. These viruses, though not fatal to humans have the power to destroy computers. To some users, and gamers, the death of a computer is almost like they died. As both gamer and Facebook groups expressed, not all users are hardcore in their usage. However, some users would rather devote all of their time to the game, or site. This would explain why they would feel that a virus could be the end of their own life.

            The main point I am making is that the forms of communication for these groups may be different, but depending on the person effected, the outcome is similar. Some interactions, whether in person or via the internet, can be ways of building relationships. Other communications can be used as a means of spreading viruses and causing harm to the other party involved. Though the regularity and motivation for each type of communication, you could say that Facebook and Youtube are the modern human messengers that the Wampanoags used in the 1620s.



Liz McCormack's picture

modern messengers

Your topic provides an interesting comparison of communication modes across time.  Various questions come to mind about how the different time frames of communication might matter, how the ubiquitous connectivity of today didn't exist then and what that might imply?

You also raise the issue of a third party in communications--those watching the meeting of two others.  Does such an analog exist in virtual worlds?  What form do they take? Does it foster suspicion in the same way?  (Curious to know what "circumstances" you allude to in the above that intervened to avoid war between various tribes.) 

Finally, I wonder about the quality of communication?  Do we do better today compared to then at least in the one-on-one mode?  Were political communications more "honest" back then, versus "spinned"? for a third audience like today?

Lots of interesting directions to take your ideas.