We Meet Ourselves in a Thousand Disguises Along the Path
Do we really *know* another person that we meet *solely* through cyberspace?
The theory of this thread is that the answer often is "no." And that somtimes, we often don't truly see the other person for who they really are, and that we don't treat the other as the autonomous human being that she really is. Instead, we project our own shadow side on to the cyber-other, and essentially treat the other person as an object (per Martin Buber's distinction between I-Thou and I-It relationships). To use Buber's terminology, there are a lot of "I-It" discussions and relating going on in cyberspace.
Of course, projection occurs in real life, too, but my theory is that cyberspace is a goldmine for projection. That's because trying to determine "who a person is" requires interpreting his text, and when we interpret text, we bring our own perspectives to bear. And sometimes, our perspectives can get in the way of seeing that a person is not who we think he or she is, and gets in the way of really understanding what another person is or isn't saying.
Why? one reason: cyberspace communication forces us to make a lot of assumptions about other people. Since all we have to go by to know someone is their words, we're constantly looking for hooks to try to "place" a person. Hence, we use hooks like gender, age, professional status (being a lawyer or an academic), etc., and then use those hooks to make a lot of speculative and often baseless assumptions and inferences.
Of course, those assumptions really have nothing at all to do with the person being sought to be defined and turned into an object. Rather, those assumptions really speak to the beliefs, mindset, and psychology of the person making the assumptions.
And, when people use these hooks to make assumptions about other people in cyberspace, many times they are just projecting their own self-assumptions and beliefs onto others.
for example: let's say you know that someone is a janitor. And let's say you have all these assumptions about janitors (janitors are out of touch with their emotions). Then the janitor writes things over time which seem to prove your assumption that janitors are out of touch with their emotions. So, based on a personal assumption (janitors are out of touch with their emotions) made based on a vague and general fact (person is a janitor), that person may conclude that he *knows* who this person is all about (he's a typical emotionally out of touch janitor).
And, if this person is really affected and agitated by the fact that he *knows* that the janitor is emotionally out of touch; in other words, if this assumption/inference really bothers the person making the assumption, then it's highly likely that the person is projecting his own shadowed side onto the janitor. In other words, he's projecting his own repressed self-knowledge that he himself is the one who's emotionally out of touch onto some poor, innocent janitor who probably is very in touch with himself, has a loving wife, two kids, and is very emotionally centered. :)
And so, my theory is that flame wars result when you have mutual projections going on, where flame war participants see their own despised shadow self in each other, and then they mutually seek each other's virtual annihilation (flaming).
thoughts? did this make sense? I'm not sure it did while I was writing it. :) Of course I'm going to come back and edit it :)