Tuesday, February 5, 2013

Playing out Alternate Identities: A little Alternate Reality sounds good to me!

A little Alternate Reality sounds good to me!

by Karen Hamilton - Monday, July 26, 2010, 06:12 PM
Response to Case Study

In case study 7, we see a number of graduate students from various backgrounds in an online forum discussing the Immigration bill debate in Congress. The participants may or may not be writing from their own point of view, but all are anonymous. From the sounds of the assignment, students were able to choose rather stereotyped identities: Anonymous Reactionary, Bleeding Heart Liberal, Red Neck or Wetback, Chicana Girl, Identity Politician, and Child of Immigrants. This exercise takes place by “mutual consent.”

The assignment in the case study starts out with this statement, “Playing out different identities becomes a resource that participants can use to give relevance to their arguments within an interactive discourse.”

According to Sherry Turkle as reported by Burbules, “The internet is a zone of enormous creativity and experimentation” and online writers, “are exploring identities…that are not constrained by their ‘actual’ selves: pretending to be a character of the opposite gender in a chat room; putting out provocative opinions that are not necessarily one’s own, just to see where the discussion will take them; playing with virtual interactions that do not have consequences of such activities in the ‘real world.” Turkle believes that these experiences can be “liberating experiences.” (Burbules, 2002)

The professor in the case study has taken Turkle’s perspective to allow students to experience a discussion of immigration in an alternate way. For me this is a completely legitimate opportunity for students to role-play as an anonymous self or as another opposing identity. These are not kids, in the class; they are adults who understand that what is happening is a simulation, an alternate reality where interactions can take place without consequence.

In many higher education face-to-face classes, students role-play scenarios to understand points of view, especially classes to do with racism, stereotyping, discrimination, and social interaction. By taking a role students can understand all sides of an issue and learn how to deal with difficult circumstances. In courses that teach debate, students also may debate from a position that is not their own. When I taught a course called Speaking with Confidence, I often had students debate from the opposite point of view from their own. When they called out that they couldn’t do it I’d say, “Just think of the advantage you have –you know all the points of the other side!”

Certainly some of the comments in the case study are inappropriate and racist in the exchange given…isn’t that the point? If we turn on certain “news” stations don’t we hear racist, stereotyped, narrow points of view? Don’t we see gatherings of groups with outrageously racist posters of presidents. Can’t we turn on the radio and hear the extreme right and the extreme left?
When a person has his/her own name attached to an online post, will they always be honest about their point of view?

Don’t we know that there are some who will wait until most others have spoken or even the teacher, so they can come in and say what they now have determined is “the right thing to say?”

Haven’t we all seen things said in real online and real face-to-face classes that were inappropriate, stereotyped and even racist?

When a professor devises a safe environment to explore a subject, students have a chance to learn and explore. I remember reading about a lesson in discrimination in face to face classes where the teacher set it up so that everyone who had blue eyes would be in a discriminated group, and the other eye-coloured group would be the non discriminated group. (http://archives.cbc.ca/for_teachers/755/) This experiment was to allow students to experience the effect of such discrimination.

We all have identities that are not narrow. We can be different people in different circumstances. Marketers look at different types of self: the actual self, the ideal self, and the looking glass self ( who you think people think you are). And these are just real world identities. The Internet allows people to experiment with their identity. The exercise in this case allows students to play out real or fake identities. This is an allowed “fraud” for the purpose of discovery. As Gerhard says, “Playing out different identities becomes a resource that participants can use to give relevance to their arguments within an interactive discourse.”

For those who may be horrified by some of the discussion, look to the comments below many YouTube videos and see similar, but much, much worse. For those who don’t see the value in taking on alternate personality, think of what a good fiction writer does- he/she takes on multiple personalities, brings them to life makes us believe. We as readers suspend our disbelief when tales are being spun..students in the graduate course of the case study are writers of truth or fiction --hopefully with one purpose-understanding and learning through experience in a slightly altered reality.

If I’m that professor-that works for me!

Further Comment:

I agree with what Turkle is saying. There is a big difference from real life and online life. But what is "reality" and who are "we" anyway? It's all in our heads. One event experienced by two people is not the same. Do two people in the same relationship, have the same relationship? I don't think so. Experience in the embodied world is subjective, reality is defined by the the baggage I bring. If I believe something, is it real, or just real to me, today, right now?

In real life don't we sometimes create some wonderful elaborate fictions? Is it just me who has had some wonderful passionate love that seemed to be just too good to be true..only to find a little later on that it was. Who is to blame? While some might blame the "thems" I'd be just as likely to say it was me, little me who is so good at creating elaborate fictions!

No comments:

Post a Comment