Cybertyping and the Work of Race in the Age of Digital Production

During this module I presented Lisa Nakamura’s article, titled Cybertyping and the Work of Race in the Age of Digital Production.

This was an interesting article by Nakamura and it really sparked some excellent conversation during discussion period!

This was quite a long and in depth piece but the main topics that have stuck with me over these past couple weeks is that of cybertyping and virtual communities.

Cybertyping is a term coined by Nakamura to describe the emerging epiphenomenon in new media.

This term describes “the distinctive ways that the Internet propagates, disseminates and commodifies images of race and racism” (Nakamura, 2006: 318).

Nakamura goes further to explain that cybertyping shouldn’t be merely understood as “stereotypes ported to a new medium” (Nakamura, 2006: 319) because their creation is as a result of peculiar collaborative efforts from users exercising their agency with machines, such as the Internet, which offers “identity prosthesis to redress the burdens of physical “handicaps” such as age, gender and race” (Nakamura, 2006: 319).

Nakamura identifies that the use of cybertyping is evident within many of our virtual communities. Even consider chatrooms for example: within our virtual “rooms” or sites we separate individuals into categories of race or gender based upon an obvious stereotype (asian, women etc).

Through her research on cross-racial impersonation in an online community, Nakamura identified that when users were free to choice their race; all were assumed to be white.

This evidence founded by Nakamura really had me thinking about my online encounters. Am I contributing to cybertyping without even realizing it? Would it be valid to say that the majority of people we encounter online we “assume” to be white?

I will definitely be asking myself these questions in the future.

Nakamura continues to further point out the fact that the majority of cybertyping happens here in North America. Why do you think that would is?

If you reflect on the western lifestyle we all enjoy I don’t think the answer is too hard to find. We live in a society where technology is created, controlled and distributed by the rich white male population. Why should we assume that people we meet online are of a different race when indeed they are more likely from our western society?

How can we ever expect to escape this trend of cybertyping if all the technological power is controlled by North American companies?

Nakamura also illuminates the concept of “identity tourism” which is a term that has really had me thinking about my online encounters. Identity tourism defines a social situation in which users of social networking sites obtain a persona other their own.

During our class discussion we mentioned the idea of social networking and the idea of corporate social media sites.

Would Nakamura’s term of identity tourism be a valid comparison with regards to “who” is in charge of a twitter feed?

When we receive a response or re-tweet from a corporation I never really consider the “who” behind the label. The fact is that we all fall into the trap of cybertyping through social media.

M.E made a great point during the class discussion; does it really matter or do we really care WHO is behind the twitter name?

I think for me personally, the answer may be that it doesn’t matter who is it. This question got me thinking about the twitter and Facebook accounts of our political leaders, do we honestly think that the things they say are really ‘their’ words?

Nakamura’s article has really opened the door to some new concepts that are appearing through the use of technology. Ultimately, I have learned a valuable lesson from this article and it’s that we truly never can know who we are actually encountering on our virtual communities. There may not be a solution to this problem with the internet being so uncontrollable, our only valuable weapon as a user is to proceed with caution.

References:

Nakamura, L. (2002). Cybertypes: Race, ethnicity, and identity on the internet. (10 ed.). Routledge.

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