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Letter from the Editor-in-Chief Rob Kling
15(4) 1999

This special issue of The Information Society, 15(4), devoted to "Identity, Voice, and Community Formation via the Internet" developed through a serendipitous grouping of articles in our publication queue. In contrast, most of our special issues, such as the forthcoming issue on Universal Service, develop through a more orderly planned process of selecting  a guest editor, as well as developing and circulating a special call for papers. TIS has been publishing one or two special issues a year, since 1996. You can learn more about forthcoming Special Issues, as well as ways to propose them, on our web site (http://www.slis.indiana.edu/TIS).

This issue opens with Hans Klein’s “Tocqueville in Cyberspace” – a theoretical and empirical  investigation of the ways that computer networks could strengthen democracy by energizing citizen associations. Alexis de Tocqueville credited the vitality of  American democracy in the early 19th century to Americans’ reliance on an array of civic associations that he noted were relatively rare in European aristocratic societies. It is commonplace to claim that on-line forums reduce the costs of meeting because they can eliminate travel and enhance some kinds of convenience. It is a more open and complex question about how to build consensus and commitment for political action in on-line forums. In short, they may be viable for groups where people know each other and have established trust outside their electronic meetings; and they be viable for short-run conviviality, such as in chat rooms. Their value for formulating policy and strategy and mobilizing commitment in civic associations is not a given. Klein examines a Boston-based citizen association, the Telecommunication Policy Roundtable -- Northeast (TPR-NE). He reports how  TPR-NE’s uses of the Internet suggest that on-line forums may allow associations to be more responsive, more robust, and able to unite more members.

There has been a continuing debate about the extent to which participation in on-line forums democratizes meetings (when compared with face-to-face meetings). Some analysts have argued that the ways that on-line meetings tend to mask age, status signs, and gender tend to democratize participation in electronic forums.  Two articles in our last issue reported cases where female-presenting participants in on-line discussions were treated  very aggressively by male-presenting participants. Some women may prefer to use pseudonyms to mask their gender, if  they expect to be harshly treated in on-line communications. How effectively can pseudonyms mask gendered styles of communication?

In our second article, “Gender Identification, Interdependence, and Pseudonyms in Computer-Mediated Communication,” Michael Jaffe, Young-Eum Lee, Li-Ning Huang, and Hayg Oshagan examine this question with a set of experiments. In one electronic forum, the participants were identified by their real names while participants in the other were identified by self-chosen pseudonyms.  Analyses of conference transcripts and pseudonym choices indicated that i) women tended to mask their gender with their pseudonym choice while males did not, and ii) women in both forums generally tended to exhibit certain dimensions of social interdependence more frequently than men.  These dimensions included references to others, references to self, and supporting statements. The participants use of pseudonyms, even those that were gender neutral, did not effectively mask all of these important gendered features of   communication. 

Mark Poster’s “Identity, Nations and Global Networking” inaugurates a new kind section for TIS – Perspectives.  Articles in the Perspectives section  are synthetic and tightly argued, but they may also reflect a refined and disciplined speculative imagination. They may also be as long as regular articles, in contrast with the shorter Forum articles. Poster notes that while the Internet began as an instrument of U.S. military strategy it is now beyond the control of any nation state.  People can use it in ways that ignore national borders and national governments struggle to control flows of information as if they were in their physical jurisdictions. Poster  argues that the Internet is becoming a para-national culture that combines global connectivity with local specificity, a “glocal” phenomenon that seems to resist national political agendas and to befuddle national political leaderships. His essay goes on to examine several ways that both actual behavior on the Internet undermine the sovereignty of nation states, and how and media depictions amplify anxieties of such loss. 

Poster is careful  to avoid a stance that contrasts national and global in a rigid binary opposition.  As a historian, he notes that the nation state was enmeshed international  relations from its inception; its sovereignty was never perfect, always relative to laws and obligations forged through transnational mechanisms. And, the nation state has changed over time: the 19th century nation state was very different from the early 21st century nation state which may be  subject to an immense array of international treaties and controls over trade, the conduct of war, the use of  communications frequencies, and international transportation standards. He concludes by noting several different ways that nation states may develop.

The  next three articles appear in our Forum section. In “Face to Face and Computer-Mediated Communities” Amitai Etzioni and Oren Etzioni .  examines whether virtual communities be “real,” and manifest important qualities, such as caring and social commitment, that characterize f2f communities? They compare face?to?face (f2f) and computer?mediated communications (CMC) from the viewpoint of their respective abilities to form and sustain communities. They also identify a third kind of infrastructure for community that is based on a combination of face-to-face (f2f) and CMC (or off- and on-line) communications. 

In “Web Security and Privacy” Jean Camp examines how people who browse the Web protect their privacy, based on the U.S. legal tradition. While web browsing can serve many purposes, including informal leisure communication and shopping, it also plays an increasing  role in political communication and the routine functioning of important social institutions, such as health support  groups, policing, and grass roots political organizations.  Issue 15(2) of TIS, which was devoted to “Anonymous Communication on the Internet,” included some articles that  showed how open communication depended at times upon anonymity. This article is a short tutorial that defines some key terms, and explains what information is transferred during Web browsing.  Camp describes some of the available  technology for privacy protection, including public and private key cryptography and Web proxies. She closes by showing that although privacy in Web browsing has no current legal protection in the United States, the right to privacy in the analog equivalents has been recognized in the American legal tradition. 

In “Information Warfare,” Blaise Cronin and Holly Crawford  examine how social relationships and community may be undermined through information warfare. They argue that the term, information warfare, has remained the preserve of the defense community. The prevailing language, images and metaphors are classically militaristic in character. But they show  how many of the underpinning principles and assumptions have application well beyond conventional military contexts. In particular, the principles and practices of information warfare are being exhibited, more or less wittingly, in a variety of civilian contexts (from computer-based fraud to cyber-stalking) and there are good grounds to assume that this trend will intensify causing potentially serious social problems and creating novel challenges for the criminal justice system. 

This issue ends with a Review Essay of Pierre Lévy ‘s  book, The Virtual Game, by Ronald Day. Two of Lévy’s books have recently appeared in English translation. Day paper critically examines the Levy’s development of the game as a model for identity, community, and the meaning and function of objects. The game metaphor is commonplace in discussions of cultural modernity, especially in the areas of business, the military, sports, and, of course today, in digital software and network design.  

Please check our Indiana University-Bloomington web site for news on forthcoming issues, calls for papers, and abstracts of articles from previous issues. Prospective authors may reach us via email at tisj@indiana.edu.

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