Lisa Nakamura’s piece Digitizing Race introduces many interesting and thought provoking points. As someone who has been a technology user since childhood I can see the movement from a textual internet to an internet that shares photos and avatars. As Nakamura states “The primarily textual interest no longer dominates and in some cases no longer exists: many MOOs, MUDs and listservs have gone offline” (1) The benefit of the textual internet is one of anonymity. When you are a person sharing an idea via text, more often than not the ideas you are sharing are not read with the notion of your race, gender, sexuality, etc. unless explicitly mentioned. When avatars come into play, this changes things. This began as an animation where certain sub cultures use different avatar styles. Nakamura states: “..the popular internet and its depictions of racialized and gendered bodies” (13). The internet offers many platforms for education and idea sharing among many other things. However, the value of said opinions varies based on who is saying it.
In today’s modern internet, we no longer primarily operate on IM or AIM chat services. Our society engages more with facebook, twitter, instagram etc as our chosen means of internet communication. Beyond social media some may engage in reddit where a profile is not visible yet you can create your own avatar and username. The usernames and pictures we select to represent ourselves is crucial to how seriously or not we are taken in the internet community.
Nakuma brings up the point: “The interface serves to organize race and gendered bodies in categories, boxes and links that mimic the mental structure of a normative consciousness and set of associations often white and male” (17). Previous to this class I was not aware of this internet bias, but after reading Lisa Nakumara’s excerpt my eyes were opened to the large bias of the internet. I think this is especially clear in opinion based forms such as reddit, quora and 4chan allow us as internet users to share their opinions. They can select usernames and pictures to express themselves and give the person reading their post a window into who is speaking to them. As we know in our culture, more often than not the white cis male perspective is taken most seriously. I wonder if people commonly try and hide or alter their identity on these platforms for the sake of being heard.
What interests me is the change from internet avatars in the early 2000’s to a more present from which is bitmoji. Bitmoji if you are unfamiliar is a service that allows you to create a digital selfie down to the race, gender, outfits, and even aurora. Today, Bitmoji is used in SMS messaging, facebook and even classroom settings. The app offers forty different skin tones which is an improvement from their previous twenty five. This is a pro in terms of representation yet in the internet community we exist in it is a flaw. As stated previously by Nakumara, “AIM buddies, pregnant avatars, and other user- created avatars allow users to participate in racial formation in direct and personal ways and to transmit there to large, potentially global audiences of users” (18). This allows people to use Bitmoji as they would use AIM avatars to display their image in the way they so please?
Some questions that this made me think of are ones of personal use. In the classroom, would you encourage the use of avatars to allow children to express themselves freely and celebrate their culture? Or do you think it is more beneficial to leave it to the default image and allow them to exist anonymously on the internet? Does that help or hurt? I am also curious to know if anyone has felt oppressed in anyway by avatars, bitmoji, etc. Have you felt misrepresented, under represented or content with your experience?
Digitizing race: visual cultures of the internet
Nakamura – University of Minnesota Press – 2008