The cyber me

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The cyber me

So-called “Member Play” has become popular among Korean teenagers. They plunge into the cyber surf where they can mimic their favorite celebrity. The game has been available via Internet cafes since 2006. It is surprising that major portal sites have more than two thousand Member Play cafes, which boast several thousand members per cafe.
They set up virtual organizations such as “xx High School” or “xx Entertainment.” They choose to have the same name as a pop singer they like and track his or her every move online. They go to the restaurant that he or she likes and imitate talk, behavior and habits.
Through Member Play, you can experience a celebrity’s luxurious life. Such an activity raises interesting questions about cyber identity.
The issue is not simply that a player is obsessed with celebrities and imitates their life with a virtual personality. A news report said that people who are the most enthusiastic about this game are usually social misfits with few friends. For them, reality is worthless and a virtual existence is more satisfying ― they can live out their fantasies online.
As such, the difference between reality and cyberspace can also be experienced in our everyday life. Most malicious writers in the cyber world are gentle and well-mannered in the real world. In the same way, people who seem blunt in reality might send warm-hearted text messages or e-mails by excessively using emoticons. Online and offline identities are totally different.
Sherry Turkle is a MIT professor and author of the bestselling “Life on the Screen: Identity in the Age of the Internet.” She has conducted an in-depth survey on how rapidly identity is changing in the digital era. She presented the concept of the multiple self, in lieu of the consistent self, focusing her attention on computer gamers who frequently change their sex, age and occupation. Their justification is that, “It is more entertaining than my real life.” In addition, she maintained that realistic identity is not always superior to virtual reality. For example, if I’m in difficulty and want to deny myself reality while I am idealistic in the virtual world, what I really want to have is naturally “myself” in cyberspace.
Turkle wrote in her book that as the family relationship has greatly contributed to forming our identities, so computer technology can now contribute to establishing cyber identity. Digital technology is changing human nature. If my cyber self is a part of myself, my identity does not lie totally in my body. The digital world is full of surprises.

The writer is a deputy culture and sports editor of the JoongAng Ilbo.

By Yang Sung-hee [shyang@joongang.co.kr]

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