Monday, January 7, 2008

The Connection Gap

For our first post Brian and I have decided to look at the Avatar phenomena as well as the MMORPG (Massive Multiplayer Online Role Playing Game for those who are not familiar) craze. Games such as the infamous “World of Warcraft” and “Second Life” which have a fan base of in the millions. We incorporated our reading of Laura Pappano’s book “The Connection Gap.” In this book Pappano discusses how in our modern society of technology and multitasking, we as human being have neglected our connections with one another. Pappano mostly refers to the small connections or what she calls the “junk” of our daily lives. Because we have things such as online shopping and automated tolls that we no longer have small conversations with the toll both clerks or the person at the register at the local grocery store. What Brian and I wondered was if this so called “junk” is important or necessary in our daily lives? Also, are these MMORPG’s severing the connections that we have with people or are they establishing connections with people who you would have otherwise never met?

First I would like to discuss Warcaft in relation to Pappano’s book. As a person who has never played WoW (mostly for fear of it taking over my life) I have played games of the like. I understand the enjoyment of immersing yourself in a virtual world and meeting up with people to accomplish a common goal. I don’t really see the problem with this. Beside the lack of actual physical human contact it is the same idea as a book club or possibly more closely related an AA meeting. You are a group of people with a common interest discussing and engaging in a hobby that you have created for yourself. People like Pappano would have a problem with this because they would see this as isolating oneself and neglecting real friends. This is what she calls “The Connection Gap,” Pappano defines it as:

“As a society, we face a collective loneliness, an empty feeling that comes not from a lack of all human interaction, but from the loss of meaningful interaction, the failure to be part of something real, or to have faith in institutions that might bring us together. That is what I call the Connection Gap.”(p.8).

I would argue that games and other media related products do “bring us together” and are in fact “meaningful.” The problem in this is that people are trying to universalize what is “meaningful.” If you are a person who places high value on your interactions with the toll booth clerk that is fine, me personally, I would rather avoid awkward small talk with someone, as well as the headache of slow drivers and go through the EZ Pass lane. I would rather not have small talk with a person that I’ll never have any kind of relationship with and focus more on relationships that I share a commonality with. If one can find that commonality in an MMORPG then that’s good it should matter what the medium is as long as you establish that connection.

On the other hand we have products such as Second Life. For those who are not familiar with Second Life it is basically a virtual world where you create a character and you interact with other characters in the virtual world. I do have a problem with Second Life. Second Life takes away the commonality that one would share with someone in an MMORPG. When you go into this virtual world there is no goal, quest, or adventure that you can partake in. Instead this is attempting to serve as an alternate world, a virtual reality. This concept is dumb to me, all this allows for is for people who are otherwise shy and not outgoing to be whatever their inner self may be without the fear of ridicule. If you are going to play this game then you might as well go out into the world with a mask or paper bag over you head and say whatever you want to people because it is the equivalent of Second Life. What my point is there is no objective and no common interest. When you play games such as Warcraft you know that you are going into this world with people who want to play and accomplish missions to gain levels. You meet people and you establish a relationship (or guild, same thing) with people who you deem worthy enough to fight alongside you. Second Life, however, does not have that uniting quality. When you enter this world you are by yourself and you have to talk to people and sort through them to find commonality. If you are going to do this you might as well go out into the real world but some people find it easier to hide behind the screen so it serves that purpose.

I disagree with Laura Pappano and her definition of “The Connection Gap” I would say that if you place meaning on your interaction with people (even if they are in Second Life) then that should suffice. People can’t downplay the value that others place in media. We have to learn how to work with our media and let go of old definitions of interaction. Don’t get me wrong, I place a high value on physical interaction with people, in fact some of my fondest memories are with real people. I also have bonded and grew closer to some of my best friends because they like to play MMORPG too and we bond over our dorkiness together. This doesn’t make our relationship any less meaningful it is just another tool for establishing connections.


Dr. Brand said...

Big Bear!
While Pappano's book is sitting next to me while I type, I'm not going to read it now. However, I'd like to support the claim that there is a lack of "meaningful" interaction between people today.
What defines your interaction as "meaningful" is of course different for everyone, but you can choose to try for meaningful interactions with anyone.
I don't think that in order to have a meaningful interaction with someone means a prerequisite of a relative connection through work, school, or neighborhood (or online video games). I've had great interactions with people on planes, buses - people I've only met once and will probably never speak to ever again. But I wouldn't say that we were part of a specific community, other than that we were humans with a desire to trade knowledge.
Do you try to build community by searching for those people with similar interests or do you choose to build community with those that you already live and work amongst?
People often choose to ignore building the community in which they live in deference to the community in which they work.
While social networking games like WoW and Second Life provide users with potential worthwhile interactions and relationships, they make it easier for people to neglect the relationships and interactions with people they live and work with in the real world. It makes it much easier to ignore other people - there's not as much an incentive to build a meaningful community for those who live in the same town.

B.Lam said...

I'm not sure whether or not you believe that we are more apt to build community within the neighborhood in which we live. It seems that you believe that we would rather draw connections to people we work with, especially in a world where we have a growing importance on our work. If you look at our posts on popular culture, we show an example that within a primary school, teachers often talk about pop culture. Although we never defined "meaningful", I would say that this type of conversation is only a slight extension of small talk - an easy way to connect to people without talking about ourselves. Yes, people can make connection to random people on buses, trains, planes, etc. Taking in what you said, we as a people desire to trade knowledge. Naturally, we would look for people with similar interests in hopes to engage in a conversation. So is it very far-fetched that we look to online worlds to find people with similar interests and exchange our knowledge? Playing WoW or Second Life is a way to fulfill our desires to have interactions with others.