Parts Of A Computer Hand In:mr. Mac's Virtual Existence

Lesson 2: What is a Computer?


The Macintosh (commonly and officially shortened to Mac since 1998) is a family of personal computers designed, manufactured, and sold by Apple Inc. Since January 1984. The original Macintosh is the first successful mass-market personal computer to have featured a graphical user interface, built-in screen, and mouse.

What is a computer?

A computer is an electronic device that manipulates information, or data. It has the ability to store, retrieve, and process data. You may already know that you can use a computer to type documents, send email, play games, and browse the Web. You can also use it to edit or create spreadsheets, presentations, and even videos.

Watch the video below to learn about different types of computers.

Looking for the old version of this video? You can still view it here.

Hardware vs. software

Before we talk about different types of computers, let's talk about two things all computers have in common: hardware and software.

Parts of a computer hand in:mr. mac
  • Hardware is any part of your computer that has a physical structure, such as the keyboard or mouse. It also includes all of the computer's internal parts, which you can see in the image below.
  • Software is any set of instructions that tells the hardware what to do and how to do it. Examples of software include web browsers, games, and word processors.
  • The reality we inhabit when we use a computer is a reality that is brought into being by the commands of a programmer. Usually, the programs we use are the work of someone else. But if I turn on a Mac, or load Windows on a PC, or even when I use good old DOS, I inhabit a world that has been brought into being by the word of some programmer.
  • 13 macOS Tips for Windows Users. You’ve seen all those sleek MacBooks in the coffee shop, so now you want be part of the club. Or maybe you find yourself in front of a Mac at work and need to.
  • The Macintosh computer was introduced in 1984, and it was the first widely sold personal computer with a graphical user interface, or GUI (pronounced gooey). All Macs are made by one company (Apple), and they almost always use the Mac OS X operating system.

Everything you do on your computer will rely on both hardware and software. For example, right now you may be viewing this lesson in a web browser (software) and using your mouse (hardware) to click from page to page. As you learn about different types of computers, ask yourself about the differences in their hardware. As you progress through this tutorial, you'll see that different types of computers also often use different types of software.

What are the different types of computers?

When most people hear the word computer, they think of a personal computer such as a desktop or laptop. However, computers come in many shapes and sizes, and they perform many different functions in our daily lives. When you withdraw cash from an ATM, scan groceries at the store, or use a calculator, you're using a type of computer.

Desktop computers

Many people use desktop computers at work, home, and school. Desktop computers are designed to be placed on a desk, and they're typically made up of a few different parts, including the computer case, monitor, keyboard, and mouse.

Laptop computers

The second type of computer you may be familiar with is a laptop computer, commonly called a laptop. Laptops are battery-powered computers that are more portable than desktops, allowing you to use them almost anywhere.

Tablet computers

Tablet computers—or tablets—are handheld computers that are even more portable than laptops. Instead of a keyboard and mouse, tablets use a touch-sensitive screen for typing and navigation. The iPad is an example of a tablet.


A server is a computer that serves up information to other computers on a network. For example, whenever you use the Internet, you're looking at something that's stored on a server. Many businesses also use local file servers to store and share files internally.

Other types of computers

Many of today's electronics are basically specialized computers, though we don't always think of them that way. Here are a few common examples.

  • Smartphones: Many cell phones can do a lot of things computers can do, including browsing the Internet and playing games. They are often called smartphones.
  • Wearables: Wearable technology is a general term for a group of devices—including fitness trackers and smartwatches—that are designed to be worn throughout the day. These devices are often called wearables for short.
  • Game consoles:A game console is a specialized type of computer that is used for playing video games on your TV.
  • TVs: Many TVs now include applications—or apps—that let you access various types of online content. For example, you can stream video from the Internet directly onto your TV.

PCs and Macs

Personal computers come in two main styles: PC and Mac. Both are fully functional, but they have a different look and feel, and many people prefer one or the other.


This type of computer began with the original IBM PC that was introduced in 1981. Other companies began creating similar computers, which were called IBM PC Compatible (often shortened to PC). Today, this is the most common type of personal computer, and it typically includes the Microsoft Windows operating system.


The Macintosh computer was introduced in 1984, and it was the first widely sold personal computer with a graphical user interface, or GUI (pronounced gooey). All Macs are made by one company (Apple), and they almost always use the Mac OS X operating system.


Jaye A. H. Lapachet

School of Library & Information Studies
University of California
Berkeley, CA 94720


Guy Debord, in Society of the Spectacle, describes modern life asalienating because of the unbreakable circle of consumerism that our economicsystem creates. The system forces people to work their entire lives to supportthe consumerism of the American Dream[1]. He continues bysaying that 'in societies where modern conditions of production prevail, all oflife presents itself as an immense accumulation of spectacles.Everything that was directly lived has moved away 'into a representation ofthat direct experience.'[2]

Virtual communities are the latest rage in personal interaction and publicdiscourse. They are an attempt, if an unwitting one, to alleviate some of thealienation caused by modern society. As a result, America Online, Delphi,Netcom, Prodigy and others are aggressively marketing their services whichinclude the ability to meet other people. Internet connections are multiplyingat a phenomenal rate. People realize that there is some value in bandingtogether.[3] Even though most people do not know that'virtual community' is the name of these new online organizations, they seem tobe the future of personal interactions: a way for people to meet other people.What are virtual communities? What are the effects on society? Are virtualcommunities a benefit to society? Are virtual communities a beneficial venuefor public discourse, or are they just another mind-altering drug, liketelevision?

This paper will attempt to create a workable definition for virtualcommunities, and then explore the advantages and disadvantages, problems andissues associated with this new means of communication. The discussion willassume a certain level of knowledge of terminology related to the Internet andcomputer networking.

Virtual, in The Random House College Dictionary, is an adjectivemeaning 'being in such force or effect though not actually or expressly such:reduced to virtual poverty.'[4] Community, in thesame source, is a noun meaning 'a social group of any size whose members residein a specific locality, share government, and have a common cultural andhistorical heritage; or a social, religious, occupational, or other groupsharing common characteristics or interests.'[5] Thecombined meanings describe, somewhat, virtual communities as they exist onvarious networks. They do not, however, include the computer aspects ofvirtual communities or the distributed nature of their participants.

Howard Rheingold, author of The Virtual Community: Homesteading on theElectronic Frontier, defines virtual communities as:

the social aggregations that emerge from the Net when enough people carry onthose public discussions long enough, with sufficient human feeling, to formwebs of personal relationships in cyberspace.[6]

Other elements help define virtual communities. One must add thatparticipants interact via computer mediated communication.[7] Virtual communities are not electronic villages.Virtual communities can exist within an electronic village, and often manyvirtual communities can help make up an electronic village, but virtualcommunities are more communication and people oriented, while electronicvillages are hardware, organization and connection oriented.

Finally, there are many elements that make up a community: births, deaths,fights, reconciliation and gossip. All of these are vital and needed parts ofa virtual community as they are in a physical community.

Virtual communities include, but are not limited to such entities asLISTSERVs, newsgroups, network chat forums (America Online), forums(CompuServe), some Internet Rely Chat sessions and Bulletin Boards (BBSs).

Topics run the gamut of human interests from Attention Deficit Disorder[8] to Quiltmaking[9] to Beer[10] to Mystery Enthusiasts[11] toGardening[12], Camels[13], Macintoshcomputers[14] and software[15], andPets[16]. The list of topics varies as much as people'sinterests.

Since virtual communities exist through computer mediated communication, theyare dependent on computer networks. Without computer networks, virtualcommunities would be just like any other common civic, professional or hobbyrelated group that meets on a regular basis. Howard Besser, adjunct professorat the University of California, Berkeley's School of Library and InformationStudies points out that if the computer networking ability did not exist, thesediverse communities probably would not be able to meet, because of thegeographic diversity, among other logistical problems. Virtual communities aregroups of people with a shared interest in a hobby, profession, or a productwho get and share ideas online. The sharing is done at the convenience of theparticipant and not at a specific time of the week or month. The 'meetings,'as a result, tend to be ongoing.

The critical element in the definition of virtual communities is the fact thatpeople can go to their terminals at anytime and use the computer themselves,'with nobody else interposing their judgement.'[17]

As with anything, virtual communities have both advantages anddisadvantages.


  • The technology has the power to bring enormous leverage to ordinary people[18]
  • Provides a forum for people to discuss topics of interest
  • Allows participation at the convenience of the participant
  • Text based
  • Allows participation by many different people from many different places
  • Hides race, gender, sexual orientation, disabilities, etc[19]
  • Promotes interaction with others that can lead to physical meetings
  • Provides a sense of anonymity
  • Some arenas are moderated
  • Not a broadcast medium
  • Media is not 'fixed'
  • No built in opinion restraints


  • Requires knowledge of reading and writing and typing
  • Discrimination is different, but not absent
  • No built in opinion restraints
  • Easy for a few to dominate discussion
  • Obtaining network access can be a problem
  • Must have a computer, or access to a computer
  • Takes time
  • Possibility of losing touch with reality
  • Difficult to navigate and find items of interest
  • Some arenas are moderated
  • Media is not 'fixed'
  • Text based
  • Provides a sense of anonymity

The impact of virtual communities onindividuals and physical communities[20] can have positiveand negative effects. Some of the effects could be considered both positiveand negative.

The biggest advantage is that the technology that makes virtual communitiespossible has the potential to bring enormous intellectual, social, andcommercial leverage as well as, most importantly, political leverage toordinary citizens at relatively little cost.[21] Virtualcommunities give people the opportunity to discuss the issues of the day (orwhatever) with each other and, if necessary or desirable, organize action.Computer mediated communication and virtual communities are a real way forpeople to have a say in the actions government and large corporations pursue.The relatively low cost of communicating information to a large number ofpeople conveniently makes this possible.

The medium must be used intelligently and deliberately by an informedpopulation,[22] however, because the same technology thatcan also be used to organize can also be used to spread misinformation.Government and large corporations could use the medium to feed trivialinformation in large doses to the public, effectively numbing people into astate of information overload, thus dismantling the usefulness of the medium byturning computer mediated communication into a drug.

Although a multitude of special interests groups exist in the physicalcommunity, there is not always a forum located nearby to discuss the particulartopic in which each person is interested. Virtual communities provide a forumfor those discussions. The participant never has to leave home and has somecontrol over how the discussion progresses. Additionally, if there is not aforum for a certain discussion, almost anyone can set up a virtual community oftheir own, although the difficulty varies depending on the network.

For people in rural communities, virtual communities can provide a lifeline.Some communities are so isolated, or small, that few special interest groupsexist. For these people, virtual communities can allow participants to enjoytheir hobby or interest, even though the nearest participant is hundreds ofmiles away.

There are few media that allow an equal number of participants that receiveinformation to broadcast information. Many forms of communication today arebroadcast medium using the 'few to many' model. This model includestelevision, cable television and radio. The 'few to many' model allows a fewpeople, such as national network television and cable companies, to select andsend information in the form of television shows, TV movies, commercials, etc.out to millions of people. This concentration of communication is anaccumulation, in the 'hands of the existing system's administration, of themeans which allow it to carry on this particular administration.' Thespectacle (the 'few to many' broadcast model) thus becomes an organ of classdomination.[23] The incessant refinement and division thatfollows dissolves all community and critical sense among the recipients,[24] because this type of broadcasting does not allow therecipient to respond to the broadcasts easily, conveniently or immediately.Contact between people must go through an intermediary who has the power ofinstantaneous communication.[25] People do not like thiskind of communication, because they do want to be able to explore the socialspace of their surroundings on their own.[26] One mightconsider the Nielson ratings a form of input. The input Nielsen familiesprovide is mainstream and based on the false (or severely limited) choices[27] the broadcast networks provide. What percentage ofhouseholds are 'Nielson families' and what is the actual quality of the input?There can be little or no public discourse in this 'few to many' model, becauseinput is uni-directional.

Additionally, with television, the recipient does not have to use anyimagination. There are no true choices since predetermined shows have certaintime slots, and each show's content has been predetermined and prepackaged.There is no opportunity to watch a show at six o'clock, if it scheduled foreleven o'clock.

Call in talk shows are a perfect example of the need for more 'user input'between broadcasters and recipients. Shows get more calls than they can everput on the air and callers are often on hold for a long time, before they getthe chance to put in their twenty second sound byte. From the beginnings ofBBS systems in 1978, people have demanded a means by which they can interactwith others, not for an 'official, certified, top-down informationsystem.' People demanded a way to have contact with other people havingkindred interests.[28]

Virtual communities use the 'many to many' model of communication, which meansthat everyone is able to send out as much information as they receive. Eachparticipant has control of what they read and what responses they send. Thepower and political significance of virtual communities and computer mediatedcommunication lies in their ability to challenge the existing political andcorporate hierarchies' 'monopoly on powerful communications media.[29]

Although, the 'many to many' communication model can be an advantage, it canalso be a disadvantage. With millions of users 'surfing' the 'Net daily, thenumber of messages received can quickly become overwhelming. It is very easyto become overloaded, because nobody knows when the topic will generate anunusually large number of messages. Since everyone can send a message, thepotential for a large number of messages is very real.

Strong opinions, or plenty of spare time afford some participants the abilityto dominate the discussion. Sending many messages, sending long messages orhabitual flaming are other ways that a few can make the 'many to many'communication model a burden, especially since people who have valuable thingsto say 'tend to keep their heads down and their ideas to themselves when amercenary or hostile zeitgeist dominates an online community.'[30] Howard Besser points out that people need to learn outto responsibly deal with difficult people, especially because people have beensocialized to let authority figures do the unpleasant jobs for us, such asresponding to hostile or opinionated individuals.

Time is a critical factor in the value of virtual communities. The daily lifeof modern society is based on production and output that must adhere to a timeschedule.[31] Outside activities often have to be squeezedinto the few spare hours a week that are left after work and family. Virtualcommunities offer, not only a multitude of topic areas, but also the ability toparticipate at a convenient time. There is no weekly meeting to catch afterwork. The meetings happen whenever the participants have time to login and readthe new postings. This time-shifting allows participants time to ponder aparticularly serious posting or article, and write a coherent response.Time-shifting also allows people from many time zones to participate in adiscussion. Time shifting allows people to use their time in a manner theychoose, at a convenient time, not being forced to select a false choice, justbecause it is available at that time.[32]

Although, there are many forms of identification on the networks,participating in virtual communities gives people a sense of anonymity. Forpeople who are shy or have trouble making friends in their physical community,communicating on a network can give the confidence to make new friends. Aperson can get to know others then choose to meet them.[33] Typing questions and responses onto a computer screenusing a keyboard give the impression that the messages are not really beingsent off to other people. Using virtual communities can seem like wordprocessing where you have control of who sees what one has written. In fact,this phenomenon of anonymity is false, but still seems to be the hardest aspectof virtual communities to overcome. It is hard to grasp how many other peoplewill actually see a message. The 'sense' of anonymity may be why theconversations in virtual communities are so vital. If you do not have to lookat people, it is much easier to say certain things.

Since many conversation threads, started by many different people, can betaking place at a time, virtual communities can also give people a voyeuristicsense of listening in to other's private conversations. This is especiallytrue since a participant can still read all the messages and not have toparticipate. E-mail also makes it possible and easy not to read allmessages.[34] Listening to other people's 'privateconversations' can be quite interesting especially considering the global reachof computer networks.

Along with the different backgrounds comes differing perspectives and pointsof view. Coming into contact with this diversity may open a participant's eyesto new ideas, injustices, and challenge the values and opinions thought to besacrosanct.

A fortunate result of text based computer mediated communication, despite thediversity in virtual communities, is that participants are known by the itemsthey post, their opinions, and by the .sig box at the end of messages. Thefirst impression is not that someone is African-American, or a woman, orwheelchair-bound, so people are not judged on how they look. People whonormally would face discrimination because of their looks have the opportunityto interact without discrimination.

Discrimination still exists in virtual communities and text basedcommunication, it just takes a different form 'appropriate' to the medium(which is not to say that discrimination is appropriate). Participantsdiscriminate, somewhat, against lurkers, making jokes about those that do notparticipate as actively as others. There is discrimination based on the typingability of participants, and the writing skills.

Another target for discrimination comes from lack of knowledge of UNIXcommands and the interworkings of the network. Participants have to get past awhole new set of commands to find their way through the software to thepeople.[35] For example, there is a big difference betweensending a message to the list for everyone to read and sending a message to theLISTSERV software that performs administrative functions. Often new users willsend subscribe, unsubscribe, postpone and digest messages to the list ratherthan to the administrative task master, an surefire indicator of a new orinfrequent user and another target for discrimination. The discrimination thatcan result, though not justified, is understandable. That incorrect messagecan be duplicated for each subscriber, requires network resources as well ashuman resources.

Network address is another factor in the discrimination equation. Someaddresses are an incomprehensible melange of letters and numbers, which areprobably the safest addresses to have. Others are very identifiable.Participants with or may not be considered 'true' users,because they buy their Internet time. Any .com participants may be consideredusurpers, because companies have only recently been allowed on the Internet.

A subtle form of discrimination, which is a direct transfer from the physicalcommunity is that of language pertinent to the topic, or specific to the list.Lists will often form abbreviations for commonly discussed concepts, which maynot be listed anywhere, but are known from reading the messages. Newcomers tothe virtual community may be unable to decipher some of the conversationbecause of the abbreviations. Computer language can be incomprehensible,especially for infrequent users. Although people do not need to know all ofthe computer terminology to operate a computer, they can be left out, if itcomes up in discussion. Other abbreviations, common to virtual communities,are a kind of shorthand baffling to new users. IMHO[36] orBTW[37] are two examples. Often these types ofabbreviations are not intended to alienate anyone, but to speed up the monotonyof typing.

Besser pointed out that many of the patterns of discrimination listed aboveare the behaviors associated with a 'computer nerd' -- a kind of private worldor clubby juvenile behavior. This behavior could have evolved from theearliest participants in virtual communities being people highly knowledgeableabout the Internet, technology, and computers. These behaviors are associatedwith or the products of the technology, and the technological and socialstructures of virtual communities. In my opinion, they have more to do withthe 'doing your homework' and 'earning your stripes' mentality.

People using the Internet to access virtual communities expect otherparticipants to know the rules and conventions of participation. Participantsexpect others to have researched ways of subscribing to a LISTSERV, forexample, and the etiquette involved in sending and answering messages. Theserequirements seem mostly to be enforced and expected for selfish reasons.Participants do not want to see 10 subscribe messages show up in their mailboxeach day. It is annoying and a waste of time.

Participants also expect new participants to have listened in on thediscussion and/or to have searched the archives so that their questions do notrepeat previous recent discussions. Current Internet users seem to bebasically well educated and intelligent. As a result, these users expect newparticipants to match that level of education and intelligence whether or notthey have gone to a university to earn the official degrees.

Despite the existence of discrimination, it seems that discrimination is less,because participants cannot see, and therefore cannot judge, otherparticipants. In some respects, if you take off the 'electronic varnish,' thepatterns of discrimination are similar to what most participants are familiarwith in their physical communities everyday: home, profession, education.

Informal life in America is sorely deficient. Many of the places peoplegathered were eliminated when the 'automobile-centric, suburban, fast-food,shopping-mall way of life' came into being, which began to shred the socialfabric of existing communities.[38] Thus despite theonline allure and electronic positive attractions of virtual communities,people still seem to want to get together, and see the person behind the modem.It is unnatural for people to live in isolation. Traditional societies arebased on the village, which is centered around some sort of assembly space.This space allows people to get together, discuss, exchange, argue and get toknow each other.[39] Modern society has paved over thoseassembly spaces, considering them unimportant. Participants on QuiltNet, aLISTSERV about quiltmaking, have informally grouped themselves into regionalgroups. These regional groups periodically meet to talk, look at each other'squilts and see each other's faces. Often the group will meet if a participantfrom another area is coming to town for a visit. In this way, virtualcommunities can be a catalyst for people to meet in their physical communities.If people are using virtual communities to facilitate conversation and replacethe need for regular meetings, but physically meeting for important events orto refresh the group, then virtual communities provide a convenient and usefulpurpose.

Meeting, however, can be a challenge since most participants have only theirown idea of what other participants look like. Some virtual communities adopta symbol, so members can recognize each other. For example, PUBLIB-NETencouraged participants to pick up PUBLIB-NET stickers at the last ALAconvention, so that participants could recognize one another and say hello.

The potential is on the horizon for the Information Superhighway, to continuepaving over the common areas by making virtual communities accessible by thosewho can pay. This model will continue the pattern of isolation on which currenttechnologies such as the automobile and the television are based. Thesetechnologies 'are weapons for a constant reinforcement of the conditions ofisolation.'[40] Lee Felsenstein, author of 'The Commonsof Information' and founder of the Community Memory[41]Project, maintains that a village square provides a healthy need for acommunity. He further states that:

The degree to which a 'village square' is unavailable to people is, Imaintain, the degree to which people are strangers to each other, and thissituation is directly related to the development of social pathologies such ascriminality, alcoholism, brutality and the like. I claim that we all have aninherent need for the function of the village square.[42]

As well as encompassing a wide variety of formats and topics, there are, atleast, two types of virtual communities that exist: unmoderated and moderated.Moderated lists have an advantage when it comes to sorting through e-mail.Moderators will often read all messages sent to the group before they are senton to the rest of the subscribers. This allows irrelevant and 'mistake'messages to be removed or redirected. Sometimes, moderators will groupmessages on a certain topic into one message. Moderators also help keep thediscussion on track or they will pull the conversation back when it drifts toofar afield.

Moderated lists have advantages but, there are also disadvantages, as wasrecently illustrated on an Internet list about virtual communities calledIRVC-L.[43] The list was generating upwards of fiftymessages a day, some of which were annoying or only tangentially related to thetopic. One example was that several messages debated the semantics of a postedmessage posted rather than the content of the message. Finally, after manypeople signed off the list and complained about the quality of the messages,the moderator reiterated the purpose of the list and decreed that allparticipants posting irrelevant or inflammatory messages would be removed fromthe list. The result was that the IRVC-L message count has dwindled to a fewpostings per day, and it may take some time before the list 'heals' and getsover the feeling that Big Brother is watching.

The action by the IRVC-L moderator, suggests that virtual communities are nottruly communities, if someone has the control of who belongs and who does not,as well as what type of messages participants post. Participants do have theright to argue with the moderator or go off and start their own list, orcontinue to discuss as before, flaunting their actions in the face (computerscreen) of the moderator. As mentioned above, the 'many to many'communications model allows everyone to respond to messages and actionsequally.

Virtual communities differ from other types of media, because the messages arenot permanent. The messages sent to other participants reside on each accountuntil deleted. This allows participants to clip portions and respond to justone portion of a message, allowing others to see the exact wording of theoriginal message. The sender does not have to print out, retype theinformation or paraphrase. This is helpful, though not foolproof, inpreventing the distortion of the original sender's intent.

Whenever a message is sent to a virtual community, the words become part ofthe electronic universe. The messages are duplicated on machines all over theworld. Due to the digital nature of the media, it also means that the wordswritten in the message are malleable. A message sent by Participant #1 can beforwarded by Participant #2 to Friend X who does not participate in the virtualcommunity, but is interested in a topic currently being discussed. Friend Xcan then, without the knowledge of the original sender, include the comments ina paper, an article, a speech or forward the message on to another virtualcommunity.

Sometimes messages are archived for future research. The archives of somevirtual communities can, then, be searched. The messages retrieved through asearch are then sent to the searcher's account where they reside until deleted.By sending a message to a virtual community, control over the content is lost.There is no way for the sender to prevent a recipient or archives searcher fromusing the information in any manner they choose, including changing the meaningof the information or forwarding it on as someone else's words.[44] People are attempting to stem the flood of forwardedmessages by including disclaimers with the message which outline the way thatthey allow their words to be used. Once the message is out into the electronicuniverse, true control over the content is lost and participants must rely ongood Netiquette.

Most computer networks, at this time, are text based. This means that you donot have to do any drawing, and there are few images or video broadcast overthe networks. As a result, participants can form their own images of thetopics discussed, and of the other participants. Although it is often apparentwhether someone is a man or a woman after a few messages are exchanged, a textbased system allows people to take on characteristics, such as being moreforceful, that would be impossible to assume in face to face conversations.For many people this provides the anonymity that they need to contribute to theconversation.

As a result of the text based nature of virtual communities, they are one ofthe few recreational areas where many people have the opportunity to do asignificant amount of writing. Neil Postman, surmises that the advent oftelevision has ruined the literacy of the United States. 'From its beginninguntil well into the nineteenth century, America was as dominated by the printedword and an oratory based on the printed word as any society we know of.'[45] This was true, because from the seventeenth to the latenineteenth century, printed matter was virtually all that was available.[46] Today, it seems that very few people write letters tofriends, much less write about their ideas, thoughts, hopes, dreams andfeelings.

Virtual communities, currently, require that a participant put thoughts,opinions and feelings into words in order to transmit them to others. In thisrequirement, virtual communities offer the opportunity to use writing skills inan analytical way. Unfortunately, people do not need to be able to read and/orwrite to watch television, so they watch television instead of reading.

Postman says in his book, Amusing Ourselves to Death: Public Discourse inthe Age of Show Business:

..the most significant cultural fact of the second half of the twentiethcentury [is] the decline of the Age of Typography and the ascendancy of the Ageof Television. This change-over has dramatically and irreversibly shifted thecontent and meaning of public discourse, since two media so vastly differentcannot accommodate the same ideas. As the influence of print wanes, thecontent of politics, religion, education, and anything else that comprisespublic business must change and be recast in terms that are most suitable totelevision. [47]

Reading and writing should be skills that everyone has, but 'nearly 50% of allAmericans lack the basic literacy skills needed to hold a decent job.'[48] These alarming comments on literacy are very differentfrom previous literacy statistics. Between 1640 and 1700 the literacy ratefor men in Massachusetts and Connecticut was somewhere between 89 and 95percent, while the literacy rate, in 1681-1697, for women in the same area wasestimated to be 62 percent.[49] The statistics seem toindicate that television has had, at least, some effect on literacy.

Illiteracy does not cross socio-economic boundaries as other social ills, suchas alcoholism and drug use, do. African-Americans, other minorities and poorpeople ranked disproportionately low in literacy surveys. As a result, theiropinions and thoughts are not available to be shared with others. If peoplecannot compute the difference between a sale price and a regular price orpinpoint an intersection on a map,[50] how can theyfunction in a virtual community, where the conversation as well as theparticipants are very abstract? The answer is that they will not be able toand will therefore continue to be shut out of the virtual communities that arebrought to their doorsteps.

Religion and family do not have the power over people that they once did, sopeople turn to television and mass consumption for their values.[51] 'The mass-media dominated public sphere is where thegoverned now get knowledge; the problem is that commercial mass-media, led bybroadcast television, have polluted, with barrages of flashy, phony,'unrealistic, 'often violent imagery, a public sphere that once included a largecomponent of reading, writing and rational discourse.'[52]The corporate sector and, perhaps, the government benefit from the isolationthat television and mass consumption encourage. If people do not meet, they donot ask a lot of difficult questions after the meeting. If people do notdiscuss topics for very long or in any great detail, they will not demand thatcorporations and government answer for their actions and policies. Thediscussion in virtual communities provides education and fuel for challenge tocorporate and governmental policies. Unfortunately, with the pre-packagedideas that television provides being duplicated on the InformationSuperhighway, rather than following the model of public discourse thatcurrently exists on the Internet, all of the hopes for a medium that willaccommodate discussions among people will be extinguished. The spectacle isboth the result and the project of the existing mode of production, not asupplement or an additional decoration to the real world. In all of itsspecific forms, 'as information propaganda, as advertisement or directentertainment consumption, the spectacle is the present model of sociallydominant life.'[53]

Not only will illiterates be excluded, but, to a certain extent, children willalso be excluded. The very young have not yet learned to read or write and theolder children do not always have the sophisticated literacy skills required toparticipate in some of the abstract discussions that are part of virtualcommunities.

Even more alarming is the attempt, by some groups to prohibit children on thebasis that unsuitable materials exist on the networks and children should beprotected from them. By prohibiting children from the good virtual communities,as well as the bad, these groups prevent children from having the opportunityto form opinions about good and bad, and prevent parents from making thedecisions that are right for their own family's situation.[54]

Children and illiterates, who will potentially be shut out of future virtualcommunities, offer a different perspective on society from the mainstream. Thefact that you need to read and write to participate will eliminate significantpoints of view. The loss of their participation could be detrimental to thetrue globality of these communities.

Literacy is only one barrier to virtual communities that exists. Access tothe networks can be a barrier to participation in virtual communities, also.In order to be a virtual community participant, people must, first, have accessto modem-equipped computers. Currently, 6% of the adult population with incomeof $10,000 per year or less own a home computer. 18% in this income range usea computer at work. That figure moves up as family incomes increase. 35% ofadults, where the family income is $50,000 to $74,999 per year, own a homecomputer, while 53% of those adults use one at work.[55]Although these figures are two years old, they point out an already a largedisparity in access. With the price of computers plummenting, the disparitycould be growing larger.

Currently there are few, if any community open computing facilities. Withoutaccess, however, people cannot participate and again, large segments, withpotentially valuable and diverse points of view will be shut out. Besserpoints out that this problem is an opportunity for libraries to create a newrole for themselves in communities by providing access to computers, andvirtual communities.

Cost is an issue in other ways, too. If a computer with modem magicallyappears in the living room, the costs associated with connecting to a networkservice provider still must be considered. These costs are not insignificantand will probably jump in the near future, according to Howard Besser. Someparticipants have access through work, which is a viable alternative, except incases where employers consider e-mail something to be used for work relatedactivities only, or where the amount of computer access to non-work virtualcommunities puts a participant's job in jeopardy. Employers may (perhapsrightly) fear that this could become the new workforce narcotic.

Another issue related to cost is that the discussions will become tooexpensive for most people to access when the corporations fighting for controlof the Information Superhighway actually gain a significant share. Free areaswill encompass shopping, pay per view movies on demand index, or be workrelated. Thus, the interesting discussions may cease to exist or dwindle. TheAmerica Online and Prodigy models, may become the only choices, whereparticipants pay to be connected and pay a premium for the interestinginformation, but still have to endure advertisements. With this model, virtualcommunities will have to prove their worth by drumming up advertising or someother type of financing, which will make it difficult for low-use or obscuretopics to stay available. This is a change that will create the mind-alteringdrug of the 90's, a 'drug' similar to the effect that video games andtelevision have today. If commercial ventures get control, there will be adefinite slant towards selling things and away from public interest. Accordingto Elaine Albright, dean of cultural affairs and libraries for the Universityof Maine and chair of the ALA Ad Hoc Subcommittee on Telecommunications,

The National Information Infrastructure represents the evolution of thenation's multi-faceted communications network, including telephone andtelecommunications, cable and television delivery systems, and the rapidlyemerging Internet and new digital communications system. The old framework forregulation which provided separate approaches for the emerging communicationsmedia must be reexamined in order to ensure that the information infrastructuredoes not impede growth and social progress. This examination must reconsiderthe public interest issues as well as the market issues in modifying theexisting framework.[56]

Public interest issues must be addressed as vigorously as market issues, sinceboth will need to work together to create a network that is useful in thepublic interest sense and profitable, in the commercial sense. FrederickWeingarten, executive director of the Computing Research Association,reiterated this when he said that 'the model for developing newtelecommunications policy must move from the model of allocating markets to abalanced process of developing policy which involves public interests as wellas market interests.'[57]

Some aspects of virtual communities would be considered neither useful nordesirable. There exists a possibility that participants could become soinvolved in virtual communities that it becomes their reality, losing touchwith physical reality. This is a problem, not only for the individual, butalso for the physical and virtual communities. The individual may forgoactivities with friends or family, effectively isolating him/herself fromoutside stimuli. The physical community loses a productive member of society.Not everyone writes letters to their Senator or volunteers at the local animalshelter, but every person who does contributes to the greater good, and losingone volunteer can make a difference in some services. When virtual communitiesparticipants isolate themselves from the physical community their participationin the virtual community is less valuable, because of their increasinglylimited experiences. This phenomenon seems more likely in MUDs and MUSEs, thanLISTSERVs, although the potential is there in all types of virtual communities.Banning certain types of virtual communities, such as MUDs or IRC[58] activity, however, is a natural bureaucratic impulse inresponse to tales of addiction, but it seems more prudent to treat the problemson a case by case basis rather than creating a new kind of online culturepolice.[59] One must be careful with the addiction modelas applied to a range of human behavior, because a person in the midst of aheated debate is much different from the person whose physical life suffersfrom their activities in the virtual community.[60]

It seems reasonable to assume that most people would find a balance betweenthe real-world and the virtual world. There are many aspects of society thatcan have multiple varying effects on individuals. For example, alcoholicbeverages are viewed, on one hand, as a pleasurable and healthy complement to ameal. Others would prefer to eliminate alcoholic beverages all together,because of the potential dangers inherent in these beverages. There are alsoindividuals who are addicted to them with many negative societalconsequences.[61] Technology is not the problem, but theuses to which humans put the technology 'unless one considers virtualcommunities a post modern form of the spectacle -driving people indoors andmaking them think that virtual communities are real communities.'[62]

Other aspects of virtual communities could affect the physical communities.If people become comfortable maneuvering in virtual communities, the new skillsmay help participants become comfortable with using commercial online ventures.These services could make it easier to shop and receive entertainment affectingthe neighborhood economic stability and social interactions among residents.

There are other issues to address, though, besides the advantages anddisadvantages of virtual communities. First, even though the mundane tasks ofmaintaining a membership list is handled by software, the virtual communitystill needs 'care and feeding'. Someone must start the conversation, when thelist is new, and keep it going when the traffic is light. Somebody needs tohandle problems and misdirected mail. And someone needs to assuage ruffledfeathers and remind people, diplomatically, of the finer points of Netiquette.An excellent example with regard to the care and feeding of a virtual communityare the events that recently took place on QuiltNet.[63]Recently the listowner sent a message saying that she would close down thisvirtual quilting community on December 1st, 1993. After several years the listhad grown from 17 people to over 500. The amount of daily traffic along withthe associated tasks and responsibilities was beginning to interfere with herjob. Someone volunteered to move the list to another site which means thatQuiltNet will continue, but the tasks necessary to keep the list functioningwill not go away, they will be transferred to the new listowner. Virtualcommunities do not handle themselves, so in that way, they are the same asphysical communities. The tasks are different and appropriate to the medium.Many of the problems referred to above can be solved by people taking the timeto be responsible (or learning to be responsible), learning to handle difficultsituations and devoting the time to active and valuable participation, insteadof relying on outside authorities to take care of everything for them.

Second, how can business fit into the virtual community equation? There areseveral ways in which virtual communities could assist businesses in providingbetter service and streamlining in-house processes. Virtual communities havethe ability to provide online colleagues for employees in an organization whohold unique responsibilities. Also, virtual communities are useful for thosewho deal with a one-of-a-kind piece of equipment or a software package notsupported by the MIS department. Some networks, such as CompuServe, alreadyprovide forums where companies can communicate with a their customers. Thesetypes of virtual communities are a convenient, efficient and economical way forcompanies to provide support for products, and for customers to communicatewith a company. Supporting products through virtual communities is good publicrelations, also. If customers do not have stay on telephone hold for half anhour, while technicians solve other problems, they will be happier customers.

Businesses can also save money when professional organizations support virtualcommunities for members. Members of professional organizations can discussissues on an ongoing basis via virtual communities without having to spendadditional time away from the office. Professionals can also share knowledgeon particular problems that come up on a day to day basis, problems which maynot be addressed at a national conference. Employee participants can get fastanswers and develop a network of 'experts,' because participants have access topeople with a broad range of knowledge.

Parts of a computer hand in:mr. mac

Oftentimes, businesses do not want to support virtual communities at all,because it involves a technology that is new, and perceived as a toy. Managersmay not see the value of virtual communities and perceive them as detractingfrom other day to day tasks. Making network access technology available toemployees also gives them the capability of accessing non-work related virtualcommunities. Grudgingly companies seem to be beginning to support work relatedvirtual communities.

Third, virtual communities need to attempt to make their discussions availableto many different users. Gateways between networks are one way that virtualcommunities have helped to draw more participants from various networks intodiscussions. Participants need to look towards encouraging non-network usersto acquire accounts and join virtual communities, especially those who wouldbring rich experiences to the discussions.

User interfaces need to be addressed also. Though many would opt for agraphical user interface such as the one America Online uses, this type ofinterface may not be the best for everyone. A wide variety of interfacesshould be available including command line, touch screens, and voiceinterfaces.

Finally, how useful are virtual communities for topics that incorporatenon-textual or visual information? People still seem to discuss the issues,such as quiltmaking and art, which incorporate a broad range of visualinformation. ASCII drawings are possible, lengthy and graphic descriptions canbe the norm on such lists. Additionally, a lot of the discussion centersaround ideas, suggestions of tools, reviews of books, or reference sources.This genre of virtual communities may also foster more physical meetings toshow the actual visual materials. This issue may become a non issue when videoand images become more standard across networks.[64]Provisions should be made to provide drawing capabilities in the software. Inthe meantime, other possibilities to facilitate this valuable type ofinteraction should be explored.

In general, virtual communities, in their current incarnation, are beneficialto society because they provide a forum for discussion of topics that mayotherwise not be discussed on such an open scale. They also allow people tomeet each other and have discussions in a convenient way. Despite thebenefits, there are problems such as access and discrimination that need tocontinually be addressed in a meaningful way by participants in the virtualcommunities and by policy makers. Virtual communities are fosteringinteraction between people that would never have taken place without computermediated communication and the respective virtual community of choice.

However, the push in Congress and in the private sector to open up theInformation Superhighway to commercial traffic as well as to citizens, has thepotential to sink to the Information Superhighway to the level of the 'lowestcommon denominator,' modelling itself on television, which is a basicallytautological character, whose means are simultaneously its ends.[65] Television is based on the ruling economy where the goalis nothing and development is everything.[66] At the levelof the 'lowest common denominator', it will not push the limits of people'simagination and intelligence. The network of the future will become liketelevision where every television program must be a complete package in itselfwhere no previous knowledge is required.[67] Applying thismodel to the Information Superhighway highlights the ease in which it couldbecome another mind-altering drug, rather than a stimulating place forconversation and learning. People really need to decide whether they wantvirtual communities to be like Las Vegas, a city devoted to the idea ofentertainment, where all public discourse takes the form of entertainment[68] or whether they want a true Information Superhighwaywhere public discourse is the entertainment and then act on those decisions.


'Access to Computers Increases with Income.' CENDATA File, 3 June 1991,No.

Debord, Guy. Society of the Spectacle. Detroit, MI: Black & Red,1983.

Felsenstein, Lee. 'The Commons of Information.' Dr. Dobb's Journal, May1993, 18-24.

'Info Infrastructure Policy Examined at National Meeting.' AmericanLibraries, November 1993, 964.

Johnson Publishing Company. 'Almost 50% of U.S. Adults Lack Basic LiteracySkills.' Jet, 27 September 1985, 24.

Krol, Ed. The Whole Internet User's Guide and Catalog. Sebastapol, CA:O'Reilly & Associates, 1992.

Postman, Neil. Amusing Ourselves to Death: Public Discourse in the Age ofShow Business. New York : Penguin Books, 1985.

Rheingold, Howard. The Virtual Community: Homesteading on the ElectronicFrontier. Menlo Park, CA: Addison-Wesley Publishing Company, 1993.

Smith, Richard J., and Mark Gibbs. Navigating the Internet. Carmel, IN: SAMS, 1993.


[1] Debord writes about French society, but the aspects ofconsumerism described are also relevant to the United States.

[2] Guy Debord, Society of the Spectacle (Detroit, MI:Black and Red), 1.

[3] Howard Rheingold, The Virtual Community: Homesteadingon the Electronic Frontier (Menlo Park, CA: Addison-Wesley PublishingCompany), 13.

[4] Jess Stein, ed., The Random House College Dictionary,Revised Edition (New York: Random House, 1982), 1470.

[5] Jess Stein, ed., The Random House College Dictionary,Revised Edition (New York: Random House, 1982), 272.


[6] Howard Rheingold, The Virtual Community: Homesteadingon the Electronic Frontier (Menlo Park, CA: Addison-Wesley PublishingCompany), 5.

[7] Computer mediated communication is a method ofinteraction facilitated by computers and where computers play an integralrole.

[8] [email protected]

[9] [email protected]


[10] [email protected]

[11] [email protected]

[12] [email protected]

[13] [email protected]

[14] [email protected] [email protected]

[15] [email protected]

[16] [email protected] or [email protected]

[17] Lee Felsenstein, 'The Commons of Information,' Dr.Dobb's Journal, May 1993, 20.

[18] Howard Rheingold, The Virtual Community:Homesteading on the Electronic Frontier (Menlo Park, CA: Addison-WesleyPublishing Company), 4.

[19] Some would call this a disadvantage, but I think thatit is a great equalizer and have therefore listed it in the advantage column.Race, gender, sexual orientation, disabilities, etc. will never becomeunimportant unless people have the opportunity to discuss with others in amanner where these qualities are initially hidden. Computer mediatedcommunication in virtual communities provides these types of discussions.

[20] Physical communities will be used to refer to theneighborhood, town or city that a person actually, physically resides in; thephysical environs.

[21] Howard Rheingold, The Virtual Community:Homesteading on the Electronic Frontier (Menlo Park, CA: Addison-WesleyPublishing Company), 4.

[22] Howard Rheingold, The Virtual Community:Homesteading on the Electronic Frontier (Menlo Park, CA: Addison-WesleyPublishing Company), 4.

[23] Guy Debord, Society of the Spectacle (Detroit,MI: Black & Red), 24.

[24] Guy Debord, Society of the Spectacle (Detroit,MI: Black & Red), 25.

[25] Guy Debord, Society of the Spectacle (Detroit,MI: Black & Red), 24.

[26] Lee Felsenstein, 'The Commons of Information,' Dr.Dobb's Journal, May 1993, 20.

[27] A predetermined set from which to choose from.

[28] Lee Felsenstein, 'The Commons of Information,' Dr.Dobb's Journal, May 1993, 20.

[29] Howard Rheingold, The Virtual Community:Homesteading on the Electronic Frontier (Menlo Park, CA: Addison-WesleyPublishing Company), 56.

[30] Howard Rheingold, The Virtual Community:Homesteading on the Electronic Frontier (Menlo Park, CA: Addison-WesleyPublishing Company), 59.

[31] Guy Debord, Society of the Spectacle (Detroit,MI: Black & Red), 24.

[32] Guy Debord, Society of the Spectacle (Detroit,MI: Black & Red, 1983), 157, 159.

[33] Howard Rheingold, The Virtual Community:Homesteading on the Electronic Frontier (Menlo Park, CA: Addison-WesleyPublishing Company), 26.

[34] Howard Rheingold, The Virtual Community:Homesteading on the Electronic Frontier (Menlo Park, CA: Addison-WesleyPublishing Company), 53.

[35] Howard Rheingold, The Virtual Community:Homesteading on the Electronic Frontier (Menlo Park, CA: Addison-WesleyPublishing Company), 39.

[36] In my humble opinion.

[37] By the way.

[38] Howard Rheingold, The Virtual Community:Homesteading on the Electronic Frontier (Menlo Park, CA: Addison-WesleyPublishing Company), 25.

[39] Lee Felsenstein, 'The Commons of Information,' Dr.Dobb's Journal, May 1993, 18.

[40] Guy Debord, Society of the Spectacle (Detroit,MI: Black & Red, 1983), 28.

[41] telnet

[42] Lee Felsenstein, 'The Commons of Information,' Dr.Dobb's Journal, May 1993, 18.

[43] [email protected]

[44] Howard Besser points out that this is not qualitativelydifferent from what happens in other public arenas. If a person quoted in anewspaper or magazine is compared with another person sending a message to avirtual community, the result is the same. Regardless of what the sendermeans, the reaction to the message comes from how it is read, interpreted andrepeated or quoted again by the recipient.

[45] Neil Postman, Amusing Ourselves to Death: PublicDiscourse in the Age of Show Business (New York: Penguin Books, 1985),40-41.

[46] Neil Postman, Amusing Ourselves to Death: PublicDiscourse in the Age of Show Business (New York: Penguin Books, 1985),41.

[47] Neil Postman, Amusing Ourselves to Death: PublicDiscourse in the Age of Show Business (New York, Penguin Books, 1985), 8.

[48] Johnson Publishing Company. 'Almost 50% of U.S. Adultslack Basic Literacy Skills,' Jet 84 (Sept. 27, 1993): 24.

[49] Neil Postman, Amusing Ourselves to Death: PublicDiscourse in the Age of Show Business (New York: Penguin Books), 31-32.

[50] Johnson Publishing Company. 'Almost 50% of U.S. Adultslack Basic Literacy Skills,' Jet 84 (Sept. 27, 1993): 24.

[51] Guy Debord, Society of the Spectacle (Detroit,MI: Black & Red, 1983), 59.

[52] Howard Rheingold, The Virtual Community:Homesteading on the Electronic Frontier (Menlo Park, CA: Addison-WesleyPublishing Company), 13.

[53] Guy Debord, Society of the Spectacle (Detroit,MI: Black and Red), 6.

[54] Besser notes that this reaction to informationavailable through virtual communities is a new face on a long standing argumentover how to raise children- protect and isolate them from bad ideas, or exposethem to all ideas and teach them to critically evaluate them.

[55] DIALOG File: CENDATA. Access to Computers Increaseswith Income, No., June 3, 1991.

[56] 'Info Infrastructure Policy Examined at NationalMeeting,' American Libraries, November 1993, 964.

[57] 'Info Infrastructure Policy Examined at NationalMeeting,' American Libraries, November 1993, 964.

[58] Internet Relay Chat are channels that offer crosscultural, real time communication with others and, according to HowardRheingold on page 178, is the corner pub, the cafe, the common room-the 'greatgood place' of the Net.

Parts Of A Computer Hand In:mr. Mac's Virtual Existence -

[59] Howard Rheingold, The Virtual Community:Homesteading on the Electronic Frontier (Menlo Park, CA: Addison-WesleyPublishing Company), 183.

[60] Howard Rheingold, The Virtual Community:Homesteading on the Electronic Frontier (Menlo Park, CA: Addison-WesleyPublishing Company), 33.

Parts Of A Computer Hand In:mr. Mac's Virtual Existence According

[61] Carolyn Smith to LISTSERV IRVC-L([email protected]), TDS by Smith as participant of the virtualcommunity, IRVC-L archives.

[62] Comment by Howard Besser ([email protected]) onfirst draft of paper.

[63] [email protected] (until December 1, 1993) [email protected]

[64] Although this seems farfetched and impossible becauseof the size of video and image files and the resulting storage and transmissioncharges, technology will probably leap ahead and take care of some of theseproblems.

[65] Guy Debord, Society of the Spectacle (Detroit,MI: Black & Red, 1983), 13.

Parts Of A Computer Hand In:mr. Mac's Virtual Existence Key

[66] Guy Debord, Society of the Spectacle (Detroit,MI: Black & Red, 1983), 14.

[67] Neil Postman, Amusing Ourselves to Death: PublicDiscourse in the Age of Show Business (New York: Penguin Books, 1985),147.

Parts Of A Computer Hand In:mr. Mac's Virtual Existence Depends

[68] Neil Postman, Amusing Ourselves to Death: PublicDiscourse in the Age of Show Business (New York: Penguin Books, 1985), 3.