Sunday, February 21, 2010


The group of IT professionals, averaging about 40 years old, encountered severe difficulty from the very beginning. The two oldest, already in their fifties, decided to be 41-year-old women. To them, the age of 41 is “already young enough,” despite they have learned that most Taiwanese Internet users were in their teens and twenties. Later, these two, along with many others who were male, feared and refused to assume a female identity. The female professionals, on the other hand, had similar trouble assuming the male identity. There were more challenges afterwards: they could not speak the lingo of the young and therefore found few people to chat with. They ventured into different websites, some of which were known for their sexual orientation, without much success.
Finally after many attempts (and hours), some were able to enter dialogs successfully. And what they discovered was shocking to them. Confirming to the stereotypical image portrayed in the public, there were indeed some very
abusive behaviors, which, in Freud’s terms, appear to be the work of the impulsively primitive id. For example, one encountered a situation in which he
(who assumed a female Internet identity) was asked to have cyber-intercourse.
But many other times, the youngsters at the other end of the chat were only seeking integrating relations, as Sullivan would have envisioned. The worst abuse by these youngsters themselves might be that they spent way too much
time in Internet chat.
However, the fact that Internet becomes a safe heaven for the young has important implications to the “abuse in the large.” For one, their social wellbeing may decrease. This reduction in social wellbeing may in turn affect the physical life of these people, i.e., losing interest in school or in work. Also, many like to bring their Internet discoveries to share with their colleagues and friends inside the company or school. This, however, weakens the defense of the company/school, and the potential for moral hazards increases. Finally, their lack of social experience makes them susceptible to criminal acts. The
possibility that criminals are lurking around the Internet is nothing new. False advertising is virtually impossible to prevent, and criminals can certainly disguise themselves easily.
Through the assignment, the IT professional managers start to understand that Internet abuse in the workplace is inseparable from the entire ecology of the Internet itself. However, the real surprising discovery for the IT professionals is not about the Internet abuse, but about their own unconscious mind. For example, consider the two oldest male managers who chose to assume the identities of 41-year-old women. When asked the reasons behind their choice,
they explained that only lonely mid-aged women would become a frequent visitor of those chat sites, and they had to be “bad” for any man to talk to them on the Internet. Unconsciously, their actions revealed several implicit beliefs that are held commonly by many Taiwanese men of their age. First, the Internet is bad, full of sexual and pornographic materials. Next, “normal” women have no use for the Internet. Third, divorced women in their thirties and forties are lonely and vulnerable and likely to become Internet users. Finally, these women must behave in a seductive way for any man to be interested in talking to them.
These negative stereotype beliefs about both the Internet and women are not manufactured by any individual, but are embedded in cultural practices that have existed for a long time. These beliefs, like Brown and Duguid suggested, are typically undetectable unless there is a breakdown in carrying out actions intended by these beliefs. And indeed, the two professionals would not have admitted to their biases unless their attempts to socialize themselves in the Internet failed. (They failed in the sense that they were not successful in entering a dialog.) The words of the prominent organizational sociologist, Karl
Weick, “How can I know what I think until I see what I say,” seem to echo. They now see what they have done and realized that, in a Freudian sense, they were unconscious of these beliefs that are deeply buried in their mind. It is those beliefs that drive their actions, despite taking courses that teach all the positive applications of the Internet. Furthermore, both have the first-hand knowledge of women who use the Internet: their daughters, in their twenties, have used it often. They should have known better (about both the Internet and female Internet users), but in reality they didn’t. Finally, according to Freud and many later Neo-Freudians, people’s behavior is fundamentally couched in the pleasure principle. Thus, satisfying the id’s primitive impulses produces pleasure; sometimes people may even seek pleasure to the extent that they become despondent in other aspects of life.
Those professional managers’ experience seems to suggest that the Internet may indeed be a vehicle for satisfying the need for interpersonal integration, as implied by Sullivan’s interpersonal field theory. But there is a subtle, though
important difference: this satisfaction is more from the person’s own imagination than the real-world socialization. One’s imagination, of course, is highly error prone. Thus, befriending on the Internet is like opening the floodgate for hazards, since there is infinite possibility of fidelity that the Internet could provide. Could this lead to abuse or even addiction?
Even more questions linger. Where do the stereotype beliefs come from? Is it true that people are more or less unconscious of these deep beliefs behind their abusive acts when they are de-inhibited or de-individuated? In those isolated situations, if people may act abusively without knowing that their unconscious mind is the culprit, what can the management do to successfully
prevent abusive conducts? If people can act against their knowledge (as these
two oldest professionals have done), what sort of education can be effective to
change the unconscious mind? For those IT professionals, there seemed to be
an unlimited number of questions emerging after this assignment.

No comments:

Post a Comment