MINUTES OF THE FLOOR MEETING OF
THE YALE POLITICAL UNION
15th APRIL 2009
The Floor Meeting of the Yale Political Union held on Wednesday 15th April 2009 was called to order at 7:45 p.m. in SSS 114 with the Speaker, Mr. Adam Hirst, presiding.
The Chairs and Chairmen announce the current happenings of their respective parties.
The Secretary of the Union, Mr. Gabriel Ellsworth, announces that this evening from 9:00 pm to 11:00 pm, Choose Life at Yale will be holding its annual candlelight vigil commemorating the victims of abortion on Cross Campus. All are welcome.
The President introduces Dr. Vint Cerf, commonly known as “the father of the Internet.” He is a true pioneer. He has won more awards than Pres has time to recount, including over a dozen honorary degrees, the National Medal of Technology, the Turing Award, and the Presidential Medal of Freedom, and the Living Legend Medal from the Library of Congress. He is currently the chief Internet evangelist at Google and is considered a top contender for the Obama administration's post of Chief Technology Officer. He has just flown in from Bahrain to speak to us. What makes a community? Are we defined by shared interests and shared goals, or by our shared circumstance? Is the most important aspect of a community that its members choose to be a part of it? Or is the Internet's superabundance of choices antithetical to the unchosen obligations that undergird our most meaningful relationships? Does the ability to find our own specific niche enable us to avoid interacting with those who may be different from us? Will a virtual world always lack the “human connection” that is formed by face-to-face interactions? Or does this virtual world offer new opportunities to build real relationships with people around the globe in a way inconceivable only a few decades ago?
The President moves the topic “Resolved: Online Communities Are Real Communities.”
Dr. Vint Cerf thanks us for a warm welcome. This is not the first time he has been at Yale. He was born here in the Yale hospital in 1943. He appreciates the list of medals and awards. It is better to be a Living Legend than the other things, he thinks. This, tonight, may turn out to be a different outcome, so he is almost tempted to sit down. If he does not say anything, that is the best he can think of. He thanks us for allowing him to join us today. This is the sort of discussion to which he looks forward all the time.
Dr. Cerf takes the positive side of this argument. He believes that the virtual online communities in which we participate are quite real. They are made up of real people, not programs that are emulating. In the past, there were computer games of that kind, where some of the characters with which people were acting had actions determined by computer programs. However, the communities that we are discussing are driven by the decisions of real human beings. There were things called multi-user Dungeon and Dragon games. Dr. Cerf remembers being a passionate player of “Adventure,” which came out in the early 1970's and involved crawling around caves that were interconnected in various ways. Those caves were described in written form. You had to use your imagination to play those games. The multi-user Dungeon and Dragon experiments were real people making decisions and interacting with each other. There are other similar kind of systems, Second Life and World of Warcraft, but those are cooperative communities. They are real people interacting with each other. There are other related kinds of activities like Facebook and Myspace, which are not so much gaming interactions; they are a group of people connected with each other. They are not like Second Life and World of Warcraft. The reason that it is important for us to recognize the real consequences is that it is tempting to imagine that when you are on one side of the screen of glass, you are protected from anything you do. Some people believe that when they get in a car, they are protected from the consequences of what they do. People are protected from the consequences of what they say when behind the glass of a screen. Nevertheless, we cannot fail to recognize that we are interacting with real people, even if they are represented by avatars.
There are other related social environments, such as Twitter and IM, that are a waste of time for some and essential for maintaing friendships and relationships for others. E-mail is essential for some. This particular discussion topic is difficult because some of the social effects of these online environments are not very effective or very apparent unless there has been some real face-to-face interaction as well. After meeting people around the world on a regular basis, Dr. Cerf maintains the relationship through online interaction, which is repeatedly reinforced from time to time by seeing someone face to face. In a funny way, these two modes of interaction are not distinct and separate. The two commingle with each other, and the consequence of that commingling is to create a very real social environment.
Dr. Cerf moves to the question of physical proximity. It might be argued that it is not real unless there is some physical proximity. He would like to argue against that proposition. One would not say that there is no social interaction over the telephone because people are not face-to-face or that there is no social interaction in videoconferencing. Dr. Cerf hopes that we would not say that letters do not constitute a social interaction because the parties are not face-to-face. These are ways of reinforcing or destroying social interactions. There is something odd about these virtual, online interactions. They have a little bit to do with the sheet of glass that is protecting the car or that appears to protect us from the rest of the world.
People do not always fully appreciate the consequences of their interactions in these virtual environments. A trivial example is one where there is an e-mail exchange. Say that we share a common language, but one of us has misunderstood what the other is trying to say. We have that problem in all interactions. There is something particularly pernicious about written communications, because once you misunderstand something, you keep reading it over and over again. It makes you more and more angry sometimes because you think the person wrote that deliberately. How many times have we been involved in a flame-fest that came about because of a simple misunderstanding? This is an example where we have to understand the mechanics of online environments. When Dr. Cerf sees flame-fests, he knows that it is time to meet and share a meal or drink or at least get on the phone. Face-to-face interaction has clues in it that online interactions do not always have. Dr. Cerf would still argue that online interactions are no different from the face-to-face interactions that we have. They are part of a spectrum of social involvement.
One thing that Dr. Cerf has noticed in online communities is that, like real communities, they often have rules of conduct. We have very formal rules of conduct for this meeting, which are very important and indicative of societies. We see rules of conduct being invented by people online, and in some very interesting cases, they invent rules that could not have been followed in the real world. In some virtual environments, you can transport yourself to some other place instantaneously. We cannot do that in the real world. The rules of physics have been suspended in many cases. In Second Life in particular, economic decisions are made by people participating in those environments. It has been suggested to Dr. Cerf that some economists encourage their students to enroll in Second Life. They are experimenting with economic environments that we cannot implement in the real world. Whether or not the decision-making is indicative of what would have happened in the real world, the activity is of enough interest that economists want their students to learn from it.
Finally, Dr. Cerf has observed mob behavior. If we look at blogs—or even more so, Twitter—small amounts of information, particularly misinformation, are rapidly spread through the Internet. People do not pay enough information to find out whether that information is real or not. Mobs form in virtual environments. They react to what they think information conveys. The fact that we see the effects suggests that it is very much like the real world. The psychology of mob behavior may very well apply in the virtual world as it does in the real world.
Dr. Cerf would like to close by arguing that we see so many social parallels between the virtual world and the real one that it is impossible not to argue that our interactions are part of a continuum and all represent real societies in which we participate.
Miss Laura Marcus, the Former Vice President, refers to Dr. Cerf's argument that our online interactions are part of a spectrum of an entire range of communal interactions that we have. It seems that while this is true for certain interactions, such as electronic mail, programs like Second Life are actually more of a surrogate for the kinds of interactions that one has in a real-life community than part of a spectrum.
Dr. Cerf hopes that everyone recognizes that as one grows up, one enjoys fantasizing. That is how we play. For example, we play going to work, or we play doctor. We do not stop doing that because people fantasize, and online environments give us an opportunity to try out things that we would not do in the real world. It is still us, but we are play acting. We find it entertaining. we sometimes find it very fulfilling. We sometimes find it weird, but the point is that it is a real feeling or interaction. The fact that it is artificial does not take away from the fact that it is human beings interacting. It is a wonderful opportunity to explore.
The Chairman of the Party of the Right, Miss Nicola Karras, suggests a thought experiment.
Dr. Cerf asks something in German that the Secretary does not understand but that ends in Deutsch.
The Chairman of the Party of the Right continues: if there were no way to know that an online person is a real person, would online communities still be real communities?
Dr. Cerf has to decide if it is Dr. Cerf or his evil twin who will respond (laughter). Alan Turing came up with the Turing Test. If we had artificial intelligence, we would have difficulty distinguishing between a human-generated response and a computer-generated response. Suppose that we had something that Ray Kurzweil, the author of The Singularity Is Near, would propose. He thinks that we will have machines that equal or exceed the intelligence of human beings somewhere around 2029. If it is that indistinguishable, it has now become part of the real world.
Miss Dara Lind points out that some people in academics distinguish between communities and ego-based or ego-centered networks. Is that a useful division in helping us think about online communities? If so, does it affect our interactions in the real world?
Dr. Cerf clarifies that “ego-based” includes World of Warcraft and Second Life and would also include things like LinkedIn and Facebook as ego-based.
Miss Lind replies in the affirmative.
Dr. Cerf asks about World of Warcraft.
Miss Lind replies that because of collective actions of guilt, that gets tricky. Probably not.
Dr. Cerf thinks that the ego effect is in all of them. If you are striving to kill everybody, that's ego-based.
Miss Lind clarifies the definition of “ego-based”: the individual's interaction is determined by his individual interaction with other individuals rather than by a collective mindset.
Dr. Cerf wants to think about that a bit. We are seeing different kinds of interactions taking place, but it is hard for him to believe that those interactions are somehow not real in the one case and not in the other. In the case of things like Linkedin and Facebook and the other social network environments, they are being used for very real purposes, either to invent or create or take advantage of relationships. Dr. Cerf cannot tell us how many people have asked him for references on Facebook. He has received thousands of requests to become a friend. The definition of “friend” has become odd. On the other hand, in social game-playing environments like World of Warcraft, we see an equally important and real effect going on. Joichi Ito is a very successful Japanese businessman and an avid World of Warcraft player. He had a guild of 300 people last Dr. Cerf spoke with him. He says that he has learned a lot about management as a consequence of being part of World of Warcraft. He has to instruct people to do some of the most boring jobs. He has found that people in these World of Warcraft games have the same kind of social interaction problems that they have in the real world. This guy is rude, or that gal never says anything that is rational. He does not want to fall into the trap into which Mr. Summers got. Joichi Ito has learned to do things in the real world as a consequence of participating in this environment. All of those interactions are as real as the ones that we have in our face-to-face interactions in our more common real-life environments.
The Chair of the Liberal Party, Mr. David Porter, asks if there is any sense in which the ease of exit from online communities makes them fundamentally different from real communities. One can disappear more easily from a World of Warcraft or Second Life community than from a real-life community.
Dr. Cerf thinks that Mr. Porter has put his finger on a very good example of a difference between virtual and real communities: the fact that physics has been essentially suspended. Suspension of disbelief occurs in this virtual environment. Mr. Porter is right that there is a difference there. Dr. Cerf thinks that that is a really good point. The question that we need to ask ourselves is: given that reality, what are the rules? In the virtual environment, that is what you are allowed to do in that space. We are inhabiting both spaces, so our actions are real relative to what is possible in each of those spaces. We still make decisions that are consistent with what we are allowed to do. Dr. Cerf likes the question and does not want to be glib about this debate. He had not thought very much about this point. He will think more about it. We can still argue that it is a real phenomenon in relative terms.
Miss Shaina Wright responds to the point that people are nasty online just as in real life. There are some criminal actions that take place exclusively in a virtual world. What if someone steals your stash of gold in World of Warcraft? To some people, that is a very real injury. If you talk to someone who has had this happen, that person will tell you so. Should punishment occur solely online, or should those lines be blurred more than they are?
Dr. Cerf points out, first of all, that there are some online communities that have established rules and will punish people in the online environment. People might be ostracized. The harm that is done is very real. For example, in some of these online environments, you can create very elaborate surroundings for yourself. People either destroy them or remove them, and that is really harmful to the person behind that virtual entity. Dr. Cerf would also like to mention that the online and real environments have already commingled in some very interesting ways in which real, palpable harm can be done. Dr. Cerf sets aside psychological harm. Some of us are aware that the eBay world and the Second Life world have commingled. People gain assets in the virtual world which they then turn around and sell in the real world for real money. In some cases, it is considered inappropriate. The Second Life operators have tried to minimize that interaction, but it is a very real commingling of the environment. In the virtual world, some people are not as artistic as they would like, so they turn to other people and pay them real money for creating houses or avatars. In World of Warcraft, you can hire someone to keep your character alive and functioning. You cannot be on this game 24 hours a day, but if you can pay someone to do that, your character may gain substantial benefit. Is that fair? Now we get a serious commingling of real-world economic power able to overcome any limitations or weaknesses in the real world. Are you allowed to buy the capability or not? Dr. Cerf is not going to suggest any particular outcome or set of rules, but he will argue that we need the rules. People look for them and expect them. Dr. Cerf believes that we have already seen a real interest in punishing people for harms that they create either purely in the virtual environment or in the real world. Sometimes people spend $1,000 trying to build up this capability, and someone else does something to destroy their work. You could make arguments that you had been harmed in the real world too. Dr. Cerf does not know if there have been court cases that have established that as a precedent. It would be very interesting to find out.
The Director of Campus Relations, Miss Leah Libresco, absolutely agrees with Dr. Cerf that the Internet provides many exciting parallels to the real world and new opportunities, and she likes to take advantage of a lot of them. However, we are not talking about the Internet as a handy reference tool or way to coordinate a protest but as a way to have real communities—not just business or scholarship opportunities, but communities. She thinks that there are two big problems with Internet communities that have not been addressed. Mr. Porter brought up the ease of entry and exit. The other is what kind of person you are in online communities. A community is an opportunity to let another group of people have a huge influence over your life. When I enter a community, I commit to this community and to friendships that have a chance of changing who I am and what I believe. I want this decision that I make to matter. The community listens to me and has a hold on me. Internet communities are ill-suited for these things. First of all, there are too many of them. As a steampunk fan, Miss Libresco can enter hundreds of communities relating to this interest. When a community bothers her, she can leave easily. When she read Harry Potter fanfiction and wanted to change sites, the pleas that people made on her to continue her fics fell on deaf ears. She did not care about those people; she was switching to fictionalley.net. It is easy to join, and easy to leave. When things go wrong, the pleas of others make no difference to us. We are protected from the consequences of what we are doing. The word “avatar” comes from a word meaning a person who is some aspect of a god, one aspect. Internet communities are primarily opportunities to get people from small niches, but they are not where you go to find friends. Those people in the fanfiction communities were only interacting with one aspect of Miss Libresco's personality. They are not forced to interact with all parts of her. The people she seeks out for one mutual interest and hangs out with on the Internet do not know her well enough to tell her when she is going wrong. She loves using the Internet. It is really handy for all of the things that let us reach out to other people, organizing big events, getting the data we need quickly, and spreading information. But it is not a place to find people who care about you, who will stop you when you are doing wrong things. By all means, Miss Libresco will meet with us on Facebook or chronicle what is going on with Amazonfail. However, she will not trust us to tell us what is going on in her life. That is not community. It demeans the word to say that it is.
The Chairman of the Progressive Party, Mr. Joshua Esquivel, wonders if the Director of Campus Relations could defend her decision to write Neville-Hermione fan fiction.
Miss Libresco responds that this is one of those moments where she wishes she could log off, but since we are all her friends, she cannot (hissing). Neville appreciated Hermione for being bookish. Ron disdained all academic pursuits and was a puerile jerk all the time. Neville actually liked learning but just was not good at it. In the fifth book, Hermione remarks that Ron is very childish.
The Treasurer of the Union, Mr. Fernando Reyes, thinks that much of what the Director of Campus Relations said is about the real world for many people. Why is Miss Libresco using her personal characteristics to define Internet communities, and what does that say about her and society's understanding of them?
Miss Libresco replies that people who are not in relationships with people are not in communities. She is perfectly comfortable saying that people who do not have relationships are not in communities, online or otherwise.
Dr. Vint Cerf asks how important it is to distinguish real communities from online communities. For some people, those online environments are just as real and have just as much impact as in the real world. The advice that they get and seek online may be influential in decisions that they make. There is something else in the real world that he would like to suggest. We belong to multiple communities in the real world. You have your family, classes and classmates, clubs, and other social cliques that you may be a part of. Dr. Cerf would guess that our behavior is not identical in all of those communities. So once again, he would argue that our real-world and online behaviors are not so different and that we do make manifest very different sides of ourselves depending on what communities we are in.
Miss Libresco will take the second part of the question first. Absolutely, we behave differently in different communities. The difference is not so much that we are wearing masks in the real world but that everyone can see the masks much better. Whatever persona we are trying to create, we know it better when we are interacting with people personally. You cannot do it as well when you have so much editing power over it by text message or anything where you are not getting all the cues you need to see the whole picture well. Emoticons in a Facebook chat are not emotions. We certainly edit when we are talking to our friends, but it is easier for them to call us on that.
Mr. Anthony LeCounte responds to Miss Libresco's claim that one of the primary elements of an online community is that people do not matter. Some people go to online communities for emotional support. Maybe they have psychological issues or just lost a loved one. They make meaningful bonds. Do these bonds not matter simply because those people cannot see the person on the other side of the screen?
Miss Libresco says that Mr. LeCounte has reminded her of the first part of Dr. Cerf's question. She is not interested in talking about the question, “when we use the Internet like the phone, is it a community?” Phone communities are not what we are discussing. We are talking about Internet-only communities. This is not unlike a suicide hotline where someone can make a big difference in your life. Those matter, but those people will not be in your life forever. To return to Dr. Cerf's question, there are people who find deep friendships on Second Life. There are people who have been married after meeting on Second Life. She recommends the book The Second Life Herald. The goal in a lot of things is eventually to meet the person—certainly if you are marrying them, but in other situations too. The artist profiled a few weeks back tries to meet his fans. There is enough that they have been holding back, and when people see that it is a dumpy 40-year-old white man, there is awkwardness. Sometimes the connections were not what they thought. How are we making connections? If we are connecting with people whom we would have met at coffee and then connect as pen pals, that is fine. Connecting with people who know one part of our identities deeply is bad.
Miss Marian Homans-Turnbull believes that a weak line has been drawn. On one side, there are Internet-based communities, and on the other, there are geographically grounded communities where people care about each other as whole people. These are two separate things, but this line is problematic in a lot of ways. It goes right through a fuzzy spectrum. The most dangerous idea is that obligations do not matter. Some people flourish in the communities where they are born. Some people do not. Those who want more find other people with whom they can form a cohesive group with group dynamics. Before the Internet, this happened with groups like schools, pilgrims, and monasteries. People with the freedom to join together often formed communities with a shared interest or goal. Once these groups are formed, these groups care about each other. At Yale, we see groups of people clustered together around a common interest or common goal, and they learn about other interests. Miss Homans-Turnbull was not born tapping and hissing (the Secretary hears much tapping and hissing). The next possible question concerns geography. Groups can have group dynamics, be mutually independent and obligated, and be made up of people who care about each other's whole lives, without having to share the same space all the time. Yes, it is easier to quit a website, but it can be difficult to stop caring. Religious groups are held together by common goals across space. Scientists work in different labs on the same problem. There are times in history when the only goals that matter are about subsistence and shelter. There are groups where people care about finding a cure for pancreatic cancer. Some care about Tibet. Some care about a rare disease that no one else in a given geographical community understands. The strongest communities will be defined by shared understandings of the world. The final line is between the Internet and real life. When you buy something on Amazon, real money is deducted from your bank account and a real object comes from you. The Internet cartoonist buys real food and tissues with real money. There is no line there anymore. Plenty of groups that exist as coherent wholes primarily in the context of the Internet are coherent wholes. They have recognizable group dynamics and consist of people who are personally invested in each other's well-being. People living through similar non-geographic experiences like medical difficulties can form groups that are invisible communities. The Internet can help these groups work together and bond and make a community.
Miss Rachel Homer agrees that chosen communities are real communities, but it seems that the difference is that if I get in a spat with my friends in real life and do not talk to them for a week, they will come back to my door. Online, I really can disappear in a much more complete way, so it is not that the community is chosen or unchosen but that it can be abandoned.
Miss Homans-Turnbull recognizes that it does change to a degree, but it is the “degree” notion that removes this sharp division between online and real communities. There are varying degrees to which your friends can abandon you. If you live in a farming community, you cannot get away from your field. If you are at a college and can go home for a weekend if the spat is bad but have to come back, it is easier to get away from friends even if it is not impossible. If things become sufficiently bad, in most chosen communities a person can remove himself if the motivation is sufficient. Does Miss Homans-Turnbull feel intuitively that there is a difference in degree between deleting one's username and moving house? Yes. Are those two things really fundamentally different? No.
Dr. Vint Cerf has a scenario that he would like Miss Homans-Turnbull to opine about. One of his responsibilities today is to run a working group which is developing standards for the introduction of non-Latin character sets into the Internet system. Things can be in all different scripts. The community that does this work is the Internet Engineering Task Force. It meets three times a year. Its rules state that no decisions are permitted to be made in the face-to-face meetings. The decisions have to be made online, because not everyone can attend the face-to-face meetings. The work of consensus-building takes place over an e-mail distribution list. There are some participants in this discussion who have never come to a physical meeting but who are capable of being incredibly disruptive. One of the rules is that if the Chairman (Dr. Cerf) concludes that a party has been so disruptive that the group cannot work, that person can be banned from the list. The reason he raises this long story is to ask us whether this online environment is anything other than very real.
Miss Homans-Turnbull thinks that it sounds very real. It is similar to the dynamics of many real-life groups trying to get things done. When someone adds too much information that is not relevant, that person is asked to leave the room. There is not yet an e-mail equivalent of [something that the Secretary does not hear].
Mr. Matthew Shaffer quotes Edmund Burke: “society is indeed a contract ...” Burke said that it was a contract between those who have been, those who are now, and those who are yet to come. We are connected at Yale to people who died centuries ago, and in the YPU, we will be connected to them for some 50 years after we die. Do online communities have, or will they ever have, intergenerational continuity? Can something be a community if it has only a relationship between those who are alive right now?
Miss Homans-Turnbull points out that Yale was once a relatively new community. People frequently start new communities. A large subset of things on the Internet that she would categorize as real communities are very rooted in generations back, communities that have dispersed for whatever reasons but can maintain strong historical roots while staying in touch through some kind of virtual space that they share. In terms of literally current Internet communities having a generational dialogue, Mr. Shaffer is right that the Internet is too new. But most things start somewhere. The fact that these communities are not intergenerational yet does not mean that they cannot be.
Mr. David Broockman replies to the fellow recovering existentialist (maybe not) who said that that people come together in real life to maintain traditions and cultures. As Miss Homans-Turnbull knows, and as Mr. Broockman may elaborate on in a later speech, he was once an avid player of World of Warcraft. Does she think that it is really, in some broader sense, as meaningful to kill a virtual monster with some friends as it is to go out hunting and kill a real one, such as a deer? What are the consequences of that for her argument? Do some things have more inherent value than others, or is it whatever we assign to it?
Miss Homans-Turnbull thinks that maybe she is not recovered yet. It is very difficult to compare the value of a real deer with a fictional monster. She does not want to kill a real deer. To give a more coherent and relevant answer, she thinks that apparently, for Mr. Broockman, it was not as meaningful. Perhaps World of Warcraft is not or was not for him an online community. The kinds of things that she would refer to as “online communities” are things where people are as invested as they would be in killing a real deer. Maybe it is unlikely that anyone here would be in a more meaningful community on the Internet. We can find people in the physical world to whom we can relate. We are here at Yale. Again, it is a difference of spectrum and degree. There is a slight difference between World of Warcraft and communities where people are discussing experiences that they could not discuss in real life. The cases in which bonding over killing a real monster is a meaningful experience are probably rare.
Miss Nikki Singh would like to talk about an aspect of online communities that we have not really elaborated upon, which is their etiquette and how we can easily leave and enter into an online community. This is bothersome because it is faceless. You can just go, and it is not done in a diplomatic or tactful way, as opposed to the real world, where in a physical world you have to explain yourself. There are reasons why you should leave. Otherwise, you will be faced with some sort of social consequence. Miss Singh wants to start off with an anecdote. When she first came to America, she quickly learned that the most common way to greet people was by shaking hands. In France, people kiss each other. In Sweden, people rub noses. The point is that you have a human touch with someone. You are actually reaching out to them. You are showing them that you are allowing them as a human being and extending a part of yourself in greeting. Miss Singh does not think that seeing a “hey” or “yo” in a text or an e-mail is the same thing as if you hear someone's intonation. Also, Miss Singh cannot see emoticons. They are charming with colons and other such symbols, but why would you represent a smile that way when you could just smile in person? The last thing that she wanted to consider is: even if you have the best webcam, the best digital speakers, and some sort of device where you could perceive sensations, it would not be the same thing as shaking the hand or kissing it or rubbing the nose. It is a good substitute and very cool, but Miss Singh does not think that you can use special effects to replace the social customs that people have either consciously or self-consciously developed to define themselves as humans.
Mr. Bradley Pough imagines someone who is paralyzed from the waist up. The only way he can communicate with someone is via some computer that somehow projects his thoughts onto a screen somehow. He cannot shake anyone's hand or express emotion through his face. Is he precluded from being a part of any community?
Miss Singh does not believe that he is. He does not have the option to participate in these social customs but can belong to a community. Miss Singh cannot handwrite letters anymore, so she sends e-mails. Her e-mails are written in formal long 17th century English because that is how she would write a letter. Just because you are physically incapable of participating in certain customs does not mean you cannot take part in a community.
The Chairman of the Progressive Party, Mr. Joshua Esquivel, wonders what role the Facebook poke plays in meetings. What conception does she have of it?
Miss Singh replies that she has never poked anybody (applause and hissing). She does not know why that deserves a hiss. This goes back to an online community. If we decide to justify it as a community, that removes some of the grace that comes with our social interactions. It is true that you would not go up to someone and poke them (hissing). Maybe some would under the influence of certain substances, but Miss Singh likes the thought that the glass screen invites a sense of protection from certain actions. That leads to this lack of inhibitions. It is not something worth living your life. She is not sure about the Facebook poke.
The Chairman of the Tory Party, Mr. Alexander Ramey, moves that we thank Miss Singh for a fine maiden speech on the floor of the Yale Political Union. The motion is seconded and carries without objection.
The Treasurer of the Union, Mr. Fernando Reyes, has been bothered by unserious treatment of tonight's topic. He was part of a gay teenage support group online. He has seen kids cry. They have committed suicide. It has meant something. It was not a joke. It was not something that he could play with and treat lightly. It was not an easy exit. When he asked the Director of Campus Relations why she was willing to project her own personal opinions onto the Internet, it was because none of us in this audience know more about the Treasurer than some people online. We do not. There are enough people online that would say a lot of one's friends do not matter as much as online friends. It is because communities are not just about physical geographical proximity. They are about interactions or relationships. You can build them meaningfully online. Mr. Reyes has done so and continues to do so. Communities are two-way streets. Mr. Reyes does not talk to anyone back home. Does that mean his high school was a fake community? If all we are saying is that unchosen communities are real and everything else is false, that is a meaningless distinction. It is easy to mock that, but it is also easy to mock those who have spent a lot of time on the Internet because their own communities have failed them. Their communities have pushed them to activities that they would never have dreamed of doing because of cultural oppression.
The Chairman of the Party of the Right, Miss Nicola Karras, has been in the same position as Mr. Reyes. However, if he could live or spend his time within five meters of his online friends about whom he knows and cares so much, would he rather do so? A good Internet community is better than an undesirable real-life community, but is a good real-life community better than a good Internet community?
Mr. Reyes replies that when he was thinking of this resolution, he did not think of it in terms of whether online is better than real life. There are many people whom he would never get to meet in real life that he has gotten to meet online.
Dr. Vint Cerf thinks that we might have a false dichotomy in our debate, and in fact the real and artificial worlds are conjoined in many circumstances. We all agree that there are circumstances where the virtual world is thoroughly unreal, but we also know of cases very different from this.
Mr. Reyes believes that it is an inherently false dichotomy. The interesting stories about the Internet are people who do not eat or sleep for 72 hours because they are online. It is easy to mock those people. Mr. Reyes thinks that it would be unfair to say that this is a certain archetype of people. This is largely due to a group of people that were willing to put up with him while drinking vodka on the side.
Mr. Matthew Shaffer rises for a speech in the negative. Tonight's debate and the Treasurer's speech are all predicated on Platonism. As Mr. Peter Johnston said in his organizational speech this September, the mind-body dichotomy is the origin of liberalism and evil. Is it true that people in this room do not know Mr. Reyes as well as those online? If you take a Platonist view of knowledge, this is possibly true. They probably have had more things communicated in written language. The problem with Platonism is the Old Testament. In the Old Testament, the world for “to have sex,” translated into English, is “to know.” Mr. Shaffer always found this very interesting as a teenager, but it reflects that we are getting at something very profound. To know something is not to be able to define it as Plato would have us think. To actually know something is to experience it viscerally. In Mr. Shaffer's family, there is a tradition. Whenever a fight is about to break out, instead of trying to talk it over (in vain), the members of Mr. Shaffer's family stop talking and give each other hugs. This tends to solve the problem. There are some things that can be communicated by visceral experience but not by spoken interaction. That is why real communities have to be based on actual location. There is one other thing online communities lack. Miss Homans-Turnbull answered his question about the lack of intergenerational continuity by saying that Yale was new once too. This is true. However, the point was that online communities may someday be fulfilling but are not yet. At Oxford, he encountered a man holding a teddy bear named Aloysius. This young man who was an undergraduate at Oxford understood his experience at Oxford through the lens of Brideshead Revisited, as many do. All of us are reenacting experience and narrative, understanding our experiences through art and literature. There may someday be great literature that can tell us what flirting on Facebook chat is like. Then, flirting on Facebook chat will be part of a real community, but until Shakespeare has written a Romeo and Juliet about Facebook chatting, that experience cannot be as transcendent, satisfying, and fulfilling.
Miss Shaina Wright challenges the idea of time through generations. What is important is that we have similar shared experiences and influence each other through time because of the effects that we have on the institutions of these communities. We can tell each other stories about when so-and-so was President of the Union and made this change. Through the creation of etiquette, rules, and resources online, if people can make decisions that will affect people who come to join later, real communities can be formed.
Mr. Shaffer replies that if that happens, during that time online communities will be as satisfying as real communities are today. However, it has not happened yet and probably cannot. A person tied to Yale knows that he will have his picture in one of the yearbooks. A professor knows his portrait will be in a building. We can be tied to physical geographical institutions in a way that Mr. Shaffer does not see happening online.
Mr. Matthew Lee would like to challenge Mr. Shaffer's assertion with a counter-example. Mr. Shaffer claims that there are things that can happen IRL (“in real life”) that are inadequately represented OTI (“on the Internet”). Mr. Lee has a crushing social disability that prohibits him from expressing himself emotionally without pictures of cats doing people things. While there is an abundance of pictures of cats doing people things with captions all over the Internet, in real life, it is unfeasible for Mr. Lee to carry a picture around. Could Mr. Shaffer reply?
Mr. Shaffer is at a loss for words. Mr. Lee has entirely demolished his speech.
The lady says that one of the wonderful things about the Internet is that interactions coalesce around things like deviant sex. If we want to know more, we should Wikipedia [things the Secretary refuses to record]. A rumor that Emma Watson was attending Yale spread around like avian flu. Some of that information is misinformation. Let us investigate how online communities work. Communities start with a seed of individuals who infect their friends. The analogy for the spread of the infection is the reproduction rate: the number of new infectees for each existing infectee. If r > 1, the infection spreads. Here is an analogous situation. Online, there are countless interactions spreading infection. Some are more sinister than others. R = the ratio of the size of the new generation of zombies to the previous one. This latter definition is widely supported by the Internet. lostzombies.com is dedicated to community health outreach and activism. It was founded 1st May 2008 by a series of individuals. The lady is a member of this online community. She is here to spread the bad news. Right now, 75% of the world is either dead or undead. All attempts at biomedical solutions to the blood plague have failed. It is time for our idea of the community to expand from Mr. Shaffer's Burkean contract to include the undead. There are many parallels between zombies and Internet communities. Dr. Cerf has said that Internet communities are real. Unfortunately, they are all too real. Therefore, Internet communities are zombies. If we do not accept this, we will join the undead. Is Dr. Cerf really a “living” legend?
The Floor Leader of the Left, Miss Naomi Lisan, asks which YPU member is most likely to survive the zombie apocalypse.
The lady thinks that we all have a very good chance of survival, seeing that only 25% of the world is alive in any sense. We all seem to be not being attacked. She does not know about Dr. Cerf. She points out that he came from Bahrain.
The Chairman of the Party of the Right, Miss Nicola Karras, poses a dichotomy: fast zombies are zombies or otherwise?
The lady does not understand what fast zombies are.
The Chairman of the Party of the Right explains that it is well known from such documentaries as 28 Days Later that there are both fast zombies and slow ones. Some scholars claim that fast zombies are not correctly categorized as zombies.
The lady replies that 28 Days Later is not an official part of the Lost Zombies timeline. We should go to lostzombies.com and watch the official timeline.
The Director of Campus Relations, Miss Leah Libresco, points out that the book Pride and Prejudice and Zombies is now topping Amazon's bestseller list. Yes, this is in fact the case. She would like to know whether Elizabeth Bennet's hearty defense against zombies is due to her corseted upbringing or whether modernity has left us able to withstand the undead onslaught.
The lady explains that between her busy schedule of balancing a Yale student life and public health activism, she has not had the pleasure of reading that book. This is evidence that the zombie attack is real, that online communities are real. This is another example of “ah.”
The Chairman of the Progressive Party, Mr. Joshua Esquivel, moves that we thank Miss Lin for her fine maiden speech on the floor of the Yale Political Union. The motion is seconded and carries without objection.
Mr. Anthony LeCounte tells us that a few months ago, most of Yale went up to a little town called Cambridge to play football with a little school whose name he does not remember. While up there, he, the Director of Campus Relations, Mr. Thirman, and several others went to [a place whose name the Secretary does not hear]. They had dinner, food and drinks. Friends came and played board games. There were moments at which they took pictures. The next day, they walked to the stadium and had a good time. This, he posits, is what is fundamental about community, the idea that we can actually experience things. Mr. Shaffer brought this up, and it should not be taken lightly. Community is fundamentally about experience. Take the best example of online communities: World of Warcraft or Dungeons and Dragons. At best, that is a pale imitation. You can have conversation and people riding around on magical horses killing dragons, but you cannot have an actual experience of time with another person. There is something very fundamentally different about a world in which it is not you and I but just a representation of you and I. If someone cannot actually see us and look into our eyes, what are we doing? He really wants the body to think about what we are doing. He posits that the real part of a community is the idea that we can experience something real and go into a setting and feel like we can share our appreciation of things. None of this holds online, because the experiences you are having online are not in the real world. You cannot come to the YPU online. You can read about it, but you cannot be here. Most of the rest of his points are probably good for questions.
The President, Mr. David Manners-Weber, believes that Mr. LeCounte seems to be arguing, “if you can't go there, it ain't meaningful.” What does Mr. LeCounte think about books?
Mr. LeCounte replies that there is something meaningful to be said for a book being a representation. If he reads a book about Washington, DC, he can learn a lot about the restaurants to go to or the clubs to visit, but he does not get a sense of what it smells like to walk on DC streets or what it feels like to sit on the Metro, which is not called a subway. Until one has these sorts of things, one has not actually experienced DC or been there. Mr. LeCounte does not know how the Internet will give us a sense of taste, smell, or touch.
Mr. Jaymin Patel thinks that we can at least agree that a community is defined by a group of people, yet Mr. LeCounte also tries to define other characteristics of a community. By acting as an authority, is that not contrary to the idea of a community itself? Why is it not enough that a group of people who call themselves a community are one?
Mr. LeCounte understands that Mr. Patel is asking if defining community is contrary to the idea of community. He does not think that is true. The idea that community has value is in part because we can say that something is community. I cannot call you a friend if I cannot tell you what friendship is.
Mr. Ryan Hollander rises to affirm the resolution. He defines a community as an association of individuals with two criteria: common interests and an interaction in some way that relates to these interests. People choose to enter some communities and are born into others. The members of some communities, such as the pro-Israel community, act in ways exclusively related to that interest. Members of other communities act in multiple ways. Some communities are easy to enter or leave, whereas others are difficult to enter or leave. All communities require the two criteria laid out before. Mr. Hollander's central contention is that when a community goes online, only one thing about it necessarily changes: the means by which the interaction takes place. But the interaction does still take place. People can interact with each other in ways that relate to their interest in many ways. An argument in the negative would hold that simply interaction in relation to similar interest is not enough to form a community. This argument says that a certain quality of interaction is necessary to say that it is a community. Assume for a moment that this is true. Mr. Hollander holds that the Internet is not an insufficient or poor means of interaction but a preferred one. No means can sustain a higher quality of interaction than the Internet. The only means that might be a viable contender would be face-to-face interaction. Mr. Hollander asks us to imagine that we have TV goggles. We are fooled into thinking that the person to whom we are speaking is actually real. Imagine that the computer feeds the image of a person to electrodes that are plugged into your brain. Certainly, on the Internet, you are interacting with other people over a vast distance, but that does not make the interaction less real or meaningful. You could perhaps interact in more meaningful ways. You would not be able to tell the difference. Interaction over the Internet is just as real as interaction in real life.
The Vice President, Mr. Alexander Martone, believes that the criteria that Mr. Hollander has laid out are a good definition for chosen communities, but it has been pointed out that unchosen communities exist. It seems that while unchosen and chosen communities can exist in real life, perhaps only chosen communities can exist online. Does that affect how real online communities are?
Mr. Hollander believes that not only chosen communities can exist online. Occasionally, in his YouTube or Facebook profiles, people send him things based on links that he never wanted to be in. He was in those communities simply by sharing a common interest. If it does not exist at the moment, we will be able to find lots of ways in which people are in unchosen online communities. One example is Facebook networks.
Miss Lind asks, on information, if it is not in fact the case that one actually chooses to join a Facebook network. The Speaker says, “or a friend logs on and forces you to do it.”
The Chairman of the Independent Party, Mr. Adam Goodrum, moves that this body thank Mr. Hollander for a fine maiden speech on the floor of the Yale Political Union. The motion is seconded and carries without objection.
Miss Olga Musayev says that this speech will not be negative per se. She has been in the YPU since September now. One strand that has been most puzzling to her is this idea that communities get a sense of value from fulfilling an emotional desire or giving a sense of meaning. That is not a good enough answer. It is not satisfying because there seems to be something more. She wants to argue that community does not exist to fulfill an emotional desire for its members but because there is something good about it. I desire food because I need nutrition. There is an ultimate goal. There is a distinction between fulfilling desire and fulfilling purpose. To determine whether they are real, we should be looking at whether they fulfill the purpose. What is the purpose of community? She argues that the first purpose of community is to coordinate action for meaningful goals or accomplishments. Contrary to what Nietzche says, there is a very limited number of things that Miss Musayev can do as an individual and a whole lot of things that she can do as a member of a community coordinating with others. To coordinate, you need two things. One is the ability to predict other behaviors. You need to be able to make your own behavior predictable to others. History has been a way to fulfill this function of making yourself predictable, as Mr. Shaffer pointed out. If we had known Miss Musayev from the day she was born, we could probably predict how she will act in the future. Communities do not foster the ability to send out cues that are false. Ease of entry and exit from communities makes it very difficult to send out false cues.
The Floor Leader of the Right, Mr. Joshua Robbins, moves that Miss Musayev be given an additional 30 seconds to finish her speech. The motion is seconded and carries without objection.
Miss Musayev continues: it is very easy to fake these cues given out to society. A case in point would be the Moldovan protest just a while ago. Because we can coordinate action through the Internet, it is a real community.
Miss April Lawson, Former President of the Union, is interested in the argument that community is a means to achieve some other end. Is there anything in human togetherness that is an end? If so, ought not community to be considered in it?
Miss Musayev replies that existence is the only real end that she would like to recognize. You can argue that human beings as individuals make up a larger organism. She is skeptical, so she would not go that far.
The President, Mr. David Manners-Weber, says that this definition of community makes him sad. He is in a community with his extended family, and it is not just for mutual interest. He loves them. He is in a community, the YPU, not just for self-interest but because he cares about some of these people. Is it really just existence? Does the lady love people? Does she have friendships with people for which she would be willing to sacrifice material well-being?
Miss Musayev replies that the point in the beginning of her speech is not that emotional things are not important, but that they are slightly besides the point. She feels bonds with the YPU, but why does she feel those bonds in the first place? She is simply trying to challenge the ideas of others.
Mr. Noah Kazis thinks that we have not touched on the unreality of real-world community. It is currently Passover, which makes Mr. Kazis think of what an unreal community Judaism is. What does it mean for Mr. Kazis to say that he is a Jew? He was led out of Egypt into freedom and received the Ten Commandments at Sinai. That is what it means. He did not do either of those things, but he did, but he did not. It is not “real.” It is still meaningful. It is diaspora. Jews are not all in one place. Part of the Jewish community is about that. Not having a place was part of the community, part of the culture. Geography cannot be what makes that community. Physicality cannot be what makes that community. Even though it is unchosen, it is very easy to leave. All that Mr. Kazis has to do is not believe it anymore. He can be a Christian on this stage. If he were just to say that Jesus Christ is the only-begotten son or whatever he has to say, he could leave. It is easy to leave. It is not so easy to enter. We could pick two different religions and it would be. Mr. Kazis does not see how the Jewish is not subject to every complaint that is made about online communities, but no one would say that it is unreal.
The Speaker quips that he will take Four Questions for Mr. Kazis.
Mr. Allen Bristow asks if Mr. Kazis would then call the Internet our Babylon, our Avignon? Is culture in exile right now?
Mr. Kazis does not know what that means, but his hunch is that it is not. We have communities that are physical, ones that are imagined, and ones that are on the Internet. Maybe some cultures are in exile.
The Vice President, Mr. Alexander Martone, wonders if Mr. Kazis's example of the Jewish people worldwide is a good comparison point for a community. Can people whose globally shared religion unites them form a community? Is that really a community, or is the village in Poland or Ukraine where people practice the religion a community?
Mr. Kazis refers back to what the Director of Campus Relations said about how she just kept interchanging friends and community. Most people in most of Mr. Kazis's communities are not people whom he knows, and he will not know them. Even in this room, there are faces he has never seen. He hopes that we would consider each other part of a community. Someone living on his street is part of his community; it means something even if he has never met that person. If we are only saying that there is some outer bound on the size of community, then perhaps humanity cannot be a community. We certainly know that community changes as it works. The village is different from the nation. Seeing the nation as not a community strikes Mr. Kazis as odd.
The Chairman of the Party of the Right, Miss Nicola Karras, moves the previous question. The motion is seconded and objected to. By a voice vote, the Speaker determines that the affirmative carries.
Dr. Vint Cerf rises for closing remarks. The President and Speaker's table collapses, and a crowd ascends to the stage to help restore it.
The Director of Campus Relations, Miss Leah Libresco, asks, on inquiry, if all future Union meetings can be held in Second Life. Yes, the Speaker rules.
Dr. Cerf can summarize this very quickly. The table incident shows the flimsiness of the real world. He enjoyed the evening. We are a lot funnier than he expected us to be. About the zombie bit, he should remind everyone that the term has a technical meaning; machines that have been invaded by viruses or worms are called zombies. They are often part of a botnet. The people that run botnets are called botnet herders. They are very real. They are used to causing all kinds of trouble, generating spam and a lot of things. The argument really was a false dichotomy. Virtual and real communities are interacting in a number of ways, some of them beneficial and some of them not. The side effect from Dr. Cerf's point of view is that we should be careful not to allow a distinction between these two, because they are all part of reality.
The President moves that we thank Dr. Cerf for his fine speech on the floor of the Yale Political Union. The motion is seconded and carries without objection.
Dr. Cerf makes to kick the table out but decides not to do so.
The topic “Resolved: Online Communities are Real Communities” carries by a vote of 47 in the affirmative, 12 in the negative, and 2 abstentions.
The President moves that we ratify the constitutional amendment scheduled for tonight's debate as outlined in the document that should be circulating around. Miss Lawson asks, on inquiry, for a brief summary of what the amendment does. The Speaker explains that should the Union disband, the money will currently be divided among the parties. Since not all seven parties are currently nonprofit organizations, under the statutes related to 501(c)(3) status, that does not work. We are fixing the constitution to make us in compliance with various federal statutes. Dr. Cerf says that he knows a little bit about things like this. If we do not pass this resolution, we are all going to jail, he declares.
The President moves the previous question. It carries.
The President's motion to ratify the amendment carries by a vote of a large number in the affirmative to 3 in the negative.
Mr. Matthew Lee moves that we instruct everyone present to post the minutes of this meeting on their Internet community. The motion is seconded and objected to. The Chairman of the Party of the Right points out that the minutes would not fit on Twitter. The Speaker takes a vote, and by a margin smaller than the Speaker would admit, Mr. Lee's motion fails.
The President moves that we adjourn. The motion is seconded and objected to. Mr. Allen Bristow asks, on personal privilege, if the President can withdraw his motion so that we can congratulate last night's victors. The President withdraws his motion.
Mr. Allen Bristow moves that we thank and congratulate Miss Carmen Lee, Miss Rachel Homer, Mr. Michael Pomeranz, and Mr. Jack O'Connor for a fine performance at yesterday's Hudson Union Society debate and for bringing home the fine honor of victory over Oxford. The motion is seconded and carries without objection.
Miss Dara Lind moves that this body appoint Dr. Vint Cerf Guildmaster and Legal Counsel to the YPU. The motion is seconded and objected to. The Chairman of the Party of the Right, Miss Nicola Karras, asks, on information, if it is not in fact the case that non-elected offices are appointed by the President.
The Secretary of the Union, Mr. Gabriel Ellsworth, moves that we amend Miss Lind's motion to be a motion strongly encouraging the President to appoint Dr. Cerf Guildmaster and Legal Counsel. The Speaker quips that should Dr. Cerf be appointed, he must accept. The amending motion is seconded and carries without objection.
Miss Lind's motion, as amended by Mr. Ellsworth, carries by a unanimous vote.
The President moves that we adjourn. The Chairman of the Party of the Right, Miss Nicola Karras, recommends, on personal privilege, that if the President does not want a motion to force Dr. Cerf's appointment, he make it now.
The President says, looking Dr. Cerf in the eyes from the stage, “Mr. Cerf [pregnant pause], would you be willing to accept the title of Guildmaster and Legal Counsel to the Yale Political Union?”
Dr. Cerf replies: “You've just asked an engineer to perform a legal function. You may get what you deserved,” on top of which, since he does not know what all of the responsibilities would entail, he would have to take this under advisement.
By a vote of a vast supermajority of hands, the President's motion to adjourn carries.
This Floor Meeting of the Yale Political Union is adjourned at 9:55 pm.
Gabriel P. Ellsworth
Secretary of the Yale Political Union