In recent years, virtual communities have proliferated thanks to the converging technologies of telecommunications and computing. In the United States, numerous virtual communities exist in the form of bulletin boards, newsgroups, computer conferencing, etc.
and have been expanding its scope beyond the national boundaries. But, those virtual communities originating in the United States carry heavy American-biased culture which members often take for granted because of the long history of domination in developing computer networks by American organizations. As examples of alternative virtual cultures, this paper presents major virtual communities in Japan which originated in Japan and mainly sustained by people in Japan. 2. Introduction and Background The convergence of telecommunication and computer technologies has enabled networking of people regardless of their geographical and temporal differences.
The scope of such computer networks has been expanding exponentially since the first extensive comp uter network, ARPANET, was created in 1968 by the Advanced Research Projects Agency of the U.S. Department of Defense (now DARPA, the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency). Now its successor, Internet, comprises 1. 7 million computers in more than 1 25 countries (Stix, 1993); most of them at universities, government agencies and companies. As such computer networks have expanded beyond the small communities of scientific researchers and been applied in a variety of fields such as education and busin ess, communication through such computer networks is beginning to alter the ways in which people interact with one another in formal and informal ways.
Computer-Mediated Communication (CMC)
The term, computer-mediated communication (CMC) or computer-based communication, encompasses: computer networks, electronic mail, electronic bulletin boards service (BBS), and computer conferencing. CMC has been fairly well studied in educational setting s, as a supplemental to traditional classroom teaching or as a deliverly mode of distance education because of its distinct characteristics which make it different from any other media. Poster (1990) notes that CMC substitutes writing for spoken conversa tions and extends the domain of writing to cover areas of communication that previously were limited to face-to-face interactions, mail, and the telephone.
CMC, up to now, is mainly limited to textual communication where most of the social cues are stripped off. People only see text on the computer screen in standardized formats which contains no dynamic personal information such as tones of one’s voice or undescrivable facial expressions. ‘Phatic’ aspects of the face-to-face conversation are minimal in CMC, which sometimes exacerbates communication anxiety when the sender gets no reply (Feenberg, 1989). The advantage of such text-based communication is that it reduces discriminatory communication patterns based on physical and social cues such as gender, race, socio-economic status, physical features, etc. , and enhances the interaction with one another. As a result, CMC destabilizes existing hierarchies in relationships and rehierarchize communications according to criteria that were previously irrelevant (Poster, 1990).
The text-based communication also augments the interaction with ideas generated t hrough discussions. In CMC, people tend to focus on the message more than the messenger, and the availability of an archived transcript of the proceedings facilitates review of previous comments and discussion, focusing on important ideas and concepts. Another important aspect of this standardized texual communication is an individual’s great control of his/her self image presented to other people. In most cases, the only identity an individual user has is a “handle” name which may be, and most often is expected to be, fictional. Anonymity is complete and identity is fictionalized in the structure of the communication. Poster (1990) contends that “computer conversations construct a new configuration of the process of self-constitution.
” Communicate rs can compose themselves as characters in the process of writing, inventing themselves from their feelings, their needs, their ideas, their desires, their social position, their political views, their economic circumstances, their family situation – thei r entire humanity. In this sense, CMC is used for what Morioka (1993) calls “ishiki tsushin (conscious communication)”. “Ishiki tsushin”, according to Morioka, is the communication for the purpose of social interaction itself, which is distinguised from “joho tsushin (info rmation communication)”. Goffman (1959) argued that individuals deliberately “give” and inadvertently “give off” signs that provide others with information about how to .