During the war in the Persian Gulf, computers were used for more than strategic battle assessment in command control centers, or for generating slick graphics presentations using desktop publishing systems. People with the technical know-how were able to use them to relay information about war through electronic spaces in unprecedented ways, ways that demanded new communicative strategies as wartime dialogue hovered somewhere between text and talk. From the beginning to the end of the Storm, thousands of people from all over the world jacked into the Internet (a vast computer network that encircles the globe like a giant web and is the result of a collaborative effort between the U.S. military, government and universities) via their modems (little boxes that convert the computer's digital signals into audible pulses that can be picked up and transmitted across the world-wide telecommunications infrastructure) and logged onto a wide array of bulletin-board and news-group services in effort to keep abreast of current events, share the latest tidbits from the major television news media, offer opinions on anything and everything remotely associated with the war, and support newfound friends (or offend newfound enemies) in their virtual communities. War had never been mediated quite like this before, and it got to be pretty exciting as things heated up. Here was a "captive" audience of media "users," people accessing mediated information about war, who, contrary to a lot of the critical commentary about the simulated nature of postmodern combat, had no problem taking reports as "real."

The idea that technology makes war a total triumph of centralized control, of fabricating a simulacrum to a passive mass, runs against what was happening, or at least what could have happened, on the Internet. On-line computer communication technologies provided an alternative forum for potentially democratic discussion to unfold as real-time reports were subject to immediate reworking in interaction and community. Communicating in cyberspace allowed geographically dispersed human beings to more actively construct a discourse--a realist discourse in this case ("Did the bomb hit?" etc.)--as opposed to just passively receiving it, as had been the case, to a far greater degree, with newspaper, radio, film and television. To assert that those engaging in this kind of electronically enabled activity were incapable of inhabiting their virtual life-worlds, as many social theorists do when describing the "nature" of electronic forms of media, is simply mistaken, these war participants were inhabiting with a capital "I"; how they inhabited is what is at issue. That the content of their banter often reflected what could be characterized as emotionally shallow, irreverent and videogame-like sentiment is less the result of the mediating technology--as was also believed to be the case with television--and more the result of the ways in which that technology was contextually used. The first section of this chapter is an attempt to provide some of that context.

While the on-line chat was not big news for most people--relatively few were even aware of its existence--it is an interesting place to touch down and explore as an important and newly developing warzone. Though exchange of information via standard Internet protocols remains rudimentary in form, it is a harbinger of things to come, as we become increasingly dependent upon digital data exchange. When virtually anyone with access could relay whatever information they wanted to, control over the production and dissemination of that information was remarkably decentralized, fragmented and dispersed. The second section of the chapter looks at how this mode of information transmission created unexpected communicative conflicts, and how attempts to deal with those conflicts were electronically enacted. The next section explores how the inhabitants of this newly formed virtual space--where in theory essentialist identity politics could be forgotten or never even known to begin with--struggled to reproduce, reinscribe and recreate age-old classifications (like national identity and gender) traditionally mapped onto the anthropoid body. The final section returns to issues brought up in the first, specifically, how the computer communication taking place became little more than yet another forum for Official sources to get their stories retold. Thus, what could have been a radically alternative, technologically enabled, channel for "news" of war (a la Chinese political activists communicating locally and globally via FAX and e-mail in order to bypass state clampdowns on information exchange during the uprising at Tiananmen Square) was yet another means for producing and disseminating state-sanctioned accounts, and played directly into the dominant discursive framing of death and destruction as perceptually distanced, surreal and removed.


What follows is built around discussions taking place on two IRC (Internet Relay Chat) channels entitled, appropriately enough, "+war" and "+peace." These two channels, which allowed users to link up and communicate with each other in real-time--as opposed to typical news-group methods where text is authored at one point in time and then uploaded for others to read and respond to at another--were probably the most active Internet chat groups from the beginning to the end of the Gulf War. The electronic logs from these two groups, measured over the entire duration of the conflict (brief though it was), are many hundreds of pages long. In this work I've only included a small portion of the total communications: the +peace log from January 17th, 1991; the +war log from the same day (the first official day of carnage); and the +peace log from March 8th (when things were winding back down). At any given point in time there might be in the neighborhood of 250-350 users on 100 different servers logged on to a channel like +peace, though numbers and names constantly changed, and the amount of potential users (people who had, or could have had, access) was much larger.

In reviewing the IRC logs take note of various typing conventions used to convey feeling states (most often indicating a sense of pleasure and/or self-satisfaction) that have developed in response to communicating in a space removed from any direct physical contact or visual feedback from another body "lost in space." Take the following signs for example (turn your head 90 degrees counter-clockwise for full effect):








Another common method used to convey intensity of feeling is the use of CAPITAL LETTERS; and if one is really excited, CAPITAL LETTERS followed by !!!. Because Internet Relay Chat-mode between large groups of people is not often an immediate action/response enterprise--one person may make a statement or ask a question and not receive a response for anywhere from ten to twenty turns or more--there are considerable sections of text that have been left in which do not necessarily have anything to do with the main issue being illustrated with the IRC references (since they are in response to some prior comment not included). The reason I keep this seemingly extraneous material is because it helps provide a sense of context and dis/continuity. However, there are other instances where I have removed material, indicated by the use of "--" between lines within a single referenced passage. I have done this when the relevant text was separated by such a large number of entries, otherwise tangential to the topic at hand, that it seemed pointless to include it all. Finally, the specific lines within a given passage that are pertinent to the point being made are set off by boldface print.


If critics and scholars thought televisually mediated imagery of the Persian Gulf War distanced one from its reality and seriousness, making it impossible to engage with the trials and the tribulations of the people involved in any deep and meaningful way, then what was happening on personal computers linked together all over the globe would probably have really given them a shock. Radio has voice, newspapers have photographs, cinema and television moving images; war communication via computers networks (circa 1991 anyway) provided a very different (yet in many ways amazingly similar) experience of war. Receiving battle information via modem reduced the action in the Persian Gulf to scrolling text on a computer screen sent from one war surrogate to another. This was no "tribal" society in the sense of being a small community of physically co-present people, people who often know one another from birth until death and are enmeshed in extensive relational selves and structures that reproduce identity in daily experience; this was a form and use of language that enabled a radical dispersal of individual subjectivity (Poster 1990:117).

Judging from the character and content of the relayed chat, even though computer conversation in its current embryonic state limits the overall perceptual and kinesthetic experience of communication in a shared physical environment, it was certainly seductive for the relatively few who had the knowledge and skill required to gain access to it. And gaining access was not necessarily that easy. To begin with, you had to have a computer, a gateway allowing that computer to get linked up to the Internet, and the technical know-how needed to successfully log on to an IRC server. Once you got that far you had to be able to navigate your way through a wide range of rather arcane UNIX commands (specific to a particular brand of computer operating system) in order to move around the Internet and chat environments--or, at the very least, know where and how to look for help. Due to these relatively prohibitive requirements it should be no surprise that many of the more prolific users tended to be (judging from their net-names, login IDs, and personal exchanges; no doubt a somewhat suspect strategy) young, western, male technoids--not often the most socially progressive or politically subversive members of society; an observation that explains a good deal of the chatter to come:

<Tylenol> WAR STARTS!!!!
<MK> Not yet. only air craft in air
<Mosiah> 93
<nova> "nothin has landed very near the hotrel (where the
cnn guys are)"
<Faustus> People in Isreal: can you see anything happening?
I guess not.....
<Lipstick> Ooof!
<MidHacker> When did war start? and specify timezone
#Breeze# white house press report in 2 minutes
<Datawolf> the joint chiefs have confirmed, ther is war.

<Alexander> Hi Swan!
<Arkie> good evening, swan.
<noone> 94
<Blitz> 91....gosh wonder why the net shut down----channel overload
<Mix> We're scared for you too Boy...

<Alexander> WAR!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!
<Goofa> The liberation of Kuwait has begun.
<Anipa> Mr Fritzwalter: the liberation of Kuwait has begun
<Tylenol> WAR HAS STARTED!!!!
<Alexander> WAR!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

<Arkie> what is the best media to receive now?
<Lipstick> "The liberation of Kuwait has begun"!
#Breeze# [marlin fitzwater for pres.] Liberation of kuwait has begun
<spam> Breeze [marlin fitzwater for pres.] Liberation of kuwait has begun
<Spitzer> The liberation of kuwait has begun...
<Alexander> WAR!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! WAR!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! WAR!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! WAR!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! WAR!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! WAR!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! WAR!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!


The outbreak of war on the net was, at least for this round of participants, obviously pretty exciting. To gain a better understanding of this excitement it is helpful (even though it may not be desirable) to imagine yourself as part of this virtual community. Not only were you participating in the unfolding of a major world event, the type of which has been glamorized and glorified in countless ways and through countless media since the beginning of recorded time, now it was suddenly possible for you to be logged onto a network that enabled interactive communication with people all over the globe experiencing very different things in simultaneously shared digital spaces; this was an unprecedented form of electronically configured organic extensionality.

Though radios disseminate sound, newspapers disseminate text, cinema and television disseminate sound, text and moving images, the average user has very little control over the information they are exposed to. Computer communication in the Gulf was different. Online chat servers provided people with a voice. Though the people it gave voice to and the types of thoughts expressed served primarily to reproduce status-quo sensibilities about the righteousness of U.S. activities, the simple fact that relatively isolated individuals could be hooked together and establish a virtual community via this electronic umbilical cord was unique; and the power and the pleasure afforded by this newfound medium was intoxicating. These folks were out at the bleeding edge of a technological fringe in a war that was enabled by, and discursively reproduced through, high-tech systems.

The typical communicative pattern was for contributors to be sitting in front of their terminals while monitoring the news from some other source--most often radio and/or television. As events perceived to be significant unfolded over the other media they would be relayed back to the rest of the channel users who were then free to comment and contribute news items of their own. The coordination of monitoring responsibilities was extremely important, and, as the following passages from both +war and +peace respectively indicate, no small task:[1]

(PeaceServ) Report from ABC-NBC: Is anyone watching CBS? If not, I'll switch to ABC/CBS and let Russell take NBC
(PeaceServ) Report from grund: I have CBS

(bt) latest POOL VIDEO to be shown on ABC

(clarson) '/quit
<DOG> nicky:Good point.
(The_Saint) CNN has their tape from last morning on the air.

*** Signoff: clarson
<alpha1> tell us, bt
<Mooseman> have they shown any combat footage yet??
(PeaceServ) Report from grund: I am dropping NPR. Too many news sources for me to keep up with!
(PeaceServ) Report from CBS-ABC: Israel was hit in Haifi, Safie (Spelling) and Tel Aviv.
<Xenon> I saw some on ABC... Just scattered AA...

*** Change: Disruptiv has joined this channel (+WAR).
(bt) hasn't come on yet, they just said that thhey recieved it
<Pi-Doo> Damn. missed it!
(PeaceServ) Report from CBS-ABC: (CBS, Sorry)

*** Change: mesons has joined this channel (+WAR).
*** Change: yura has left this channel.
*** Change: Heechee has left this channel.
(PeaceServ) Report from CBS-ABC: ABC reports more F=15 taking off in SA.

<Pi-Doo> Now cnn has night video
<nicky> I heard that the bombs that hit Isreal were not chemical bombs. Which is
<Pi-Doo> Same one as ABC tho
<EPMD> Pi-Doo: In SA or Iraq?
<Xenon> Any speculations as to the level of retailiation israel might undertake?
*** Change: raw_fish is now known as NPR
<Maleger> God I love this country!
<alpha1> not chemical
(PeaceServ) Report from cosNBC: Do we have anyone at all on NPR?
(bt) ABC showing lots o activity


<Domo2> tsh: satellite links got down
<tsh> ok...let's see...the next change on screens happens...
<Lost_Boy> tsh -=- yes.
<tsh> now!!
#Arkie# Let's move them all into +report.
<tsh> oops. katos
<Agenta> I wish somebody is monitoring t-carriers from get the real news

<marekp> ATTACK! It has begun!
<tsh> agenta: I am. cnn
<Agenta> oh good...
<Tic> flax: BBC is on 810 kHz om MW in Europe.

<Agenta> you going to be online for a while??
<tsh> not too long. Ive got an exam in the morning. in 6. 5 hours in fact ;)
<Agenta> tsh --- what sat are you monitoring??

<Domo2> tsh: forget it
<tsh> jerusalem... nothing special...
<Agenta> tsh -- also where in geo orbit?
<tsh> agenta: dunno. cnn :). agenta: me?? finland. A
Country In Peace - Finland ;). ACIP - Finland. ACIW - USA
<geggle> someone gives us a summary ... quick... us<->au link saturated...

<tsh> oops....O:-)
<Aristotle> any more nnew?
<Agenta> oh ok.. anybody here monitoring cnn's satellite link from mid east?


There was a lot of channel surfing going on. Not only was war information being relayed via various radio and television stations broadcasting locally, nationally and internationally, but those broadcasts were being picked up, reworked (though not to very large degree, or in a particularly reflexive way) and retransmitted via various IRC channels flashing in real-time across computer screens plugged into LANs (Local Area Networks) and WANs (Wide Area Networks) all over the globe. Broadcasts appearing on the network news provided the orienting framework for the IRC discussions. Thus, the problems associated with the kinds of imagery being transmitted over traditional media relay-stations (see "Controlling the Press" and "Television Screens"), to a very large degree, remained, and in many ways became intensified. The heavy reliance on network news accounts of the war's progress, and their presumed (though sometimes disputed) "authenticity," meant that Official news sources defined the reality of war for people on the net. Even when certain news items were being challenged it was most often done with evidence from other network sources.

Though disseminating news over personal computer was far less rigid in terms of formal protocol than disseminating news over television or radio, there were similar hierarchies of newsworthiness that were operative, and the transmission of certain information was similarly privileged. As already indicated, news from major U.S. networks was top priority and to a large degree the beat-structure of the network news-gathering industry found itself reproduced on the Internet. And, synonymous with the televisual screening of war, battle information from a single news network--CNN--came to dominate war's computer screening as well. But at least as privileged as the official voices of the U.S. government or the omniscient eye of CNN (and indicative of the virtual community building that transpired during the heat of the moment), were the IRC messages of young men trapped in Israel during the real and imaginary threats of Hussein's "retaliatory" bombing campaigns. Not surprisingly, the anxiety displayed over the fate of Israel mirrored the same anxiety manifest and displayed so prominently televisually:

<stealth> Boy and Ely are on from israel.

<Goofa> Welp, looks like nothing big.
<Alexander> F4 weazels.
<Arkie> the netload of discussion is what's bobming the irc network.
<Belial> hi
<stealth> Got your gas mask ready, Boy?

<CaptainJ> AA-fire still going up - very random (CNN)
<kimberli> did you all get cut froom israel?
<Mark> re
<Blitz> who
<Alexander> holy shit!
<MK> I'm from Israel too

<Jeffx> MK, are you prepared for the worst?

<tsh> the attack tonite
<MK> Sure am
<Doom_Frog> Ok MK, what's going down?

<tsh> it was designed to start with stealth, f15, f16, cruise missiles...
<Jeffx> goo luck, MK
<Doom_Frog> MK: Got yer gas mask on yet?

<tsh> hmm...
<dreamweav> good luck mk


<tsh> oh, it's only early mornning fog...
#banshee# On a lighter note. IRC record. 251 users. :)
<Agenta> shit
<tsh> boy: you gotta go?
<flax> boy- Incoming hardware?

<Lipstick> on one channel alone?
#Hamlet# I just report the news...if you don't want me to report this news...just say
yes :)
<tsh> boy: well, have fun
<BOY> tsh: i'm 16 .. i aint fighting .. only 18 years old +

<dreamweav> report the news
#Arkie# Very instable from my end, though. everyone's bouncing constantly.
<tsh> boy: good for you. I'm 25
<Agenta> i have allready been in service!
<BOY> tsh: yeah i'm just sitting waiting for the gas ..
<tsh> boy: you have your mask on?

<stealth> So, who all's taping this?
<tsh> I went to military 6 years ago. oh s*it, I should've videod this...
<Agenta> what service?? I was in marine corps!
<BOY> tsh: no i cant put it on .. it's only good for 6 hours .. and i will know when they attack israel ..

<MK> May Iraqi rader hit!!! Many Iraqi rader hit!!!
<BOY> Israel is cool!

<stealth> I feel very priveledged, I was watching CNN the moment it started.
<Stefan> saudi-arabia, of course
<BOY> On the new: Israelis should STAY HOME!
<stealth> Boy and Ely are on from Israel.
<tsh> boy: try to survive
<BOY> We are asked to lisiting to the radio .. and OPEN THE GAS BOX..


Much of the discussion on +war looked remarkably similar, picking up where +peace left off--same time-frame, same fears, same sort of banter, same locationally specific anxiety; only the cast of players changed:

(PeaceServ) Report from Eyal: ok, they said we can get out of the sealed room now.
(PeaceServ) Report from Eyal: i am out of the room now.
(PeaceServ) Report from NPR: The israeli armi just told israelis that they may take off their masks but must remain in sealed rooms

(wildstorm) who the israel and allied planes know each other over irapi sky?
*** Change: Watchin has joined this channel (+WAR).
*** Change: Watchin has left this channel.
(Beelzebub) Video on NBC of Tel AViv!!
(PeaceServ) Report from CBS-ABC: ABC-Pentagon has Official confirmation that Patriot system DID infact take out a SCUD missile.
(PeaceServ) Report from Scott: eyal: all our sources have said no chem
weapons... what have you heard LOCALLY?
<EPMD> eli: Air raid sirens right NOW?

(wildstorm) who = how
*** Signoff: JR
*** Signoff: bt
*** Change: shav has joined this channel (+WAR).
(PeaceServ) Report from Scott: nbc-- shots from southern tel aviv
(Oaklid) NPR: Isrealis can leave sealed rooms

<EPMD> Eli sez Sirens ON...
<luckybag> Which war are you talking about?
(eli) epmd, yes
(PeaceServ) Report from Eyal: i am free to walk around my house now,

<alpha1> That's great, Eyal!!

*** Change: Omni has joined this channel (+WAR).
(PeaceServ) Report from Flynn: Eyal, what can you tell us about Isreal right now?

(PeaceServ) Report from Eyal: excuse me people, let me take a big fresh breath... be back in a while.



Because the IRC services transmitted typed communication in real-time, what got pecked out at the keyboard was immediately relayed to all the other people logged on to that channel. This kind of immediacy, while directly responsible for creating the sense of democratic connectivity that users seemingly found so seductive, also created an environment where control over input and output was incredibly difficult. With traditional bulletin-board and news-group services, systems operators or news-group leaders will typically act as information managers, assuming responsibility for reviewing items that participants post to a particular group in effort to ensure that the included materials are appropriate for dissemination to other group members. This kind of screening process was not really possible on the IRC channels during wartime. Instead, various other strategies developed for enforcing a kind of "virtual" social control.

The relative anonymity of chatting on the Internet provided a certain communicative safety-zone that would not have been available using other kinds of communication mediums, not to mention that the (free) price was right. With a telephone, unless you have a conferencing system (and even then you are quite limited in terms of the total number of participants who can talk at once), you usually know who is on the other end of the line, and a certain responsibility is bred from the perceived sense of social connectedness implicit in the act of telephonic communication. Not necessarily so on the Internet. An individual logged on to an IRC server was much less restricted and far more anonymous, and able to destabilize traditionally existing hierarchies of relational power. This sense of anonymity provided plenty of room for messing around with the virtual social order:[2]

<Frank> US has surrended!
<tsh> oh shit

<Domo> vitun hammer
<Frank> US has surrended!

<tsh> cnn: us has surrendered all their troops to saddam

<Lipstick> My server giot severed
<Will> up to the minute..i should say
<Mix> bertin stop already...

<Alexander> "history in the making"
<Takahashi> Demos +peace
<caro> of course +peace
<BOY> Alex: YEEAH we hear it live here ..
<tsh> they're now giving away the last stealth-fighters to saddam int'l airport

<Stefan> Lars: Stop that!
<Takahashi> spam +peace.MerlynII +peace
<Pet> 115
<noone> 115
<Ursus> Idiots.

<Stefan> Lars!!!!!
<Lipstick> Knock off the bullshit.

<Alexander> afterburners on!
<unicef> Anybody looking CNN ?
<Tylenol> YES
<nova> iam
<dean> where is the real news???
<Ursus> Too many children. Later.

<Rogue> yes
<dean> CNN?
<Frank> Bush is going to Bagdad to marry Saddams doughter.

<UFL> update???
<tsh> unicef: just guess
<Spitzer> The real news is on CNN

<Hammer> Dor +peace
<SilentOne> frank: fuck off

<lynx> Okay - I'm opening a report channel where only reporters are allowed to talk - Reporters please join and send me /m!


<chris> CNN: ...just confirmed it was two neutron bombs dropped from F-15 E's
<mcoady> CHris:correct, no Bs please

*** Change: DarkLord has left this channel.
<Pi-Doo> Im watching cnn and they never said that

(Beelzebub) Local news is showing battle footage..."Tomahawk missles skidding ac-
ross the night sky...Where was Iraq's iron fist?"
(PeaceServ) Report from ABC: Dodo1: Isthat in the latest wave of shooting, and have they
said which kinds of US planes downed?
<fsvt> ??CL
<EPMD> Chris: What is your source? Don't be bullshittin!
<fisu> why is this guy happy spreading that shit??

<nicky> Mesons: you don't know what a SCUD is? Did you just wake up from a long sleep
or something?
<Bink> where is that info from (# of planes down)?
(The_Saint) chris: no confirm, i'm watching CNN now.
<DOG> Chris: Cut the bullshit!

(PeaceServ) Report from NPR: a second british plane has been lost
*** Signoff: shavlul
(PeaceServ) Report from dodo1: ABC: no, only what i reported
*** Change: Xenon has joined this channel (+WAR).
<Mix> Chris: WotintheHell is a neutron bomb???


In these cases, <Frank> and <tsh> on +peace, and <Chris> on +war, by relaying erroneous information about war activities during the height and uncertainty of the first-day's drama, are engaging in randomly subversive, unexpected, uncontrollable and in terms of the intended purpose of the IRC--disseminating the "real" news of war--potentially threatening horseplay, a serious social faux pas. Not surprisingly this threat is met with an immediate and quite vocal response from the more "responsible" users--<DR_MUSIC>, <Ursus>, <Lipstick>, <dean>, <Spitzer>, and even <Silent One> on +peace, and <mcoady>, <Pi-Doo>, <EPMD>, <Fisu>, <Bink>, <The_Saint>, and <DOG>, on +war. Granted, the above examples may border on the extreme, causing one to question whether or not these pranksters could ever be taken as anything but electronic annoyances. But, judging from the outcry for censuring, it is safe to assume that messing around in this way, in this context, was not about to be taken lightly; one had to be able to count on the "authenticity" of information. Thus, a space many argue is, in essence, an appropriate place for playful phenomenological dislocations of various sorts, became anything but that. Veracity of news was the number-one priority, and that veracity had to be maintained at all costs.

Even though there was little or no way to prevent certain users from relaying deceptive information, there were ways to police such actions once they were committed. One strategy was simply to make an appeal to the errant user's sense of moral responsibility to give reliable and trustworthy news (the irony here was striking in the sense that users took for granted that the information the major networks like ABC, NBC, CBS, NPR, and CNN were providing was somehow less suspect). A more extreme method of censure was to actively petition the channel operator to extinguish the wayward user's access to the channel: "<DR_MUSIC> KILL -9 FRANK !!!!!" (+peace). And if things got so bad that the other channel users felt they were simply no longer able to communicate effectively there was the option of leaving the problem channel and starting a new one of their own: "<lynx> Okay - I'm opening a report channel where only reporters are allowed to talk - Reporters please join and send me /m!" (+peace). But even this most drastic measure could not really thwart the determined practical joker. More often than not, once a different channel was started, if the new channel operator(s) tried to prevent the perpetrator of the communicative crime from logging on as a new user on the start-up channel, the offending party simply had to change his or her nickname or log on from an alternative site in order to once again become an "anonymous" user.


Of course anonymity, even on the Internet, is a bit of a myth. Like life on terra-firma, not everyone has equal access to the electronic playing field. Although cyberspace might be envisioned as an egalitarian environment where meat-world politics based on racial, ethnic, gender or class differences can be left behind, and where new possibilities for playing with subjectivity might be found, in the case of the computer-aided communication that transpired during the Persian Gulf War, it certainly was not. Access to the Internet was/is exclusionary along racial, ethnic and gender lines. How many poor urban youth have access to modems and personal computers? How many "developing" or "third-world" countries have the technological capability and know-how to allow their citizenry to plug in and log on? How many young girls and women are encouraged by their parents and peers to become part of what has traditionally been a technologically elitist and sexist community during their early-childhood socialization? Not many. This was evident from the occasional "<tomcat> kill all the fucking arabs now when you have a chance ... please" (+peace), to the brief moments of homosexual panic:

<Schribs> Who is boy?

<Goofa> Welp, time to go to work. Don't panic, nothing
{big at all.
<Razorback> Re.
<BOY> sch: i am ..

<Will> BOY is a gay israeli boy..16


<SlackHack> how mant users?
<Tylenol> everyone: WATCH CNN the coverage is excellent
<Alexander> 104!
<Will> haha just kidding BOY


It was not hard to see that assuming the role of dominant reader/contributor required user identification with a Western, heterosexual, militaristic, English-speaking male. According to the politics of linguistic exclusion, anything else was suspect and at risk of ridicule and censure. When language is the primary mode through which symbolic meaning gets attached to the world, and when understanding the world depends upon comprehension of, and to a certain degree identification with, the language used to describe it, enforcing English-only emissions was no small matter:

<Frank> Max: tuleeko jotain ?
<xaM> tekstitv

<Neuro> CNN
<tsh> {h, toihan tuli jo cnn:lt{
<viu> Frank: ei juuri mit{{n
<tsh> ajat sitten
<pi> maailma tulee takaisin ..

<lynx> no finnish please

<Bertin> Hallo unicef Willkommen in +peace.
<Stefan> Bertin Stell dein auto-hi ab!

<Harry:+peace> new news heavy bombong centrral baghdad
<Bertin> Hallo bardo Willkommen in +peace. Hallo chris
Willkommen in +peace.
<unicef> ....keine freude.
<Werebat> BERTIN!!!!!

<Mix> Hey... ENGLISH ONLY!!!!


Reality could be messed with in a lot of different ways here, and this was clearly problematic. As Mark Poster points out, individuals engaged in this type of electronically mediated communication are able to creatively reconstruct themselves as fictionalized characters, inventing subjectivity from their "feelings, their needs, their ideas, their desires, their social position, their political views, their economic circumstances, their family situation--their entire [in]humanity" as they go along; creating disembodied and imaginary selves in the process of "becoming" outside the "normal wrapping of context" (1990: 117-118). This creative reconstruction, although bad from a neo-luddite perspective due to its producing a fragmented, decentered, ahistoricized and apoliticized "simulated" subject (suffering all of the maladies vulgarly attributed to the "postmodern condition"), could also be seen as a good thing in the sense that subjects were now dispersively reconstituted, "not through textual displacement of logocentric presence," but by a temporal and spatial freedom enabled through radicalized author/text relations (Poster 1990:123). The problem was that participants, while inhabiting a medium that afforded this liberation from logocentric understandings, simply were not very self-reflexively aware of their potential liberation, and worked instead to reconstitute those self-same logocentric relations in their newfound context.


On March 8, the last day of IRC coverage on "+peace," after nearly two exciting and action-packed months on the net, things quickly wound down. Logging on during the final daze/days of the channel was a little like walking around campus when school was no longer in session. The physical structures remained but their purpose took on new meaning. Things felt different. No bells, no shuffling feet or screaming voices and no real reason for being there other than, perhaps, to reminisce:

<joaquin> hi
<sardo> Yo!
<pet> hi all! hello??? hi man!
<man> hi everybody
<pet> quite quiet here...
<man> what's happening
<pet> don't know. I just got here myself! There SHOULD be
6 of us, but... no-one else writes anything..
<man> Dd are you alive?
<pet> man: I just asked him, he's doing something else...
<man> pet:are you a student
<pet> man Yes.. man: Are You?
<man> what do you stydy?
<pet> Forest Industry.
<man> i'm studying computing
<pet> Ah, intresting... Or is it?
<man> it's quite boring for the moment, but i hope it'll get better
<pet> How many years have you studied?
<man> just started
<pet> A fresher?
<kllbit> hi
<pet> hi kllbit!
<man> hi kllbit where are you from
<kllbit> i'm from spain, where are you from?
<pet> Espanol?
<kllbit> si
<man> Norway
<pet> hi A_DENT!
<man> hi a_dent
<A_DENT> Hey all
<pet> I'm from Finland
<A_DENT> I'm from Germany
<kllbit> what were you talking about?
<man> a_dent:do you like football
<pet> Deutschland? kllbit: small talk...
<kllbit> that's fine
<A_DENT> man:I'm not so interested for football (you mean soccer?)
<man> anybody who likes football
<pet>Nothing important to talk when the war is over... ;)


In fitting tribute to the ideological forces--imperialistic, militaristic, and technocratic--that had waged and "won" Operation Desert Storm, forces that had been primarily responsible for sowing its discursive field, +peace relayed the entire text of Bush's speech to the Internet public (the same version that was televisually broadcast to the entire world), thanking them for their valiant efforts in support of "our troops," and outlining the U.S. agenda for the "New World Order" (an exciting harbinger of things to come--"Operation Deny Flight," "Operation Restore Hope," and a whole slew of Other Operations on enemies yet to be named).

Information screened through the computer enabled one to talk back, to interactively enter into imaginary relationships and participate in the drama and excitement on a far more personalized level. While the television is believed to more easily promote a certain distractibility (see "Television Screens"), the computer is often intensely engaging, because of its interactive nature and locational proximity to its user. For example, TV is frequently positioned across the room while the computer is within one or two feet of the viewer. While the television screen often fills only a small percentage of the spectators total vision space, the computer screen, due to its closeness, eclipses most other objects in the immediate environment and assumes a more prominent position (Furniss 1993:29).

Another major difference of computer-aided exchange was the ability to enter into a dialogue with people "on the scene" (i.e., Israelis, reporters, and even, though it did not happen in this instance, enemies), providing a certain space for alternative sources of information and points of view. Unfortunately, for various reasons, some of which I've described, this potential was never really capitalized on. As a democratic and/or subversive medium it remains to be seen how effective computer communication will be; but it has far more capacity than any other communicative medium for interactive intervention. These net warriors were hardly emotionally distanced and disinterested in their activities, as should be fairly clear from the style and content of their exchanges; they just happened to be engaged in a way that reflected and refracted the technocratically controlled mainstream imag(in)ings of what this war was supposed to be about. The mode of information may be new, but the form and function of the information exchanged was not.

The computer, as one of our most recent and popular prosthetic devices, is still very much an emergent technology; and the understanding of our epistemological relationship to it, as an extension of us, is equally naive, though more necessary than ever as it becomes more ubiquitously interwoven into the very fabric of our lives and deaths. While we continue to speed toward a convergence of device--computer becoming TV, TV becoming virtual shopping center, playground, movie house, postal service, office, bank, babysitter ... an extended umbilical cord to the great "outer" world--we better struggle to get a sharper picture of what the "inner" world now looks like. We might begin by thinking more critically about the psychic and social consequences of our individual and collective desires, desires being played out in the phantasmatic relationships to our integrated circuits of device.


1. In certain cases, a single individual would take on the responsibility of monitoring a variety of news sources for broadcast to the rest of the IRC community. A good example of this is (PeaceServ). (PeaceServ), though many thought otherwise, was not a cooperative effort where a large number of users took responsibility for gathering and relaying late-breaking news. (PeaceServ) was actually an independent list server that was created and Manned by a single individual who transcribed +report (another IRC channel) for dissemination to other interested parties.

2. Actually these rules are not entirely unwritten. The potential for users to indiscriminately mess with the virtual social order--a kind of cyberspace breaching experiment--has led to the development of various user's guides that have been written as etiquette manuals for Internet communications services--e-mail, bulletin-boards, news-groups, and chat groups--that are readily available for participants to download and read.