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Research Links

1. Starting with studies referred to by Dale Spender in her article, find articles and books about gender and computer-mediated communication, or about women and cyberspace, in a research library or bookstore. You might start with the 1996 anthology Wired Women: Gender and New Realities in Cyberspace (Seal Press), edited by Lynn Cherny and Elizabeth Reba Weise (the source of Ellen Ullman's article in Chapter 1, p. 32). On the Internet, you can find articles by Amy Bruckman, Nancy Kaplan, and others, as well as lively discussions about male/female relations online on Usenet newsgroups such as soc.feminism, soc.women, and (For those whose web browsers aren't configured for newsgroup reading, Usenet discussions can be searched at and other sites.) Relevant resource guides on the Web include WomensNet/IGC (Institute for Global Communications) and The Ada Project: Tapping Internet Resources for Women in Computer Science. Use these resources to help you define a narrower topic for your own research writing, such as gender issues in school computer use, "netsex," or online sexual harassment.

2. If you have Telnet access to the Internet, join a real MUD, MOO, or Internet Relay Chat (IRC) (see Research Link 2, Chapter 1, p. 63), or venture into a chat room, like those described by Jesse Kornbluth and Barbara Ehrenreich, on a commerical service such as America Online. Experiment with your gender identity, if that is appropriate for the particular community, space, or channel you've joined (some MUDs offer multiple gender options, not just male and female, for their characters). Remember that you can have unpleasant or unwanted encounters in these environments, like some of the incidents described in this chapter; if you feel uncomfortable for any reason, you should log off or disconnect. Alternatively, if you use a computer classroom or lab equipped with electronic discussion software, you can experiment with gender in anonymous online chats with classmates -- perhaps a "safer" or less risky environment. Take notes about the effects of gender on the interactions you observe and participate in, ideally over a period of several weeks. Report on your experiences, integrating research from sources such as those suggested in Research Link 1.

3. "They say that LambdaMOO has never been the same since Mr. Bungle's toading," writes Julian Dibbell. "They say as well that nothing's really changed." Find out how well the New Direction system of voting and petitions, instituted by Haakon after the Bungle Affair, has worked out for residents and wizards. For this project, you will need to do most of your research on the Internet and, if possible, directly on LambdaMOO. Articles by Pavel Curtis, the Xerox Palo Alto Research Center creator of LambdaMOO ("Haakon"), and others are available at several Web addresses, including the LambdaMOO FTP archive.

4. Laura Miller critically analyzes the language and metaphors describing cyberspace in articles from Newsweek and other publications, writing, "The imperiled women and children of the Western narrative make their appearance today in newspaper and magazine articles that focus on the intimidation and sexual harassment of women on line and reports of pedophiles trolling for victims in computerized chat rooms." Test Miller's claims about the portrayal of gender and the Western frontier metaphor by analyzing or comparing two or more recent articles from magazines or newspapers. For a larger project, you could analyze more articles from a wider range of sources or include TV coverage of cyberspace in your analysis. You might also critically evaluate the use of other metaphors in the sources you study -- such as the information highway, the conduit metaphor discussed by George Lakoff in Chapter 1, or the windows metaphor discussed by Sherry Turkle in Chapter 1 -- especially as they relate to gender.

5. E-mail harassment and anonymous nuisance e-mail are recent phenomena at college campuses and wired workplaces. Review your school's, company's, or organization's policies about sexual harassment and acceptable uses of the institution's computer network; then interview administrators or managers who enforce these policies. If possible, find out the details of any e-mail harassment or nuisance cases at your institution, and compare these with cases you uncover from library and Internet research. Evaluate the strengths and weaknesses of the current policies and how well they incorporate or anticipate emerging electronic technologies, and offer suggestions for how to modify or update these policies. Based on your research, you might address a proposal to the responsible faculty members, administrators, or managers.

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