Because the virtual world is stereotypical, too.

No no no no no no no no no no! 

I was over at USA Today getting my daily dose of shit-news, when I read this.

GAWD.

There is so much wrong with this, I don’t even know where to begin ranting.

Let me start here.

I hate virtual people. Like, the made up virtual people, especially when they relate to customer service. They are creepy and weird and I don’t care if they have made up pet dogs with names like Denali and Chomp and talk about how they were born because it’s better than having been “born in a computer.” No. No. No. It is strange and wrong and I don’t like it.

Furthermore, they do not meet my customer service needs.

I have dealt with these virtual customer service people, both on the phone and online, for a number of years now. The first one I ran into was Claire, the avatar-person-thing for Sprint. “Hi,” she would say, when I would call Sprint to bitch about my bill. “How can I help you? You can say: Billing and Payment. Or Wireless Service.”

Don’t tell me how to talk, you robot-thing-whatever. I’ll say whatever I want. And so I’d speak naturally, and she’d respond: “I didn’t understand you. You can say: Billing and Payment. Or Account Help.”

After a few rounds of that, finally I would say: “fuckyoufuckyoufuckyou,” and she would say, “I see. Let me transfer you to an Authorized Representative.”

Yes. Thank you.

I have also had a similar experience with the virtual woman for Charter Communications. And Ikea, whom we told to fuck off, and she responded that that wasn’t very polite, and then refused to engage anymore. They have become more advanced, these customer service automatons.

What I have noticed about these virtual people is that they are all white. They are all thin. They have all been women. They all have appropriately styled hair. The above linked-to story about an airline has a woman with long, layered brown hair and bangs. Claire had a short, brown bob with bangs that she tucked behind her ears. The Ikea woman had blonde hair, probably because Ikea is Swedish.

The author of the USA Today article states that these virtual people are so great because it is so tiresome to deal with foreign people trying to answer our customer service calls; finally, we have someone to help whose native tongue is English.

Hmm.

So, we have a virtual world of virtual women whose language, bodies, hair, nationalities, weight, complexion, clothing, and conversations we can control. Sounds fucking fabulous.

What about when the virtual people are representations of real, live people? How does that go over?

In the latest BitchMagazine, there’s an article talking about virtual worlds, kind of like The Sims. The particular community in question is Second Life. I know nothing of these things, really, because most of my time online is spent writing and Facebooking and stalking Fatshionista over at LiveJournal. So I pulled up some articles on Second Life, because I was really fucking disturbed about what Bitch had to say.

You know, I did a large part of my undergraduate studies on internet media. Whenever a “new” media hits the scene, it is purported to be THE MEDIA FORMAT TO REVOLUTIONIZE THE WORLD. It will be the media that will destroy all other media. It will break all barriers.

And in certain ways, the internet certainly has turned people on their collective ear. People still can’t figure out how to make a huge individual profit from it. It is assisting in building communities in ways people didn’t imagine, while also succeeding in creating a sense of isolation like never before. Broad-scale activism is much easier with this internet, and it also allows people to take back the reigns of power from the large corporatized media that shoves bullshit down our gullets day in and day out.

However.

Communities on the internet are not the social utopia that we’d like them to be, the way that it had been predicted they would be. After all, people are still people, with their foibles, flaws, hate and fear. And what better place to express their vitriol than on places like virtual communities, where people can be souped up versions of themselves, with bigger tits, blonder hair, smaller waists, tighter asses, bigger pecs, larger dicks, and bulgier biceps. Hiding behind the perfect version of themselves, people also seem to feel a lot safer expressing the inner hatred they feel against say, people of color. Or women. Or queers.

Take for instance, this snippet.

Linden Labs, the creators of Second Life, have rules about these things. I had heard one report of a woman complaining that her avatar had been raped in Second Life; there was an outcry, stating that she could have just signed off; or that what was rape in Second Life? — the virtual person just “bumping” in to her? It is important to note that first, Second Life does allow virtual people to actually have sex. And it is important to note that the creators of the game recognize that because of this, it can go far enough that they have to regulate their own community. Last year, the Belgian Police actually became involved when a person complained of virtual rape in Second Life.

I guess my point is this: it’s rather depressing to note that we’ve just moved our very stereotypical world online. It’s not surprising, of course. But how do we feel about the prospect of racial and homophobic epithets, fat hate speech, stereotypic body types, virtual crime against women, and virtual murder, which can and has translated to real-life murder?

Under the guise of anonymity, we have allowed ourselves to indulge in what we most want, which is to touch our darkest impulses: rape, murder, sexual harassment, hate crimes, hate speech, the control of women’s bodies. In a certain sense, if this were to stay in the virtual world, I might entertain the notion that that was OK. We need a release of those Freudian, id rages. I get that. But the truth is, we are becoming a society who is depending on these virtual people to deliver us services — Claire for Sprint, and the virtual women for Ikea and the airline company. And they fit stereotypes that we are fighting daily in real life.

It’s pretty fucked up, in my opinion, that we discriminate against people of color, people with disabilities, transfolks, queers, women, fat people and people who don’t speak English as their native language for jobs already, and now we’ve just gotten around the whole Equal-Opportunity-Employer question by saying: That’s OK, we only hire virtual people anyway. White, thin, straight, able-bodied, English-speaking virtual people that we had created for us after careful marketing and research. Thanks for the application, but we won’t be needing you anyway.

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4 Comments

  1. Sandy said,

    March 20, 2008 at 11:22 am

    I agree…I had to talk to a virtual person to set up a medical test…A MEDICAL TEST…and I thought I was gonna pull my freakin hair out. All I wanted was a freakin appointment!!!! Quest could not be that freaking busy that they could not set up an appointment for me especially when they charge an arm and a leg and (used to) hire ppl for that purpose anyway!!! ARGH!!!

    I don’t play Second Life. I play Warcraft…and definitely people are crazy when they get behind a computer screen. I can’t tell you how many times we (DH and I both play) have been threatened by KIDS just talking trash about who knows what. We just shake our heads.

    That doesn’t mean that some people don’t take it too far. Some people with serious mental issues do take online games, especially role play type games) so seriously that they lose themselves and think they are living out the game. I remember not long ago a woman was trying to sue EverQuest because her son (who btw was diagnosed with severe depression and should have been on meds) killed himself because someone was mean to him in the game.

    Haters have found easy targets on the online community as they can say what they want when they want and don’t have to suffer the consequences and they know that many people look to online to escape from that kind of treatment already.

    That is why I am totally for laws to prevent and punish online bullying/harrasing.

    But, back to the virtual people and customer service…They are only doing it not do discriminate (or at least not entirely) they are are doing it so SAVE MONEY. Hell…I mean their tech department can take care of the virtual people without having to hire a ton of people to answer the phones. They probably outsource the tech department anyway so it isn’t like they are paying huge salaries for it…and the virtual people can take a whole lot more calls per hour than the average human.

    To be honest…I would rather talk to a live person that I can barely understand than a robot any day.

  2. vesta44 said,

    March 20, 2008 at 12:58 pm

    We get all kinds of telemarketing calls from those virtual people, and when I hear that it’s not a real person, I hang up (I hang up on real telemarketers too, but that’s a whole ‘nother rant). And I hate calling anywhere that has a virtual person who asks questions you have to answer in order to try and get anything done. My name alone drives that virtual person batshit nuts (it’s Mariellen, one word, pronounced Mary Ellen). When they ask for my first name, and I say it and spell it, as requested, they just keep looping back to ask my first name because it’s sooooooooo unusual that they just can’t figure it out. I end up not answering until they decide they need to connect me with a real person.
    There is one virtual person for a bill collector that I love to mess with (I had a roommate who ordered a bunch of stuff in my name, without my knowledge, and then didn’t pay for it, at least, I think that’s what happened, I know I didn’t order anything from that particular company). They can’t pronounce my name correctly when they see it spelled, so when they call and ask for Mahryelena or Mahryellen or Marilyn or whatever incorrect pronunciation they use, I say, nope, sorry no one here by that name, you must have a wrong number. I figure eventually they’ll either get the pronunciation correct or they’ll quit calling.
    I’ve never had to deal with a virtual person I could actually see, just the ones on the phone, and that’s frustrating enough. To have to deal with one in a visual way, ick.

  3. Bree said,

    March 20, 2008 at 1:05 pm

    As an office manager, I see ads for a virtual receptionist that eliminates the need for a front office worker from time to time, and I asked my boss if she would ever get that because it’s cheaper than paying someone like me. She told me that as long as she’s the boss, she will never have virtual people. She can’t stand automated voices and thinks it would hurt our organization if we didn’t have that personal connection. So there is some sanity in this crazy world.

    I don’t do MySpace or Facebook or RPGs, but I have a YouTube account and I’ve been lucky that I only had to delete one nasty comment in the almost two years I’ve had an account. It’s disheartening to see how filthy and degrading others can be from behind a computer desk. There is nothing wrong with having a virtual fantasy life, but when it gets to the point that you would consider becoming harmful and violent simply because you can, or because someone is different from you, it’s time for serious therapy and a reality check.

  4. lanphuong said,

    March 20, 2008 at 9:57 pm

    Where we tonight shall camp?….The top blogs of the day. the newest report , see and reply me some comments. Thanks.


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