In a course I teach at MIT on democracy and the Internet, we were talking about the social impact of migrations in cyberspace (i.e., the capacity to move freely into networks and services that had previously existed as unconnected, self-contained islands). For example, America Online (AOL) had been a self-contained cyberspace continent whose users were confined within its borders. However, with the immense growth in popularity of the Internet, service providers have hastily constructed bridges…In a course I teach at MIT on democracy and the Internet, we were talking about the social impact of migrations in cyberspace (i.e., the capacity to move freely into networks and services that had previously existed as unconnected, self-contained islands). For example, America Online (AOL) had been a self-contained cyberspace continent whose users were confined within its borders. However, with the immense growth in popularity of the Internet, service providers have hastily constructed bridges so that their customers can migrate, say, from America Online to the Internet. Suddenly, hundreds of thousands of AOL customers found they could migrate to the Internet, for there is no customs or passport control there.

Now consider what happens when two previously separated populations suddenly mix together—in this case, inhabitants of the Internet and those of America Online. Each has its own culture and norms for civilized behavior, and each is ignorant of the other’s customs. In “real” discourse, these ingredients would be fuel for volatile confrontation.

One of the students remarked that he was a participant in an Internet discussion group in which a new user from AOL announced his presence. The student said emphatically, “I knew he was going to say something clueless before he even posted two words.”

I replied, “Let me see if I’ve got this right. You believe that all America On-line users are clueless. You know nothing about this person other than the fact that he has an account with America Online. You haven’t seem him write anything, yet you judge him. Let me ask you a question: If you did this in the real world, what would it be called?”

The students immediately got my point. It would be some kind of ism. To distinguish it from racism, sexism, and the like, let us call it domainism, a stereotypic negative judgment based purely on which side of the cyberspace tracks a person comes from.

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