“HMMM…WHERE'S THAT SMOKE COMING FROM?”

Writing, Play and Performance on Internet Relay Chat

Authors

  • Brenda Danet,

    1. Brenda Danet is Professor of Sociology and Communication at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem. She has been studying aspects of language, communication, and culture on the Internet since 1991. Her interests include the nature and implications of playfulness in digital communication; consequences of the loss of the text as material object in computerized communication; the new media and the future of performativity; email and the history of letter-writing; gender, play and performance on the Internet; and virtual theatre. During the 1996-97 academic year she is on sabbatical at the Center for Folklife Programs & Cultural Studies, The Smithsonian Institution, Washington, DC, where she is working on a book Keybo@rd K@perz: Play, Culture and Communication in the Early Digital Age. Email: msdanet@pluto.mscc.huji.ac.il, 1996-97: bdanet@erols.com or cfpcs.danet@ic.si.edu.
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  • Lucia Ruedenberg-Wright,

    1. Lucia Ruedenerg-Wright became interested in online communications while completing her Ph.D. in Performance Studies at New York University. After a postdoctoral year at the Dept. of Behavioral Sciences, Ben Gurion University in BeerSheva, Israel, she began to teach Internet skills and issues in the Dept. of Education, Ben Gurion University and in the Dept. of Communication & Journalism, The Hebrew University of Jerusalem. In addition, she participated in the founding of the Ramat-Negev Freenet in the northern Negev Desert and has researched its impact on residents of the region. Currently she is Webmaster for the Graduate School of Arts and Science at New York University, and teaches an Internet course remotely, via the Internet, at Ben Gurion University, Department of Education. Email: lucia@bgumail.bgu.edu or lucia@ramat-negev.org.il or ruednbrg@acf2.nyu.edu.
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  • Yehudit Rosenbaum-Tamari

    1. Yehudit Rosenbaum-Tamari is a doctoral student in sociology at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem. The subject of her doctoral thesis is Play, Language and Culture in Computer-Mediated-Communication. She is the director of the Research Department at the Israel Ministry of Immigrant Absorption. Rosenbaum-Tamari's research interests include the sociology of computer-mediated-communication; play theory and research; the sociology of language; and migration and immigration and acculturation. Since 1990, she has been conducting an ongoing survey on processes of absorption of the current wave of immigrants from the former Soviet Union in Israel. Email: msrosen@pluto.huji.ac.il
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Abstract

Digital writing is strikingly playful. This playfulness flourishes particularly in synchronous chat modes on the Internet. This paper is a study of writing, play and performance on IRC (Internet Relay Chat). We analyze a “virtual party” on IRC, whose highlight was a typed simulation of smoking marihuana. Three interrelated, yet analytically distinct types of play are discussed: 1) play with identity; 2) play with frames of interaction; and 3) play with typographic symbols. We adopt a qualitative, textual, and micro-sociolinguistic approach, drawing on work in discourse analysis, the study of orality and literacy, and the anthropology of play and performance. In all play there is reduced accountability for action. In the material world, masks and costumes at carnival time liberate participants; here, the ephemeral, non-material medium, the typed text, and the use of nicknames provide the mask. Although the improvisation analyzed here is typed and occurs between geographically dispersed strangers, it has fascinating affinities with “live” interactional forms such as jazz, charades, and carnivals.

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