Bauman on "Internauts"

After meeting Zygmunt Bauman, we have been e-mailing about some of the issues touched upon during the interview. Every time we do this, professor Bauman sends excerpts, paragraphs, and chunks of texts he is working on that are somewhat relevant to topics such as the role of local, national or global journalism - in all instances institutions of solid modernity - in liquid modern times, or to the ways one has to understand and approach the successes or failures of new forms of sociability online.

On that last topic, Bauman is skeptical to say the least. I refuse to let go of two main assumptions about internet: first, that whatever people do online is primarily a function of what they do (and did) offline, thus making the medium an amplified extension or perhaps symptom of broad social processes. In the context of Bauman's ideas about the experience of pointillist time in liquid life, this for example would be observable through the physical structure (code, hardware, network) of the internet: point-to-point, open source, P2P. A second assumption I seem to be clinging on to is the idea, that the kinds of 'togetherness' sometimes found online that at times produce inspiring results - Indymedia, Wikipedia, Creative Commons, Ohymynews, to name but a few - suggest how people are experimenting with new or extended types of social bonds that escape the narrowly defined and sometimes even oppressive parameters of 'community' offline (in the pre-internet days).

Alas, Bauman begs to differ. Part of his answer about these concerns for example is:

"The 'community' of internauts whose substitute recognition is sought does not require the chores of socializing and is thereby free from risk, that notorious and widely feared bane of the off-line battles of recognition.

Another revelation is the redundancy of the 'Other' in any role other than the token of endorsement and approval. In the internet game of identities, the 'other' (the addressee and sender of messages) is reduced to his/her hard core of the thoroughly manipulable instrument of self-confirmation, stripped of most or all unnecessary bits irrelevant to the task yet grudgingly and reluctantly tolerated in off-line interaction."