Brieanne Elpert

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Over the course of my time in Cyberone, I have rediscovered some things about human nature and human potential. I say “rediscover” because it is a rare thing to say or observe something about people that is truly original, and my observations about the course are basically just a reflection of the long overdue feeling of being refreshed. I feel refreshed because it’s been a long time since I actually felt like I was doing something new, something that challenged me in a way that I wanted to be challenged, so that I wasn’t left wondering what the point of it all was. I could see the results of my own efforts in a way that was not some mysterious process in a professor’s head evaluating what I learned from an issue-spotter. I could develop my own opinion about how well I did independent of what any professor thought because my projects were the direct result of my effort, and there is no hiding from that. This was definitely an interesting class: It offered an interesting in-process look at human nature. People were excited, curious, afraid, stubborn, and ultimately ready for a challenge, and I think all of those things are part of what make people their own best friends and their own worst enemies as well.

Let me clarify. I noticed that at the beginning of the course, people were excited to be taking a class about the Internet. Everyone uses it everyday, and it’s often a distraction in most regular law school classes, so what could be better than killing two birds with one stone? Obviously, we were interested in cyber mediums and this course was a good way to combine that interest with an interest in graduation. Maybe I should only speak for myself, but this was the impression I got from several of my classmates. In any case, I think a lot of people were slightly dismayed when we found out we had to do more than, say, write a paper about our experience, or contribute to a wiki (all of which would be expected). My first twinge of fear came when I found out that we would have to be writing a program for a game. Judging from the class feedback, I was not the only one. It was fascinating how everyone was so afraid of something which turned out to be not only doable, but fun. Fear is definitely a mindkiller, but overcoming it only requires taking a risk, something many law students are unaccustomed to. My game was not a towering achievement, but it was more than I initially thought I would accomplish during the course. These feelings were amplified with Second Life. I had heard of these big, online games but I never thought of actually joining in, or that anything particularly useful could come from it, but I was dead wrong about that. For some, it’s a possibility for communication and group interaction that wouldn’t have been possible for them in the “real world.” The podcasts were not as unfamiliar to me, as I had done some sound editing in a college class, but it was just another example of the same kind of opening up and loosening up that I hope I have been describing as my experience in the class.

Of course, the biggest challenge in this class was not a technical mastery of any one thing. It was becoming accommodated with the idea of empathic argument. Maybe people had a hard time with empathic argument because no one has ever been told that that is a valid way to handle a disagreement. Sure, we’ve all been told to acknowledge the other side of the story, but not necessarily in a totally understanding way. Ultimately, I think empathic argument is against our nature. I have never seen children settle an argument empathically, and rarely have I seen adults do it. The only examples that come to mind are what I consider to be within the realm of couples therapy or something like that. Yet, there we were, in class, trying to figure our way through a disagreement in a sensitive, empathic way. It was hard, and people were stubborn about their point of view, whether it was invited panelists or students who had been doing this course for weeks. I think there is a powerful psychological imperative to rigidly hold fast to our own opinions even in the wake of heavy (or light) criticism, and for anyone, no matter how “nice” the criticism sounds, it still feels a bit like an attack. After all, if you understand my position so well, why don’t you agree?

All of these feelings about the course, and the difficulty of making a truly empathic argument bled into my project. On the one hand, I wanted to do a website which did its best to demonstrate that Star Wars is clearly better than the Lord of the Rings, but I had to balance that with the knowledge that many people thought otherwise. Why? I had to ask myself, and even when I did, it was still difficult to translate that into an interesting argument that didn’t just sound like “well this is great, and, oh yeah, this is great too…everybody is great!” This was a challenge, and I did my best to succeed, considering the limited amount of time I had (I had a final on Monday) and my inexperience in building a website. Of course, I found it to be a very good experience and vastly superior to preparing for a final exam. God knows, I wish I had more time to tinker around and ask some techno savvy friends more questions about what I was doing because while I was thinking about it and doing it, I became very absorbed in the process (as I did with the podcast and the programming). Despite my fear, misgivings and stubbornness, curiosity and creativity took hold of me for the brief time I allowed it to, and I sincerely felt like I was a part of something much bigger. There is the huge community of people much like me with countless interests, and there I was putting myself out there for everyone to see and judge for themselves. No wonder so many people do this stuff! I think this curiosity and drive to push forward and create is part of what makes humanity great, and the Internet (which is so instant and changeable) is such a wonderful tool for exploring that aspect of ourselves and others. I came away from this course hoping that everyone else got that sense, and hoping that the Internet and other cyber mediums remain on the cutting edge of human expression.