Pro-Ana Websites: The Ethical Contradictions

In “The Bioethics of Cybermedicalization” the authors mention how individuals’ (young women, as they pointedly identify) choices to live with their untreated eating disorders can be perceived as a lifestyle choice. Miah and Rich then outline the ethical problems that come into play, such as whether or not certain cases can be justified in favour of medical intervention, and also, whether or not these individuals are competent in their judgments and lifestyle decisions. The essay uses the general example of pro-ana websites to examine the moral and ethical issues that arise with bioethics, and how they are translated online.

With the purpose of exploring this topic, I visited various pro-ana sites. Most of these sites established in their introductions or welcome pages that they were not promoting eating disorders. Many also restricted access to their forums and chat rooms to only those who had eating disorders and met age requirements. One site (http://pro-ana-nation.com/) issued a warning that you must be 18 years or older to enter their site. Although I am 19, I recoiled from going any further because I was wary of what kind of content I would be exposed to. Other sites, such as Pro Ana Online (http://proanaonline.com/), advertise that it is not a pro anorexia site, but that it exists “to offer a community to those with eating disorders”. Pro Ana Online also states that it does not offer diet or weight loss tips.

However, I noticed that this site, and many others like it, seemed to be embedded with ethical contradictions. For instance, despite Pro Ana Online’s assertion that they are not promoting anorexia, on its page of links it lists a number of other sites and blogs that seemingly do. This includes Thinspo links (http://thinspox.tumblr.com/, http://thinspox.tumblr.com/) which are blogs that provide “thinspiration” through photos. What I noted was that these thinspiration sites, as well as Pro Ana Online, warn that they are “trigger sites”, meaning that they could impede the progress of someone working towards recovery from an eating disorder. To me, all of these warnings and labels are confusing and misleading. If these sites are confirming their roles as triggering, can this role be viewed as supplementing the promotion of eating disorders? Additionally, do you think that pro-ana sites may be a “productive aspect of the recovery process” (213) as Miah and Rich ask us to reflect upon in their essay?

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The Human Genome

There are many films and novels that explore the issue of controlling human genetics. It is easy to think that a world where our genes are selected is far off or impossible, but one has to take into account that there are several very large projects being developed that track the human genome of one cultural group or, in some cases, several. In the essay “Biocolonialism, Genomics, and the Databasing of the Population” by Eugene Thacker, we are shown the magnitude of these projects.

Thacker also outlines some of the major fears that are often associated with human genome projects. One of the largest taboo concepts is biocolonialism—taking samples of genetic material in order to find the economic or medical value. This ties in closely with issues of race and population. As part of discovering the genome, there will inevitably be race identification. Currently, activists find that this identification makes it okay to emphasize racial and ethnic differences. Taking that one step further, Once we have figured out where these genes can be found and how we can alter them,  a deeper level of discrimination would be possible.

It is scary to think about how much power is held in knowing and understanding the human genome. At the present time, most projects do not progress with the intent of being able to use the genome, but rather to understand it.

If you take a look at the research goals of the popular Human Genome Project, you can see that there is no negative intent outlined. They simply wanted to discover all the genes available to humans and determine the sequence of these genes. What the researchers discovered was that the project was much larger than they had anticipated.

http://www.ornl.gov/sci/techresources/Human_Genome/hg5yp/index.shtml

Even though the research aspect of this project has finished, people still continue to analyses their findings. Thus, there is still potential for this project and others, which started off innocent, to become something bigger and threatening than it already is. Thacker mentions how biology, anatomy, and politics is already starting to come together to create a biopolitical power. The consequences he outlines of this are in line with what some people fear about studying the human genome.

Like with any new technology, it is difficult to see what direction this will be taken. But it will be interesting to see how the body and technology will merge in the future.

Anybody Out There?

SWF, 25, looking for long term, (long distance?) relationship. I’m from Vancouver, Canada but love can be anywhere, right?

I’ve never tried sites like this before, but I figure it’s worth a shot. I’m a recent college graduate with a degree in Communications and I’m aspiring to be in advertising one day. I’m currently a waitress and working on paying off my student loans before taking on the world.

I grew up on a farm so I love horseback riding and the outdoors. I go camping and hiking all the time in the summer with my friends and family. The best place I’ve been to has got to be around Tobermory and Bruce Peninsula National Park. I’ve been into sports ever since I was 6. I figure skate, swim, and play volleyball and I try to work out every now and then. I’m an avid reader as well. When I’m not busy, I love to wind down with a good book and a mug of green tea in my Snuggie (yes, I bought one!). I love music too. I can tolerate just about anything except for most rap. I’m very corny but some would say I’m traditional. I’m not much of a cook (I make a mean bowl of cereal!) but I’d like to take classes one day.

My ideal guy: taller than me (I’m 5’5″), great sense of humour, and a love of the outdoors. He should be college educated with an eye on the future.

Sound intriguing? Shoot me a message and maybe we’ll talk some more. xox

The above was an example of an ad that one may find on a personals’ site. As a male, it was definitely a little stranger than usual writing from a perspective, but it was pretty fun (in a weird sort of way). As we know, it is not uncommon to see males assuming the persona of a female online (and vice versa). But are there some people who would assume the opposite gender roles in personal ads? Maybe. Personal ads on dating sites try to be realistic; after all, you are trying to connect to real people with real information. However, no matter how delicate situations like online dating can be, there is always the potential for a falsification of one’s personality.

Take this video for instance: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=mTTwcCVajAc
The video is of a girl posting on EHarmony; it’s been widely seen by now and is commonly believed to be a spoof. Nonetheless, it seems real enough to be an actual ad.

TEDx Phillip Beesley

A friend of mine went to the recent TEDx presentation on campus and afterwards showed me some of the speakers he found of interest. One of them is UW architecture professor, Phillip Beesley. Innovative and creative, Beesley exhibits much of his work, which include technological life installations. These are man-made environments that mimic conscious or “alive” behaviour and interact with surroundings. As stated on the TEDxUW website (http://www.tedxuw.com/speakers/philip-beesley/), “Art and technology, when designed in such a manner, allow the creator to transcend the limitations of traditional schools of thought that focus on subject/object, organic/inorganic, static/dynamic and other types of binary worldviews.”

An example and overview of Beesley’s work can be found here: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=v86B9Nz_LVU

This work is called Hylozic Ground. This surreal man-made environment looks like it could be found in the movie Avatar. It has the primitive intelligence of an insect or coral reef. However, it is purely machine, and only inspired by the organic. I think it shows the potential for great shift in human-machine interaction. I think that it is a physical example of where post-humanity could develop. At this point, these structures have a very simplistic “mind”, but there are plans for advancement: for example, a structure that can read your every need and mood and modify itself to fulfill these needs.  Ideas of living architecture bring a new perspective on biopolitics, as well. Rather than modifying the living with machines, we are modifying machines to replicate the living.

Internet Dating: Relationship Redefinition

In the book, “The Shallows”, by Nicholas Carr, the author discusses how our intellectual technologies (writing, the typewriter, the Internet) ‘rewire’ our brains as a result of frequent use. While Carr describes, in particular, how the Internet restructures our brain processes, as in how our minds function, I noticed that Lawson and Leck’s essay observed how the Internet challenged society’s predominant ways of thinking. Their essay about online dating examined in detail the variety of benefits of this courtship medium, but many of these attractions also challenged traditional social expectations and norms.

For instance, the sanctity of marriage is redefined. Recurring points in the essay pointed to the fact that users of online dating are often married, and their use of these sites is not restricted by this circumstance. Therefore, the traditional perceptions of marriage fidelity and exclusiveness have been reshaped by the online world of possibilities. These online dating sites both permit and promote coveting, as well as the explorations of multiple relationships. Internet dating platforms transform acts that generally have been viewed as sinful, scandalous or ‘wrong’, and portrayed them as the new acceptable social norms. And we have accepted them.

As well, these dating sites disrupt the conventional, and yes, stereotypical, notions of gender roles. Lawson and Leck’s essay examines how adolescent girls choose to explore their sexual aggressiveness online, and how both male and female users take advantage of the anonymity to explore opposite gender experiences. Women, who have most often been portrayed as the weaker sex in media, seize this opportunity to divert from this persona and adopt a more assertive attitude in their relations with  men. While the media also constructs the ideal man’s man, online dating sites offer men a chance to experiment with their understandings of the female perspective. However, it is important to note that these disruptions of conventional gender definitions proliferate because of the Internet’s lack of repercussions and its separation from the users’ real life identities.

I simply found it very interesting to note how the Internet not only affects the physical design and workings of our brain, according to Carr, but how Internet services have also altered our ways of thinking about the world around us. Online dating services replace old values and social behaviour and grant opposing ones status. Internet dating has thus done more than simply change the dating process for men and women. As a result of the availability and the promises of dating sites, we have also adapted our perceptions of relationships entirely.

Ashley Madison, the Online Affair Service

Ad for the site: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=EwJSD46JSoM

Ashley Madison, at www.ashleymadison.com, is an online “dating” service, but not of the generic kind. This website specializes in setting up affairs for people who are already married. The website fully supports the idea of married people coming on this website to find people other than their significant others to go out with. Their tagline even promotes “Life is short, have an affair” and “Have an affair, guaranteed”.

In a way, this service remediates the actual meeting of people in real life that someone may have an affair with. By doing this, it makes it much more accessible, and much less personal of an interaction. Approaching someone as a sexual interest while married is much more intimidating in real life than it is on the internet. The other key factor here is that the website brings together people who share similar interests and are looking for a very specific thing. Again, meeting someone in person, it is a lot different trying to find someone to have an affair with if they know you are married. The website also allows singles to sign up in search of the same thing, or looking for married people as well. This makes the site open to a wider variety of people, looking for all different things.

The point of discussion which I believe goes beyond the actual workings of the website is if a site like this should be allowed to exist? The site promotes the socially unacceptable behavior of cheating on a spouse, and tries to normalise it as if it is a common behaviour. They do this by preying on weak relationships (as shown in the ad), and making cheating on ones spouse seem like it is even the beneficial option in the scenario.

Dating and Marriage in Online Games

While online dating sites provide the sole purpose of meeting a familiar, online games do not only give you the opportunity to date, and sometimes even marry  another character (Perfect World), but they also provide the chance to play at many other things. It is like you are creating a new life in some of these games, and by dating another online character, it takes gaming to a whole new level. I played perfect world for a very short amount of time before switching to WoW, and I was astonished to learn that players could actually “marry” other players (I think you can in World of Warcraft as well but I am not sure). Sure, it doesn’t involve anything legal, you don’t actually marry the person behind the character, but It felt very strange to me. Marriage is supposed to be the ultimate and final step in sealing a relationship, but in various games that offer this extension, they seemed to be treating it rather lightly. While online dating sites require you to post a picture and talk about yourself, online games allow the player to build a character and a persona. They can tell people whatever they want without having to worry about retribution, and perhaps this “rules free” lifestyle makes them think it’s okay to marry another player inside the game. Marriage within the game, from what I understand, will actually give your player many benefits and rewards, so I think it is safe to assume (to a certain extent) that some games like Perfect World encourage this sort of behavior. My question to you is as follows; how do you think online dating differs from dating within an online game, and what do you think about the option to marry another player? Would you do it if you were dating another character and they asked you to?

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