Online a Lot of the Time: Ritual, Fetish, Sign

Front Cover
Duke University Press, May 6, 2009 - Social Science - 328 pages
1 Review
A wedding ceremony in a Web-based virtual world. Online memorials commemorating the dead. A coffee klatch attended by persons thousands of miles apart via webcams. These are just a few of the ritual practices that have developed and are emerging in online settings. Such Web-based rituals depend on the merging of two modes of communication often held distinct by scholars: the use of a device or mechanism to transmit messages between people across space, and a ritual gathering of people in the same place for the performance of activities intended to generate, maintain, repair, and renew social relations. In Online a Lot of the Time, Ken Hillis explores the stakes when rituals that would formerly have required participants to gather in one physical space are reformulated for the Web. In so doing, he develops a theory of how ritual, fetish, and signification translate to online environments and offer new forms of visual and spatial interaction. The online environments Hillis examines reflect the dynamic contradictions at the core of identity and the ways these contradictions get signified.

Hillis analyzes forms of ritual and fetishism made possible through second-generation virtual environments such as Second Life and the popular practice of using webcams to “lifecast” one’s life online twenty-four hours a day, seven days a week. Discussing how people create and identify with their electronic avatars, he shows how the customs of virtual-world chat reinforce modern consumer-based subjectivities, allowing individuals to both identify with and distance themselves from their characters. His consideration of web-cam cultures links the ritual of exposing one’s life online to a politics of visibility. Hillis argues that these new “rituals of transmission” are compelling because they provide a seemingly material trace of the actual person on the other side of the interface.


What people are saying - Write a review

User Review - Flag as inappropriate

On the subject of Dr. Guynup and the implicit contempt for teachers in their work - Hillis is confused. Teachers are a "body of wisdom" and their human form is not required to instantiate it. This is why we are empowering teachers in the first place.
Hillis apparently loses the fact that the teacher is present in our classroom (not a disconnected 3D slideshow) or believes a faux human body is required for a teacher to project wisdom.
As for Hillis's book here and his previous publication - I think he has a valuable voice on a number of subjects, especially against much of the fanboy-ism of VR. Yet, I also think he's quite incorrect on a number of things (including my work). That said - his bit about me, Baudrillard & fetishism made me smile...


Introduction Rituals of Transmission Fetishizing the Trace
1 Rituals
2 Fetishes
3 Signs
4 Avatars Become me Depiction Dethrones Description
5 So Near So Far and Both at Once Telefetishism and Rituals of Visibility
Afterword Digital Affectivity
Works Cited

Other editions - View all

Common terms and phrases

About the author (2009)

Ken Hillis is Associate Professor of Media Studies at the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill. He is the author of Digital Sensations: Space, Identity, and Embodiment in Virtual Reality and a co-editor of Everyday eBay: Culture, Collecting, and Desire.

Bibliographic information