ASA January 2011 AN Column
Paul L. Doughty, Contributing Editor and Secretary
ASA Meets Its 21st New Year
I have a few New Year’s resolutions to make, but it is virtually impossible to decide about priorities. This column was due before the November AAA Annual Meeting and I just finished writing my paper for the ASA session—which I am sure will be (was) another great one.
In the process of writing my AAA paper about returning to my first research site in Peru, I discovered that the District of Huaylas has an informative website. Unable to return to this favorite Andean place in person during the past six years, the website proved useful. I felt as though I were virtually there, dancing in the streets during the July 8 fiesta and observing local events firsthand.
Tentative resolution 1: I resolve to take better advantage of this research opportunity, thereby avoiding expensive, non-deductible travel costs and perhaps a case of soroche, although I would miss having the traditional preventive cup of coca tea. As we open this door of new research capabilities, it is well to keep the origins and meaning of the virtual dimension in mind. According to the dictionary, “Virtual, adjective” refers to something that is “almost or nearly as described, but not completely or according to strict definition:” as in, the virtual absence of political reality. The word derives from “Middle English: from Medieval Latin virtualis, from Latin virtus, virtue (in the sense of possessing certain virtues,” ie, something good and useful) and thus the conflict between virtue and virtual is joined.
As it turns out, most of us are bereft of our former offices, support staff and other accoutrements of professional status, but we seniors may survive in this new milieu of virtual reality. Indeed, my virtual professional environment consists of a handy Mac laptop that allows me to re-create my professional modus operandi. In fact, my virtual desktop has come to resemble the real one I used to have, littered with files, odds and ends of messages, notes of future interest and other miscellany. Because of this uncanny recreation of my former reality, I continue to relive my past life, although retired.
Resolution 2: I hereby resolve to clean up the mess and properly file things in their rightful places, or put them in the virtual trash.
The next item on my virtual culture list has to do with ASA, the brave band of seniors who fearlessly declare their maturity once each year in the presence of vast numbers of others. This year our membership has achieved new heights. Nevertheless our interactions are attenuated by the conditions of our relationships. The November column, now on our webpage, was really virtual, apparently lost in the ether world, never reaching its virtuous destination in AN. What we had was virtual communication in the Internet mode of interaction, texting and writing in acronymic words, LOL. R u with me on this?
Resolution 3: Emphasize updating my skills in these virtual regards. I gotta stay young at heart and mind, although I’m not sure about texting. Nevertheless, as Tony Paredes “said” in email to our Alabama Press editor, “Don’t feel obliged to come [to the ASA luncheon], but it would be nice for the membership to put a human face on the press.” Well, our book is virtually in hard copy form.
There you have it. We just can’t seem to manage without that personal contact thing. How ironic is it that we can experience life in odd places through contrived TV reality shows, seeming “almost or nearly as described.” As I utilized this new source of long distance information for my paper the whole notion and importance of virtuality in our time became clear, sort of. How far can the new anthropology plunge into that almost real world of virtual field research, publishing, teaching, friendship, talking and community? And, how many of us have virtual pets (cyberpet, digipet) comforting us through these times?