Cyber Hero

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Introductory Citation

'Franco and Zimbardo (2006) have proposed the need to expand the “heroic imagination.” “If we lose the ability to imagine ourselves as heroes, and to understand the meaning of true heroism, our society will be poorer for it. But if we can reconnect with these ancient ideals, and make them fresh again, we can create a connection with the hero in ourselves. It is this vital, internal conduit between the modern work- a-day world and the mythic world that can prepare an ordinary person to be an everyday hero”. (


Dana Klisanin:

'Individuals using the Internet to act on behalf of other people are not risking their lives, however in some instances, websites that support digital altruism are designed such that the visitor confronts, not one, not two, not three, but a seemingly endless number of challenges in the form of “causes” that need urgent attention (see, 2011). From poverty to global warming to the threat of mass extinctions, these challenges are not easily solved, thus the individual seeking to bring them to an end, certainly faces some degree of psychological angst. Importantly, rather than turning away from these challenges, or pretending they do not exist, individuals who actively engage in digital altruism are confronting these challenges with the new tools that have become available to them.

To engage in this manner, the cyberhero archetype is embracing paradox. Traditionally, the hero is reactive, i.e., acting when the need to act arises. The cyberhero however, arising as it does from our globally interconnected “wired” world, is both reactive and proactive. It is “reactive” in that reaches beyond physical boundaries to address existing problems (e.g., clicking-to-donate food), and it is “proactive” in trying to prevent the worst consequence of social inequality (i.e., starvation, disease, death) and environmental destruction (global warming, loss of habitat, extinction of species). The individual embodying the cyberhero archetype chooses to act all the while recognizing a certain futility in his or her singular act. To overcome this frustration, the cyberhero must posit individual action and collective action in simultaneity. The cyberhero knows he or she will not save the whales from extinction alone, but recognizes that we−an active community of like-minded individuals−may well succeed.

The cyberhero archetype appears to recognize global threats to social and ecological wellbeing as personal threats. Rather than requiring a personal confrontation with immediate danger, the cyberhero archetype requires a personal and collective psychological confrontation with current and/or impending species-wide dangers. Rather than setting out on an epic adventure to far away lands and encountering life-threatening dangers, as in the traditional heroic narrative (Campbell, 1949/1972), the cyberhero, paradoxically, both stays at home and sets off--into cyberspace with the goal of benefiting others.

The elements of heroism identified by Rankin and Eagly (2008), “benefiting others and acting selflessly” provide a solid foundation for the hero aspect of the cyberhero archetype, however additional characteristics, such as universal compassion, dual-persona, shape-shifting, and speed, can be said to mimic characteristics common to superheroes. Superheroes represent society’s vision of men and women endowed with extraordinary abilities. They emerged at that onset of World War II, largely from the pen of Jewish writers in response to Hitler’s persecution of the Jewish people (Packer, 2010). This was an unparallel time in history, a time when the agrarian way of life was ending and value systems associated with agrarianism, such as equality and community were in direct opposition to the value systems of industrial capitalism: individualism, self-fulfillment, and competitiveness (Connor, 1980). From the psychoanalytic perspective, the superhero, through the use of mask and costume, symbolized the “split between the egalitarian common man and the individualistic, self-reliant, achievement-motivated superhero” (Connor, 1980, p. 339). While it is beyond the scope of this exploration, Packer (2010) has also explored the mask and costume of the superhero in terms of the Jungian concepts of the persona and the shadow.

Because the Internet is the modus operandi of the cyberhero, s/he is able to imitate the dual persona, shape shifting, and speed of the superhero archetype. Dual persona and shape shifting are enabled through the use of an avatar, i.e., self-selected digital persona; and speed via the Internet’s rapid transfer of data. When an individual uses the Internet, or a gamer sits down to play a video game, he selects a digital representation of himself, i.e., an "avatar”. The individual is free to select his sexual identity, race, hair color, as well as a variety of other features; depending on the choices available he may choose to “shape-shift,” identifying, for example, as a mythological creature or a Jedi knight. This ability to create a new identity for oneself, while in reality remaining the same person, mimics the dual-persona and shape-shifting characteristics of the superhero. Unlike the superhero, however, the cyberhero does not require an avatar in order to act on behalf of others, thus it cannot be said to inherit the psychic split posited of the superhero. Through embodying individual action in tandem with collective action, the cyberhero overcomes the split between communal and individual value systems.

While the hero archetype speaks to moral action, heroes are often associated with acting on behalf of a specific in-group (e.g., one’s neighbors, community, or nation), the superhero, as originally conceived (e.g., Superman), embodies universal compassion and magnanimity (Packer, 2010). In using the Internet to act globally, on behalf of individuals of all religions, ethnicities, and nationalities, as well as animals and imperiled environments, the cyberhero appears to be embodying these ideal qualities. The cyberhero archetype provides an avenue through which a number of the superhero’s characteristics are finding expression in the phenomenal world, albeit in a radically different form. In this regard, the archetype appears to be acting as a bridge, or conduit between the physical and imaginal worlds." (

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