It’s Raining Internet — Clay Shirky and Mootle McPoole

August 26, 2011 § 1 Comment

TED Talk: Christopher “moot” Poole: The Case for Anonymity Online (2010) 

First of all, Tom Green? The bum in on my wat. Um er. Hey everybody! My name is moot. No it’s not. My name is Christopher Poole. No it’s not! OR IS IT. So! Wow, TED, ok. I translated the Futuba channel format to English America. And now holy crap it’s so popular! The website is called 4chan, it’s anonymous, ephemeral, no memory, no registration, no nothing, just pictures of kittens and “rate my cawk” threads. Basically it’s a meme factory. LOLcats, RickRoll. Really digging into the memory banks for some G-rated shit. The community has come up with their own set of rules, “The Rules of the Internet.” For example, treat others as you’d like to be treated, and a penny saved is a penny earned. Also if it exists, there is porn of it, no exceptions. Back to /b/, which apparently you’re not supposed to talk about, and this thing that happened one time where I was voted the Most Influential Person in the History of Magazines. MARBLECAKEALSOTHEGAME, look it up! Oh and Anonymous, you can’t forget about them. They hate Scientology so much! You know what else they hate? Animal abuse. Once they even saved a cat! All these deviant Cyber Trolls, with secret hearts of gold!

[polite applause]

The thing is, 4chan is a place without filters or limits. This is unusual; with the rise of social networking sites like Facebook and canv.as, the internet is moving towards persistent user identity and away from privacy, aka the freedom to be whatever self we feel like in that particular moment. In conclusion, I really think it’s a shame. Oh and now Q&A. Re: anonymity, there are plenty of downsides. But abolishing anonymity entirely would be worse. Here let me walk a very fine line — saying whatever you like is powerful. Doing whatever you like is problematic. So let’s hear it for anonymity! Re: the risks of a consequence-free zone, oh man. Well, I asked /b/ what I should talk about here, and within 24 hours there were 12,000 responses. None of which I could say in public lol. Re: the commercial picture of 4chan, there really isn’t one. Although I did finally move out of my mom’s basement!   THE END

TED Talk: Clay Shirky: Institutions vs. Collaborations (2005) 

First of all, watch the video. Second of all, watch the video — seems silly for me to summarize point-by-point a thing you’re perfectly capable of watching yourselves. It’s not just about access, i.e., the video’s right there, but more about how cool this is. As opposed to the vast majority of dated (dated = earlier than 2008) new media research, the typical response to which is haha that thing doesn’t even EXIST anymore, cool story though, this argument a) still holds water and b) calls attention to a set of groundbreaking concepts most of us have internalized as natural and necessary. Take tagging in fotos, for example. Shirky’s like, let’s say I need a pic of a half-naked mermaid titsing around Coney Island (this is the internet, after all). Why, thanks to the miracle of tagging, all I have to do is run a quick image search on Flickr! I mean duh, what else would you d——— and then it hit me, we haven’t always been able to fire up our machines and just FIND things. An obvious, almost embarrassingly naive thing to say. Because NO SHIT FUCKLOCK, it’s not like I didn’t already know this somewhere in the recesses of my lizard brain. Still, we’ve become –I’ve become– so accustomed to a particular relationship to data and so thoroughly reliant on the most robust of all possible access that I simply cannot imagine a world in which my informational needs are not immediately met. I lived in that godforsaken world, for years! And yet I have forgotten.

Shirky’s talk is kind of amazing, in other words, because it provides a snapshot of what the world was like — what might have seemed far-fetched, even revolutionary, to a 2005 audience is now business as usual, so much so that imagining the alternative requires, well, imagination. A must-watch for anyone interested in institutions generally. Also chaos, which REIGNS.

Clay Shirky, Here Comes Everybody (2008)

So I took my talk and made it a book. The basic argument is that the world is changing, the world has changed. But how and why these changes have occurred, and through what means, might be surprising. Yes yes, computers and internets and social networks are all material things, and in that sense have been literally impactive, but the revolution isn’t explicitly technological. It’s social, it’s about communication, it’s about what has been allowed to flourish (passive construction used deliberately). Take the tagging of fotos on Flickr — until recently, such a thing would have been unthinkable. Because going through and manually classifying hundreds of thousands of photographs? It’s a cool idea I guess, but hardly viable from an institutional perspective. A company would have to hire a bunch of people (and/or a smaller company), who would need direction, which would require oversight — and for what? Nothing that would recoup the initial outlay.

What networking technologies have created, then, is a spontaneous bypass mechanism. We don’t have to run everything we do through the cost/benefit five year plan of some lumbering corporation or government agency helmed by pedos and crimelords. “Value” has been untethered from “worth,” ushering in an era in which the latent becomes –at least, has the potential to become– manifest. The platforms across which these latencies travel are value neutral; they are conduits for who knows what, new and interesting behaviors I guess, and can’t be framed as either good or bad. Because again, by themselves, networks are useless termini linked together by inanimate hunks of carcinogens. But networks can’t and shouldn’t be taken by themselves. Consequently I reject both technological and sociological determinism; neither are fully able to account for the coevolutionary nature of meat and plastic. It’s not good, it’s not bad, it’s what has happened. Deal with it. Or don’t, I don’t care — the world marches forward either way.

What I learned from these fine scholars

Probably my favorite line from Shirky’s book (and which I unknowingly echoed in my response to his TED talk) is that “communications tools don’t get socially interesting until they get technologically boring” (105), a statement just as applicable to Mootle’s study in motherfuckery as it is to Shirky’s booktalk. We no longer marvel at the fact that networking technologies have changed maybe not everything but a shitload of some things (even just to the extent that, like it or not, we have to DEAL with them). For many of us, their existence is taken completely for granted. I’m suddenly thinking about a paper I wrote in 2005/2006 — something about Bush-era Republicans and humor (more like lack thereof, LOL those assholes). I wanted to cite a segment from the Daily Show, but that was juuuust as YouTube was becoming, and/or starting to become, the go-to place for obscure media artifacts aka my new best friend. I might have been able to find one or two there, I can’t remember exactly, but know I had to seriously DIG for the rest, sometimes relying on transcripts of the exchanges I was looking for. I didn’t know how to cite any of it, and wasn’t even sure these were “legitimate” sources (at least from my professor’s perspective). Looking back on that I can’t help but scratch my head, like, really? That’s what research was like? -which of course makes me acutely aware of the interim years, particularly all the things that have had to happen to render the old model (of research, of collaboration, of knee-jerk institutional resistance) almost entirely unintelligible…

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