Moving Targets

May 15, 2012 § 7 Comments

I keep finishing my dissertation. Well I keep thinking that I’ve finished my dissertation, and in my excitement send the manuscript to a few choice readers (who know better than to trust my word, with very good reason). Within 24 hours I usually follow up with apologetic email saying I needed to add a sentence somewhere, or that the project is a train wreck and don’t look at me/it, I’m/it’s hideous, and FOR THE LOVE OF GOD STOP READING. Luckily these guys have been to this rodeo a few times before, and know not to open anything I’ve sent until at least 4 days have passed — typically my window for vanity-related retraction.

But not always vanity-related. Yes I can be a real insaneosaurus about my own prose, but part of the issue is that shit keeps CHANGING. I need to revise, because there are constantly new things to talk about. Take ROFLcon. I thought I’d finished my dissertation before heading to Boston, but while I was there realized I needed to address several developments, most notably the fact that ROFLcon III would be the third and final con in the series (which fits sort of beautifully into my larger argument about shifts within the trollspace). So back to the revisions-stage I went. A bit frustrating maybe, akin to running a race and watching in horror as the finish line keeps creeping backwards (#symbolism), but it’s been that way from the very beginning of my project — and not just during the final slog to doctor-town.

Because the thing about trolls is, they’re a moving target. I adjusted by tethering their behaviors (and my analysis of their behaviors) to larger ideological systems, which has been very helpful. But then in 2011 sometime, things started to feel somewhat………I don’t know, different. It wasn’t just that trolling output was slowing down, INTERNET output was slowing down, except it was also speeding up? It was confusing, and hard to put my finger on exactly what was happening, but it was clear that something WAS happening, and more distressingly that I’d need to deal with it.

At the time, the plan had always been to talk about trolls–particularly little-a Anonymous on 4chan– in the present tense. But more and more I found myself speaking about their exploits in the past tense. It wasn’t until Christmas of 2011 that I realized, oh dear god, oh many swear words, that this dissertation is about a subcultural LIFE CYCLE, which is a very different sort of project and immediately necessitated all kinds of theoretical retrofittings. The question was no longer “what is this and what does it mean,” but rather “where did this come from, in what ways has it evolved, and where might things be going” — essentially the same sorts of questions Andy Baio was asking in his recent Wired piece, though my questions are geared mostly to trolls (“mostly” due to there’s all sorts of complicated overlap between internet culture and trolling culture).

So. While I’m at the point (again) where I’m pretty sure I’m done writing my dissertation (not that I have much of a choice, the manuscript is due to my committee tomorrow), I’m also looking around at all the dust that’s still settling and wondering what I’ll need to revise next, which is not at ALL how I thought I would feel.

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