Catching Up on Comments, or LIMES LIMES EVERYWHERE

January 26, 2013 § Leave a comment

why can't i hold all these limes

I have been fairly quiet on my blog of late, and when I am being fairly quiet on my blog that almost always means I’m juggling a bunch of other behind the scenes projects I’m not quite ready to make public. This has certainly been true for the second half of winter break; in addition to revising my book proposal, finalizing two spring syllabi, and writing not one but two job talks, I’ve been working on my second Ethnography Matters piece, to be published sometime early January. I have also been very busy not responding to email, which means I’ve got piles and piles of unread messages to wade through. I cannot tell you how anxious unread emails make me; inbox status: zero is the only acceptable inbox status there is. But there are only so many hours in the day. So my apologies if/that I am slow and useless.

On that note, my friend Karen Wade posted an interesting comment in response to my Spreadable Media piece, which I am only just now responding to. I figured I’d give it its own post. Quoth Karen:

Towards the end, you discuss the effects of deindividuation within anonymous culture and how they change the game in terms of meme transmission – without individual identities, the motives for gifting memes become less clear. In the two years since you first wrote the paper, has your assessment of trolls being “subsumed by the collective” evolved along with the other aspects of your work – does it still apply? (I’m vaguely recalling a discussion of specific members of Anonymous become less anonymous, for example.) And does your assessment that trolls “operate under an entirely different social and economic paradigm” continue to hold true, or has this also altered along with the other changes in troll culture that you mention?

So — has my assessment of trolls being “subsumed by the collective” evolved with other aspects of my work? I would say that yes, except in cases where it hasn’t. Trolls –and people around the internet generally– still do stuff anonymously, and still invest a great deal of labor in behaviors that are unattributable, i.e. their real life friends (and for me “real life” also includes “internet friends,” whether or not the person has ever met these friends offline) will never know how awesome it was when X anon did X or made X thing (or conversely, how shitty it was when X anon did X or made X thing).

The issue is that fewer and fewer people live purely anonymous online lives, thanks to the corporate incentivization of “authentic user identity,” i.e. the Facebook imperative. People can still be sort of subsumed by the collective under their real names, but once persistent (to say nothing of “authentic,” which is a made-up concept and doesn’t even exist offline) user identity enters the equation, the “normal” rules of sharing/gift economy suddenly apply — you have people gifting in order to receive, and gifting in order to solidify whatever affinity group to which they might belong.

Truly anonymous, hivemind-type creative contribution is interesting and different –and remains interesting and different, even if the overall frequency with which it occurs has gone down– because the motives undergirding unattributable creative output (i.e. Photoshopping a bunch of images you have no intention of affixing a -nym to) can’t be said to follow any traditional gift economic models, not really, except to the extent that being subsumed by a collective and having access to and knowledge of shared community language and norms is a gift unto itself. Which definitely qualifies as a payoff, but is more about internal satisfaction than external reward. 

In other words, it’s not so much that my original assessment has changed since 2010, it’s that the world has changed since 2010, and those changes have impacted what people do and how often they do them.  


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