The Null Device
Posts matching tags 'the private register'
The internet, with its detachment between online and offline actions and its lack of a private register, has spawned the phenomenon of griefers, or highly organised subcultures of people (mostly young men) who delight in ruining other people's online fun:
Consider the case of the Avatar class Titan, flown by the Band of Brothers Guild in the massively multiplayer deep-space EVE Online. The vessel was far bigger and far deadlier than any other in the game. Kilometers in length and well over a million metric tons unloaded, it had never once been destroyed in combat. Only a handful of player alliances had ever acquired a Titan, and this one, in particular, had cost the players who bankrolled it in-game resources worth more than $10,000.
So, naturally, Commander Sesfan Qu'lah, chief executive of the GoonFleet Corporation and leader of the greater GoonSwarm Alliance — better known outside EVE as Isaiah Houston, senior and medieval-history major at Penn State University — led a Something Awful invasion force to attack and destroy it.
"The ability to inflict that huge amount of actual, real-life damage on someone is amazingly satisfying" says Houston. "The way that you win in EVE is you basically make life so miserable for someone else that they actually quit the game and don't come back."
To see the philosophy in action, skim the pages of Something Awful or Encyclopedia Dramatica, where it seems every pocket of the Web harbors objects of ridicule. Vampire goths with MySpace pages, white supremacist bloggers, self-diagnosed Asperger's sufferers coming out to share their struggles with the online world — all these and many others have been found guilty of taking themselves seriously and condemned to crude but hilarious derision.Griefers defend their behaviour by claiming that they're merely giving those who take the internet far too seriously a reality check. The implied subtext is that anything that happens online is just a game and doesn't count. Though, given how the internet has become a mainstream part of many people's lives (witness, for example, the rise in social networking websites), this assertion makes about as much sense as Tom Hodgkinson's call to kill your Facebook account, throw away your email address and instead socialise in the pub with people near you. There's not a great leap from asserting that anything that happens online doesn't really count and absurdly ludditic claims like "if you don't know what someone smells like, they're a stranger".
On the other hand, there is no such thing as the right to be respected, or even to not be ridiculed. If one posts a web page detailing one's peculiar political views, conspiracy theories and/or sexual fetishes online, one can expect to be laughed at and even snidely remarked about. Though there is a distinction between demolishing someone's homepage in a blog or discussion forum and actively gathering a posse and going out to hound them off the net.
Griefing happens in the real world, though it's usually called other things, such as bullying. The difference is that the internet has democratised bullying. In the real world, in more conformistic societies, bullies can typically only be those either of or contending for alpha social status, enforcing an exaggerated version of majority values by picking on those perceived to not conform to them (witness the use of the word "gay", sometimes semi-euphemised as "ghey", as a general-purpose term of derision), and in more liberal or pluralistic environments, even that is frowned upon. Online, anyone can find a group of like-minded misfits, make up a cool-sounding name, set up a virtual clubhouse and start picking on mutually agreed targets, with little fear of social consequences.
Danny O'Brien on how the pervasiveness of the internet is bringing about the end of the private register, i.e., of the sphere between public and secret. He uses as his example a private get-together of Californian technotopian types. The details were published on a private web site, where master sleuth Andrew Orlowski (the guy who heroically exposed the sinister influence of blogs and "googlewashing") dug them up and used them to pilliory this veritable Bilderberg conference on Segways on its puffed-up self-congratulatoriness.
But, the problem here is that no-one was advertising themselves as visionaries and geniuses. There was no advertising at all. The Wiki Andrew found was private: it wasn't written as publicity for the camp. Sure, the invite talked about "changing the world" and "smart people" - but these words have different meanings when you are trying to flatter and cajole your friends to come to your house for free. And when people say to one another "oh, you're all so smart", it's not a festival of mutual self-congratulation. It's what you say to people you've met who seem quite smart. Well, you do if you're not sitting fifty yards from them, arching your eyebrow significantly.
Somehow, though, that only makes things worse. Oh sure, they weren't telling the world that they were geniuses, the critics roar. They were meeting, secretly, to say it to each other. Without telling anyone.
Danny goes on to point out that on the web, things intended for a small audience of friends have a way of being exposed to the harsh light of public scorn, in exactly the way that face-to-face conversations over a few pints don't. Which is why things like britneyblogs and web journals attract so much mockery -- because they're not meant for the general public.
(Which ties in to my reason for setting up a LiveJournal, and the emerging separation of powers between this blog and the LJ; with LiveJournals, you get the very important ability to make posts which are friends-only, and invisible to anyone save for those in your list of friends (or a subset thereof), which saves you from shooting your mouth off about your small life and exposing your weaknesses/what a boring person you are to potential lovers/employers and/or millions of bored teenagers looking for "losers" to ridicule (ask Ghyslain Raza about that). Granted, it involves your friends having LJ accounts, but that's probably easier to arrange than setting up a password system on your blog and persuading them to indulge your paranoia and log in. It's still in the secret register, as Danny would say, but the secrecy is transparent to anyone who already has a LJ membership. (Btw, if you personally know me and want a LJ creation code, email/IM me.))