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FF Sparks (Casual)

[Musing] Public Journals and Internet Mentalities

I've been relatively careful not to associate the 'Seattlesparks' journal with myself anywhere in the Trillian community, as I don't really necessarily want my own personal thoughts and ramblings to be invaded by hordes of Trillian users looking for a quick avenue to one of the developers. I used to have ceruleandev and ceruleansparks specifically for that, though we've moved on to a Blogger system over on our own servers.

And I know I'm far from the only person out there who feels this way. It can be gratifying to enjoy a feeling of 'celebrity,' whether it be for a project you work on (I experienced this both back when I worked in video games, and working on Trillian) or for your writing or art or whatever. But after a little while, it can also become wearying, when everything you say is picked apart or examined or whatnot.

In the past couple of months, I've seen journals of several webcomic artist/writers either go friends-only or mostly-friends-only, or require the journal-author to lay down the law in their own journal about what they do or don't get to do. ("This is a public forum! You can't ban me from commenting or it's infringing on my free speech!" "You are the weakest link. Goodbye!") I've heard rumors of a game developer deleting their journal because someone posted the link to the game forums, and people started going there to post questions.

Now, it's understandable that people will want to flock to celebrity of any sort; that's human nature in a lot of ways. People's reasons may differ. Some like the 'squee' factor, for lack of a better word, of knowing someone famous. Others are just curious what the person (or group, or whatever) behind the public image are. For my part, I enjoy knowing the process, thoughts and general philosophy which goes into creating something I enjoy, which is why I enjoy corresponding with writers now and then.

But on the Internet, there's a lot of people who go beyond curiosity and just do not respect boundaries at all. Yes, there's some like that (some really scary folks, in fact) offline, but it's way more common online... and I think a lot of the people who act that way online would never dream of acting that way offline. In most cases they wouldn't go to the house of an author and stand outside their gate yelling challenges to their philosophy or works. But give them the Internet, and the ability to make these statements or challenges anonymously, and they leap on the chance. And then if they're told to leave someone's personal forum or journal, they claim it's their right to be there, and kicking them off is an infringement on their rights.

I'm coming to believe this is a symptom of the Internet culture, for a variety of reasons.

First of all, we have the fact that the Internet has fostered a mentality of entitlement. You can read a newspaper online for free. You can read webcomics online for free. And, of course, thanks to the wonder of broadband, you can get movies and software for free (often before they're out in theaters or stores), download music without buying the albums, and so on. So people are used to getting 'something for nothing,' or -- to use the terminology of Richard Stallman in reverse, 'free as in beer, not speech.'

On top of this, we have the mindset of the activist (or hacktivist, in some cases). People like to feel important or feel part of something, it's human nature. But legitimate fights -- for free speech, or the right to use personal encryption, and things like that -- have been usurped in some ways by these individuals. There are hundreds of people out there who pirate software (or movies, or music) and claim it's because 'information wants to be free' or who react to any attempts to stop piracy as infringing on their freedoms. They act out, and they feel self-righteous in doing so, even if the reasons they pirate are really simply the 'entitlement' attitude I describe above. Many of those who pirate software will even try to still get legitimate technical support for it, feeling entitled. (I'm sure any of my friends list who are current or former survivors of the video game industry have stories of this.)

By the logic that piracy being stopped infringes on the rights of individuals, of course, one could argue that the police arresting a thief for breaking and entering is infringing on the thief's rights. Yet a thief wouldn't try to claim that when being arrested, telling the cops they had a constitutional right to break and enter and steal a DVD player. Yet on the Internet, people make equivalent arguments constantly. Which brings me to the last of these prongs; accountability. Or lack thereof. It's easy to just get a different dialup account, or vanish into the maze of AOL proxies and thus obscure your IP address. It's easy to pick up a new e-mail address, to take up a new LJ name, or any of those things. Internet actions lack accountability, in large part. And this is the mindset, I think, which leads to people posting anonymous flames of things they'd never come up and say in person.

Is there anything we can do about it? Sadly, probably not; I just was sort of putting my thoughts down as they occurred to me.

And I can do that. Because whether or not this has some aspects of a public forum, it's my personal journal.


I'm trying to remember who it was that said (more or less), "When we go to the stars, rats, roaches, and other vermin will come with us. We'll just have to learn to deal with these people when we get to where we're going."

(Ted Sturgeon?)

Seems apt.
Sounds like something Ted would say, certainly.
I can't place it, but the shaman's right; it sure /sounds/ like Sturgeon.
It seems that whenever people are involved, signal increases linearly and noise increases exponentially. The upshot is that for every tenfold increase in useful things on the Internet there's a 100 fold increase in idiocy. And I think the model also holds true in politics, media, religion, etc...
DVD players want to be free!
It's not theft, it's liberation! Viva le revolution!
A random suggestion if you have the time: snag Neil Gabler's book Life: the Movie, which I'm reading for the class I TA for. It's actually got some interesting notions on the nature of celebrity as it relates to mass media (and the internet *is* a mass medium).
I recommend reading the essay "Xenogenesis" by Harlan Ellison. In it, he reveals that this sort of behavior (even behavior considerably more extreme than that presented here) predates the Internet. The internet makes anonymous abuse instantaneous, but I'm not necessarily convinced that it's easier to hide over the internet. An example may be the mailed Anthrax spores in '02 -- the perpetrator is still at large, and may never be found.

Because whether or not this has some aspects of a public forum, it's my personal journal.

Perhaps I read too much between the lines, but something about this compells me to ask: what is your rule regarding strangers posting? I tend to regard public access as free for public comment, but I've since observed this is not always the wish of the forum's owner, who might want to leave posting enabled for friends or family members who might not necessarily have/want/need accounts.
Oh, the behavior predates the Internet.

But people who destroy other people's machines and systems, people who pirate software, things like that... they do it on the Internet with impugnity, but I'll bet you a lot fewer of them would go and smash up someone's car or break into houses to steal DVD players. More chance of being caught is part of it, but it's also that (for whatever reason) because the Internet is a faceless thing -- you don't see someone's car there being smashed up, you don't see the photos of a family who you're stealing the DVD player from -- it's easier to convince yourself that it's 'not wrong' or whatever. So people who wouldn't otherwise try things in reality or the offline world find the equivalent behavior online to be acceptable.

As for posting, I've blocked anonymous posting; I don't mind debate of political points in my journal (though anyone who claims I 'owe other sides equal time' is out of their mind; I make the choice to allow it, but I'm not obligated to), but I will only respect political arguments from someone willing to attach their name to it. I got tired of anonymous trolls posting counters to my political thoughts; if they don't believe strongly enough in their opinions to claim them as their own, why should I take them seriously?

Beyond that, I consider this like my living room; I allow debate in my journal, I allow discussion, I allow jokes and commentary and whatnot, but I'm the hostess and I'm not /obligated/ to do anything. And it's that attitude I've seen, the 'you owe my viewpoints equal time' which gets me. No, I don't. No journal user does.
More chance of being caught is part of it, but it's also that (for whatever reason) because the Internet is a faceless thing -- you don't see someone's car there being smashed up, you don't see the photos of a family who you're stealing the DVD player from -- it's easier to convince yourself that it's 'not wrong' or whatever.

I read an article somewhere about a behavioral psychologist's experiments - He would ask people various questions which didn't have right answers, and see the reaction in their brains as they made a decision. One pair of questions I remember was "You're on a runaway railed trolley car, approaching a fork in the track. On the side the car will go down if you do nothing, there are several workmen. On the other side, there's only one person. In either case, it's certain that whoever you hit will die. Do you switch the car to the other track?"
Then there was a followup question: "Another runaway trolley car, going downhill, out of control (no fork). You're standing on top of a bridge over the track with a very fat man. If you push him over the side and onto the track, you will save everyone on the car from crashing, but he will die. If you don't, everyone on the car will die. Do you push him over?"

Almost everyone said they wouldn't push over the fat man, but they would switch the track over. In either case, it's the same decision: Deliberately kill one person to save many, or let the many die? What was the difference between the two questions? In one you had to actually interact with the person you were killing. See him up close, feel him, hear him. In the other, it was simply throwing a switch.

The internet is the same way - you don't interact with the people you're harassing/hacking/stalking/stealing from, so it's much easier to to so. The people on the other side of the screen aren't really people - they're just faceless hoards. On some level, it's Just Another Computer Game.
On some level, it's Just Another Computer Game.

Albeit a sohpisticated one.
...but I'm the hostess and I'm not /obligated/ to do anything

Not even setting out snack treats?
A better analogy would be, if you don't like the party and want to complain about the food after the party has started, that's fine. But I am neither obligated to go make different food for you, nor am I obligated to welcome you in my house after such behavior. After all, if you don't like the music or food, you're welcome to go host your own party.

The same thing is true with journals. If someone wants to come and make a fuss in my journal, it's up to me how to handle it... but I have no obligation to change my opinions to suit them, nor to give their views equal airing. They can make their own journal.

That's the analogy I was trying for, I suppose. I mean, for instance, Gary and I often disagree in comments to my political posts, and sometimes we get heated. I choose, as a journal owner, to let the discussion happen... but I'm not /obligated/ to do so. If that makes any sense?
You make plenty of sense.* I was merely being flip.

(* Well, except for the Star Trek memes and the like. I just have no frame of reference for it.)