Rachel "Sparks" Blackman (seattlesparks) wrote,
Rachel "Sparks" Blackman
seattlesparks

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[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.
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