Monday, November 8, 2010

"Angklung" (Drive-by Anonymity)

chapter 4

Is this project itself a violation of privacy?  Is it the frisson of trespass that is helping to fuel my fascination?  The lure of winkling out someone else's preciously kept secrets? 

Am I the ({so far} benign) troll?

At this point of prewriting (though hopefully not by today's chapter writing?) I am not even sure whether Lanier will be a character in the novel or simply background music, the gorilla in the room, the white elephant, the ghost in the machine, or what have you?

And what are angklung?

. . . tuned rattles that are played in groups in Java and Thailand very much in the way that bells are played in bell choirs in the west.

To me this piece sounds threatening: the clank of prisoners' chains wound into a weird music of menace.  Lanier explains that he composed the piano sections to echo the weirdness he heard in the anklung: . . . the fingering technique creates a phantom third hand, which I think of as an invoked demon."  Though Lanier also claims Ravel as a "guiding spirit here,"  and explains that he "sought a bridge between impressionism and the jeweled sweetness of the gamelans of Sunda."

Of trolls and other viciousness that human mobs swirl into, in You Are Not a Gadget, Lanier details the vicious pack behavior of on-line trolls : hounding victims to suicide, harassing a randomly chosen victim with doctored images of her as a mutilated corpse intending to frighten her children, tormenting the parents of a suicide, sending pulsing messages to epileptics hoping to trigger seizures:

The culture of sadism online has its own vocabulary and has gone mainstream.  The common term **** [cut to keep this post unsearchable under that term], for instance, refers to the gratification of watching others suffer over the [computing] cloud.
Lanier admits others blame him for being out-of-sync, clueless, growing old when he voices these criticisms:
What I'm saying, though, is that the user interface designs that arise from the ideology of the computing cloud make people - all of us - less kind.  Trolling is not a string of isolated incidents, but the status quo in the online world.
Lanier argues "troll-evoking design"  is largely to blame, i.e. design that allows-
effortless, consequence-free, transient anonymity in the service of a goal, such as promoting a point of view, that stands entirely apart form one's identity or personality . . . Computers have an unfortunate tendency to present us with binary choices at every level, not just at the lowest one, where the bits are switching.  It is easy to be anonymous or fully revealed, but hard to be revealed just enough.
Lanier  (in an interview with The Guardian) feels that the internet encourages mob mentality.  In its openness "people lose their identities:  they become pseudonyms and they have no investment, no consequence for what they do."   He claims that "matching" the "biological flaws in our human  spirit"  with the "open mush environment" on the internet  amplifies the basic meanness of  human nature. 

On the other hand, democracy and markets that "function well" precisely counter our biology - their "structures" compensate "for us as we really are,  to allow us to act better than we otherwise would." 

Is democracy a designed structure that corrects our pack-mentality human nature? 

Do I agree?  Are we biologically, naturally vicious with only artificial structures to lift us out of our nature raw in tooth and claw?

Do you agree?

Why would he believe that the openness of on-line culture magnifies our cruelty and tramples our kindness?  Is he just wrong?  Or is there something worth weighing in his rejection of this open-culture project he helped to midwife?

6,451 words down |  43,549 words to go


ArtSparker said...

Something is escaping me about his logic. It's like any other rpursuit or relationship engaged in over time to me, in that eventually, one comes back around to old personality habits, whether those are good or bad. It's just a tool/amplifier.

John Romeo Alpha said...

I think we can be kind to one another online as well, and serve up warm apple pie, fresh-brewed tea, and cool rains falling on leaves just as easily as what trolls post. We own our own reactions, we information digesters, we knowledge-hounds, and I don't hold any system design accountable for what I feel. In the publish-everything digital democracy, we all must be fiendish editors on the fly.

Mrs. Organic said...

Sometimes I don't feel smart enough to comment, so I don't. But I still love to read what you write.

Emma J said...

Art Sparker & JAR:

I couldn't agree more with both of you.

What I wonder at though is why his experience is otherwise? To me anonymity seems a pretty neutral choice. But not to Lanier. Why does he insist so strongly that we can only have sociable social media if we speak only in our own voice and publicly, universally own what is said.

I think he may be on to something in that the blogosphere seems a more ordered space than some other social media. The blog "owner" has a stronger filter on content and controls more of the look and feel of her site (or his). So even in anonymity, the words seem more owned. I like Blogger better than Facebook, far better than some other sites, for just these reasons.

Like JAR, though, I choose to avoid (or edit out) incivility online. I think Lanier would say that this proves exactly that the structure of our on-line experience shapes the civility of our interchange. And I'm okay with choosing. I gather though that Lanier feels bettrayed by those who use technology to amplify the vileness they once could only perpetrate in person. And I wonder why?

Is it because he helped make the tools that are being misused? Or some other reason?

Emma J said...

Mrs O - I'm wading through this too.

I think the challenge for me is stepping back and looking at something I'm used to treating as a neutral.

Like thinking about whether a written alphabet changes the way we perceive the world we write about. Which is does - for example, when we expect a story to happen in a line that's shaped the way a sentence is - Who doing what and final punctuation. Same way - the room we sit in to visit together affects us and our connection and even what we end up talking about.

The Internet is both an alphabet and a room.

I think.

Anyway, I'm just glad to know you're still there.

Emma J said...

And I had to pass on a comment from one of my email readers:

>>"Is democracy a designed structure that corrects our merely human nature?"

It requires the best of human nature to have a healthy democracy; otherwise it becomes a tool for the clever or power-hungry. <<

So democracy is also a tool? Also an amplifier of intent?

Here's the question though - Does the way a system is designed (a democracy, a social medium, a bureaucracy, a meeting room, an alphabet) have any shaping effect on its use?

Or do the users choose all?

Fresca said...

Working on a book for kids about communication and social networking, I am wrassling with these questions--not that they'll be in the book, but for myself as I try to understand the revolution we're living through (and helping create).

It makes my head swim to engage in
"stepping back and looking at something I'm used to treating as a neutral," as you say.

I tend toward the optimistic about the Internet. Its anonymity and ease releases enormous amounts of creative energy---you just gotta wade through the drek it releases too.

But that's also true of democracy.

A favorite quote, from Molly Ivins:
"The thing about democracy, beloveds, is that it is not neat, orderly , or quiet. It requires a certain relish for confusion."

I like blogging better than FB too--in large part because my blog is open to anyone (anonymous lurkers), whereas only "friends" read FB.
I like the randomness, the serendipity, the patterns that emerge.

Granted, I've been lucky to have little experience of trolls here or elsewhere online. It totally creeped me out, the first few times I got random hostile comments, but I got used to filtering them out
(they're weirdly impersonal, usually).

Much to ponder.

Emma J said...

Great comment, Fresca. Thanks for thinking outloud. I love that quote of Ivins.

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