Jaron Lanier in You Are Not a Gadget, writing about how anonymity breeds trolls. Seems especially relevant right now, as the Internet Cool Kids go back and forth over Adrian Chen’s unmasking of Violentacrez.
I can’t recommend this book highly enough. It helped me understand what makes me uneasy about the way online culture has developed. As someone born in 1985, I’ve constantly sort of — forgive the metaphor — surfed the front of this wave of innovation: AOL came out when I was a kid, Napster when I was in middle school, Facebook when I was entering college, Twitter once I was a Real Grown Up. And I’ve never known whether my growing discomfort with the way I interact with technology is just a product of Getting Old, of if there is something genuinely troubling about the direction things are going.
Lanier’s book helped sort this out, and his discussions of the effects of anonymity on online discourse are resonant with this whole debacle. More quotes to come.
I just started this book last week and I’m getting a lot from it. There are some goofy ideas but also many brilliant ones. And his thoughts about how human behavior and consciousness are being shaped by often-arbitrary decisions in software coding seem really important.
There is a vast online flood of videos of humiliating assaults on helpless victims. The culture of sadism online has its own vocabulary and has gone mainstream. The common term “lulz,” for instance, refers to the gratification of watching others suffer over the cloud.
When I criticize this type of online culture, I am often accused of being either an old fart or an advocate of censorship. Neither is the case. I don’t think I’m necessarily any better, or more moral, than the people who tend the lulzy websites. 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.