Where Looks Don’t Matter and Only the Best Writers Get Laid
June 7, 2013 6:11 AM   Subscribe

How the feminist internet utopia failed, and we ended up with speculative realism. Contemporary mass culture equates anonymity with secrecy or downright negative intent, not harmless experimentation. Who lies about who they are online? Pedophiles, scammers, hackers, bullies, Wikileaks. Anonymity has turned from thrilling to terrifying. 1:1 self-to-body ratio is a moral mandate. It’s no wonder that nailing down objective reality seems so attractive.
posted by Cash4Lead (34 comments total) 15 users marked this as a favorite
On the internet....
posted by HuronBob at 6:23 AM on June 7, 2013 [3 favorites]

I credit late-90s Internet anonymity with allowing me to experiment with my personality and mature into a well-adjusted, relatively successful person. I would have ended up dead or a failure without it, I think.
posted by sonic meat machine at 6:31 AM on June 7, 2013 [12 favorites]

This article is rather silly. Among many other claims of oppression (such as saying that labeling studying gender "gender studies") is this bit:

Has the human body become irrelevant, or is the topic generally avoided because it might expose new realism’s uncomfortable political side effects? Is it really incidental that mostly men are writing this stuff? If I were to believe that, I’d have to believe a priori that subjectivity is irrelevant. I’d also have to believe that cyberculture had succeeded in creating a post-gender world.

It seems highly unlikely to me that a whole aim of philosophy is to keep women down and asking unsupported questions doesn't make you right. I doubt new realism exists for the sole purpose of avoiding the question if why philosophy departments are mostly staffed by men. Which is a problem but come on. It seems more likely that new realism is to make philosophy appear more sciencesy rather than artsy which is in vogue these days.
posted by ishrinkmajeans at 6:35 AM on June 7, 2013 [3 favorites]

sonic meat machine, same. At least the dead part. Still working on the rest...
posted by tigrrrlily at 6:36 AM on June 7, 2013

Technological change is one of the drivers of social change, yes, but almost never in programmatic ways based on ethical argument. It always seems strange that public intellectual writing assumes otherwise. Certainly the dominant culture imposes normative readings on technological artifacts and effects, as this article astutely points out.

The problem is that much the same seems to happen to technologies of knowledge. I'm unconvinced that speculative realism and object-oriented ontology provide alternative modes of praxis that are robust enough to survive a dominant culture in which we live and experience everyday life as if we were all liberal subjects.

The philosophers of object-oriented ontology and speculative realism still sign their articles, manage their CVs, and do all of the other things that require a kind of ideological commitment to subjectivity. The very articles outlining the alternative are marked by the discourses they seek to challenge or displace; academia, too, is a subjectivating machine of neoliberal hegemony, and one of the most powerful. (My use of "praxis" marks my own discourse as well.)

The alternative is to shake up everything from grammar to the medium to the credentialing of academic work, but that runs the risk of becoming practically indistinguishable -- for most readers, even knowledgeable ones -- from mystification. And it makes it easy for tenure committees and administrators to reimpose the usual norms at the expense of careers. The real work will probably have to be done outside the academy and through some (not all) alt-ac projects.
posted by kewb at 6:36 AM on June 7, 2013

Who lies about who they are online?

Who doesn't? I can only assume this person thinks the internet consists of facebook only.
posted by DU at 6:37 AM on June 7, 2013 [5 favorites]

I teach philosophy, and I know a fair bit about the realism-antirealism dispute, and I'll just throw out that, where this article suggests that it's intersecting with that discussion, it doesn't make much sense so far as I can tell. I reckon that it may very well be more influenced by stuff in contemporary Continental philosophy, so perhaps its my ignorance of that world that's the problem. But I don't know of any trends in the realism-antirealism discussion that were importantly influenced by anything about the internet. Realism has been the dominant position since well before the advent of the web.

There were also a lot of bits like:

"It’s partially because the historical moment of posthumanism has been characterized as irrational, unrealistic, mystical, bodily, sentimental, weakly scientific. In short, the posthuman era became a girl."

Oh come on.
posted by Fists O'Fury at 6:41 AM on June 7, 2013 [4 favorites]


Goldsmith’s similar-sounding credo is his Uncreative Writing mantra. The gist of his argument is that new writing today should re-hash/re-arrange existing material, not invent “creative” new content. You should mush stuff together and then say yes, it is literally mush, I did not have anything to do with it. The mush is all around us; there is no use inventing new mush.

Oh hell no and on 40 levels.
posted by clavdivs at 6:44 AM on June 7, 2013 [1 favorite]

Confusing article seconded.
posted by Brian B. at 6:46 AM on June 7, 2013 [2 favorites]

Unless I'm being blatantly facetious or sarcastic, I don't misrepresent myself online.
posted by jonmc at 7:07 AM on June 7, 2013 [1 favorite]

I'm not sure if the essay is incoherent, suffering from obscurantism, or if the point is drowned out by a parade of goofiness:

In 1995 transgender theorist Allucquére Rosanne Stone declared Multiple Personality Disorder the new contemporary condition.

Well, I'm glad that's settled. All of reality was on tenterhooks.

At the heart of New Realism is the rejection of human existence as privileged over nonhuman objects.

Fifty Shades of Irigaray, the common sense-ripper that's sweeping the Cybernation.

Post-Cartesian conceptions of space are dismissed. Subjectivity, a male (post-Internet) artist once told me, is for art students.

So this person's gender is important to the discussion? Somewhat defeats the purpose.

Making YouTube videos is reproductive labor.

Fucking hold me.

Dedicated to manipulating the codes and trends in stock photography, DIS Images invites artists to create alternative scenarios and new stereotypes, thus broadening the spectrum of lifestyle portrayal.

Finally, a chance to tap into the huge, lucrative furry market. We've struck oil!

From a structural point of view, a gender dichotomy is not surprising—the Internet itself is based on a system of binaries ... Plus: why wouldn’t the Internet directly reflect the culture that produced it?

For your readers aching to break the dualism, I've got some bad news for you about physics.
posted by adipocere at 7:07 AM on June 7, 2013 [6 favorites]

This reminds me of this much more well-written article pointing out that, in fact, the masses were not interested in creating "avatars" and "online masks." They were going to use it to augment their communication and their desire to connect and communicate with others as their own selves. The interest in inhabiting "new identities" via the internet was the interest of a few users back in the 80s and 90s for whom the internet was the only option to do this. But it wasn't the internet that created the desire-- it was the desire to do that which drew a few fringe personalities to using the internet before it hit the mainstream. Once the internet became a tool that could be used by the masses, it was used in a way that the masses were interested in.
posted by deanc at 7:13 AM on June 7, 2013 [10 favorites]

The gist of his argument is that new writing today should re-hash/re-arrange existing material, not invent “creative” new content. You should mush stuff together and then say yes, it is literally mush, I did not have anything to do with it.

The mash-up manifesto? Ugh.
posted by Thorzdad at 7:28 AM on June 7, 2013

   "Pedophiles, scammers, hackers, bullies, Wikileaks"
One of these is not like the others...
posted by koavf at 7:39 AM on June 7, 2013 [3 favorites]

Once the internet became a tool that could be used by the masses, it was used in a way that the masses were interested in.

You should go back and read the post on survivorship bias. How do we have any idea how many people are using avatars and online masks? We've had multiple dramas here with people's stories turning out not to be true, after all, and those were only umasked because they were so clumsy and dramatic. A normal person presenting a fictional self in a non-dramatic, non-malicious, semi-competent way would be completely unremarked and unnoticed.
posted by DU at 7:43 AM on June 7, 2013 [3 favorites]

A normal person presenting a fictional self in a non-dramatic, non-malicious, semi-competent way would be completely unremarked and unnoticed.

Not to mention the various ways of partially masking. "I don't want this forum to know about aspect X of my life, so whenever that common topic comes up I'm going to present lie Y about it."
posted by DU at 7:52 AM on June 7, 2013

I love when academics bring up "A Rape in Cyberspace". It's the point of the essay where the author says either:

A) Hi, I am comfortable with and conversant in the "online" and how it works.
B) Hi, I'm not sure what's going on but "cyberspace" is so theoretically exciting! It will now make it into a costume for my favorite theoretical bugbear.

But then I read further and that seems a bit uncharitable in this case.

I don't really disagree with a lot of what she's saying, which I think boils down to "hey, the internet used to be all about creating new spaces, now it just reflects dominant ideologies." That feels pretty (though not entirely) true. But her premise -- that the male/real/"objective"/web2.0 is a reaction to and expulsion of the female/virtual/subjective/geocities -- doesn't make it all the way. I'm not sure exactly where I disagree, outside of her idea that binary technology encourages binary identity.

You get the idea a little bit that she really wants to talk about valuing the presentation of the "real" vs. the "subjective" and the unexamined politics behind it, and MUDs/internet are the worm for that theoretical hook.

> The mash-up manifesto? Ugh.

She's critiquing that, not stumping for it. Like the new Arrested Development, the article gets better in the second half.
posted by postcommunism at 8:00 AM on June 7, 2013 [3 favorites]

Contemporary mass culture equates anonymity with secrecy or downright negative intent, not harmless experimentation.

No, that's not contemporary culture, that's Facebook and Google.

For the record, just so I'm not accused of "lying", my real name is not justsomebodythatyouusedtoknow. I identify with a gender in real life, and I have a physical location.
posted by justsomebodythatyouusedtoknow at 8:05 AM on June 7, 2013 [4 favorites]

That said, there is an interesting discussion waiting to happen in that article about the gap between cyberutopianism, where spaces are radically inclusive and everyone can flip identities, and the reality of how anonymous or pseudonymous online spaces tend to be more insular, since shared habits and references are the communal glue rather than plain ol' real-world identity.
posted by postcommunism at 8:09 AM on June 7, 2013 [1 favorite]

Tu le connais, lecteur, ce monstre délicat, — Hypocrite lecteur, — mon semblable, — mon frère! — Charles Baudelaire.
posted by No Robots at 8:36 AM on June 7, 2013

From a structural point of view, a gender dichotomy is not surprising—the Internet itself is based on a system of binaries. Dualism, mutual exclusion, and absolutes are inherent in its structure.

What? So are binary numbers to blame here? The fact that one is either a client or a server in any particular situation? The fact that one is a sender or a receiver?

The profound degree of evidence-free, whining, jargonic, science-ignorant gibbering here is amazing.
posted by shivohum at 8:48 AM on June 7, 2013 [5 favorites]

It's what happens when you get academics in "soft" subjects expounding on technical things.
posted by sonic meat machine at 9:00 AM on June 7, 2013

Snark all you want about her poor knowledge of Weird Internet, but she's right about the mainstream imho, which *is* Facebook and Google. And the mainstream *is* culture, as much as that has historically made the minority of Thinking People cringe. At any rate, no matter what you think of the article, this is a great distillation of why "women's" magazines are all shite:

“Gently, like a good friend, The Atlantic tells women they can stop pretending to be feminists now.”
posted by Mooseli at 9:00 AM on June 7, 2013 [1 favorite]

Mooseli, you're gonna love the n+1 article that line's cribbed from.
posted by postcommunism at 9:08 AM on June 7, 2013 [1 favorite]

she's right about the mainstream imho, which *is* Facebook and Google.

There's a big difference between social norms among Google and Facebook users and the corporate policies of Facebook and Google. As a matter of fiat from on high, pseudonymous accounts are frowned upon. Anti-pseudonymity is astroturf, not grassroots.
posted by justsomebodythatyouusedtoknow at 9:12 AM on June 7, 2013 [1 favorite]

Well, the first problem with the "haven for minorities!" is that it completely neglected the hardware adoption side of web access which did not favour minorities unless that meant the minority who were upper and middle class, educated straight white men. But the web did cause a bunch of identity explosions, for example it's intrinsically responsible for developing modern BDSM as a sub-culture and a sexual identity with a "lifestyle". Because it encouraged cohesion in identity, because a sexual kink that always existed had access to a larger community and the Overton Window being blasted off its hinges by the sudden aspect of everyone to hard to control smut.

The issue with identity is that, like personality, it's a lot closer to a situation-ally effected weather pattern than a static construction. The internet is going to draw out certain aspects of a person's identity more stronger than others because you're changed the parameters, but it's still going to be the same person, and that person is a lot more like a blend of stuff.

Plus, that person will have been shaped by all the other reactions they have and have had with their environment including in the things that are interacting with the carapace that's transporting their brain around. If, for example, they grew up in a sexist environment where female identified things were treated as an "other" identity they are going to carry that sexism with them.

An avatar is just another costume, same as my business clothes or even the choice to go naked. We talk about "masks" like they are hiding something true underneath, but they're a lot more like containers that we pour the self into, voluntarily or involuntarily, to give it form and substance to other people. Assuming you're on board with the idea of gender as performance, other things, like "race" or "ethnicity" also have a performance aspect because without the social baggage, the categories are pretty meaningless, just like a national identity. I'm a female gendered person but I can't tell you what the hell that means in relates to the male gendered people and non-(or both) gendered people except by arbitrary biology (my acne is connected to a very obvious hormonal cycle) or by what I was told a woman was, some of which I choose not to go along with.

And we can't really change how the carapace is treated or treats us without the dialog that is society (for example being known to be a female identifying, female carapace toting person is less of a big deal on metafilter than reddit) treats us. We run around trying to predict people's behaviors, motives and experiences based on identity markers and reputation (tied to the very old concept of your Name). The internet gives a lot of weirdos a platform we (I include myself) enjoy for various things including making a living, but at the end of the day, interacting on it requires me to distinguish myself somehow.

And the only way not to be judged as a minority is to either to do a Tiptree (which is a concept as old as communicating in print or even being able to disguise membership with costumes and practice) to be heard, or it becomes another ring in which to fight the usual identity based battles. Without minority membership the assumption is usually membership in a majority and I choose to be female online consciously, to make the aspect of being female stop being used to restrict me- but of course I get push back, from being belittled or accused of non-existent hysteria to "pics!" style appreciation I don't want.

I have three basic online identities, public me (birth name, photos of me, employment info, family members) that's pretty 'clean'; the (La)Phalene identity; and a BDSM me. Phalene is open about being kinky, but the other identity is convenient for more exact and explicit stuff related to my sexuality. Sometimes I do RP type games and there's a fourth persona that is sometimes male by default because I play male characters and I want people to interact with the damn characters not me. But all of these need meatbag me to function, which becomes the central processing office of identity for everything else.
posted by Phalene at 9:15 AM on June 7, 2013 [3 favorites]

It's a ramble of an article, but I found this bit particularly poignant:
In retrospect, the cyberfeminist utopia was over before it began. User-generated MUDs and RPGs were mostly built and populated by men, and the roles these men played were often predictable stereotypes. Sociological research into early text-based systems suggests that developing online cultures were often male-dominated and heteronormative.
It points out the intrinsic flaw of the early cyber-utopian idea that we would somehow find our true identities as electronically generated avatars not tied to our clumsy real world meatsuits. The problem, of course, is that a conceptualization of the self is not so easily parted from physical identity. For most people, in fact, being male/female/white/black/etc. forms a central core from which to build a personality.

The other, more pertinent, reason the idea of the internet as a bodiless and anonymous meritocracy was doomed to failure was exactly what the article points out: this was largely a construct dreamed of by straight white men with enough education/income to access the latest gadgets. It's relatively easy to envision an egalitarian utopia when your starting point for contention is whatever the 1980s geek equivalent of PC vs. Mac was. In essence, the idea boiled down to being free to express yourself and be judged on the merits of your ideas and talents, so long as that expression fit within the narrow confines of acceptable discourse, as determined by the kind of guys who get CompSci degrees.
posted by Panjandrum at 9:37 AM on June 7, 2013 [3 favorites]

What? So are binary numbers to blame here? The fact that one is either a client or a server in any particular situation? The fact that one is a sender or a receiver?

The profound degree of evidence-free, whining, jargonic, science-ignorant gibbering here is amazing.

Yeah, that's characteristic of a certain general approach in some sectors of the humanities. Some parts of contemporary "continental" philosophy (the term is poorly-chosen), some literary criticism, some sociology, "cultural criticism"... The characteristically extremely unclear, filled with something that is more like free-association than careful argument, largely driven by very left politics, slavishly devoted to certain Big Names that I won't mention here, and filled with off-putting, poorly-defined terminology.

Those of us in the other parts of philosophy generally think that this kind of stuff is pernicious, pretentious nonsense. The kind of stuff so bad that (as John Searle said) it even gives bullshit a bad name. And yet the stuff is all over the place. If somebody, say, in architecture or English knows a little contemporary philosophy, that's the stuff they know and cite. What I'd call the more serious parts of philosophy remain fairly isolated, but what I'd call the worst stuff seems to have its tentacles everywhere...

When folks outside the bullshit-addled sector try to point out that there's something rotten in Paris, we're often accused of being boring, narrow, retrograde, neo-liberal, technocratic pedants. (Not all of those fit at all, actually...) And yet that binary numbers business is a pretty good representation of what counts as an argument in that sector of the humanities (and, to some extent, social sciences).

If you haven't read about the Sokal hoax, and "The Hermeneutics of Quantum Gravity," I recommend it...
posted by Fists O'Fury at 9:44 AM on June 7, 2013 [6 favorites]

When folks outside the bullshit-addled sector try to point out that there's something rotten in Paris, we're often accused of being boring, narrow, retrograde, neo-liberal, technocratic pedants.

I think that's actually one of the driving forces. The environment where this stuff all took place was well familiar to the people that created it, who naturally scoffed at the ridiculous fantasies of the white upper class Ivory Tower idealists when they discovered it. Which only drove the academics crazy and incited them to create an entire mythos to aggrandize what they were doing. They thought they could create an entirely new world with just a few metaphors to frame it. If I can cite one of the most overused, hackneyed quips, "The street finds its own uses for things," well, the idealists were infuriated that the people didn't adopt their use for things, they preferred their own uses, which were eminently more practical, nobody had time for that bullshit. Which in turn, infuriated the academics all the more.

This all reminds me of a comic strip I used to have on my bulletin board near my computer, back from the early 90s. It was a "This Modern World" comic. It starts out with a guy sitting at a computer. He says "I'm on the Internet." Next frame, there's an elaborate collage of a 1950s Cadillac shooting out of a vortex, the caption says, "I'm driving down the Information Superhighway at the speed of light!" The next frame has a collage of an astronaut on a surfboard, surfing over a wave of words clipped from the newspaper, "I'm surfing the net!" Then the next frame, Sparky appears and tells the guy, "No you're not. You're sitting on your ass, staring at a TV screen."
posted by charlie don't surf at 10:44 AM on June 7, 2013 [3 favorites]

It's especially annoying because the Internet really, really is a beautiful, transformative technology in many ways. When I was a teenager, it broadened my horizons so much that it's hard to put into words; I went from being the weird guy, an outcast in a podunk town, to a fully-fledged person who knew that there were others like me, that I'm not particularly weird, and so on; all via IRC, Telnet, and NNTP. It has given me a profession, and access to more knowledge than would have ever been available to me before. It is incredible. It has been the gateway to my self.

Having it trivialized and misunderstood is... almost personal.
posted by sonic meat machine at 12:35 PM on June 7, 2013 [3 favorites]

Oh, man. Where to start with this.

Wilk on the Oshkosh rape case:
First, in 1990, a 27-year-old woman with Multiple Personality Disorder accused a man of raping her. The case went to trial in Oshkosh, Wisconsin. However, only the personality present when raped—a naive young girl named Franny—remembered the violation or could testify to it on the stand. Beyond a superficial legal debate about testimony from the mentally ill, the underlying issue for the jury was the acceptance or rejection of the concept of a body with many subjectivities. In this case, the rapist was convicted. A win for the posthuman.
First, even her description of the case is wildly incorrect. She has apparently gleaned her understanding of the case from Stone's The War of Desire and Technology at the Close of the Mechanical Age. Bizarrely, Wilk incorrectly cites this book only by the partial form of the Oshkosh case's chapter name. Worse, she either does not understand, or does not care, or does not care to communicate, that Stone's retelling of the case could be charitably described as "creative", containing as it does more than a few inventions and elisions.

In real life, to the extent that it has been subjectively observed by journalists, six of the woman's personalities testified at trial, each of whom was sworn in separately. "Franny" described how she and three other personalities had gone fishing that night. "Jennifer" described how she had been "seduced" by the defendant. "Emily" vouched for "Jennifer", adding that she had watched from behind a tree.

The jury found the defendant guilty, but this verdict was set aside, in large part because the defense did not properly pursue its request for the compulsory psychological examination of the victim. It's also worth noting that a key prosecution witness had admitted to sexual relations with the victim, after his testimony but before the verdict had been set aside. The prosecution dismissed the case rather than pursue a retrial, arguing woman's already fragile mental state was deteriorating further. All in all, it's a very sad story . See Jacqueline R. Kanovitz, Bob S. Kanovitz, and James P. Bloch, Witnesses With Multiple Personality Disorder, 23 Pepp. L. Rev. 2 (1996).

Second, her analysis of the case, even where it does not come from false facts, is largely a set of underfed, overdressed assertions.

She claims that the legal debate over the victim's ability to testify was merely "superficial". Oh, really now? Does Wilk have an argument to support that conclusion, or is this judgment something we're just supposed to accept on its face? What would superficiality have even entailed (or not entailed) in the context of that case? What does she think the lawyers really ought to have been arguing? What does she even think lawyers do all day? It's as if she had brought up the design of a particular submarine, only to drub the engineers behind it as having had merely superficial consideration of fluid mechanics.

"The underlying issue" which she asserts that "the jury" had actually considered was "acceptance or rejection of the concept of a body with many subjectivities". Again, does Wilk have an argument as to why this was the underlying issue up for debate, or is this something that we're just supposed to accept on its face? Why does Wilk frame the debate in such binary terms? That is to say, the "concept of a body with many subjectivities" is a broad topic about which one could have any number of nuanced or ambivalent views. The jury did not rule, nor did it have the authority to rule, that each of the personalities was its own separate person with its own separate set of rights and obligations to others.

Besides, the acceptance or rejection of this particular woman's testimony was a separate issue from whether or not members of the jury had had any particular position on the more general concept of a body with many subjectivities. When a witness is on the stand, whether I believe or disbelieve their account, I am not taking a particular stance on the more general issues of a body's subjectivity. I am deciding the "smaller", perhaps more "superficial" issue of whether or not I believe in that particular testimony. Would I be naïve to do so? Pragmatic? Wrongheaded? Perhaps, but that's not the point.

Why does she even say that it was the jury which specifically made this decision? Why so reductive? Does she know how courts work? That is to say, does she understand that the court had also ruled on various aspects of this woman's selfhood, in allowing her different personalities to testify, in swearing them in separately? Why separate the jury from the rest of the machine?

Lastly, "a win for the posthuman"? How? In what respect? To what extent? This is one of those big pronouncements where it's instructive for both the writer and the reader to explore the answer more deeply. The verdict was set aside and she spent the rest of her years in a mental institution, alone with her still-multiplying personalities. By anyone who mattered to her, she was never treated as someone who was truly posthuman, but rather as a regular person who suffered from a debilitating mental illness. She was treated like a single human who suffered from the apparent presence of split personalities, and not as someone with literal alternate identities within herself - identities with the same level of reality as the person described by her given name.
posted by Sticherbeast at 1:31 PM on June 7, 2013 [1 favorite]

sonic, you remind me of one of my first experiences of the internet. I dropped out of university to become a programmer, as was quite common in the Comp Sci world back then. Anyone with a couple of semesters of CS programming classes was in high demand. Almost immediately I got access to ARPANET and started to understand the uses of networking on a large scale. Eventually I went back to school, amongst my studies was Japanese language. This was before the days of popularity of anime and all that crap.
When I first started studying Japanese, we'd all hang around the departmental lounge, so we could read the department's copy of the Asahi Shimbun, usually a week late since it came by mail. But in those days it was incredibly difficult and expensive to find any contemporary text in Japanese at all.
In about the second year of my studies, I was playing around with this new program called Mosaic, and hey there are these new things called Web Sites that look interesting, hey some of them are in Japan and why is the text all messed up? That's not Japanese, it's a bunch of random characters. Then Mosaic 2.0 came out, aha, it's Japanese encoding, this new Mosaic version can read it. Hey, there's an Asahi Shimbun website! Hardly anyone had seen this Web Site stuff, let alone a Japanese Web Site.
So my Japanese classes required each student to do a presentation to the other students, once per semester. I thought it would be cool if we all went to the Media Center, got a computer for each student, and looked at the Asahi Shimbun online. So I tried to arrange a demo down in the computer media center. The manager immediately refused, she saw this Mosaic thing and in her opinion, it was a frivolous use of computers, unsuitable for an academic environment. Web Sites were not a serious academic pursuit worthy of her Media Center.
My teachers had to intervene to get permission for this demo and declare it was a serious academic thing. But the Media Center manager insisted that if I installed this ridiculous Mosaic Web Surfing software, that I immediately remove it from all the machines immediately after the demo.
Okay, the demo was a smash it. We had instantly gone from an era where it was difficult to access scarce Japanese textual materials, to an era where it was easy and plentiful. And oh oops, I forgot to delete the Mosaic app from the machines, I deleted the icon link but I accidentally left the app installed. Within a few weeks the software was ubiquitous. At first the Media Center manager kicked people out when she caught people using a web browser, but it was a losing battle.

Meanwhile, the university had implemented a new $125 per semester fee for computer access, everyone paid, no exceptions. Some of my classes did assignments by email (anyone remember PINE?). But it was nearly impossible to get into the network via a dialup modem, the modem pool was always busy. I had to go to the Media Centers and wait in line to get on a computer just to do my assignments, even though I had a great computer at home. Students were enraged, they paid all this money, classes were going online, and they couldn't get access. It turned out the modem pool was being monopolized by a student group that implemented a BBS with a MUD. The modem pool was specifically designed to prevent people from monopolizing a connection, it kicked you off after an hour, or after 5 minutes of inactivity. But the MUD players wrote a script to keep the line active, and redial immediately if disconnected. I decided to look at the BBS to see what was going on. And of course it's a lot of academic horseshit, with people posting lengthy manifestos about their new cyber avatars and how they were writing a PhD thesis on online identity and all this rubbish. But they were doing the exact thing they claimed to despise: hoarding power for an elite, self-appointed aristocracy. All students pay a fee so they can access a modem to get their homework assignments? Fuck you, we're running a 1337 MUD! My school went from being one of the top 5 CompSci schools, to a laughing stock. Even the Engineering Department got sick of it, and severed themselves from the CS network, forming their own, and getting their students an exemption from the mandatory computer access fees.

So I am pretty sick and tired of elite academicians who want to define the online experience for me. I'm not so interested in deconstructing my cyber-identity, I just want to get my damn work done. Sure the online world is transformative. So would you idiots please get out of my way? I am busy transforming stuff.
posted by charlie don't surf at 1:31 PM on June 7, 2013 [1 favorite]

My last rant. I swear.

The piece brings up some ideas worth exploring, but Wilk steps all over herself. The most frustrating habit on display is the the combination of free association, superficial references, gigantic leaps, and argument by assertion. These are mixed in with elementary writing errors that a competent editor would have picked up.

For example, she cites the headlines of comScore articles about women on the internet. These are articles meant for business owners, online publishers, etc. about how to increase their profits, in this case by engaging more productively with female readers/consumers/prosumers/etc. What a great place to start! It would have been neat to examine how the comScore articles teach businesses how to presume, reinforce, and shape female identities on the internet. This is solid raw material. There is absolutely nothing wrong with this starting point.

But then...

For starters, the capitalization is consistently wrong on comScore, even though there's a screenshot right there where it's written correctly. That's sloppy and distracting. We don't write about "Iphones" and "the Usa". We don't write about "Comscore", either.

Onto more substantive problems: she doesn't even really engage with comScore's output. She just skates right ahead. She says that the activities described by comScore are "are easily equated to the affective labor of reproducing subjectivities and family-based networks that both second-wave feminists (in particular socialist feminists) were so intent on re-defining". I don't want her mere opinion that such activities are "easily" equated to such affective labor. Whether it's easy or difficult, I want to actually see her do it. This is how arguments are made. This is how we avoid sloppiness.

Also, the improper use of the word "both" in that same sentence creates the comedic misimpression that there have only ever been two second-wave feminists. If the article had been otherwise well-written and well-edited, this really would just be a nitpick, but in this context it just adds to the pervasive aura of carelessness.

Later on, Wilk asserts that "[t]he quintessential user envisioned and targeted by corporations is a woman". Does Wilk know what "quintessential" means? If so, then where is she getting this idea? Is she conflating or confusing comScore's work on women's importance on the internet as being equivalent to a statement of women's quintessence on the internet? If this is not a reference to comScore's product, then what is it a reference to? When she makes a pronouncement like this, and she makes plenty of them, am I supposed to just automatically nod and agree with her?


Contemporary mass culture equates anonymity with secrecy or downright negative intent, not harmless experimentation. Who lies about who they are online? Pedophiles, scammers, hackers, bullies, Wikileaks. Anonymity has turned from thrilling to terrifying. 1:1 self-to-body ratio is a moral mandate. It’s no wonder that nailing down objective reality seems so attractive.

What a load of cack. Anonymous/pseudonymous handles are fully accepted in the internet mainstream. See Reddit, Tumblr, 4chan, etc. Many people are leaving Facebook, or leaving behind minimal Facebook identities, because they dislike being anchored to real life identities and the ensuing dramas. Indeed, Tumblr is one of the single most popular places for teens nowadays, in large part because it allows for such pseudonymity. Online identities are changing and evolving, but not always in easily summable ways.

If Wilk had done some research, she might have found it interesting to compare the otherkin/headmates/etc. phenomenon on Tumblr with the continuing history of online avatars. She might have also found it worthwhile to explore the current controversy over Yahoo buying Tumblr. One would think that Tumblr's existence as a corporate property would have been highly relevant to what she was trying to express; witness the reactions of people who realize that their zany, off-the-grid clubhouses can be easily bought and sold by huge corporations.


There's nothing wrong with a theoretical examination of pseudonymity on the internet, even a relatively casual and informal one, but this article is just bad, and it's bad in a very familiar way.
posted by Sticherbeast at 2:59 PM on June 7, 2013 [1 favorite]

These are mixed in with elementary writing errors that a competent editor would have picked up.

She is an editor, but I will let you assess her competence. You should see how annoying their presentation is, let alone the content.

This all reminds me of a website I used to read. The author wrote walls of text with no capitalization and no punctuation except for periods. I wrote her an email asking her to please use caps at least, I liked her content but it was exceptionally hard to read. She responded that she did this deliberately so that people would "think outside the box." I wrote back and said it's hard to think outside the box when you force people to stare at the box.

Anyway, rant on. I rarely see a pseudo-scholarly article that is so ridiculous that people take it as a personal insult and feel compelled to respond. Hell, I take it as an insult to humanity. And I certainly didn't interpret it as an examination of pseudonymity. I viewed it as a failed attempt by the author to give structure to her highly disordered thoughts. I don't see any clear topic at all.
posted by charlie don't surf at 5:22 PM on June 7, 2013 [2 favorites]

« Older "Things are meant to be for a reason"   |   Not a cheery indicator Newer »

This thread has been archived and is closed to new comments