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July 2007

"Getting Known Through Anonymity"

Via Teresa Nielsen Hayden, I have come across a fascinating meditation on pseudonymity, originally from Suler, J.R. and Phillips, W. (1998). The Bad Boys of Cyberspace: Deviant Behavior in Multimedia Chat Communities. CyberPsychology and Behavior, 1, 275-294, presented here in what I gather is condensed form.

Getting Known Through Anonymity
Much has been said lately about how anonymity on the internet "disinhibits" people. Feeling relatively safe with their real-world identity hidden, they say and do things they otherwise wouldn't normally say or do in "real life." In some cases, that seems to be a good thing. People may be more honest, open, generous, and helpful. In other cases, however, the nasty side of a person gets unleashed. Hence the snert.

I'd like to give a slightly different spin to this "disinhibition through anonymity" concept. My basic premise is this: NO ONE WANTS TO BE COMPLETELY ANONYMOUS. No one wants to be totally invisible, with no name or identity or presence or interpersonal impact at all. Everyone wants and needs to express some aspect of who they are, to have others acknowledge and react to some aspect of their identity. In some cases, it's a benign feature of who you are. In some cases, not. Anonymity on the internet allows people to set aside some aspects of their identity in order to safely express others. Snerts need someone to react to and affirm their offensive behavior. This need is a bit different than simply catharting their frustrated drives, as the "eros-ridden" idea suggests. Snerts are trying to express some unresolved and warded-off feature of their troubled identity in an (often desperate) attempt to have it acknowledged. Unfortunately, they do it in a way that abuses other people. Under ideal conditions, they may be able to accept and work through those inner feelings and self-concepts that torture them. If not, they will continue to vent that ooze through their online snert identities, while safely dissociating it from their "real world" identity.

Does greater anonymity result in greater deviance? It's an interesting question. Because greater anonymity usually is associated with less accountability for one's actions, the answer would seem to be "yes." In the world of Palace, new users must register (pay) for the software before they can permanently acquire the ability to give themselves names and create custom avatars. Until then, their name is a number ("Guest 232") and their avatar a generic smiley face. The greater anonymity for guests does seem to result in their misbehaving more often than members. But members misbehave too. So there are other factors at work.

The higher prevalence of misbehavior among anonymous users may be more than just a "disinhibiting" effect. Rather than the anonymity simply "releasing" the nasty side of a person, the person may experience the anonymity - the lack of an identity - as toxic. Feeling frustrated about not being known or having a place in the group, the new user acts out that frustration in an antisocial manner. They need to feel that they have SOME kind of impact on others. It's not unlike the ignored child who starts acting "bad" in order to acquire attention from the parent, even if it's scolding and punishment. The squeakiest wheel. Humans, being humans, will almost always choose a connection to others over no connection at all, even if that connection is a negative one. Some snert guests may think (perhaps unconsciously) that their misbehavior is a justified retaliation against a community that they feel has stripped away their identity and alienated them. They reject because they feel rejected.

Rudy Rucker Attacks the Mundane SF Manifesto!

Readyfordeath_2 Rudy Rucker has written a delightful attack on Geoff Ryman's Mundane SF Manifesto, a proposal that SF be written without recourse to the truly impossible. Rudy sez:

I have so many objections!

I don’t think SF is necessarily about predicting possible futures. I’ve always felt that SF is more like surrealism. The idea is to shock people into awareness. Show them how odd the world is. Whether or not you draw on realistic tropes is irrelevant. But my personal bent is always to try and make the science plausible.

Let it be said that futurism and SF are quite different endeavors. A rude person might say that futurism is about feeding inspirational received truths to businessmen and telling them it will help them make more money. SF is about unruly artistic visions.

Writing responsibly about socially important issues can be timid and boring. The thing is, science really does change a lot over time. Compare what we’re doing now to what we were doing in the year 1000. A Mundane SF writer of year 1000 might want us to write only about alchemy, the black plague, and the papacy.

Wormhole Rudy has also submitted it as a longish letter of comment to The New York Review of Science Fiction, which has just published Ryman's Manifesto. And it will probably appear there, But at NYRSF, we don't do color illos, and Rucker's blog version of this comes with delighful illustrations that function as a separate stream of visual commentary on the subject.

What I like best about Rucker's anti-manifesto is that it makes me want to sit down and write something fun: cancel the boring meeting with the school district I'm so anxious about; buy the kids ten interesting colors of house paint; and tell them to just paint the house while I sit down to Write Some Fiction!

Update: The President's Butt

So the media have spent three days worshipfully peering into one of George W. Bush's orifices, only to discover that there was no reason to give the man additional sympathy. (Or perhaps you'd like to follow that link to Fox News coverage after reading this satire of Fox News coverage.) 

Where will they look next? And will they stoop and lower to get there?

The New Weird Archives

499255918_fbd86dabfd_m No one has centralized copies of the discussions of what "cyberpunk" should be. Bits and pieces exist in sources like Bruce Sterling's Cheap Truth. But the real discussion is mostly lost.

But electronic archives of the discussion of The New Weird do exist despite their disappearance from the Web a few years ago. There is a sad little "404 - Not Found" message at the pages where these discussions used to be, which has been there for a number of years. I've decided to host copies of the New Weird files that have been floating around in the aether.

So. HERE THEY ARE! (Back to haunt the lot of us.) The discussion happened in 5 segments:

  • 1 (The New Weird)
  • 2 (Function follows Form: New Weird 2)
  • 3 (The New Weird 3: The New Weird)
  • 4 (The New Weird 4: Own Wired)
  • 5 (New Weird 4.5 : the net on both sides)

The discussion is quite long and some of the formatting gets lost in translation, but I've included links at the top of each page to text files with better formatting.

At the time I declared the exercise "The Mad-Hatter's Tea Party of literary discussion" and vowed never to do such a thing again. For more on my thoughts about it at the time, see my New Weird category.

MEANWHILE, Jeff & Anne VanderMeer have an anthology coming out on this subject which is sure to straighten us all out on what all the fuss was about.

(I gather that a computer game of telephone has mangled China Miéville's name throughout. I'll try to fix that this evening.)

(New Weird polemicist M. John Harrison shown above. Photo by Pat Cadigan.)

. . . and an Internet Risk for Adults

From the Christian Science Monitor: On the Internet, everyone may find you're a dog: Anonymity on the Web may seem attractive, but how you use it raises interesting ethical dilemmas.

Avoiding the use of pseudonyms online is not just good advice for public figures, it works for everyone. The freedom of the Internet doesn't mean you can do whatever you want without consequence. Many ways exist to trace "anonymous" posts. The Los Angeles Times, for example, used Internet addresses to trace Hiltzik's postings back to his work computer.

When speaking about the Internet at conferences or seminars, I give this advice about e-mail, posting comments in a forum, or sending instant messages: Don't write anything online that you would not like to see on the front page of The New York Times. Ask Bill Gates: That's where his e-mails ended up during the Microsoft antitrust case in the late 1990s.

On the Internet nobody may know you're a dog. But don't count on the fact that someone won't be able to find out where that dog lives.

Kids and Internet Risk Factors

A couple of unexpected but key paragraphs from an Internet scare story: Study: Sexually explicit photos sought from 1 in 25 online youths

Earlier, the same researchers suggested that warning children against posting their personal information online doesn't necessarily make them safer from predators and related threats. The researchers found no evidence that sharing personal information increases the chances of online victimization, such as unwanted sexual solicitation and harassment.

In the latest study, the researchers identified certain traits as making a youth prone to receive a request for a sexual picture. They include having a close relationship with someone known only online; talking with someone online about sex or having a sexually suggestive screen name; and experiencing physical or sexual abuse offline.

Researchers also found that requests were more likely to occur when youths were with their friends.

"A lot of kids are using the Internet in groups," Mitchell said. "When they are with friends, maybe they are egging each other on to do something they wouldn't normally do."

My suspicion is that kids and teenagers, like adults, are more likely to engage in actually risky Internet behavior when following the conventional advice about not giving out "personal information."

Oh goodness. Islamic Creationism!

Via The New York Times, an Islamic Creationist, apparently a very determined one. He has written a book and has sent it out 'round the world:

At 11 x 17 inches and 12 pounds, with a bright red cover and almost 800 glossy pages, most of them lavishly illustrated, “Atlas of Creation” is probably the largest and most beautiful creationist challenge yet to Darwin’s theory, which Mr. Yahya calls a feeble and perverted ideology contradicted by the Koran. . . .

He said people who had received copies were “just astounded at its size and production values and equally astonished at what a load of crap it is. . . .

While they said they were unimpressed with the book’s content, recipients marveled at its apparent cost. “If you went into a bookstore and saw a book like this, it would be at least $100,” said Dr. Miller, an author of conventional biology texts. “The production costs alone are astronomical. We are talking millions of dollars.”

And then there’s postage.

Test your level of Alienation online

Frances on Peter's deskI happened across an on-line questionnaire apparently by C. George Boeree, a professor in the Psychology Department at Shippensburg University, which claims to test your degree alienation. I score as only moderately alienated in most of the categories of alienation, but score very highly for "cultural alienation." Interestingly the term "cultural alienation" seems to be primarily used to study the effects of colonialism upon the indigenous population, like so:

The experience of colonial domination shows that, in the effort to perpetuate exploitation, the colonizers not only creates a system to repress the cultural life of the colonized people; he also provokes and develops the cultural alienation of a part of the population, either by so-called assimilation of indigenous people, or by creating a social gap between the indigenous elites and the popular masses.

(Amilcar Cabral, "National Liberation and Culture." Originally delivered on February 20, 1970 as part of the Eduardo Mondlane Memorial Lecture Series at Syracuse University.)

It is interesting to me that the incursion of million-dollar-house people into our corner of suburbia would provoke in me an alienation similar to that of the colonized. I tried the test on my son, and while he had no scores in the "high" range, most of his scores indicated moderate alienation, and one of his highest scores was cultural alientation.

Boeree's page on Conformity and Obediance is also interesting.

Reconceptulaizing this space

I have stripped the design of this blog down. I haven't decided whether to keep it spare or whether to dress it up again afterwards.

What I am preparing for is an attempt to shift to essay writing, to what I've been calling longer wavelength ideas. So I've been drafting an essay as part of this experiment. Since there is wide-spread incomprehension regarding what I had to say on one particular panel at Readercon, I've decided to start there. And it is indeed an experience very different from blogging, writing for three hours one day, and five the next, and not being done and this not being a problem. Essays are like that.

I'm 2,500 words into an essay that I'm rather pleased with so far; I think it's going to be twice as long. Wide-spread incomprehension at what I think is prefectly clear is usually a sign that I'm onto a good project. If what I'm saying is so hard to understand, then this is an opportunity to upset conventional wisdom.

One of the things I've been writing about is the roots of Internet pseudonymity in the Futurian movement, and James Tiptree, ahead of her time in many ways, as a transitional figure. I need to lay hands and eyes on D. West's essay, "Performance," on fannish personae, which may take time. (Anyone with an electronic copy is invited to send it!)

Contemplating a blog redesign

IMG_2199.JPGWhile I've been traveling about, I've been thinking about blog design and the future of this site.

(We were in Seattle for the SF Hall of Fame inductions and the Locus Awards. We converged with much of the rest of my family at Apollocon in Houston. Then we made a quick trip to upstate New York. We couldn't stay long because we had reservations at a Massachusetts beach motel. Now we're in Burlington, MA at Readercon, one of our favorite conventions.)

Every once in a while I get into a blog redesign frame of mind For example, on April 6, 2006, I wrote:

Every once in a while, I get in a mood and I want to radically reconfigure what my blog is and does at the information architecture level: the mood I described previously as "being tired of writing on a roll of paper towels."

But up until now it's pretty hard to make blog software behave differently in any really meaningful way. Yes, I can tinker with CSS, but the ease of writing in the standard blog format is a strong current to swim against, so despite possibilities offered by CSS, I have tended to fall into the path of least resistance and so despite my several attempts at a major overhaul, things haven't changed that much. However, Typepad recently introduced a feature called Type Pages which may allow for changing habits.

This evening I will be on a panel on online criticism and reviewing:

9:00 pm ME  F&SF Reviewing in the Blogosphere.
John Clute, Kathryn Cramer, Jim Freund (M), Ernest Lilley, Tom Purdom, Gordon Van Gelder.
A guide to what's online, and a discussion of the ways in which online reviewing differs from the print variety. What are the good and bad aspects of the more personal and informal tone of much online criticism?

On the panel, I will once again take the position that the big difference in quality between online and print reviewing is that people tend to spend a lot less time composing reviews and essays for online publication than they do for print venues. I find that blog software pushes me in the direction of shorter composition time, so the redesign I have in mind is a format for longer wavelength thoughts. I think this can be accomplished through the Type Pages interface.

Such messing about -- as well as the composition of actual essays -- will have to wait until I'm home and unpacked. But meanwhile I'm thinking about it.

I have looked around for blogs doing interesting things with Type Pages, and haven't yet found any really good examples. Anyone seen good examples of what can be done?

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