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Athens, Ohio, United States
"Art and love are the same thing. It's the process of seeing yourself in things that are not you."

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

All For One and None for All

Ever wonder how the technology would change our lives?

Stanley Kubrick thought it would send us into the quiet nightmare of space. Ray Bradbury thought it would disillusion us from the real world and cause us to systematically destroy our past. And George Orwell, God bless 'im, thought technology would reveal the most awful aspects of an over-organized human society.

So here we are: the future. How has technology changed our lives? Well, we aren't in space, firefighters don't burn books and we aren't all controlled by the poster of a man Big Brother. But there are subtler ways that we have been changed. And I am not talking about the environment or our world being changed, but ways WE have been changed.

To me, there is no better example than the "group" Anonymous. I type the word "group" within quotation marks because there isn't quite a word to describe what "they" are. This being an online blog, I am sure there are many in my target audience of readers who are familiar with the group Anonymous, probably even a few that would identify themselves as a "member". So who the hell are they? Well, that is not an easy answer. They cannot be described in many of the terms we use for groups or organizations. They have no one particular home or meeting place. They have no goals, no hierarchal structure, as a matter of fact: no hint or whisper of any type of organization whatsoever. The members have no names, no agendas. The group is essentially nothing...but it exists very much so.

Confusing? I know. Before I delve any further, Reporter Chris Landers, of the Baltimore City Paper is credited with a quote that I believe does more to describe Anonymous than anything else I've read. He writes: "(Anonymous is the first internet-based superconsciousness. Anonymous is a group, in the sense that a flock of birds is a group. How do you know they're a group? Because they're traveling in the same direction. At any given moment, more birds could join, leave or peel off in another direction entirely. "

In short, Anonymous is an organization that exists solely due to the communal nature of the Internet. Anonymous started on humor and message-board based websites like and Members of the websites or even just curious passersby try to amuse each other with funny pictures, or anecdotes and many popular internet memes or phrases emerge. You can credit Anonymous with discovering the precious LOLcats and the ever-bizarre "Chocolate Rain". And for all of you who have ever been "rickrolled" (you know who you are), you have Anonymous to thank (or blame). But Anonymous did not produce these images or ideas as a group. Usually, someone has a funny idea, posts a funny picture, or even makes a humorous spelling error and then the rest of the Internet community catches onto it and keeps it alive.

This "group" is really not a group at all but a collection of individuals. The only thing that ties them together is the name Anonymous and the collective bemusement over outsiders who just don't seem to get "it". The name came from the fact that almost all posters on 4chan's "Random" board, post as "anonymous", so the joke became that Anonymous was a single entity who had way too much time on his or her hands and internet access. The aforementioned outsiders are those who don't know what "ZOMG" is or have never done something for the "lulz" or who don't understand the importance of "Mudkips".

And because they have no hierarchy, or no rules, or even any type of temporal goal, this loosely-connected group has been responsible for an endless array of pranks and mishaps. Sometimes, they are benign like hacking the Habbo Hotel website to shut down the virtual pool or protesting Scientology churches while wearing "Guy Fawkes" masks. But other times, they are slightly more sinister like e-mailing threats to journalists and media members or hijacking a presentation at an Epilepsy conference to show flashing lights and colors. Their ways as diverse as the individuals yet they remain one entity united under one name. And THAT is where technology has taken us today.

Technology has torn apart paradoxes that have existed for centuries and answered questions that seemed unanswerable. Without today's capacity for communication, we would never have this new entity that combines the contradictory ideas of individualism and collectivism. Since man has existed, he has had to answer the question: Do I honor individuality, or cohesiveness? It is one of the most basic questions we have ever had to answer. Historically, the West went in one direction and the East went another. But now, technology seems to be turning that essential question, that paradigm on its head.

Anonymous, and the Internet in general is connecting people of all cultures. Ideas are being confronted, challenged, changed and sometimes strengthened. I believe that the existence of such a "superconscious" is a sign that the times, they are a'changin'. The Internet is its OWN community and it does not demand your allegiance to a flag, nor give you a choice in deciding its leaders. What it does do is connect us all. We are all individuals in it, yet we all are a part of a larger collective. Hmm...almost like we all share a "collective unconscious" perhaps...

But while the present is confusing and the future, even stranger, I do feel resolutely certain about one fact. Had Bradbury, Kubrick or Orwell wrote or filmed about THIS kind of future technology, no one would have bought a single book or ticket. 

Way too Sci-fi.


Woozie said...

I suppose you could say the chans have birthed an internet based superconsciousness (that is such an awesome word) but the "group", if you can call it that, known as anonymous is really very benign and more interested in childish pranks and having a (sometimes macabre) laugh than anything else, hence their lasting contributions being rickrolling (or duckrolling for the oldfags) and LOLcats.

In some ways the chans are like an alternate reality, being as how most of their users are actually normal people. Most, not all. There's the hackers, the pedophiles, the sadists, and the occasional murderer/terrorist. These guys get all of the attention because they are the most prolific members of the *chan community.

And a great deal of them are around the age of 14, so there's that too.

Woozie said...

*most of their users are actually normal people who go to experience something you rarely get in real life; a sickening and often puzzling brand of humor ranging from gore threads to Caturday and the 5th of each month.

I'm not in an English class this quarter, so my proofreading is terrible. That's my excuse.

A.G.B said...

Your grammar faux pas are forgiven. I did not intend to paint the 4chan users or Anonymous members as either benign OR dangerous. My purpose was just to show that the Internet is changing the way people view themselves and organize.

I agree that the vast majority of Anonymous "members" are probably benign pranksters looking for a laugh.

Anonymous said...

Wonderful analysis. Very interesting. However, you missed one of the classic distopian predictions. I haven't heard of any of Huxley's mass orgies, but we're a lot closer than I would have predicted...

A.G.B said...

Unfortunately, I have never read Brave New World. I know, I know, I am the scum of the Earth.

Woozie said...

Well I think we know what you're reading next.