Category: odds and ends

No Girls Allowed!

At first glance, it would seem reasonable that, because internet users are anonymous (or at least as anonymous as they choose to be), racism and sexism would be practically nonexistant on the internet. In fact, I’ve heard several people refer to online environments such as message boards, chatrooms, and computer games as near-perfect meritocracies.

In reality, this is not the case. First, racism and sexism are not unknown on the internet. The KKK can set up a website just as easily as anyone else, and racist or sexist attitudes may simply be less visible on message boards because users are not aware of other users’ race or gender. For a mildly amusing account of the “Boys Only” attitude of many gamers, see this article by Whitney Butts.

Even without the old standby segregators like race and gender, there’s no reason to assume that other factors won’t simply take their place. Almost any community of decent size will have smaller cliques of people who can be more or less hostile to other cliques. In a basic form, one can be judged online based on username, avatar image, signature, spelling and grammar, and, of course, the ever-popular religious or political views. If you’re ever bored, go to a discussion board with a definite political bias (say, the neoconservative Free Republic), and post something diametrical to the majority opinion to see how long it takes to get banned. For an amusing discussion of Free Republic’s forum, see this board at ALIPAC’s (anti-illegal immigration group) forum.…

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Comcast vs. BitTorrent

According to the Associated Press, Comcast inteferes with users uploading online content via BitTorrent and similar applications, allegedly to save bandwidth for its other customers, though some suspect the move is related to the piracy such applications are often used for.

Now, I have no problem with taking action against piracy or conserving bandwidth, but Comcast’s move also affects people who use BitTorrent for legitimate purposes. It is plainly unfair to punish the innocent along with the guilty, and defeats the purpose of law to violate one person’s rights to punish the guilty. Remember, the guilty party is a criminal for violating someone else’s rights, and the purpose of law is to preserve rights for everyone (of course, Comcast should leave law enforcement to the justice system, assuming their motivation here is anti-piracy).

As a parting thought on this topic, no lesser man than Abraham once wrestled with the justice of harming the innocent along with the guilty:

“What if there are at least ten [innocent men in Sodom]?”

“For the sake of those ten,” [the Lord] replied, “I will not destroy it.”

(Gen. 19:32b)…

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Authors and Writers

What’s an author? Someone who writes a book, right?

Well, according to Michel Foucault, it’s not quite that simple. While one could define an author as “someone who writes,” as I understand Foucault’s argument an author is also a person created, in a sense, by his work rather than the other way around. “Shakespeare,” for example, is both a proper name indicating a specific person, but also has a meaning intimately connected with his work. The meaning of “Shakespeare” would change significantly for society if, say, we learned that it was actually Bacon who wrote the plays traditionally attributed to the Bard.

The argument is interesting, but unfortunately I can’t really speak of it except in general terms.…

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Group Journalism

Quick question: who is going to produce a better news story, a single random person or a whole bunch of random people?

One can replace “news story” with almost anything, but the basic question is the essence of a democratic system of everything versus a more authoritarian system. I bring this up because I’ve recently been reading about crowdsourcing and Assignment Zero in particular. The general idea of rounding up a bunch of random dudes off the street to write a news story is, I believe, absurd on the face of it, but AZ had a little credibility because there were editors and organizers.

My main problem with the concept is that I fail to see the problem it’s supposed to solve. A specially trained journalist should be able to outwrite a mass of people who may or may not have any such training, and a group of people can be just as biased as a single person.…

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A Blogger You Can’t Refuse

Recommending a blog to someone is, for me, an easy question, because I only read two.

The first is VerseLogic, written by codepoetica (otherwise known as Alan Castonguay). The subjects he writes about are diverse, ranging from sharing a favorite poem to thoughts on new technological developments. Ironically enough, several posts happen to relate to new media – it was through VerseLogic that I first saw the “Machine is Us/ing Us” video, for instance.

The second is lainspotting, written by Lawmune (or Lawrence Eng). This blog was originally tied with his fansite for serial experiments lain (link to his site here), but has since branched off to discuss more general topics, though it still mostly centers around the study of online culture. Unfortunately, this one has not been updated in a long time now.

I feel like my recommendations are a bit lacking, since one is starting to look defunct, but these are the only two I’ve ever followed, except for maybe one other that isn’t even online anymore, and I’m very reluctant to try to recommend a blog that I’ve been reading for one day.…

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Blogging vs. Writing Anywhere Else

Despite having written in a few different online settings, including adding comments to a handful of blogs, I must honestly say that I do not see much of a difference between writing for a blog versus writing for anything else. Certainly a powerful piece of prose or verse is powerful in any format, and it seems to me that as long as blogs are essentially text-based they will remain that way. Admittedly, they don’t have to remain text-based, since there’s nothing preventing someone from blogging via a comic or video. YouTube, in fact, already has a number of vlogs. That said, it’s not as though nobody’s ever made a video before, and though I can see where this can open up a number of doors for something creative, I remain unconvinced that blogging is as much of a revolution as many seem to believe.

The primary difference between blogs and other forms of communication is, of course, its availability and ease of use. As has been stated numerous times in numerous places, any ol’ fool with internet access can set one up, and they’re easy to maintain. In fact, browsing around WordPress I was slightly surprised to find just how easy it was. There are hardly any more steps to posting a blog entry than writing an entry into a journal – just a couple buttons to click, plus maybe a few tags for special formatting. After that, of course, is the opportunity for readers to add their own publicly viewable comments right there in the blog – or, depending on the format, in a link at the end of an entry. That also assumes that a blog has readers, which is far from guaranteed considering that there are about as many blogs on the internet as there are leaves in a jungle, and getting noticed nearly requires a miracle.

On a final note, one difference noted by Meg Hourihan is that “The weblog’s post unit liberates the writer from word count.” I need to ask my Arts & Technology professor if this applies to those of us blogging as a class assignment.…

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