First, a reminder your papers are due by the stroke of midnight, and next week is a paper-discussion week.
We’ve spent three weeks poking around the personality of the Internet. I like to start this way because it offers a great lens on everything else this class is going to cover. Thinking back to Cluetrain and your Internet history readings, the Internet was built by people who did things because they could. It didn’t always have immediate practical application, but these folks were tinkerers and experimenters who just wanted to see what was possible. In aggregate, the birth of the web came about because a lot of these small experiments became one grand new platform.
The right to play, to tinker, to create without restraint or someone telling you “that’s a dumb idea” means that the architects of the web baked libertarian choice and expression right into the Web’s DNA. Hyperlinks, network structures, packet switching, open source web page creation …. they all are about favoring decentralized communication over central control.
When you truly grok this (internet slang, look it up; yes, we’re learning on a Friday afternoon), you’ll see the Internet in a completely new way. It’s why you don’t hear me talking a lot about new fads as dumb and ask why anyone would do it. The answer is always the same. Because we can.
It explains the surface web. It also explains the Dark Web, the horrible things that happen on places like 4Chan and the amazing things people do on the Internet. It explains ice bucket challenges (and the ensuing backlash when the ALS Association stupidly tried to trademark the phenomenon – we hate central control!) and #gamergate abuse of women. It explains Bitcoin and why you likely are intrigued by cryptocurrency even though some of its applications are pretty troubling.
By way of a more recent example, it explains this story from yesterday. Why would Gawker try to use a Coca-Cola campaign about Internet positivity to trick it into tweeting out passages of a book by Adolf Hitler? Partly to make a social point about being careful about your building blocks, but mostly (say it with me) because they can.
This phenomenon itself is neither a negative or positive thing. It’s just what is, and we can critique its application in individual circumstances without denying its existence. This is fundamental to understanding Internet culture. It’s everywhere online. Look around.
See you Monday.