tweets’n’such

Twitter is easily the worst place for my mental health with its relentless formula of cynicism and groupthink masquerading as irony, but it provides an incredible wealth of information and perspectives on current events.

It took over a year, but I finally curated an excellent mix of people that provide a reliable stream of useful insight with a broad range of backgrounds and perspectives. The direct access it provides to journalists and political insiders is a thing of beauty. It can often be its own, isolated world, where people continually mistake the shared catharsis of mocking opponents with meaningful engagement. But there is legitimate, educational, enlightening discussion going on there. It just takes a lot of digging to find.

I still don’t feel comfortable contributing or interacting on Twitter. I don’t think I have much to contribute in that format, but I’ve also never really tried. I think it would be quite difficult to navigate towards an experience that would be fulfilling rather than soul-crushing.

Meanwhile, Facebook is utterly dead to me as a place for evidence-based discussion. I have seen zero constructive disagreements take place here since the election. At the same time, this is the only reliable window I have towards seeing actual, confirmed human beings express sincerely-held conservative beliefs. Finding that on Twitter or Reddit is impossible, so I do appreciate the occasional glimpse of “my god he really believes that trump is doing the lord’s work” as a reminder that our election was not a joke.

That leads me to conclude that there is still merit in putting thoughts out there as a means of bolstering representation. Maybe if I’m lucky, I’ll give some words to thoughts that others have not yet been able to articulate.

But it’s important to recognize these efforts for what they are. My posts are little more than thinking out loud, an outlet for the stuff that gets bottled up in my brain over time, a mostly selfish act rather than some benevolent community service. I’m not changing the world with my words. Nobody’s going to be won over or convinced solely by what I write.

community

When I was 7, I remember faking sick to stay home so I could play word games on AOL all day. I loathed school, so it was a win-win for me. After winning rounds of off-brand Boggle and Scrabble, I would brag to the other players about how young I was, and then be disappointed when no one was impressed.

I would hop on my brother’s IM accounts and talk to literally any of their friends that would respond. I would go into all sorts of chat rooms and try to understand what was going on. I remember emailing a pen-pal through Juno a few times a week, then later learning that she was schizophrenic and thought that the government watched people through their TVs. (sidenote: it amuses me that this is probably among the more plausible and less offensive methods of surveillance available in 2017)

There was so much raw curiosity, no inhibitions whatsoever. I didn’t care what was being talked about, it was all interesting and I just wanted to talk to anyone and everyone about anything. I liked the challenge of being interesting enough to much older people that they wouldn’t mind talking to a small child.

Later, when I was 12, I was homeschooled. I would spend entire days in my bedroom, alternating between reading textbooks and timing myself to see how quickly I could rebuild my Star Wars Lego sets. At that point I was already obsessed with computers, but we only had the one family PC, so my time was always limited, and I usually spent that time on games.

Once we got a second computer that I could hoard for myself, I explored further. The first forum I ever got invested in was on a site called YouThink. It was a place for debate, where people would submit questions and polls that you could vote on, ranging from opinions about the best action movie to whether abortion should be legal. I had hundreds of lengthy posts where I defended my nascent concepts of fundamentalism.

In high school, I got into blogging, and I delighted in building up a blogroll and a readership. I was super invested in the off-topic forums for the games that I played, and made lasting friendships through those engagements. I had half a dozen different chat clients – ICQ, YIM, AIM, gChat, IRC, each connecting me to a different set of people.

In the past, I had lots of people to talk to from around the world. A diverse network of friends I could hit up at any moment, ask for advice, shoot the shit. If I was up at 4 am wrestling with anxiety again, my friends in Greece would be probably be awake, or maybe my friends in Australia. I didn’t worry about whether I was boring people with my petty problems, whether I was interesting enough to hold their attention.

There were multiple spaces online where I felt at home. Fluent, comfortable, in my element. I no longer have that. Facebook is not, and has never been that place for me.

Objectively speaking, I have spent the majority of my life in solitude, what with spending easily 10+ hours every single day on a computer since I was a child. But it hasn’t been until the last 6 or 7 years that this solitude meant isolation.

Some of it is just the facts of growing up. Children aren’t burdened with stereotypes and presumption. They can freely engage and connect because they’re blissfully ignorant. Adults have motives, schemes, scars, and responsibilities.

I know that some of this shift is from my end. Events in my life lead to me become more aloof. I started worrying a lot more about what other people think, because I knew some people were thinking very poorly of me. I crave respect almost as much as I enjoy attention, and I have often remained silent when previously I might have reached out.

There’s also the premise of connection. Games are no longer my primary hobby. They’re a frequent curiosity, a point of interest to me as a designer and an artist, but my brain can no longer justify the absurd waste of time that’s baked into most online games. But shared interest and experience is the foundation for most relationships in our lives.

I live now in the heart of Brooklyn. I can go out onto my roof at any point in the day and see a hundred other human beings out on the sidewalks. But I have no connection to these people. I have never met my neighbors, and likely never will. This does not bother me, but I acknowledge the irony of it.

I yearn to be a part of an online community again.

false media

okay fake news let’s go

1. the term itself is overloaded & ambiguous
2. it implies a false binary between real and fake
3. sometimes when we say fake news we actually mean propaganda
4. poorly handled but factually correct news was at least as damaging in this election as fake news – e.g. instant media freakout over Comey

Nonetheless, fake news is a major problem. I personally hadn’t considered its relevance until the last few months but it fits right in with my current favorite narrative that the relationship between news and social media is toxic. Depending on where you get your news, you could be living in a completely separate reality from everyone around you. Facebook already demonstrated that you can dramatically influence mood and opinion based on the general tone and content of your feed.

To up the stakes, the intelligence community is on the record – multiple times this year – in saying that there are other countries actively promoting fake news in the US. This is one of those issues that i cannot understand why it isn’t front-and-center on every outlet, on repeat.

This kind of attack is absolutely trivial. Botnets are dirt cheap – you can get thousands of computers signing up for accounts on every platform, promoting a simple, unified message. single individuals have been doing this with spam since the beginning of the Internet. this is effectively state-sponsored spam, but instead of ads for dick pills we’re getting propaganda about our election.

Part of me wonders if this isn’t just karma for Stuxnet, PRISMA, and the countless other violations of global trust from the NSA.

Facebook and Google might be more technologically sophisticated than what Russia and China have at their disposal currently, but the notion that Facebook alone can handle this problem is unrealistic. We cannot ask corporations to do battle with other countries and hope that they’ll stay on our side.

We’ve evolved into a system where quality journalism is worth less than clickbait. That isn’t the fault of mainstream media or alternative news or any nation-state. I doubt anyone dreamed up our current state of affairs, saying “yeah I’d love to see a landscape of news where everything is reduced to all-caps headlines paired with evocative stock photos and investigative journalism is nearly extinct”.

But this is where we are. We should not be surprised that there are people taking advantage of this state of affairs.

facebook UX

Facebook is a horribly under-developed platform for discussion and engagement.

Anyone who has spent time on forums, blogs, chat rooms, Slack – anywhere else, really – knows there are a wealth of simple features that would be really useful and powerful.

We need something, anything to alleviate this cramped hellscape of noisy presentation, constant misunderstandings due to limited tools for expression, and complete dearth of tools for curation and moderation. This is where important conversations are happening nowadays, and we deserve a platform that is capable of far more than what it currently offers.

  1. Basic rich-text formatting. Allow bold, italic, underline, and anchors (inline links) for everything. For top-level posts, bulleted/numbered lists and blockquotes. That’s all you need.
  2. Inline images for posts. One image preview shoved at the bottom of a post is not enough. Obviously problematic for comments, but we should be encouraging high quality top-level posts.
  3. Locking posts. Sometimes threads have gone to shit and just need to end. Thread necromancy is fun for memories and jokes but annoying for heated or controversial discussions that just won’t die.
  4. Deeper nesting of comment replies. Even just one more level would go a long way.
  5. Sort comments on posts by replies, reactions, or timestamp. Provide more ways to sift through the noise.
  6. Emoji reactions to comments. Emoji add bandwidth, empathy, and humor.
  7. Emoji reactions to paragraphs or phrases. Like Medium’s highlight feature, except actually useful and fun.
  8. Sharing for comments. A single comment can be the best part of a thread. You can link directly to comments, but this is awkward and unreliable.
  9. Leave a placeholder text when comments are deleted. Threads become unintelligible when it isn’t clear a part of the conversation has disappeared. Indicate whether the comment was deleted by the author of the post vs. a page admin vs. the author of the comment.
  10. Move Like and Reply to the left or right of comments. Replace text with icons. Vertical space is a premium and for any post longer than 3 lines, this is wasted space and noise.
  11. Hide name / profile picture / timestamp for successive comments by the same author. It’s noisy and makes it much harder to read long threads.
  12. Allow highlighted / sticky comments. Let authors select a comment that appears first to set the tone of the conversation. Many blogs and news outlets do this, and it’s useful.
  13. Notify commenters when visibility has changed on a thread they’ve posted to. I’ve seen people get burned by this, and that has a chilling effect on discussion.
  14. Create a separate field for hashtags on posts. Allow posts to join the global conversation without necessitating noise in the post itself.
  15. Scheduled posts / future posting. Sometimes you find stuff you want to share but you’ve already posted a few times today already and don’t want to spam. All the major blogging platforms have this feature — let authors set a time and date for posts to appear.
  16. Allow filtering of your news feed. There are times when you want to see the news, other times you want to see what your friends are posting. There’s filtering by reactions, hashtags, posts with links to articles vs. posts with photos vs. posts with just text. Give people the ability to control the kind of content they’re exposed to.
  17. Separate notifications into reactions, comments on your posts, and replies to your comments. Notifications are ridiculously noisy right now.
  18. Show view counts to authors. We have this for videos, why not for everything else? It’s important.
  19. Add searching for your timeline. There’s no way to find a thread you commented on. It’s hard to find something you posted a long time ago. There’s no easy way to say the things you’ve liked or reacted to. There’s no way to search your photos.
  20. Show the profile intro in the hover popup for profiles. Give people a space to present themselves to people who don’t know them. A profile picture / cover photo / location are not enough. More bandwidth here facilitates more human interactions between strangers.
  21. Tag friends on any post without commenting. Tons of spam / noise is generated by people tagging friends because it’s the only way to generate notifications without putting things on someone’s timeline.
  22. Give control over the size of thumbnail images. Scrolling through your feed, almost half of the real estate at any given time is taken up by stock photos that offer no meaningful information and server only to draw attention.
  23. Colors, damnit. Zebra stripe comments. Apply a pastel background color for comment threads, or colorize the left-hand border. Differentiate threads with unique colors.

legacy

I’ve been following with some interest the story of Facebook’s Free Basics endeavor, which was recently shut out of India.  The notion is that Facebook would offer free but heavily limited internet access to developing countries, the rationale being that something is better than nothing in a country like India, where internet penetration is still only at 15-20%.  I will now write briefly about why this is a terrible idea.

Continue reading legacy

A Future Worth Loving

If the Internet is an ocean, I am a fish. This is where much of my life has been lived, and so I have grown to love it, warts and all. It has enabled, for me, that which I love most in the world: endless knowledge and learning. I never went to university — my education has been largely digital, from beginning to end. Some of my earliest memories are of exploring Encyclopedia Britannica, watching animations about windmills and levies. I remember the first day I found Wikipedia — I immediately went on a 2-hour dive through black holes on through retinas and cow-tipping. I just couldn’t believe that such an expansive resource existed. Everything I know about design and programming has been learned online. I’ve devoted thousands of hours to lectures and documentaries. For me, computers and the Internet really are a bottomless spring of knowledge and ideas.

This isn’t how many people see or use the Internet. For a time, this irked me, similar to the way a dancer might feel about someone who’s never danced — something of intrinsic value, perhaps not actually essential to modern life. Today, however, there is no question that the Internet is a central component of so many of our daily routines and exchanges. Watching this growth, that irksome feeling has steadily grown into a deep concern for the ways computers are failing to unite us, or even creating divisions where before none existed. While the Internet opens up rich new channels of exploration and connection, others seem to be closing.

One beauty of the Internet is that you can, at this very moment, go to YouTube and find all manner of skills demonstrated by people around the world. Your Facebook feed is likely sprinkled with photos of various hobbies, projects, and achievements. And it’s all inferior to experiencing things in real life. The online conversations we share about these activities — particularly with friends and family — are often unsatisfying, lifeless and primitive imitations of real world communication.

For some people, their purest and most powerful form of expression is with a paintbrush. For others, it’s a guitar. A basketball. A pen. A sewing needle. A steering wheel. A deck of cards. Pick whatever you want — there’s someone, somewhere who could stun you with their mastery over these inert objects, that could expose you to new thoughts and ideas through the creative expression realized in their demonstration. It’s passions and talents like these that weave the fabric of culture and enrich the human experience. But on the Internet, these skills are worth only their weight in views and likes.

Continue reading A Future Worth Loving

video game feminism

I’m a huge fan of Anita Sarkeesian’s Tropes vs Women in Video Games series. Although I highly recommend them to anyone with a serious interest in pop culture or video games, the series is quite long. Since this post involves many of its core ideas, I’ll provide my summary of Sarkeesian’s most important observations.

Video games and the industry surrounding them are extremely male-dominated. Games aren’t just being marketed exclusively towards men — games themselves are designed around the assumption that the players are male. They overwhelmingly cater to this group to such an extent that it is actively alienating the players that do not match this target demographic.

Continue reading video game feminism

North American Scrubs

I originally wrote this post for a more gaming-oriented blog my friends and I created, Bloglomerate. It is exclusively concerned with the game Dota 2. I’ve reposted it here to ensure it lives on in case Bloglomerate is discontinued.

Swag Sorceror: Why are NA teams such ass all the time – do we just not promote as much? Who does one even talk to to figure out what would be helpful to make the community grow – get more people to watch and spend money on games?

The reason NA sucks at Dota and League is because of internet cafes. Net cafes have always been and still are way, way bigger in China, South Korea, SEA, and all over EU. Home desktop computers didn’t take off in other countries the way they did in the US, and that’s because of population density. Also, broadband adoption and good connection quality has only recently become ubiquitous here. South Korea had 100mbps connections well over 5 years ago.

Net cafes matter a fuckload because that’s where amateur teams form and competitions take place. Cafe owners have always been happy to host these things because that’s an enormous amount of business for them. Spectators and players and all of their friends come together and trigger the feedback loop that gets everyone amped up about the matches, the tournament, the game as a whole. There’s a reason kids in the Philippines stood outside in the fucking rain to watch TI3. It’s because it’s always better to watch together in one place than separately, alone.

Continue reading North American Scrubs

fantasybook

After 8 years on Facebook, I deactivated my account this weekend for the first time. I can’t quite say it’s the last time, as it’s turned out that third-party applications are able to reactivate your account (I’m glaring at you, Spotify) – but the idea is to be done with Facebook for all personal matters. It’s still a necessary broadcast node, so I’ve converted to a fan page, but it’s nonetheless on its way out as a core website in my internet experience.

Continue reading fantasybook

pathogen

The last month has seen more activity in the Middle East, complete with senseless murders and vast rioting.  Yet again, this has spurred a great deal of head-scratching as to how in the world a feeble insult in the form of a minute-long YouTube video could inspire such a response.  The usual explanations are everywhere: large groups of unemployed and alienated young men, hyper-conservatism fostered through theocratic rule and aggressive media filtering, or America’s incomprehensibly bad relationship with the entire region – there’s so much to choose from.   However, whatever the situation over there predisposes people to feel or do, the fact remains that hundreds of thousands of people were rioting about a YouTube video.  I propose to you that it’s because they aren’t getting trolled frequently enough.

Trolls are a vaccine for the social immune system.

Continue reading pathogen

The Internet versus Immersion

A Response To “WoW And The Evolution Of Games And Gamers”

It’s no secret that the MMOs we know today are quite directly built out of the tradition that Dungeons & Dragons laid down so long ago. Many of the core principles translate to the digital age quite nicely – namely its overt reliance on stat manipulation to create gameplay mechanics. What doesn’t translate is information inequality, specifically between the players and the dungeonmaster. In traditional D&D, encounters are planned exclusively by the DM. Unless the DM chooses to reveal information within the campaign, valuable strategic data about the environment, NPCs, and encounters are known only by the DM. As a result, a sizable portion of the game is spent in siphoning information out of the DM through skill checks and challenges. The medium of voice communication itself further limits how much can be shared, as all of this has to be described in words by the DM. Human error is also a factor; incorrectly recorded or misunderstood information gets passed occasionally between players, especially when there are simultaenous events to track. Players will debate each other at length simply to verify the accuracy of their knowledge. These sorts of challenges are appropriate for pen-and-paper, but they just aren’t relevant when the interface is a computer with internet access.

Think about the experience of a single-player game. Using a strategy guide to progress through a game is more or less considered cheating, and not simply for elitist reasons. A properly designed single-player game demands no guide because all the information the player needs will be found within the game itself. As in D&D, encounters are designed on the premise that the player possesses only the knowledge that the developers have deigned to reveal, which will be minimally sufficient to progress. It’s for this reason that the types of puzzles and encounters found in a single-player game don’t scale well into multiplayer. The first person to solve the riddle is also the last. That’s why most MMOs don’t bother making meaningful logic puzzles or riddles, outside of the handful you might find in the occasional quest chain. In a genre where time efficiency is highly valued, it’s hard for a mere riddle to compete against alt+tab -> google.

Continue reading The Internet versus Immersion

nomenclad

In general, I think Facebook is a good thing. It provides a way for people to stay in touch at all distances, it allows people to share cool and important things, and it provides a snapshot of what your peers value and desire. It does not, however, guarantee any kind of parity to reality. People assume that Facebook is showing real people and real lives because it’s real names that are popping up on their screen. What they forget is that Facebook is one giant filter of intention.

What shows up on Facebook is what people want to show up. Go look through your friend’s albums: how many weddings do you see? How many vacations? Babies? Trips abroad? Graduations? Visits with family? Parties with friends? There’s something missing from this picture. Like, say, people getting fired. Funerals. Arrests. Divorces. Suffice to say that we aren’t rushing to Facebook to tell everyone about our imperfections and admit that we’re not as happy as our pictures would have others believe. For the experienced netizen, this is business as usual. It’s a different story for the average Facebook user, however, and I’ve long pondered over how to challenge the way people perceive Facebook. Recently, I found a way.

As a kid, the game of the internet was always to appear older so as to enhance credibility, and the best way to do that was not to give anyone an excuse to look down on me. The first line of attack is always the display name, and by the time I was 13 I’d mostly standardized my name across the various mediums of the internet: salandarin. It was unique, didn’t have numbers (super important!), was easy enough to type, hard to say wrong, and carried a flavor of fantasy without sounding elven or magical. It’s austere and inert.

The preteen me wanted that because it provided a shield against scrutiny. Passivity is a great strategy for avoiding criticism, but it also leaves any hope of quality interaction in the hands my neighbors. Salandarin provided no material for conversation. However, as I became more engaged in online communities at the end of high school, I had earned a few nicknames. I started adopting them because they were flavorful and personal. Since 2008, my display name evolved thusly:

  • salandarin
  • saladman
  • salad
  • sal
  • salmon
  • salmonesque
  • SALMONATOR

I jumped between all of these sprodically for the next few years, using them for alts or special accounts, picking whichever seemed more thematically appropriate for the given environment. I could only have so many, however, as I still needed to log in to the accounts without going through the “Forgot your username?” prompts every time. But then sites started separating account name and display name. In particular, Steam eliminated all restrictions on what display name you could use. Duplicates were fine. Special characters were fine. Really long, or really short. It was all good. So, when I switched from HoN to DotA 2 and found myself using Steam a whole lot more, I realized I had a golden opportunity.

For the unfamiliar – Steam is a platform for playing video games.  Your display name dictates what identifies you in the game.  So, if my display name is SALMONATOR, it’ll tell everyone in the game “SALMONATOR just got a double kill!“, and it’s the name that appears in front of all chat messages.   With that explained, here are just some of the names I’ve come up with over the last year. Yes, all of them were in caps, and I’m proud to say they’re all original.

  • SALMONATOR
  • HEROIC SALMON
  • SMICKDASH
  • CHIROPRACTIC MANSLAUGHTER
  • PREMIUM FOOD STAMPS
  • GONNA POOP ON YA
  • IMPROMPTU BRODOWN
  • BUTT ALCHEMIST
  • PREHISTORIC MOP
  • JANITORIAL MASQUERADE
  • INTERSTELLAR VISIGOTH
  • SERF DUNKING
  • QUESTIONABLE OSMOSIS
  • LOBSTER CANNON
  • CAPTAIN THUNDERFUNK
  • SMUGFRUIT
  • FATSLAP
  • DUMPTURKEY
  • SPOONIST
  • SHAMBURGER

Some of them are silly and lame. Some of them are alright. A few are hilarious. In general, though, a quirky and unique name goes a long way to breaking the ice in the garden of social butterflies that video gamers are known to be.  I can hear people trying not to laugh when they say “dumpturkey” or “butt alchemist” over voice chat, and it’s absolutely great.  Seeing “GONNA POOP ON YA is GODLIKE!” appear on the screen is just a delight. Anything that gets people to chill out and remember that it’s just a video game is a huge winner, and it makes the overall experience better for me (and hopefully others too).

Continue reading nomenclad

ripple

In economics, an object’s liquidity is described as how easily it can be converted into currency without loss of value. I’d like to propose that the internet makes use of a similar concept in how information is distributed and exchanged. Information liquidity.

Here’s a pre-internet example before we dive in. Say you’ve written a book, and now you want people to read it. To do that, you need a publisher that will first print a large quantity of copies of your book, and then distribute those copies to locations that place your book in close proximity to the largest quantity of people (book stores and libraries). Next, potential readers have to be made aware of the existence of your book, as it’s not enough for it to just be available. There are thousands of books in even the smallest book store, and people aren’t just going to magically know that your book has been added to the collection. Publicity or advertising in one form or another will be necessary.

Continue reading ripple

echo_echo

I actually got sidetracked a bit at the end of my previous post, which is perhaps why I’ve had such trouble writing the continuation. What I mean to examine isn’t the community that develops around a given website, but the level of individual engagement (feedback) that the medium offers. But let me explain why I have an interest in this, before I go further.

Each day over the last few months, I find I have more and more mental acuity at my disposal. I keep having ideas, everywhere, all the time. I used to struggle for material to occupy my mind with, but I now find that half as many hours exist in my day as would be necessary to properly investigate all the concepts my mind is chasing after. Maybe I was always having lots of ideas and I just never took them seriously – I really haven’t a clue. Point is, I’ve been on a roll and it doesn’t appear to be slowing down. That’s great – so long as I’m headed in the right direction. Which is where it would be nice to have feedback. Facebook, G+, Twitter – these things may generate plenty of viewership for me, but none of that comes with feedback.

I’ve been pondering why, exactly, that is. Part of it, I believe, is that they’re dense sources of information. You can scroll down a handful of pages and encounter a hundred links to different places all across the internet. The more I thought about this, the more certain I felt that it was time to make a graph. Tremble and despair.

Continue reading echo_echo

echo

The digital forest is exceedingly information-rich. Its incredible density and volume are far more than what is possible to usefully organize, which is why we must search. Search is merely a mode of transportation to the specific content we want to consume. Searching isn’t an efficient way of discovering content, however, and it also requires the user to already know what she wants to find, or at the very least to have a question that a search can provide an answer to. This is why we have feeds.

We subscribe to feeds because they consistently provide novel content without going on a hunt. Feeds are all functionally equivalent – they differ only in context and constraints. They all distribute information and entertainment in discrete bursts of varying size and format. This isn’t so different from the world a few decades ago, but back then, feeds were called television channels. Before that, it was the radio. Before that, it was newspapers. Other examples exist, I’m sure – the point is, at the end of the day they’re all regular sources of content. It doesn’t matter whether that content comes from a printing press or an ethernet cable.

The only power a subscriber has over a feed’s content is feedback. It seems that regardless of the type of content we consume, we create mechanisms to provide feedback to the distributors and creators. Newspapers feature letters to the editor. Some radio and television shows once used air time to share audience responses. No video game is complete without an accompanying forum, and to have a blog without comments is unheard of. It’s not just because readers are so desperate to broadcast their opinions, but is rather the primary way that creators can acquire alternative perspectives on the quality and success of their work.

Continue reading echo

solidarity

The feeling of being a part of something bigger and greater than yourself is something that many chase for the whole of their lives. Being a part of the generation that will determine the fate of the Internet’s usefulness is thrilling in its own right, and the opportunity to fan the flames of revolution from the comfort of home is immensely enticing. Yet I find myself more concerned, than excited.

Much of what happens on the internet is essentially narcissistic.

For one of my psychology classes, I did a report on altruism, and in my research I came across a study that suggested that contributions to the Internet are fundamentally about attention, not altruism. Certainly, less nefarious motives can certainly be found in every aspect of the web. I am not about to suggest that retwittering feeds from Iran is wholly selfish, but more that the drive to support freedom of speech and democracy would not be enough to set the revolution in motion were it not for some modicum of desire for recognition.

There’s an instinctive desire to be the first, when it comes to participation and discovery.

Who wouldn’t want to tell their children they were among the fleet of internet denizens that helped to topple the Iranian government? This isn’t so much about attention, but about being “ahead of the curve”. There’s a sense of pride that accompanies seeing a video, an image, a fad, or a meme before it went viral. Being first initiates a sense of ownership and responsibility for whatever ensues in the aftermath. It’s why so many comments on popular articles are battles for the first post. Perhaps the very reason I am writing this, is to feel that I am the first to point these things out.

There is very little regard for source in the content of the internet.

I wrote about this a while back, but memes are crowdsourced. Although someone sent the first rickroll, and another personal created the first lolcat, it would be pompous and foolish for anyone to attempt to claim ownership over such entities. They become what they are through mass participation, not because of the genius of its author. Similarly, the number of reliable sources for information of what’s actually occurring in Iran are sparingly few. The reports from those on the ground are certainly moving, and it would be callous to turn away when something is obviously awry. Yet the headlines on Digg, Reddit, and BoingBoing are more than just a little emotionally manipulative. Only the most intense and outrageous tidbits are passed along, because that is how content on the Internet spreads. As my long-time hero Ze Frank points out, only one Western poll has been conducted concerning the election’s actual results, and they did not point to a victory for Mousavi.

Obviously, there is more than just an election that’s being disputed here. It’s about transparency and peace and cooperation, about making a government that’s for and by the people. It would, however, be irresponsible to fail to recognize the other elements that are at play here. It is not as if the Internet suddenly rose up to altruistically defend the rights of the Iranian people. It happened for a reason, and those reasons may not be particularly pleasant.

The internet has a very short term memory.

Perhaps it is insensitive to label the Iranian election as a fad, but it fits the criteria. In several months, the avatars on Twitter will go back to their normal colors. #iranelection will cease to top the trending topics. The conflict in Iran may go on or it will be resolved; but with time, the collective interest in Iran will return to where it once was. Maybe it will become an artifact of internet history, receiving reference whenever a new issue is championed by the internet. Only time will tell.

flow

This is one of those posts that I’d probably be better off writing a thirty page paper on. Instead, I’ll over-simplify and under-explain!

The Internet is leaving behind a trail of destruction as it burns through each day’s newest fads and memes. Traditional mass media no longer serves as a standard of humor or a source, but as a supplement: Conan or Colbert are (technically speaking) nothing but thirty-minute Youtube sketches. Realistically, this is an exaggeration as these figures hold far more clout than your average Youtube sketch comedy. But for how long?

As these figures of cultural stability have declined in power and prominence, humor on the internet has become anonymous. Authorship for entertainment on the Internet is mostly disregarded. Nobody makes claim to having created the lolcat meme, nor does anyone seek ownership over any macros generated by this meme. It is its own entity that lives and dies regardless of the efforts of any single person or group. By contrast, a dip in popularity for Letterman’s show could be fixed simply by hiring new writers. Internet fads last only as long as they are fresh.

Take, for example, the Star Wars kid, or the Numa Numa guy. Released today, they would be lost in a sea of equally ridiculous Youtube videos and what’s more, no one would deem them even slightly entertaining. When they first went viral, however, they were immeasurably popular, and held universal appeal. Their landmark status and the associated nostalgia preserves some of that today, but strictly speaking they are not as amusing as they once were. Rickrolling, likewise, has lived and died in a matter of but two years. The humor of it was strangled simply by its popularization. Veterans of the internet were sick of it before it even reached the widest masses.

Nothing about the nature of humor has changed. A good joke is only good so long as no one’s heard it before. Humor relies on originality, upon being fresh. The Internet is a viral entity; it does nothing but communicate information from person to person as quickly as possible. It induces, if you will, a quick high with a very extensive hangover. The aforementioned anonymity also leaves us with fewer landmarks to think back to, meaning the videos and memes we laugh at today are simply being lost in the ever-expanding network of the tubes.

The problem worsens as this cycle of consumption quickens. In the space of five years, a whole new generation of consoles has lived and died. Multiple televisions shows and cartoons have been produced and canceled. Entire genres of music blossomed and wilted. Generation gaps have always existed, but I believe these gaps are not just widening, but becoming more frequent. Twenty years ago, there was already more media available for consumption than any single person could take in – and this was before the dawn of the Internet. Despite this immense growth of media, we’re also spending more time inside single pieces of entertainment, like World of Warcraft or Halo. The opportunity cost of a thousand hours in WoW is that much greater, when so much else is happening elsewhere.

Part of me sees this exponential growth of media, and despairs. The nature of consumption is such that once an item is consumed, it is no longer worth anything. If the Internet is merely a tool for consumption, the only possible outcome is quite grim: we’re eventually left with a giant mass of worthless one-hit-wonder media.

It would be ignorant to see the Internet as only that, however. It’s easy to look backwards and label any change from the norm as being unwelcome, especially when the Internet has created such a giant generation gap. Some have likened this void to what rock and roll did in the 70’s, but on a much more far-reaching scale. I can certainly attest to this gap – if my teachers, parents, or therapist are any indication, my generation is one that is not particularly well-understood outside of itself. I’ve tried to breach that gap with my parents, but I know they’ll never see my computer usage as anything more than just a passion or a hobby, rather than a way of life.

It sounds cliche and arrogant to call it a way of life, but what else could it be? My generation would be wholly different without the presence of this technology. It’s tempting to exchange ‘different’ with ‘better’, but we don’t know what things would look like otherwise. This is what we have, and despairing over change is worthless.

I recently discovered that much of PBS’ library has been put online, and in particular, its Frontline series of social documentaries. One in particular, Growing Up Online was pretty brilliant, and went through a wide array of examples for how the Internet impacts the lives of adolescents. It ended with the notion that it’s useless for parents to fear or fight the Internet, but that acceptance and understanding will get them much farther in their relationships with their children.

It’s hard for me not to be nihilistic about where the Internet is taking culture at large, but that feeling is silenced when I realize that I get to be a part of defining this century’s culture. That, ladies and gentlemen, is badass.

method

I’ve decided not to rebuild my computer for the time being.

My relationship with computers has always been a problematic one. The phrase computer addiction has been tossed around by a handful of people in my life, and while I am loathe to concede to such a suggestion, I am beginning to wonder if my existence is really any better off with the presence of a computer in my bedroom. While the internet’s most zealous proponents insist that the internet is totally different from TV because of its user-oriented, participatory nature, I am starting to think that perhaps, perhaps, the end results are ultimately the same for much of the internet’s usage. Particularly, when Wired starts claiming that the scientific method has been debunked in the face of the plethora of data provided by Google, I wonder if the internet has ultimately enabled nothing but glorified, slack-jawed navel-gazing, much the same as what happens when one watches television for a lengthy period of time.

Admittedly, this is also sparked by having seen Wall-E, a rather glorious film that unabashedly criticizes the focus of American culture. The human characters in the film live on a ship devoted to endless entertainment and ultimate convenience, and as a result, they’re all completely obese and self-absorbed. While this isn’t directly stated, they’re also immortal – they’ve survived for over seven-hundred years, but they haven’t done anything in that time except bitch at each other over matters of spilled milk.

This brought me back to one of the lectures I listened to at L’Abri, which had a rather unique analysis of different systems of culture. I can’t remember all of them, but here’s a few.

Communism: man’s greatest end is to produce.
Capitalism: man’s greatest end is to consume.
Materialism: man’s greatest end is to be entertained.

The more I think about it in these terms, the more convinced I become that Jesus was right in stating that man’s greatest end is to serve. I recently watched 12 Angry Men, and just tonight, Forrest Gump. While Henry Ford’s character and Tom Hanks’ character are quite different, their commonality is in their service. The remarkable thing about service is that it does not require one to be a genius, to be rich, or to have anything at all. We can serve at every moment and every point in our lives, and it seems to me that we are creatures made for serving.

Which brings me back to the start. Where does service enter in to the internet? How can a one serve anything but pwnage inside of WoW? How can one serve on facebook, youtube, or myspace? These are entities devoted to self-service. It would be like attempting to serve by watching Comedy Central.

My point is this: entertainment has its place, and I enjoy much of what popular media has to offer. But these cannot be the center of my life, if I’m to be a fulfilled human being.

Micah 6:8
He has showed you, O man, what is good.
And what does the LORD require of you?
To act justly and to love mercy
and to walk humbly with your God.

Entitlement

Young IT employees pose a challenge to many managers who say the Millennial generation holds employers up to unrealistic expectations and makes unreasonable demands for their services.

daftShadow>:
You may have little patience for people who demand more than they are worth; but this generation has absolutely no patience for companies unwilling to engage them at market value.

It’s simple economics. If a key employee thinks that he is worth $X salary, you evaluate whether or not he’s worth it. If he is, you pay it. If not worth it, you don’t. That’s it. These people are not quitting to go work at McDonalds, they are finding other work that pays them what they want.

The ‘retention’ problem is not because this generation wants the kitchen sink; it’s because these companies don’t have any money to buy kitchens.

Hao Wu:
How often do we here, “If you don’t like your job – QUIT already!”

So we do just that, and the six and seven-figure salaries in management still feel violated.

I say f- them. Either pay more, or quit complaining about our right to leave.

cayenne8:
I dunno…I have to say “Welcome to the real world”.

We’ve done our young people a disservice the past few decades….in schools and society, we’ve taken away anything that might hurt little Timmy’s self esteem…..everyone gets an award for ‘trying’, and everyone is taught they are all equal and will be treated that way.

Parents who work too much….have tried making up for it…by giving their kids what they want. It leads to people coming out of this sheltered environment, and being shocked that they don’t walk right into a job making the $$ their parents did….not instantly being a manager…and [shudder] having to work their way up from the bottom.

I’ll admit…my generation (early X) had a great deal of this too…but, not quite as bad as it seems the youth coming into the workforce now have.

I’m not saying it is all of them…but, this attitude does seem to be rising. Unless you can start your own business….you’re gonna have to learn that there is the golden rule…whoever has the gold, makes the rules. If you wanna work and make it…well, you’re gonna have to sacrifice and work hard for awhile, pay your dues as they used to say.

raehl:
30-50 years ago, if you went to college, chances are your parents were blue collar people who worked their asses off to save enough money to give you that opportunity, and you probably had to work your ass off to get more money and scholarships to make it. Yeah, there were a few kids of rich parents, but they were the minority.

Now we have a LOT more people in middle-class office jobs. They don’t have to pull double-shifts to get their kids into college. And their kids don’t have to work their asses off for it – they can just get financial aid and student loans, WITHOUT having to join the army for 6 years. Yeah, there are still kids out there who work their asses off to get into and through school, but they’re in the minority.

30 years ago most kids who graduated college were thankful they didn’t have grease under their fingernails when they came home from work like their parents did. Nowadays, more of the kids who graduate college are from families who never had to worry about anything. If your parents always had enough money, why wouldn’t you?

DoofusOfDeath:
“I say f- them. Either pay more, or quit complaining about our right to leave.”

There’s more to it than that. Someone just out of college may say, regarding his first 2-3 jobs, “This sucks! I’m not getting the {respect | money | office | projects} I deserve! F*** this. Bye.” But that person mistakenly thinks that he’s getting a worse-than-standard deal. So out of ignorance, he leaves a perfectly good job, chasing the mythical perfect job.

It’s that pointless churn that I think employers might reasonably be frustrated by. (Of course, those employees might find that they can do less work and get paid more by working in marketing. In that case, the employers are themselves getting a bitter dose of reality.)

aussersstene:
They’ve been promised the world by well-meaning educators, parents, and public figures for most of their youthful lives.

College is your ticket out of the ghetto, means a higher income, better work conditions, more freedom, more control over your career, more respect, blah, blah, blah. It’s true in a way, but the way a university education is described is often as the opposite of blue-collar work. That is to say that many kids are told (I know I was, all the way up through the end of undergrad) that I was going to college to avoid certain things:

– Being poor
– Having to get paid for what I “do” rather than what I “think”
– Being stuck in a “dead-end job”
– Having to “flip burgers,” “answer phones,” “make copies,” or other “menial labor” work
– Low pay (this is a biggy, and you hear it over and over and over)

Well… all of these things are exactly what you confront when you finish your bachelor’s degree. I know it was a tremendous shock to me after having been goaded on for years to get good grades in high school, then to go to college, then to hang in there—goaded using all of these reasons for sticking with it—only to find out that college doesn’t provide you with wealth, the ability to get paid for what you think, a way to avoid dead-end jobs, having to start at the absolute entry level, or getting paid nothing for all of the above… The only way up the career ladder is to climb it, from the bottom.

It’s the “all kids must go to college” culture that we have—we even direct kids away from the things they’re interested in in many cases using these kinds of arguments (which are really veiled threats in a way of what consequences await them if they don’t go to college) and then they graduate expecting exactly the benefits that have been used as selling points for all these years.

I can completely empathize. It took me a good five years to come to terms with the fact that I’d essentially been had and would now need to choose between going out and starting up the career ladder as if I’d just graduated high school with essentially no advantage, or going to grad school on the other hand (i.e. school for many more years and at great expense) to gain at least some measurable advantage for myself with all the hard work I’d done.

I chose the latter, but I often reflect on the fact that I could easily have chosen the former as well… there was certainly a point in my life where it could have gone either way.

Skreems:
In a way, what was promised probably used to be true, but not because college was such a great training ground. If only the relatively gifted went to college, say, 50 years ago, then they would probably emerge to find a creative career in a respected field waiting for them. Now that any monkey with middle class parents can bum their way through, the group of college graduates is no longer self selecting for those who are talented enough to secure the things they’ve been promised.

Now, I don’t think this contradicts your point, but it may explain it. I think people may have mistaken the self selection in the last generation for some magical property endowed by the act of going to college. But I will contradict you enough to say that SOME new college graduates do find that those expectations are met. If you’re at the top of your class, intelligent, and actually good at what you do, you’re never not wanted. It may take a bit of legwork to find someone who’s willing to pay for that, but they’re always out there, because a lot of people are really really bad at what they do.

pete_classic:
“If young people were going to develop responsibility, they would need to have a connection to what they’re responsible for, which means giving them real power in the world, which isn’t happening.”

This statement captures the problem beautifully. The world will be yours one day, want it or not. And if you’re a bunch of checked-out WOW playing crybabies it isn’t going to be much of a world. Nobody gives anybody anything worth having in this life. You get it by earning it. And if you don’t give a shit now, you certainly aren’t going to give a shit when the next generation is crying that you don’t do enough for them.

I advise you to get your ass off your shoulders and act responsible first. You’ll become elite within your generation.

-Peter

vorpal^
I worked for a company that was bought out a few years back. The new CEO came to visit us to “pep talk” us, telling us that we were currently number two in the marketplace and that we wouldn’t settle for number two: we had to be number one.

No one was enthusiastic in the slightest, and it wasn’t because we were in a new company. No, we weren’t pepped by his speech because it was clear to us that there was no advantage to us other than perhaps some prestige to being number one. All we would be doing is earning him and the stockholders more money.

We’re told that we have to earn our place in society, but from many of our perspectives, there really isn’t anything *worth* earning. What is the very best that most of us can hope for? A middle class position in an ever poverty-increasing society due to the tremendous shift of wealth towards a small number of businessmen? A marriage where we both work long hours in order to fatten a tiny number of people’s pockets, coming home so exhausted that we’re barely able to tend to the children’s needs and much less to each other’s, so we compensate ourselves by the accumulation of possessions? Some world we’ve been offered. I’m not sure that it will be worse off if we’re a bunch of WOW playing crybaby slackers.

I’m frustrated that despite all of human innovation and technological advancements, I have to kowtow to an alarm clock that rings at 6:30 AM. Where are the promises that technology was supposed to reduce working hours and make our lives more pleasant? No, we’re forced to work harder to compete with other organizations who also suffer the same fate as our own. I think many of us have realized just how much society *has* lied to us, about college, technology, etc. and we’ve grown apathetic and tired of the empty promises. I’d rather be a relatively poor slacker with time to myself to do what I want and to enjoy my family than a successful developer whose time is consumed with largely meaningless pursuits and whose life is filled with possessions.

iendedi:
“We don’t feel that we should be expected to “earn” the right to be part of the important goings on in our culture.”

It should be handed to you? Some sort of divine right?

“We feel that, even if we do “earn” what rights are available, we will still be pawns in someone elses game, and we have no more love or respect for their game than they have for us, so we don’t bother.”

We older people feel like that too. Very few people throughout history have been able to evade that feeling.

“We consume these “opiates” because we hate the real world we live in, we see no hope of changing it, and we have given up and fled to imaginary land. In our zoned out state, we do only what we must to exist, because we are not really here.”

And the inevitable result of your pathological lethargy will be the fading of America as a country of importance. Let us hope you are not all like that.

“Now, some of us haven’t given up. But we still don’t take jobs for employers, we become self-employeed.”
This isn’t different than any generation that came before you.

“None of us are interested in taking these “entry level jobs” in the hopes that we might be blessed with something better some day. We know that someday will not come.”

Well, most people recognize that gaining experience makes you more valuable and more capable of starting your own business. There is no shortcut when it comes to experience. By definition, you must experience something to become experienced at it. GTA won’t help you. There are no video games to put real-world business experience, real world technology experience or, …, well, …, real world experience into your brain.

“If young people were going to develop responsibility, they would need to have a connection to what they’re responsible for, which means giving them real power in the world, which isn’t happening.

If young people do develop a sense of responsibility, they are still not going to take jobs. They are going to take over.”

It is every young generation’s manifest destiny to take over from the older generations, eventually. But there are rites of passage. Those older guys know more than you do. They are tougher, meaner, smarter, more experienced, better talkers, better programmers, better negotiators, better strategists, etc.., than their younger colleagues. They are like this because they have been at it a lot longer. You will take over as they retire off and/or as you become experienced enough to outsmart and outcompete them. Again, there are no shortcuts.

So stop being a spoiled brat and go do the grunt work. You aren’t yet up to the task of the higher profile stuff. You will know when you are up to the task, because you will take over. Until then, you are just flapping your lips. And no, you aren’t worth the same amount of money as someone that has been doing the job for 20 years. In all likelihood, if you disappeared, they would hardly notice – as a green kid, the company is investing in you – you likely add very little value, so you are being payed more than they are able to extract in value from your labor. You are likely being trained, groomed and given experience in the hopes that your value will eventually increase past the point where their investment is, making you a profitable employee to have on board. If the 20 year veteran disappeared, the lights wouldn’t turn on, the database would stop working, nobody would be able to get a new release out, it would start raining blood, cats and dogs would be living together and the company would go into crisis mood. But you wouldn’t know about that, because you haven’t experienced it…

Delivery

If you go back a few days, I wished life were as easy to win as the internet.

I’m not so sure it isn’t.

Examining the elements of interaction is all it takes to see that dominating the way I communicate is merely a matter of adaptation and methodology. The formula increases in complexity when you bring it into real-life situations, and demands a much higher reaction time and capability to think on your feet, but the process is the same, in the end. Bear with me, here.

In any internet interaction, it’s always a matter of reading comprehension, followed by finding the pressure points in what another person’s saying. If you know what you’re doing, you can identify these sensitive spots just based on simple pattern recognition, with enough experience. Identifying familiar patterns goes a long way in saving your words for when it matters, which is necessary to preserve your own sanity, as well as the perception that will be drawn around you. It all comes down to what kind of persona you’re trying to emit, and how that persona is to counter the persona of your victims (or potential allies). So, I suppose the key tenets would be:

1) Don’t waste words. That doesn’t mean be reclusive, but save a response for when a response is both called for and productive. If you’re doing it right, you’ll be impossible to trap into circular or never-ending arguments (which degrade your image and sap your energy), and your words will be seen as something that shouldn’t be ignored.

2) Know your target. Identify your subject of communication, but more importantly, know your subject’s tendencies and qualifications. This is necessary to ensure that you aren’t trying to bullshit someone that knows more than you do, but also for stocking your bag of tricks. Watching how others communicate with your target is the best method for collecting knowledge on your target; approaching unknown entities is not advisable. Lurkers are dangerous for this same reason, as they rarely reveal enough to grant an understanding of their patterns, but often have the patience and the know-how to cripple any discussion on the table, and thus must be avoided, and confronted with caution.

The best knowledge will be in the form of key phrases and buzzwords that they react positively AND negatively to (depending on how you want them to react), an understanding of their favorite topics and the topics with which they have the most experience, a smattering of personal information (primarily gender, political affiliations, marital/child status, and location), and an understanding of their true personality. Their true personality is not what will be displayed at all times, but the causality behind everything they say.

3) Know your goals. Every interaction has a goal. Generally, you’re either looking to corner them as efficiently as possible, or you’re looking to generate a positive response (via humor, a thoughtful post, encouragement, or sharing interests). You can do both, of course, and it’s the best words that do just that. You have to know what you’re aiming to do. Aim for a simple goal (produce a quality counter-flame), and then work up. Not every encounter will be a supreme victory. To dominate, sitting on the sidelines to wait for the opportunity to rip face will just not do. Sometimes you have to settle for mediocre, to build up towards the truly winner moments.

4) Know your available methods, AKA know yourself. Knowing what you’re good at is what it’s all about. Focusing your strengths on the vulnerabilities of your target is what’s it all about, and unless you know what your strengths are, you can’t even begin to do that. That’s why arrogant newbies suck.

My point in writing all this is that if you’re careful in examining all of that, it’s pretty easy to realize that all of that transfers perfectly over to real-life interaction. The way I write about it sounds incredibly manipulative and subversive, but I’m inclined to think it’s just a realistic look at how people interact in a semi-anonymous manner. The rules and boundaries change when you bring it into the real world. The taboos change and what’s effective here isn’t worth a thing there. It’s all a matter of pattern recognition in general interaction, and then identifying what’s most effective for communication on an individual basis.

My preliminary tests suggest that I’m not off target.

Correspondance

For some reason, I feel like posting this here. It’s an email that I doubt any of you will find meaningful.

date: Sep 23, 2007 10:26 PM
subject: Communication & Moderation

D,

I have no real way of knowing how interested you are in the workings of the communities outside of SK.org. If you aren’t at all, then I can safely say this email won’t interest you. If you are, I’d like to ensure another player-run forum doesn’t blow up in the face of the game.

I’m sure you know by now that SKLogs.com has now sunk, javarmonkey.com being the replacement. While it is self-described as not being focused on SK, it does have a section devoted to SK. With that, it has the potential to enrich or degrade SK, just as SKLogs did. Communication goes a long ways towards ensuring that history doesn’t repeat itself. That might sound cliche, but there’s a lot we can learn from SKLogs.

The relationship between SK.org and SKLogs was abysmal, at best. Its origins were humble enough, but time saw a massive schism between the two, when really, they’re both working to try and make the game more fun for everybody. I don’t need to describe SKLogs’ devolution; we both know what the problems were and why they were so bad. But, I think it was a necessary problem for the community to face. SKLogs made mainstream what supamang and Chemhound did in the pseudo-underground. It forced the players and the staff to make a very conscious choice about how they played the game from an OOC perspective. Not visiting SKLogs meant sacrificing a huge wealth of information as well as a very large social connection to the other players. That wasn’t the case, before. Additionally, the wealth of information created an illusion of necessity – players seeking to maintain their status as knowledgeable and elite felt required to read and participate in order to stay on the “bleeding edge” of competition inside the game.

While it is easy to decry such an obviously weak attitude towards the game, most players don’t, even now, realize that they were so immersed in the cycle. History seems to indicate that there’s no way to change these trends – which is why a place without moderation became such a powder keg, self-destructing in a pile of chaos and flames. With this, we’re presented with the same situation, but with fresh experience and knowledge to learn from. A player-run site is a necessity for SK. As one forum passerby, Joebones notes: a strong player-run forum is a sign of good health in and outside of the game. There has to be a place where players can go to be moderated less strictly – otherwise they’ll get fed up, and something on the extreme will appear, like another SKLogs.

I am (for the time being) moderating the SK section of Java’s site. Her goal (as well as mine) is to eliminate the presence of information that detracts from the game – working out what kind of information that is, exactly, isn’t easy. That’s why I’m writing this. A successful player-run SK forum (or subsection of a forum, as they case may be) should be focused on complementing existing structures and material without fighting against the ideals of the game. I think I need your help to do that – if you’re willing to provide it.

From what I can tell, a major portion of SKLogs’ failure was derived from a lack of communication. What would you like to see in this player-run community? Where should it differ from SK.org? How can I make sure the two aren’t working against each other? How comfortable are you with any of this?

Thanks for your time and consideration. I hope I’m not too long-winded, but I thought I should be thorough about all this.

Salandarin / Tim

Budding Terrorists

From Slashdot:

“A student at the Houston-area Clements High School was arrested, sent to an “Alternative Education Center” and banned from graduation after school officials found he created a video game map of his school. School district police arrested the teen and searched his home where they confiscated a hammer as a ‘potential weapon’. ‘ “They decided he was a terroristic threat,” said one source close to the district’s investigation.’ With an upcoming May 12 school board election, this issue has quickly become political, with school board members involved in the appeal accusing each other of pandering to the Chinese community in an attempt to gain votes.”

One more, two more.

Some good comments:

I made a map of my school shortly after the Columbine thing, for Duke Nuken 3D.

I got extra credit from my Visual Arts teacher for being ‘creative’, and lemme tell you, I had a HELL of a lot more than a hammer for weapons at my house.”

(in response)

My Visual Arts teacher gave me an “Incomplete” for the course. I shouldn’t have made my map for Duke Nukem Forever.

Dude, you are way underestimating the seriousness of this issue. They found a hammer in this kid’s house…a fucking HAMMER. He could easily have knocked one, maybe even two people unconscious with that thing before anyone could do anything about it.

What does anyone need with a hammer in their house anyway? Forget about banning him from graduation, this little mini-Osama should get sent straight to Gitmo. There is absolutely no reason to have a hammer in your home unless you intend to commit a terrorist act.

Plus, if all that weren’t bad enough, this kid is ASIAN. Christ man, do you have any idea how crazy those Asians are? One of them killed a bunch of people at Virginia Tech just a short time ago. This categorically PROVES that all Asians are sociopaths just itching to shoot up a school. You can’t argue with this logic, it is completely impervious.

You have no idea what we’re up against here, man. This shit is SERIOUS. Don’t come crying to me when your kid comes home with a big nasty bump on his head because one of these little Asian al Qaeda wannabes smacked him over the head with a mallet. You were warned.”

(in response)

I spoke with Charles Hammerton about this, and you are neglecting many aspects.

He might have had the hammer for home defence. There is nothing wrong with some sport hammering from time to time. Of course, we believe that hammers should be licensed, and background checks done before a hammer can be purchased. Training is, of course, very important, and hammers should never be left where children could harm themselves with them. If appropriate, a hammer lock can be had at any high school that teaches wrestling.

Dont forget about the constitution, and the right to bear hammers.

Responsible hammer ownership is a right, and should not be infringed by a few nut cases.

As Charles said “you can have my hammer, when you pry it from my cold, dead fingers”.”

Dont forget about the constitution, and the right to bear hammers.

People are always misquoting that amendment. It’s the right to hammer bears. Which, as the supreme court affirmed in smokey v. ashcroft, means that you have the right to get a bear drunk if it’s more than 18 years old.”

(in response)

He could easily have knocked one, maybe even two people unconscious with that thing before anyone could do anything about it.

As a proud, lifetime member of the National Hammer Association, I must insist that we not go too far here. It’s part of our constitutional rights – the right to Arm and Hammer – to arm ourselves with hammers. This incident is merely one more reason that everyone ought to carry hamers everywhere they go – if others had been armed with hammers, this student would have had a serious disincentive to consider possibly carrying out the egregious act he was prevented from possibly committing.

Soon, crazy liberal will want to outlaw air hammers, jack hammers, Mike Hammers, pipe hammers – even Diesel hammers – you name it. Act now to preserve your hammer rights – join the NHA.”

(in response)

Hey! If we outlaw hammers, only outlaws will be able to put shelves up!

(in response)

Don’t underestimate the hammer. Remember the Blacksmith of Brandywine.

During the US revolutionary war, a blacksmith performed an errand for General Washington, only to return home and find that redcoats had murdered his family in his absence. The blacksmith took a heavy sledge from his workshop and walked onto the battlefield of Brandywine. There, before they finally brought him down, he slew 20 british soldiers. With a hammer.

No, I’m not being serious about a hammer being a viable weapon, not these days. (Although note that the Blacksmith story is true, from all references I can find.)

I just found it ironic, that the Blacksmith of Brandywine went on a murderous rampage in response to oppression from a ruthless government…and now, our government is so scared of our children that they’re even taking our hammers away.”

1. It is not illegal to create game maps for a first-person shooter game.
2. It is not illegal to show maps for a first-person shooter game to someone else.
3. It is not illegal to possess five swords.
4. The board had nothing to react to in the first place.
5. The student committed no crime for which the police could legally arrest him, at least pre-PATRIOT Act.

He, an honor student, was removed from his high school and forced to attend an alternative (read: for delinquents) education center, will not be allowed to receive his diploma with the rest of his class, and will probably have difficulty, if not being accepted to, at least getting financial aid for a good college. All because he went to a school staffed and parented by a group of reactionary morons.

How should the school have handled it? There’s nothing to handle. When/if parents complained, the appropriate authority figures should have repeated my response to #1: “It is not illegal to create game maps for a first-person shooter game.””

A terrorist under every rock, and a WMD in every child’s hand. When will this crap cease and common sense prevail?

Oh, that’s right: never.

I’d read the article, but it’s been Slashdotted.”

(in response)

Since I’m from the deep south (somewhere east of Texas and west of Mississippi) I feel qualified to say…

This is par for the course in this part of the United States. Ignorance, fear and xenophobia run rampant, white men run everything, and opportunism prevails at every turn. Police forces are treated as a paramilitary force, and zero tolerance is the rule in schools – even though it only means that more kids every year get fewer chances at straightening up and becoming successful.

Louisiana (and other population-losing red states) wonder why it’s best and brightest move away as soon as they finish college – crap like this is the reason why.”

An overreaction is when you lock up someone for life when they stole a loaf of bread. This doesn’t even accomplish their stated goal – to protect their school from an unbalanced and violent individual.

Let’s assume for a second that they are right. The guy is violent, mentally unstable and is using his home grown CS map to practice his planned killing spree (which was apparently to be carried out with a hammer). What do they do? They merely transfer him to a different school. In no way, shape or form do any of the school’s actions prevent him from entering the school again and carrying out his assumed plans. At best, they’ve moved the problem to a different place, and put others at risk that hadn’t been at risk before. At worst, it really pisses him off, and he escalates his planned violence (pipe bombs really aren’t hard to make). Any which way you look at it, the actions of the school and the police were completely irresponsible.

Factor in that the guy had none of these plans to begin with, and you’re looking at a massively incompetent school administration, board and police whose only goal is to cover their ass. They don’t care whether what they did solved any issues; all they wanted was to have something to point to if the student does go apeshit and the inevitable question of “who’s to blame?” rolls around.

The US is going down the shitter, and attitudes like these towards kids and education are the reason why. Way to ruin your future generation.”

I died a little on the inside when I read this. 🙁

(in response)

Don’t worry, you’ll respawn in Mrs. Crabapple’s classroom for round 2.

You Are a Pirate!

*hums*

Leave it to Iceland to create a song about pirates for children. They breed the pirates early over there. This song is actually quite old (I’ve known about it for some time), but I felt the need to reprise this for your benefit.

And, to set the election day mood:

BluECliQ: believing that Mcafee is going to protect you from hackers and viruses is exactly like believing that republicans can actually protect you from terrorists

Ninja_P: Okay, I just watched a guy puke in a glass, then drink it again
DragonAtma: Congratulations, you now know how congress operates.

Jim Kuhn: I just think it is silly that if I live in certain states in a ‘free country’ that I am not allowed to even read a poker forum.
DrSavage: What gave you an impression that you live in a free country?
bigalt: fox news

andyg721: i think it was on CNN
andyg721: Condoleeza Rice went to Asia
andyg721: the headline was RICE IN ASIA

I have this sneaking feeling that the Republicans will lose tomorrow.

SK, Revisited

Interesting article on Slashdot at the moment concerning game addiction. The comments in particular are quite insightful. I’ll paste some of my favorites here, because I know most of you are lazy.

Where are the parents in all of this?

“Seriously.

His parents were frightened of him because, weighing more than 130kg, he was too strong for them to confront. Eventually they threatened to kick him out unless he enrolled for a month of therapy.

You’re the parents, you make the rules. Pull the plug, take the computer away, do something, anything. You’d probably hit the roof if you caught your kid with a joint, but when he wants to wrap himself up in computer games you just fucking sit there and let it happen. That shit pisses me off. I hope this clinic is working with parents too to make sure they can control their child’s behavior.”

Re: Where are the parents in all of this?

“Maybe when someone is deciding how to handle a problem with their own child, doing anything isn’t good enough? Maybe they want to do the right thing

It’s odd to me that some Slashdotters take “the parents should be responsible” to mean “the parents should do all parenting alone”. Parents are responsible for the behavior of their children, but if the behavior surpasses the parents ability to moderate/fix/heal, then why on earth should we mock the parents for seeking specialist help? Are we going to make fun of all youth counselors and child psychologists now because “You’re the parent, you make the rule?” Part of holding parents responsible for their own children should be allowing them access to the tools they need to do that job right.”

Re: wha?

“Most people hooked on, say, heroin are forced to keep taking it for more reasons than mere lack of willpower. Chemical addiction carries signifigant withdrawl side effects, some of which can be life threatening. Trust me, if you’ve ever known a real addict, you wouldn’t just sum up their addiction as “lack of willpower”.

People hooked on things that don’t carry an external chemical componant, or are only very mildly chemically addictive, don’t have that problem. Yes, addiction can be purely neurochemical, with nothing added to the system, but that isn’t anywhere near as signifigant. People can get hooked on gaming, gambling, sex, religion, TV, violence or minimally addictive food or drugs like caffine or marjuana. Their problem is lack of willpower. Other addicts have the far more serious issue of major chemical dependancy, breaking away from which really does require a detox clinic, or support groups, or any number of other external sources of intervention.

I’m not saying that psychological addiction isn’t real. It is. It’s just not on par with what a serious addict has to deal with. Saying “Real addiction is all about lack of willpower” lumps cokeheads into the same category as people hooked on poker. And the people running this clinic are essentially lumping game addiction into the same category as drug addiction; this isn’t fair to either the hooked gamers or the drug addicts.”

[on a side note, I love this guy’s sig – “Erotic is when you use a feather, exotic is when you use the whole chicken.”]

Re: wha?

“Eight years ago, my father had a brain aneurysm and stroke and I am his sole caregiver. I was 21 when it happened. I’ve mostly been stuck at home taking care of him for my entire 20s while I watched friends finish school, get married, have kids, etc. Between the area where I live and the limited ability I have to go out to enjoy life with my friends, I really started losing touch with society and became depressed.

In 2003, my best friend bought EQ at the urging of one of his co-workers. After two months of him nagging me incessantly to try it, against my better judgement, I did. Everything started out fine, him and I would log on for 2-3 hours a night to play together and that was it. About two months into it, him and I were asked to become officers in our guild. At the point you become an officer, you suddenly feel a whole lot more responsibility and you feel like you’re important – everyone in your guild counts on you. Not long after, I became our raid leader and, given the absence of the guild leader for a long period of time, people began to see me as the guild leader as well. Eight months in, I was tagged with the guild leadership officially. I now had seven officers and in the neighborhood of 120 guild members counting on me to be there. By now, I wasn’t playing 2-3 hours a day, I was playing 8-12 hours a day. It wasn’t reality, but it felt real enough – I was important to people and interacting with “society.” Along the way, I met a girl from the other side of the US and we had a fairly turbulent relationship(mostly due to her being bipolar), but we were in love and planned to get married. I knew that EQ was taking up my entire life, but my girlfriend was there and that’s how we spent time together from 3k miles apart and I was the engine the drove hundreds of cogs. At our peak, we had 1039 tagged toons.

This spring, my relationship of two years ended with her and at the same time, the officers staged a coup as the pressures from EQ’s death throes were mounting (yeah, EQ is dying, netcraft, server consolidations and mmogchart confirm it). About a month after I left the girl and my guild, I realized that I no longer had a reason to play and I simply logged off one night never to return again. That was three months ago last weekend.

For me, it wasn’t a game I was addicted to, it was all the social interaction, feeling important and spending time with my gf. After years of being depressed, it was nice to be somebody even if it didn’t mean anything in real life. After the way things ended, my biggest regret is that the things that helped me break that addiction didn’t happen earlier. Oddly enough, despite becoming “nothing” again, I haven’t been depressed and I find myself enjoying the mundane things in life that I neglected for 2.5 years. I still frequently think about EQ and some of the fun times I had in it, but I have no urge to play it anymore… and I deliberately avoid anything that might suck me into a similar situation again. In the meantime, I’m trying to rebuild my life even though I feel that I’m fighting an uphill struggle now at 29.

Our brains are an electro-chemical system and I would argue that the stimuli that make you feel important and good about yourself can be just as addicting as putting that cigarette up to your lips, especially when you and the rest of the world appear to have given up on each other. At 21, when you still have pretty much everything going for you and life hasn’t completely knocked every one of your plans for the future out of whack, it’s pretty easy to think idealistically about how everyone should be able to feel/be/do exactly like you.”

Why is your experience not ‘real life’?

“Why do people think it’s ‘not real’ if it’s conducted primarily on a computer?

Before Everquest existed, I ‘was somebody’ online – ran a guild on a MUD (although not as big as yours), and eventually even ended up running the MUD itself. There were definitely some stretches where I’d often spend 16 hours a day on the computer.

But I’ve also ‘been somebody’ in real life too. I have a real job with real responsibilities and most of the people I work with I have met once, or no times at all, and interact with almost entirely via computer. I’m also the president of one national non-profit organization with a few thousand members I never see, and run another business with 30,000 customers I don’t see either.

And I find that I often spend 16 hours a day on the computer.

Now, most people would consider my job, my non-profit, and my business to be ‘real life’, and I enjoy them. So why are people who enjoy spending 16 hours a day doing something else on the computer not doing ‘real life’? I really can’t think of anything that’s much different between the 16 hours a day I spend playing networked computer games and the 16 hours a day I spend doing various forms of (enjoyable) work. And while you may have felt compelled to play more everquest because people were depending on you, how is that any different than me feeling compelled to go to work for the same reason?

Computer games are certainly no less productive than the time I’ve spent shooting pool at the bar. But somehow going out and shooting pool at the bar is OK while playing games at home is not – why? Also, why is someone who spends 16 hours a day reading books and/or watching TV considered to be doing ‘real life’? All you’re trading is a networked screen with a non-networked screen or page.

Playing on the computer a lot, in and of itself, isn’t an addiction. It’s only natural that you’re going to do the things you enjoy doing as much as you can, and playing computer games isn’t any different than reading or anything else, except people who do those other activities want to pretend their life is more meaningful than computer gamers I guess.

People need to understand what an addiction really is. If you are COMPELLED to do something so much that it interferes with your ability to pay your rent, feed yourself, or maintain relationships that are important to you, that’s an addiction. If it consumes all of your free time, that’s just recreation. And I think it’s a tragedy to try and label someone an ‘addict’ just because of their prefered form of recreation.

Anyway, the time you spend on EQ was real life. And it wasn’t because you were ‘addicted’, it’s because you enjoyed it. Not playing anymore wasn’t an addiction-ending event; you just stopped enjoying playing so you stopped playing. Simple as that.”

Overreactive Parents

“I think for the most part it’s a result of overreactive parents, combined with what I like to call “baby sitter syndrome” (“Why won’t the public school teach my kids morals?!?! Why won’t the gov’t baby sit my kids?!?! Oh my, my kids are playing video games all the time, and I can’t turn it off because they cry and scream and make a scene! I need a Gaming Clinic/Baby sitter to fix my kids for me!”)

Disclaimer: I don’t have kids of my own so the above is probably warped by views of other people who don’t have kids of their own, not to mention stereotypes are rarely all-encompassing. Don’t take it too personally. I was, however, at one point a kid, and I did have parents (who restricted my video gaming and computer time) so I think I still have some things to say on the matter.

Gaming for me was a phase. I always have enjoyed a good game, but it’s not the same as it was when I was a kid. I would play games for hours on end, but now it seems my standards are higher or my attention span lower, because games don’t tend to “hook” me as often as they used to.

I still enjoy a good game of course, but I think I’m still largely “gamed out” from when I was a kid.”

Being a normal teenager is not a crime or a…

“Medical condition. Before the self obsessed BabyBoomers started raising children the majority of young boys didn’t have A.D.D.. This is all just one more “What about me!” from the BabyBoomer generation. “My kids aren’t perfect! Fix them!” This is coming from the people who invented, “Turn on. Tune in. Drop out.” “Free love” and your classic 1960’s 1970’s do it if it feels good self absorbed generation. As my hero George Carlin put it, “From cocaine to rogain”. “”These are perfectly decent kids whose lives have been taken over by an addiction,” said Mr Bakker, a former drug addict. “Some have given up school so they can play games. They have no friends. They don’t speak to their parents.”” Giving up school? Normal. No friends? Normal. Who didn’t feel isolated in high school? Not speaking to parents? Normal. Sounds like the kids aren’t watching TV all hours of the day and night and the new technology is frightening mummy.”

Game Addiction?

“We used to call this neurosis. The actual neurotic behavior isn’t really all that important. What is important is addressing the underlying causes, which often have little or nothing to do with the resulting behavior. This guy obviously has a problem, but obsessive gaming is just the symptom. He could equally well be compulsively plucking his eyebrows or watching TV.”

Mmmm…