Language is a plastic thing. One cannot be too precious about new and different uses of words once held in one context. Indeed the plasticity of language is one of the key engines of the innovation and diversity of internet culture. However, recent discussion of the word troll and its slippage into a term to mean only “vicious abuse online” is concerning. I am of course here not defending those who use online fora to send threats of sexual assault to women, or perpetuate misogyny. Strategies need to be developed to prevent these abuses. However the conflation of trolling solely with abuse seems to be indicative of a wider tendency regarding online discourse. Often the cry of “troll” is the response to every and every even reasonable critique – the fear of the powerful of the mob.
Trolling even in its classic form – the taking of a different identity (more often than not maintaining a position the troll does not hold) to deliberately stir up trouble and cause (often deliberately) intractable arguments in online communities – can of course be offensive and abusive. Its often not fun being trolled. The whole point is to make people angry. It is not entirely harmless, but it is not uninteresting either. The lulz (the humour derived from trolling) is often radically im/amoral.
But as DSG pointed out a while back with groups like Anonymous there is increasingly a fluidity between lulz based disruption and economic and political disruption in the service of politics. This phenomena cannot be avoided. For many net natives trolling is the first taste of rebellion.
At its best trolling was a disruption of online communities where certain cultures, belief and practices have become so entrenched as to be naturalised and unexamined. It can be creative, cunning, smart. A troll knows the communities it trolls. She knows their push buttons, she must understand how to simulate membership of the community effectively to gain trust. They know where the levers are and how to use them. They must understand technologies of anonymity and evasion. These skills can be respected – they are a craft of sorts.
The troll is often an organic sociologist of online communities. At the same time calling out a troll is difficult precisely because the best trolling would be so subtle that it would be indistinguishable from at least some of the dynamics within the community itself – a newbie not understanding the culture and posting something stupid. More interestingly perhaps, for an online community to recognise a troll it requires a certain level of self-consciousness amongst members as to their own dynamics. To understand the troll is to understand internet communities. Maybe trolls were the first to do so in the age of usenet and BBS.
An example: persistently tweeting “your a dick” at Richard Dawkins. To explain the joke is perhaps to make it boring but the reason why this works as a troll of internet based atheists is because that community are fans of Dawkins and sticklers for proper grammar and this causes them to get mad. Its pointless, but its also subtly quite funny. It understands better the structure of this community than most commentators on the subject and does so entirely organically. As Biella Coleman says of Anonymous “our weirdness is free”. Acts like trolling especially when done in groups are the organic unpredictable and self-made popular culture of the internet. We build it for ourselves.
The taking of the word troll to mean simple abuse is a symptom of the increasingly flattening corporate space of the internet. Facebook asks for your real name because it thinks your real name is the only identity that can be. Rather than the properly anarchic early days of internet communication, where people were permitted to fashion identities and build communities as they saw fit, wildly innovative in their dynamics, it speaks of an increasingly controlled and administrated cybernetic sphere. These innovative spaces naturally were eventually only colonised by capital as is the ongoing dynamic online - the vampire incapable of innovation. Is not the shock comedian or reactionary columnist – taking the art of trolling at its most superficial and banal level mainly for advertising hits – the attempt at the corporate mainstream media recreation of the troll?
The troll is disruptive, and disruption cannot be permitted in an internet that values clear and clean communication – only clear and clean communication can have advertising data extracted from it – only clear communication can create the metric on the self as a consumer that will then later be sold to the highest bidder – only clear and clean communication ensures the smooth operation of the online space as a sphere of marketing and sales. The figure of the troll rightly understood is one nightmare of this space.
This is an extremely tricky phenomenon [of the internalisation of the circuits and circulations of cultural and artistic production], because it’s now ideologically represented to us as if there is a frictionless cultural universe in which anybody can get on the tramline anywhere, any work of art will be seen anywhere. This reductive model presents globalisation as a circuit without power, which is very mysterious. In reality, the moment you look closely at those circuits, you see massive disparities of access, of visibility, huge yawning gaps between who can and can’t be represented in any effective way… But globalisation is not internationalist at all. It doesn’t have anything to do with inter-nations.
—Stuart Hall in conversation with Michael Hardt
Our world resembles the night sky, since all those stars we see shining together, and which seem to exist in the same plane as though painted on a plate, actually bring us their light from different times — a few are thousands of light-years away, some are nearer, perhaps half a century off — and when we, often awestruck, gaze at them, we see this mottled past, and if we are wise we try to correct for and understand the differences; not always easy, since the spangle of the skies does resemble in its simultaneity and dazzling presence, Las Vegas’ seductive signs. But the stars (or the light we admire in the stars’ stead) do not constitute a community. The stars do not constitute a heavenly society. The stars stand in a vast chill of indifference and send out for no reason their wholly lonely and utterly meaningless beams.
-William H. Gass, A Temple of Texts
[a study of light]
In its perverse desire to abolish all distance, I suggest, the technoculture in fact aspires to perpetuate, now by technological means, what Iris Marion Young (following Michel Foucault) calls “the Rousseauist dream”—the communitarian dream of “a transparent society, visible and legible in each of its parts, the dream of there no longer existing any zones of darkness… zones of disorder”. Through the institution of electronic communities, it seeks to re-validate Rousseau’s ideal of social transparancy in which “persons cease to be other, opaque, not understood, and instead become mutually sympathetic, understanding one another as they understand themselves…”
Is this not exactly the ideal of Mitchell’s ‘bitsphere’, in which the border between interiority and exteriority is destabilised, and distinctions between self and other dissolved?
There is a certain allure in the Rousseauist dream. But it is alluring because, like a dream, it suspends the condition of being in the world.
[…] Rousseau was intolerant of “the obligations of the human condition, in which the possibility of communication is always counter-balanced by the risk of obstruction and misunderstanding.” … The new virtual communitarians… seek to institute, in place of that intractable world, an alternative “anti-spatial” order… A new and different space—a neutralised and pacified space—is substituted for the other one. Mastery is acheived at the cost of losing the world: which is to say that the choice has been made in favour of “that which does not exist”. For the most part, virtual culture is a culture of experiential disengagement from the real world and its human condition of embodied (enworlded) experience and meaning. We might think of it as the progressive disavowal… of the real complexity and disorder of actual society and sociality. What is preferred is the manageable order that can be established in a domain… purged of worrisome shadows, masqued faces and opaque staes… . but I think what needs to be made clear is that this logic or temptation of retreat is far more than just an issue in virtual culture.
[section on Heidegger in which it’s argued that when distance is destroyed by new communication technologies what results is not actually intimacy—intead everything becomes equally near and equally far apart]
…technological developments have contributed enormously to the pacification of experience in space, to the loss of attentiveness, that is to say, to what is other in space and time. […]
What the virtual culture is seeking to institute is a spatial order in which the difference between face-to-face and distantiated forms of communication is erased—a kind of space in which immediate communication becomes the model for all communication. The world ‘out there’ would thus be conceived in the image of the world of intimacy and community (held to be a world of consensus). It would be reduced to the parochial dimensions of what is known and familiar and predictable. This would be a space in which distance and its otherness was turned into illusory proximity and spurious affiliation. In this respect, then, I suggest that the technocultural project be regarded as a scheme to achieve magical control over distance and its imagined disruptive potential. Virtual culture works to nullify the meaning of passage.
[…] Cyberspace, with its myriad little consensual communities, is a place where you will go in order to find confirmation and endorsement of your identity. And social and political life can never be about confirmation and endorsement—it needs distances. […] Encounters with others should not be about confirmation, but about transformation.
—Kevin Robins, ‘Against Virtual Community: For a politics of distance’.
The current decade, however, has been characterised by an abrupt sense of deceleration. A thought experiment makes the point. Imagine going back 15 years in time to play records from the latest dance genres – dubstep, or funky, for example – to a fan of jungle. One can only conclude that they would have been stunned – not by how much things had changed, but by how little things have moved on. Something like jungle was scarcely imaginable in 1989, but dubstep or funky, while by no means pastiches, sound like extrapolations from the matrix of sounds established a decade and a half ago.
[…] instantaneous exposure deprives cultures of the time and space in which they can grow. There is as yet no Web 2.0 equivalent of the circuit that sustained UK dance music in the 1990s: the assemblage of dubplates, pirate radio and the dance floor which acted as a laboratory for the development of new sounds. This circuit was still punctuated by particular moments (the club night, the radio broadcast), but, because anything in Web 2.0 can be replayed at any time, its temporality is more diffuse.
[…] All of this makes Fredric Jameson’s theories about postmodern culture’s inability to image the present more compelling than ever. As the gap between cultural breaks becomes ever longer and the breaks themselves become ever more modest and slight, it is beginning to look as if the situation might be terminal. Alex Williams, who runs the Splintering Bone Ashes blog, goes so far as to claim that “what we have experienced is merely a blip, perhaps never to be again repeated – 150 or so years of extreme resource bingeing, the equivalent of an epic amphetamine session. What we are already experiencing is little more than the undoubtedly grim ‘comedown’ of the great deceleration.”
—Mark Fisher, 'Running on empty'
"How long is the coast of Britain?" When Mandelbrot had tried to measure it in the 1970s, the length turned out to be dependent on the scale at which he worked. The finer the detail, the longer the line. And inside the discrepancies between the scales there were patterns repeating themselves, recursive arrangements, spirals and whorls, patterns leading into the line, as if down through the crack, opening the boundary into worlds of its own. Mountains, leaves, horizons: any deceptively straight edge will do. There are fractal patterns inside them all. But Mandelbrot’s example of the coast was a particularly well-chosen line. Whichever way this border is drawn, the break between the land and the sea is always more than a single edge. Like every thread, this strand is also a folded fold, a pleated pleat, a zone of replication and duplicity which both connects and separates the land and the sea. To one side of this borderline there is a beach: not a stable boundary but a fine-grained line of shifting sand, a hazy border, and a multiplicity. The breakers of the surf which lie on the other side of the borderline is a seething, heaving, and momentary tract, repeating the patterns and rhythms of tides.
These amphibian zones assemble “midway between the fluid and the solid,” forming an interface of parting and connectivity which is continually reengineered, sieved and filtered by an ocean which continually sifts the sand. It is on this edge that both the ocean and the land fuse into beaches, strands of silicon. The digital age which allowed Mandelbrot to simulate his fractal coastline is an age of bacteria, an age of fluidity, and also an “age of sand.” Ninety-five percent of the volume of the Earth’s crust is composed of silicates, which are vital to the processes by which soil and plants are nourished. In humans, silicon functions in the cells of connective tissues and contributes to the growth of bones and nails, and it is also present in bacteria, animals, and some plants such as reeds and bamboos. Five hundred years of modernity fades when the weaving of bamboo mats converges with the manufacture of computer games in the streets of Bangkok, Taipei, and Shanghai. The silicon links were already there.
—Sadie Plant, Zeros + Ones
[…] Water is no longer ambient, the medium in which life is immersed, but instead an irrigation system which connects and passes through all land life. Now the “biota has had to find ways to carry the sea within it and, moreover, to construct watery conduits from ‘node’ to ‘node.’” Land life is literally pleated and plied, complex. It has effectively “taken the sea beyond the sea and folded it back inside of itself,” assembling itself as a network of molecular arteries and veins, a hydraulic system keeping life afloat. […]
The notion that blood is seawater has long faded into disuse. But suggestions that land-based life is the epiphenomenon of fluid transmissions within and between all organisms is a disturbing twist in a modern tale devoted to the dry solidities of land and its territorial claims. There are hints that “the appearance of complex life on land was a major event in which a kind of mutant sea invaded the land surface…”
—Sadie Plant, Zeros + Ones
In spite or perhaps even because of the impersonality of the screen, the digital zone facilitates unprecedented levels of spontaneous affection, intimacy, and informality, exposing the extent to which older media, especially what continues to be called “real life,” come complete with a welter of inhibition, barriers, and obstacles sidestepped by the packet-switching systems of the net. Face-to-face communication—the missionary position so beloved of Western man—is not at all the most direct of all possible ways to communicate.
—Sadie Plant, Zeros + Ones
This is the central nucleus of the creation of semiocapitalism. What used to be refusal of work has became a total dependence of emotions, and thought on the flow of information.
[…] All we can do is what we are actually doing already: the self-organisation of cognitive work is the only way to go beyond the psychopathic present. I don’t believe that the world can be governed by Reason. The Utopia of Enlightenment has failed.
But I think that the dissemination of self-organised knowledge can create a social framework containing infinite autonomous and self-reliant worlds.
The process of creating the network is so complex that it cannot be governed by human reason. The global mind is too complex to be known and mastered by sub-segmental localised minds. We cannot know, we cannot control, we cannot govern the entire force of the global mind.
But we can master the singular process of producing a singular world of sociality.
This is autonomy today.
The alliance of cognitive labour and financial capital has produced important cultural effects, namely the ideological identification of labour and enterprise. The workers have been induced to see themselves as self-entrepreneurs, and this was not completely false in the dotcom period, when the cognitive worker could create his own enterprise, just investing his intellectual force (an idea, a project, a formula) as an asset. This was the period that Geert Lovink defined as dotcommania (in his remarkable book Dark Fiber). What was dotcommania? Due to mass participation in the cycle of financial investment in the 90s, a vast process of self-organization of cognitive producers got under way. Cognitive workers invested their expertise, their knowledge and their creativity, and found in the stock market the means to create enterprises. For several years, the entrepreneurial form became the point where financial capital and highly productive cognitive labour met. The libertarian and liberal ideology that dominated the (American) cyberculture of the 90s idealized the market by presenting it as a pure environment. In this environment, as natural as the struggle for the survival of the fittest that makes evolution possible, labour would find the necessary means to valorise itself and become enterprise. Once left to its own dynamic, the reticular economic system was destined to optimise economic gains for everyone, owners and workers, also because the distinction between owners and workers would become increasingly imperceptible when one enters the virtual productive cycle. This model, theorised by authors such as Kevin Kelly and transformed by Wired magazine in a sort of digital-liberal, scornful and triumphalist Weltanschauung, went bankrupt in the first couple of years of the new millennium, together with the new economy and a large part of the army of self-employed cognitive entrepreneurs who had inhabited the dotcom world. It went bankrupt because the model of a perfectly free market is a practical and theoretical lie. What neoliberalism supported in the long run was not the free market, but monopoly. While the market was idealised as a free space where knowledges, expertise and creativity meet, reality showed that the big groups of command operate in a way that is far from being libertarian, but instead introduces technological automatisms, imposing itself with the power of the media or money, and finally shamelessly robbing the mass of share holders and cognitive labour.
The sad demise of the Deterritorial Support Group is a significant case in point. The public announcement on the 21st December 2011 that this small group of radical thinkers and media saboteurs were parting company has come at a crossroads for left-wing organisations in the UK. Whilst DSG have publicly split and Nina Power’s Infinite Thought blog has also officially retired, other voices like Mark Fisher’s K-punk blog or the University for Strategic Optimism have markedly been absent. UK Uncut are still active, but their efficacy and novelty of their actions has plateaued.What’s happening?
[…] This rejection of blogging is a little exciting and bears traces of a rejection of merely intellectual activity, discernible throughout certain fertile periods of the Left. The danger of this kind of ‘Maoist’ move however is total inertia: intellectuals in professional positions or from middle-class backgrounds might identify with the ‘proletariat’ under a global ‘we’ heading, a term itself unrecognised by most angry workers and hence a little beside the point, but can workers identify with a theory that has no clear strategy? The key thing is that this is the beginning of something new, and out of the new encounters of disaffected radicals and young workers will stem new arrangements and ideas of 2012. It’ll be exciting to see if and how these develop. It is however warily reminiscent of the farewells and missionary movements of new left radicals from the late 1960s/early 1970s, who disappeared into ‘authentic’ social change as the left stagnated. Faced with powerful opposition and an unclear sense of an alternative, the resistance to neoliberal capitalism becomes melancholic.
[…] I seek answers that aren’t just theoretical gymnastics, to spur a discussion about strategy. Radicals already agree that neoliberal capitalism is dangerous and destructive, that some sort of socialism would be far more beneficial to the mass of humanity. Strategies are needed to undermine these forces that would truly render reactionary blogging obsolete. 2012 can confirm their efficacy. Primo Levi, reflecting on the history of rebellions in human history, best articulates the task of the strategic, open-minded and adventurous troublemaker:
“The image so often repeated in monuments of the slave who breaks his heavy chain is rhetorical; his chains are broken by comrades whose shackles are lighter and looser. … All revolutions, those which have changed the direction of world history and those minuscule ones which we are dealing with here, were led by persons who knew oppression well, but not on their own skin”. [Drowned and Saved, 1988, 130-131]
— J.D. Taylor, Loops
real tumblr theme
circuitry got us held tight / long hours bound
laptop is my nightlight / every time I blink
I think I found the link / on the brink of submerge
disconnect / and I sink