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You may have heard about it recently in the news, depending on where you live.

On February 10, 2008, the birthday of death-by-Scientology victim Lisa McPherson, the internet group “Anonymous” organized – without a notable leader or leaders – mass worldwide protests of the Church of Scientology. More than 7,000 people in nearly 100 cities protested outside Scientology churches, sporting inside-joke Guy Fawkes masks.

Today, on March 15, 2008, the first Saturday after the birthday of Scientology founder L. Ron Hubbard, the same thing, under the code name “Operation Party Hard”. In parody of LRH’s birthday, Anonymous this time wore party hats and passed out party favors to fellow Anons. Cake was served. Along with chants of “CULT!” and “SCIENTOLOGY KILLS!” were hearty, mocking choruses of the Happy Birthday song.

Welcome to the internet culture of Anonymous.

Since Anonymous was first established, it has abided by its own “Rules of the Internet”. There is a list somewhere of 48 of them but only 3 “real” rules: 1, 2, and 34.

The first two are in the spirit of the Fight Club:

Rule 1 of the internet is “Do not talk about Anonymous.”
Rule 2 of the internet is “Do NOT talk about Anonymous.”

There have always been plenty of Anons who, feeling superior in being part of a group so cool that it can’t be mentioned to outsiders, have gone and shamed their fellow Anonymous by bragging about it to their friends and coworkers. (But most Anons have done this at least once.) In general, though, Anon kept it within Anon.

Through 2007, rules 1 and 2 kept weakening within Anon. Guy Fawkes masks (yes, an inside joke) started to show up at anime and gaming conventions around the globe. Anonymous’s flamboyance in the real world continued to increase until it declared war against Scientology, after which it did away with rules 1 and 2 for good. A couple of years ago, people arranging local meet-ups of Anonymous would be mocked for it. Now, Anonymous meets IRL with pride.

As long as there’s no longer a stigma associated with it, I may as well admit that I’ve been a “member” of Anonymous for over a year now.

Trust me, it’s not an elite hacker group at all, and Anonymous isn’t nearly as cool as it thinks it is. But to its credit, Anonymous is probably the most massive, effective, and fascinating destructive force for “justice” on the internet. Its culture is fascinating. Its methods, though disagreeable at times, are both hilarious and effective. Anonymous has its own subsects, its own politics, and its own justice system. I can’t tell you how wonderful it has been, as a person so intrigued by sociology, to watch this culture develop over the last year.

Anonymous would not be pleased, but I really feel like I need to share some of my more intriguing observations about the culture of Anonymous. Look forward to some fascinating posts about the other side of internet culture showing up in the next little while. If my readers feel that it interferes too much with the regular content of my blog, I’ll start putting them on seperate WordPress pages rather than the blog itself. I just need to share these observations somehow.

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Web 2.0 Compatible

I had a really interesting slip-up in my speech this afternoon. My friend and I were doing a crossword puzzle in our History class, as is our new routine (we only recently got into them, but we rock at them unashamedly). We were stuck on the name of a river in Venezuela. So without thinking, I told her, “When we’re done taking notes, I’ll just google it on the map.”

What I meant was that I would look it up on the wall map, of course (it’s a history classroom, it has more maps than students), but somewhere in my mind the verb ‘look up’ just slipped out as ‘google’. I didn’t even notice what I had said until she pointed it out with a joke that I had been spending too much time on the internet.

It’s fascinating to see the impact that Google has had on people’s everyday lives.

In my world, I see Web 2.0 fully entwined with our normal lives. I do suffer a significant population bias; mine is the world of Echo-Boomer teenagers and the IB program. The collective geekiness levels are enough to maim a small child, I’m sure, but the experiences I have IRL are sometimes so indistinguishable from my online life that it can feel sometimes that logging in to MSN, Facebook, or my usual forum haunts after school is like walking back into class, but without a teacher scolding us for talking too loud and being off-task.

My lab partner and I in Chemistry once came up with a funny monologue. The first classmate we showed it to advised us to act it out together on Youtube. We insisted that it was just a writing thing, and that if we ever posted it anywhere at all, it would be a short written piece. It wasn’t the stuff of Youtube videos. “But it has to be on youtube,” he insisted. “A monologue isn’t funny if it’s not on youtube.”

Even earlier in the year, one of our Chinese projects was a cooking show that had to be filmed and presented to the class, no exceptions. The group commonly known as the class clowns (as close to class clowns as we get in the IB program, which is not very by normal standards) created the most amazing student video that we had ever seen that left us rolling in laughter. Someone on the other side of the class shouted, “That had better be on youtube tonight!” The same gang, doing an exaggerated dance to a romantic Mandarin song, was filmed on somebody’s cell phone with the promise/threat that “this is going on youtube!”.

The guys my lab partner and I team up with for dissections in Biology are “feminists”. This is the technical term they use to make themselves feel better about standing off to the side and looking sick while my partner and I (both female) cut open whatever slimy thing is on our dissecting tray. Our latest escapade was the dissection of a gigantic earthworm, which looked so cool when opened up that the guys forgot their queasiness and all four of us instinctively pulled out our cell phones to snap pictures of it.

Powerpoint presentations are the most commonly used medium for projects in all of our classes, especially History. More than half of the presentations I’ve seen link to a youtube video for a video clip or mini-documentary relating to the material, and this is completely accepted by all the teachers we’ve had so far.

I won’t even mention facebook. “Tell me on facebook,” “We’ll chat on facebook,” “Those had better be up on facebook tonight!” are phrases we hear many times a day. Any photos taken during school (a large percentage of us bring our digital cameras) will be on facebook within the next two days. And everyone has a facebook. Everyone. At the time of this posting, our school network has 1,444 people. I don’t know how many students are in our school, but I think that’s almost all of them.

Our more tech-literate teachers stalk MSN late on the nights before major projects are due and laugh about who was up at 3am in class. Little do they know that most of us are on facebook, checking our ‘friends online’ lists to see who shares that class with us so we can complain about the project, discuss our approaches, whine about what’s going wrong, and panic over the vaguely-defined criteria.

It should sound crazy, but it doesn’t. This generation – at least, my geeky IB circle of it – is totally Web 2.0 compatible.

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Since I left the last ‘Weekend Reading’ until mid-week, this one has only a few days’ worth of links.  I believe these ones date back to… last Wednesday?  Anyway, enjoy this week’s very short list!

Best of the Week – Religion: Blind Faith (Washington Post)
Some disturbing information about religious literacy in the US here – for the most Christian nation in the world, I find this horrifying.  For instance, cited in the article is that less than half of Americans know that Genesis is the first book of the Bible, that only half can name even one of the Gospels, and a little over 10% think that Joan of Arc was Noah’s wife.  The title of this article is very fitting – what are all these people following?

Psychology: This is Your Life (and How You Tell It) (New York Times)
How you view and retell memories says a lot about you, and can have substantial impact on your thoughts about them.  Sad and embarrassing memories viewed and recalled in the third person can actually seem less sad and embarrassing, and the people who recall them that way seem to have apparently learned more from them.

Software/Advice: Firefox Keyboard Shortcut to Retrieve Lost Tabs
The BEST Firefox tip I’ve ever heard.  It happens so often to me: I start closing down unused tabs, and accidentally delete one that I really needed.  Pressing Command+Shift+T (Ctrl+Shift+T for us Microsoft slaves) will bring back any tab you just closed.  No more accidentally deleting the wrong tabs!

Gender/Psychology: Girls do badly at math when told boys do better (Reuters)
A study from the University of Chicago shows that when girls are told that their male counterparts are naturally better at math, they start doing badly on tests.  This was also shown to impact achievement in whatever tests or classes they took directly afterwards, and was not limited to just mathematics.

Coffee: Understanding Coffee People
Coffee can be a link category all on its own, who says it can’t?  I found this accidentally through Google hunting for myself (you know you’ve done it).  These are descriptions of a few distinct “coffee types”… the Addict, the Snob, the Teenager (proud to say I’m not one of them in this context), etc.  Which one are you?  (I’m the Addict – I like my coffee bitter, black, and lots of it.)

Nostalgia: 15 (Painfully) Unforgettable Cartoon Theme Songs
Ahhh, pre-Y2K cartoons… how I miss that blurry quality that I thought was so awesome as a kid.  To think there are kids today growing up without classics like the Looney Tunes.  This is a list of 15 memorable cartoon themes (YouTubed and embedded!) from the 80s and 90s.  (Some of these I can just barely remember, and some I didn’t even realize had stopped airing. I miss the 90s… I made a Mister Rogers joke to some kids I know and they just gave me blank looks.  I shouldn’t have to feel that old yet.)

That’s it for this week!

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Selectively Permeable

While killing time before dinner at my grandparents’ house, I amused myself by pulling out my notebook and writing a little couple of paragraphs that wondered what Voltaire’s life would have been like if he had been born in the 20th century. This was a while ago–back when I was in the middle of reading Voltaire’s Letters on England (last year) and I had done enough research on his personal life beforehand to think it would be a fun challenge.

No… not really. It took me less than a paragraph to decide that it wasn’t, and the recent developments of Web 2.0 and TIME Magazine’s Person of the Year: You issue reminded me of why that was. (Why did it come just occur to me now to write it all down? …Not a clue.)

Let me explain it this way:

Correct me if I’m wrong, but the 1900s seemed to be the time period when personal career paths really started to catch on. In earlier centuries, someone’s future career depended almost entirely on what their father did for a living, or the area in which they lived in (big-name factory in the area = go into manufacturing). That stopped mattering about mid-century, when careers became a more personal choice–anyone could be just about anything they wanted, for the most part regardless of their parents’ career(s). Anyone could decide to become a novelist, or a scientist, and a lot of people started to choose those paths. Certain careers that were once avoided because they were impractical, impossible, or inaccessible–careers in the sciences, in the arts, etc.–were opened up to anyone.

Unfortunately, opening the doors of every career to everyone is a mixed blessing. Back in earlier centuries when careers in, say, the arts were impractical, impossible, and/or inaccessible, the people who did make a living that way had to be very good at what they did. If a person wanted to make a living as a poet or a playwright (who describes themselves as a poet or a playwright nowadays, anyway? Apparently we’ve all moved on…) they had better have had a damn good reason: that they had a certain aptitude for it or a very strong desire to succeed in that area, etcetera, because otherwise it was easier and more profitable to look for work elsewhere. The creative work that came out of the arts in those times had to be excellent, because each individual’s standard of living depended on it. Nowadays, I would argue, creative work need not be excellent–just acceptable. A walk into the political science or cultural studies section of most bookstores is convincing enough that anyone can get published these days; even more so with the romance, pulp fiction, or fantasy sections. Similarly with a walk through any store selling modern art.

This is a problem because it creates the overload of stuff, creative or otherwise, we see today: more books than we could ever read in a lifetime in one bookstore, millions of paintings sitting on the shelves in art stores, enough CDs in HMV or Music World to damage our hearing, thousands of styles and colors of the same basic (not really) clothing, etc. Consider this: Technorati alone is currently tracking 63.2 million blogs, with 175,000 new blogs added every day. The problem we now face, as creative individuals, is trying to stand out in a crowd of 63.2 million others who are trying to do exactly the same thing. Not even, actually; with the amount of creative work that everyone is spinning out nowadays–why not, if there’s no roadblock of impracticality, impossibility, or inaccessibility anymore?–we’re all trying to stand out in a crowd of billions of others trying to do the same thing. The popular t-shirt quote comes to mind: “You are totally unique… just like everyone else.”

How does this all tie back to my thinking about Voltaire in the modern times? Well, there’s a lot of flotsam and jetsam in creative work floating around today–or should I say, dotsam and netsam, a term we’ll probably be hearing a lot more of in the near future. What occurred to me, as I was writing that day to amuse myself, was that in today’s world Voltaire would be nothing exceptional–or at least nothing as exceptional as he was in his day. His most famous works, though far ahead of their time, wouldn’t count for much today. Candide, for example, probably wouldn’t have gotten published with today’s book markets, even though it was sensational at the time. His Letters on England would have been hardly more than another travelog, and a false one at that, because his Letters were greatly exaggerated to glorify English progress and tolerance over the old regime of France. The Philosophical Dictionary, an amazing work, wouldn’t have had a market today at all. The controversy surrounding his work at the time would have been non-existent nowadays, unless he had bothered to go to the extremes of Dan Brown or Richard Dawkins (which, given his personage, is not such a wild expectation). At the time Voltaire died in Paris, he was the greatest writer in France–but would he achieve similar fame in this time? As a great fan of his work and character, it depressed me to think that he might have been ‘just another writer’ had he been born in the late 1900s. A successful columnist, maybe, but probably not to the same acclaim he received in his own time.

I think that our society is experiencing a Flynn effect of creativity. As a whole, society gets more creative, just like we rise about three IQ points every decade. Just as IQ tests are made a little bit harder every so often to reset the average score to 100, maybe we need to set higher standards for blogs and other creative work–or maybe those standards will just fall into place as we mature into the Information Age. If everyone continues to produce content–some good, some not–the system will eventually have to collapse, because I don’t think we can deal with that much information efficiently. How long does it take to find a good blog now, compared to how long it took to find a good book when there was still a selectively permeable wall between mainstream and creative careers that let in only the talented?

Perhaps I’m just being pessimistic and elitist, but I think that wall might need to stay there. Of course, I want as many people as possible to have the opportunity to express themselves creatively, but I also think there needs to be a limit on the amount of information circulating out there. 63.2 million blogs is a lot. I don’t want to guess how many books are out there, but it’s probably several millions too many. Personally, I’m not one hundred percent sure where I stand on this (though it’s clear where I’m leaning), but I hope we can learn to work all of this out. Wall or no wall, it’ll have to be settled someday.

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As I type, an article titled ‘Murdered for Being an Atheist’ is at the top of Digg‘s popularity list, currently with 2392 diggs (approvals from Digg users). This morning, when I first checked my Digg feed, the article had a mere 200 diggs–barely enough for the front page–featuring a dozen or so comments from outraged atheists condemning religion. I gave the comments page another glance just a few minutes ago, and the sheer volume of them actually froze my browser. (From what I could read before it collapsed on me–about a hundred or so comments in–most of the discussion was strongly bigoted on both sides.)

And, lo and behold, just as I was starting to think, “Gee, there have certainly been a lot of pro-atheist articles on Digg these last few months,” an article called ‘Digg and YouTube Powering Atheism 2.o’ clawed its way to the front page. Since I opened a new tab to begin writing this post, it has gone from 300 to 608 diggs. This, folks, is just in the last ten minutes. By the time I finish writing, I bet it’ll break 800. The article stated that there have been seven articles about Richard Dawkins on the front page in the last 2-3 months, and 10-12 other atheism-related articles. I disagree with these numbers. At the very least, I’d guess that I see at least one Dawkins- and/or atheism-related article every other day.

It’s not just atheism, either. A lot of trends–ideologies, software, politics–are being vastly spread through, and accepted by, the internet community. This isn’t a new thing, but it’s interesting to see which ideas are catching on and which are completely floundering in the era of Web 2.0. Going by Digg stats and my own observation, these are the biggest trends that are spreading via the web at the moment:

1. Atheism/Richard Dawkins.
As I mentioned before, atheism is gaining huge popularity among Digg users in particular. So much is being said about it right now that even the Los Angeles Times has jumped on the bandwagon with their recent article ’10 Myths–and 10 Truths–about Atheism’ (strangely, less than a week after reading this article on the web, I saw it reproduced in my local newspaper, The Vancouver Sun; it’s that popular.) Richard Dawkins, atheism’s front man, gets his own mention in this trend, and not just because he may have encouraged it with his recent bestseller, ‘The God Delusion.’ Dawkins himself is gaining a huge amount of internet popularity, with his articles and video lectures constantly appearing on the front page of Digg and making headlines in print newspapers, as well.

2. Anti-Christianity.
Though it could definitely be argued, I think it’s a trend apart from atheism. In fact, I have a hunch–though perhaps not a correct one–that this trend may have encouraged the atheism trend, because I was seeing a heck of a lot more anti-Christianity than atheism a few years back. It’s not just bashing fundamentalists, because even more liberal Christians are really getting it on the ‘net nowadays. I wish I could say it was a fair turnaround, but a lot of the outspoken Christian-bashers on the web are just as bigoted as the fundamentalists they condemn.

3. Anti-Bush.
Bush had the misfortune of coming into office at the time when the internet was just starting to really tear down barriers between civilians and authority. Certain things could just be expected to fade away in the past, or never reach the public eye in the first place. Not in Web 2.0. In Web 2.0, any sort of incompetency in authority can and will be spread through the masses. And indeed, it was–his current 30% approval rating is proof enough of that. I think the anti-Bush trend was probably the most widely internet-circulated of all.

4. Opensource.
This one is soft of a no-brainer, because why wouldn’t the opensource movement be popular? Getting spectacular, better-than-Microsoft software for free–plus constant and similarly free upgrades–was bound to catch on among Web 2.0 users. The only users who wouldn’t be quite as thrilled would be the programmers who depend on software companies for their paychecks. That’s why the huge popularity of the opensource movement is so important as an internet trend; it encourages more programmers to participate for the international recognition. Certain aspects of opensource have really taken off in the last year, particularly Ubuntu Linux, which probably wouldn’t have become so popular without forums and tech blogs to spread the news. For these reasons, I think it should still be considered an internet trend, even if its popularity among users was for obvious reasons.

I’ll end with this: the article I mentioned above about the spread of atheism through Digg and YouTube has reached exactly 850 diggs at this moment. How’s that for internet popularity?

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You.

TIME Magazine’s infamous final issue of 2006, “Person of the Year: YOU,” really deserves all the hype it’s been generating in the news lately. If you haven’t done so already, I suggest you pick up a copy before the first of January. It’s well worth the five bucks and the twenty minutes.

Christmas is next Monday and 2006 ends in just under two weeks?? It can’t be true!

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