Tag Archives: anonymous

Chasing the Cicada

The text I’ve chosen has been one of my favorite long-form articles for a while, in part because I don’t think it wouldn’t work nearly as well as a print narrative.

Chasing the Cicada,” an article from magazine Mentalfloss, follows how one Jeff Kinkle got caught up in a mysterious trail of online clues likely planted by the NSA or the amorphous hacker entity, Anonymous, in order to recruit and suss out talented hackers and codebreakers.

The subject matter itself is interesting, and makes an extremely compelling story.   However, what draws me to read this particular text over and over again is how well the author, Jed Lipinski, crafts the narrative, as well as how appropriate it is to read it online as opposed to in print.

The article flows between sections describing Kinkle’s descent into the underworld of the internet and sections providing background on the different elements of his deep web journey- 4chan, /b/, Tor, Anonymous, and reddit.  While it’s not considered particularly good form to constantly interrupt a narrative with large chunks of background information, the author showcases brief yet informative glimpses into the online life of these internet entities (internetities?  New word, anyone?) and how they are involved in Kinkle’s story.  Although it’s not particularly linear, the story reads like instructions for a recipe- keep adding information and resources to the argument until it all comes together and makes a structured, fascinating article.

When I first read this story several months ago, I was also very impressed with the breadth of research.  While not a formally researched essay, the author draws on sources as varied as Gawker, Carnegie Mellon reports, interviews, and memes and message boards themselves.  He also includes some of the actual coded images that were part of the breadcrumbs that Kinkle followed to the next clue.

Ducks make everything, even deep web hacking trails, more fun.

There’s something particularly meta and through-provoking about reading an article on Anonymous and the deep web on the internet.  It also brings to mind how the web itself, with all of its layers, functions as a constantly evolving digital text.  Lipinsk spends a fair amount of time describing how Kinkle and other 4chan commenters following the trail worked together within comment threads to track and solve clues.  As a sort of open-source conversation, the problem-solving exercise allowed for multiple voices to contribute to the development and construction of the code-breaking exercise.

This is one of the articles I send people who want recommendations for excellent long-form feature stories.  I know it’s not technically about writing and creating texts, but I think that it’s a great example of how texts about the internet can exist online, and are all the stronger for doing so.

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Not Newness: Wherein I Don’t Say Anything Unexpected

Banks’ first moves threatened to drive me nuts. He posits, as many other eminent compositionists have, that we now live in a remix culture, and that this paradigm was launched by DJs. That scared me, as far as an assertion goes, because (as you all now know), my whole soapbox is: We have already, always lived in the RW, remix, intertextual culture, this paradigm is not new at all, perhaps only disrupted by the Enlightenment’s love of the image of the lonely artist operating in a vacuum to create works of sacred creativity. This is not new!

No doubt part of this is me taking pleasure in everyone else finally realizing, as I have in the course of accidentally becoming a genre theorist, that all writing is remixing (genre, after all, might be seen as a shared convention of what you remix from, with deviations/scratches being celebrated as innovation) and that the stodgy literary elitism of the past century (and this century still) has no legs left to stand on: it posits that remixes are inherently derivative, that genre texts are inherently inferior to the romantically-conceived, independent artiste writing a truly unique work of universalizeable and immortal literature, and this position simply cannot be sustained. Neither, really, can the laws that pretend it’s true. Just ask the RIAA.

Even if you literally show me pictures of myself writing my novel at 4am in a locked room, I will not buy the idea that there’s an un-remix-ed version of writing, or that this is new. There are novels in the room, and in my head, so no. Nope. No.

Nope.
Nope.

But then, within syllables, Banks saves himself (see page 2)–this is a book about locating African American cultural agency inside a paradigm that has suddenly returned to the fore after being mythologized out of modernity by a system built to construct African American as “other” (in the same way non-Enlightenment, non-European, “non-modern” groups get Othered to create the Us). The DJs hearken back to oral storytelling–the griots–meaning that this is not new, that this is just one way of looking at it that might be cool.

Digital Griots is a tool for reimagining what is going on–for scholars who have discovered the model in a new fashion, not an absolute pronunciation of the newness of the system itself. The DJ is “a figure through whom African American rhetoric can be reimagined in a new century” (2). The griot maintains the past within the present (see epigraph on 10), which of course makes the distinction really fuzzy. The way it ought to be.

That, at least, makes the academic in me happy. And it also helps to explain the really weird phenomenon that happened on Twitter–somehow, Tweetku has taken on a life of its own and has its own twitter, but we’re not sure if we made it or if we just happened to be doing the same thing while it was already there all along. Remix obfuscates historicity. The agent (the romantic author) blurs into the griot (the person speaking right now, the re-vision) (156).

My attempts, and our fixation, with locating an originator are probably possible but really counter to how the internet works structurally–the internet does not make allowances for the purity (and the myth) of the original. CNN’s silly attempts, every week, to find out about the source of viral things feels about as in-touch as their five weeks of coverage for a plane crash: they’re fixated on originators. Likewise, TV news networks talk about the hacker collective Anonymous as if it’s a thing, with leaders or consistent members. It is *not*. That’s the point. There’s no satisfying author at the end of the trail of remixes.

I did not make this image. It did not spring solely from me. I do not know who made it, and even if I did, it's an appropriation of another text.
I did not make this image. It did not spring solely from me. I do not know who made it, and even if I did, it’s an appropriation of another text.

That’s not to say that we shouldn’t protect remixers work, or reward particularly effective innovation, its just that we need to acknowledge that

  1. we’ve been doing that to certain remixers, called authors, but not to others,
  2. nobody operates in a vacuum (see the most recent presidential election’s key debate), and
  3. academic culture still creates systems of value, good or bad, around arbitrary distinctions between remix and original, derivative text and magical “springs fully formed from the head of the author, like Athena from Zeus” literature.
  4. Tweetku probably went viral somehow.

    This image is a pastiche of several memes, combined with a famous internet haiku. There are too many potential layered remixes here.
    This image is a pastiche of several memes, combined with a famous internet haiku. There are too many potential layered remixes here.