categories: reviews | blogs | death threats | Sierra

About Kathy Sierra's blog death threats, it highlights one of my
problems with blogs and my overall lack of surprise about the matter.

Blogs, in and of themselves have fewer homeostatic mechanisms than
forums or listservs. They are primarily a voluntary push medium with
the ability to respond. I have never felt like I have been part of a
conversation as part of a blog; only as a journalist or lecturer. They
have never made me feel "part" of anything, they have only made me
feel part of an audience, and it is this belonging that is special to
networked conversation.

Conversely, while there are 10% or so active on any list, maybe more
on a forum, there is usually an unspoken rule of community conduct, or
at least heated debate then abuse comes about. This tends to regulate
the conversation by either mandating partial moderation at times or
the community pushing the abuser to the background, which I (usually)
approve of to some extent. While there are some really warped people
on the Net, I find that the larger component are still decent people
who are eager to share.

This leads me to two or three points.

First, am I surprised that Kathy Sierra got the threats that she did?
Not really. I have students in my classes who jovially muse about
being homicidal maniacs who kill three people and have sex with their
entrails before breakfast during class. At least in America, we have
a culture in which this sort of banter is considered "funny" in many
places, and that cyber-rape is no big deal, because "it's not real".

But then, the same students complain about "Super Columbine Massacre
RPG" as going too far over the line. Why? Just depicting real events
doesn't make it real, does it, kids? While I am most definitely no
prude, I often wonder what the infoculture, of all its diversity (I
prefer not to say 'good' and 'bad') is doing in shaping culture in its
continual pressing of taboo and shock.

Personally, I'm not shocked, I'm bored - I think about what people
like Vannevar Bush, Licklider, and Englebart were thinking about
when envisioning computation as an extension of human evolution, and
the result includes "Shaved Pumped Pussies" and the game "Ethnic
Cleansing", as well as the millions of human-hours involved in virtual
slaughter. It's not shocking, it's just inane - the sweaty-palmed
18-year old with the toilet training disorder has been lionized for
too long.

I love the quote I got from a Bukkake (porn practice in which women
are subjected to having semen shot all over their faces) site operator
in Second Life self-righteously inform me that "Communism killed
far more people than porn ever has"... I was brought there (later,
I find, by a person who had been using painkillers and acting quite
erratically) to resolve a harassment dispute.

Of course, I left fairly quickly.

Next, how do we regulate this sort of behavior? Shut down comments on
blogs? I don't see that as a solution at all. That puts the wall up
higher in the age in which enough walls are being built. It's like
MySpace - delete the comments, and understand that blogging leaves you
partially vulnerable to attacks. Conversely, forums and lists would
punish the abuser soundly via flamewar and by community.

IMO, blogs have this particular flaw of leaving one vulnerable to
attack, and I feel that regulating blogs opens up free speech issues
on the Net (which actually has no real enforceable laws regarding
same, as most assume the US 1st Amendment as global writ, which is not
the case). Personally, I think that Ms. Sierra is probably at little
risk, and that her case is merely a high-profile case of relatively
common practices, but not at her level of privilege.

Should she be scared? Not enough to cancel her lecturing schedule.
Should she be disturbed? Absolutely, because she sees a larger
component than just her supportive community, and I, for one, am bored
by the aggressive, adolescent subcultures of the Net. And if media
are the collective unconscious of a society, I wonder what the "see
only what I want", "do whatever I want as long as it isn't 'real'",
culture's dreams of mayhem, aggression, and degradation create on
larger scales are creating on a larger scale.

Sure, I exaggerate, but probably not by much. Kathy Sierra should be
disturbed, but not surprised, and wary, but not scared. Welcome to the
Net, Kathy. I'm sorry that you have to see this sort of thing. I hope
you will use your experience to create a constructive dialogue about
web conduct rather than reacting in fear. We need people like you to
take up that conversation.

Patrick Lichty
- Interactive Arts & Media
Columbia College, Chicago
- Editor-In-Chief
Intelligent Agent Magazine
225 288 5813

"It is better to die on your feet
than to live on your knees."

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