As I was thinking about the pieces we read this week, “The Web” and “Phreaks, Hackers, and Trolls,” I realized there was quite a bit of open-endedness and ambiguity between the two. Although they are separated by 15 years – The Soul of the Internet was published in 1997 and The Social Media Reader came out in 2012 – neither Randall nor Coleman seem to take a definitive stance, be it on trolls or the World Wide Web.
Personally, I still don’t know if the Web is “the most important reservoir of knowledge ever achieved” or “a thing more destructive than any medium yet invented,” even though we are no longer in its formative stages. Not only does it allow us to communicate instantaneously with anyone more or less anywhere, the information is endless.
As I was reading I couldn’t help but think of StumbleUpon, which connects users to new online content. One could sit on their computer for hours or days, and still not exhaust all of the sites, videos, or photos custom tailored for them. But the Web comes with endless amounts of fear and unpredictability. I can’t imagine that Berners-Lee and Cailliau would have predicted that terrorist groups like ISIS would use the Web as its most powerful weapon.
So 20 years after the book came out, there’s still a lack of clarity. I think it’s fair to leave that page unturned for now.
But hacking! now that is a hot topic these days. Whether we’re talking Ashley Madison, or Russia, Assange, or last but not least, Edward Snowden, hacking has been everywhere the past few years. And like Coleman, we really haven’t come to a consensus on what people like Snowden should be dubbed: a hero, a traitor, a whistleblower, a spy? On one hand, the guy’s won a Pulitzer Prize for public service, but on the other, he leaked a ton of classified NSA material. (Before I go on, I must say one thing confidently: the “Assange/Snowden-esque figure” in Jonathan Franzen’s latest book is fabulous)!
I can also say that in response to Coleman’s musings over “whether there is any ethical substance to these spectacular antics,” she has done herself some good by digging into the different motives of hackers and trolls. In other words, I think there’s a big difference between playing for LULZ and upholding freedom and access. So even if we’re still lacking a concrete answer, at least they’ve got me thinking.