“4000+ words about guinea pigs is your gender now. I’m sorry I don’t make the rules” — Petey

For Petey and Mehitabel’s class on networked / internet cultures, we had to write a bot and then write a short paper about it as a social actor. I decided to take the time to write up about Espen and Aarseth, the digital guinea pig bots (partially because Mehitabel encouraged me to talk about phenomenologybot during class instead). The paper ended up going long (2-3x more than what Petey wanted) because it ended up being a reflection of my digital life for the last 6 years.

Paper can be found here. If you like presentations more, that can be found here.

Overall, I’m glad I got time to sit down and perform an examen of my digital life, even though I’m not super proud of the writing. In the past, an essay like this would have gone up on my website, but when I was writing this, it just felt very perfunctory and not particularly new. I’ve discussed this before about how this just might be a weird part of growing up, but it still surprises me everytime I sense that shift.

Despite this, I’m really happy that I got to spend time on this essay because it really strongly encapsulates the life I lived online — which I now realize is a weird one. Personal mailing lists, Zephyr and Discord are not really mainstream platforms, especially in the weird hybrid bridged way that I use them.

For one, all of these mediums are heavily text-based. I didn’t realize this until I was presenting to the class, but all of the funny interactions I was showing them were ultimately just giant text walls, especially Zephyr’s large header format for zlogs. Even on Discord, a more modern medium that allows image hosting and previews, I primarily use the compact mode which strips away profile pictures,putting a greater focus on the text. Compare this to others in the class who primarily use Instagram, which relies on a visual language and culture that are fairly foreign to me. I revealed my ignorance of “finstas” and “rinstas” to the entire class — and although part of this is an age thing, I think an even larger part of it has been the lack of motivation on my side to express myself publicly in a visual manner.

A friend once called me “intimidatingly public”, and I still have been churning that phrase over in my mind. I never really thought of being overly public in my writing, even though all of my communications are technically public. If anything, I think what I’m doing is trying to be as honest as possible with who I am, while being conscientious about the audience I’m sharing with. This Verge piece about Snapchat does a good job in waxing philosophical about how weird / forgotten internet spaces give us that freedom:

First in the era of America Online, and then in the era of LiveJournal and micro-blogging, the internet was at least partly an escape. It was a place where the boundaries of real life, in which everything was more or less a job interview, could be sloughed off and one could imagine the internet as a quiet, uninhabited space of whispered intimacies. In this era of hyper-usefulness, what seems rarest and most valuable online are spaces that offer, however illusorily, a return to this original uselessness. There are places where, against the constant obligation to be seen and remembered, we might get to be unseen, unrecorded, and forgotten.

In some sense, my digital footprint has been me just exploring one set of Internet ghost towns after another. A shifting interplay existed between the media; social list mellifluously@ was created after going off of Zephyr but needing a place to vent music feels, while I shifted to Discord after becoming less reliant on MIT for my social interactions. Discord is also interestingly the first place where I’ve had strong control over my digital space. I’ve surprisingly enjoyed the ability to add emojis, see who is present and have the option (although have so far chosen not to exericse) the ability to have private channels or remove bad actors.

In my AI Ethics class, JZ (Jonathan Zittrain) said that technical people saw writing as a thing that happens after all of the actual work is done, while humanities people see writing as the end product. I think I very strongly feel that way about this piece. Say what you want about the dangers of fixing ideas with formulated phrases, but the act of writing — the act of crystalizing my ideas into a final product — has been really refreshing to contextualize my weird internet life.


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