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What Turned VR Pioneer Jaron Lanier Against the Web 212

Posted by Soulskill
from the not-enough-cat-pictures dept.
i_want_you_to_throw_ writes "Details of Jaron Lanier's crusade against Web 2.0 continue in an article at Smithsonian Magazine. The article expands upon Lanier's criticism of Web 2.0. It's an interesting read, with Lanier suggesting we are outsourcing ourselves into insignificant advertising-fodder and making an audacious connection between techno-utopianism, the rise of the machines and the Great Recession. From the article: 'As far back as the turn of the century, he singled out one standout aspect of the new web culture—the acceptance, the welcoming of anonymous commenters on websites—as a danger to political discourse and the polity itself. At the time, this objection seemed a bit extreme. But he saw anonymity as a poison seed. The way it didn’t hide, but, in fact, brandished the ugliness of human nature beneath the anonymous screen-name masks. An enabling and foreshadowing of mob rule, not a growth of democracy, but an accretion of tribalism. ... 'This is the thing that continues to scare me. You see in history the capacity of people to congeal—like social lasers of cruelty. That capacity is constant. ... We have economic fear combined with everybody joined together on these instant twitchy social networks which are designed to create mass action. What does it sound like to you? It sounds to me like the prequel to potential social catastrophe. I’d rather take the risk of being wrong than not be talking about that.'"
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What Turned VR Pioneer Jaron Lanier Against the Web

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  • Gabe's Greater Internet Fuckwad Theory [penny-arcade.com]

    (Seriously, we've known about this since what, Quake 2 days?)

    • Re:Oblig. (Score:4, Interesting)

      by Anonymous Coward on Friday December 28, 2012 @04:13PM (#42413287)

      Yes, anonymity has its downside, but "a danger to political discourse and the polity itself"?

      The Federalist Papers were published under a collective pseudonym.

      • Re:Oblig. (Score:5, Insightful)

        by preaction (1526109) on Friday December 28, 2012 @04:25PM (#42413399)

        In support of your comment, anonymity is a requirement for free speech. In fact, forcing someone to attach their identity to their speech is "a danger to political discourse and the polity itself" moreso than anonymity. I will deal with assholes on the Internet because I know that requiring them to identify themselves so they can be tried in the court of public shame leads down a very bad road.

        • by JWW (79176)

          Absolutely correct. It is terrifying to me how many people do not get this point.

        • In other words, Lanier is not willing to take the bad with the good of being anonymous. And so opts out of the discussion almost entirely.

          • by 1u3hr (530656)
            He complains about some jerk on Reddit who posted crap there, and then segues to Hitler and Stalin's pogroms.

            The logic seems to be: This asshole anonymously trolled people on Reddit. Hitler was a genocidal asshole. Therefore, online anonymity leads to genocide. Did I miss a step? I did read the whole article.

        • Re: (Score:2, Informative)

          by Anonymous Coward

          Absolutely. I would rather suffer through a thousand trolls or genuinely extremist comments from anonymous persons than not be able to read the thoughtful comments a more timid person may not have written had they been required to attach their name to them.

          However I'm not sure I would draw a parallel between The Federalist Papers and the drivel many current anonymous posters write.

          • Re:Oblig. (Score:5, Insightful)

            by owski (222689) on Friday December 28, 2012 @05:36PM (#42414023)

            However I'm not sure I would draw a parallel between The Federalist Papers and the drivel many current anonymous posters write.

            That's only because the barrier to entry has dropped so low. There are many pamphlets from the same era which have been lost to history because they were drivel. There would have also been some real gems that never got out there because costs prevented them from being published.

            I think the point that Lanier is really missing is that anonymity is not new, just that pen and ink is now nearly free.

        • by Jmc23 (2353706)
          Only for immature societies/cultures. One's ideas do need to be tested in the pit of reality.
      • Re:Oblig. (Score:4, Interesting)

        by alexander_686 (957440) on Friday December 28, 2012 @05:33PM (#42413985)

        I am going to have to disagree with you – the writers of the Federalist papers where widely known to support the constitution.

        Back then, advertising your ideas were taken as sign of ego and hubris – signs that you coveted power and fame – implying that you wanted to set yourself as aristocracy. The time favored cool rotational thinking. The writers wrote anonymously to remove their personal interests from the debate so the focus would be on the ideas.

  • Lanier is a dipshit (Score:5, Informative)

    by realmolo (574068) on Friday December 28, 2012 @03:54PM (#42413067)

    He got in early on 3D graphics and had dreadlocks, which made him a darling of the "Wired" and "Mondo 2000" (remember that?) crowd.

    But he is clueless.

    • by lbmouse (473316)

      And apparently very, very bored.

    • (Not) Looking forward to reading Cory Doctorow's summary of this on boingboing.
    • by Animats (122034) on Friday December 28, 2012 @05:05PM (#42413763) Homepage

      He got in early on 3D graphics and had dreadlocks

      I know, I know. I met him back when he had his original VR system, with a pair of SGI machines hooked up to 320-line or so goggles and about a second of lag between the head tracker and the video. Turn head, wait 1s for image to stabilize, repeat. Once people figured out that all you could do well in VR was move and shoot, interest declined. Even for gamers. (Autodesk had a big interest in VR at one time; the idea was that you'd be able to do architecture in VR with an intuitive interface. Pick up window, walk to wall, insert window in wall, step back, look at result, slide window to different position... Didn't work out. Without force feedback, manipulation in 3D VR is clumsy.)

      Lanier's main complaint seems to be that being a second or third-tier musician doesn't pay well any more. Historically, it never did. The notion of musical stardom came from a brief period in history when duplicating phono records was a very expensive process. There are now somewhere between 5 and 8 million bands on Myspace. (Some of which might not suck.) So being a "musician" isn't a big deal any more.

      Interestingly, he's against anonymity, which encourages ranting. But nobody listens to online ranting from anons much any more. Post on Slashdot as Anonymous Coward and you're lucky to get a rating above 0. Post on Wikipedia without logging in, and unless you have something really productive to say, you'll probably be reverted, Rant at people via e-mail and spam filters block you. Grief in a MMORPG, and you get kicked out and have to restart as a noob with low stats. Problem solved. (Mostly.)

      Facebook and Google, on the other hand, are against anonymity because it interferes with monetizing data about their users. That's not a good reason.

      • by Lost Race (681080)

        Post on Wikipedia without logging in, and unless you have something really productive to say, you'll probably be reverted

        More succinctly: "Post on Wikipedia, and you'll probably be reverted."

        Seriously, change "virii" to "viruses" or "loose" to "lose" and watch your edit get reverted because "either spelling is acceptable" and your edit doesn't "focus on content". Even the simplest, most obvious and least controversial corrections raise the hackles of writers/editors who have staked their wiki-territory and

  • Silicon Snake Oil 2.0?

    • Oops, damn auto-correct. Jaron not Jared.

    • by mcgrew (92797) *

      Silicon Snake Oil 2.0?

      That's my opinion. CSS was a good idea but it's almost never used for its intended purpose, which was to make it easy to change the style of an entire site without rewriting every page. What it's used for is to vainly attempt to make a web site look like a newspaper or magazine page with everything exactly where the designer wants it -- only that's an impossibility, because of different aspect ratios, screen sizes, and orientations.

      Web designers today want to use absolute coordinates,

    • Clifford Stoll's book was nuanced and he actually had a track record of achievement. Lanier feels the world owes virtual reality a living.

  • News at 10

    its also pretty hard to follow as the topic seems to drift all over the place, Dylan, mob rule on the internet, traffic and simulators, surface, web2.0, terminator, murder... good luck

    • Re: (Score:2, Interesting)

      by Anonymous Coward

      This is going to read like an ad hominem attack but I am genuinely curious because I see so many sarcastic remarks like yours on a daily basis that I have to ask:

      Have you ever considered that you might actually be wrong about something? That it is possible that someone older and/or more experienced than you in a particular field can have some particular insight backed by their experience that allows them to see things you don't?

      Could it be possible that this "Aging 'Genius'" isn't weird, he just disagrees w

      • by Osgeld (1900440)

        well considering he cant stay on topic for a whole paragraph, I wouldn't fucking know

  • Anonymous commenters (Score:3, Interesting)

    by ArcadeMan (2766669) on Friday December 28, 2012 @03:57PM (#42413121)

    An enabling and foreshadowing of mob rule, not a growth of democracy, but an accretion of tribalism...

    I also think the same thing about Facebook. Here we have people and companies putting all their eggs in the same basket controlled by a single entity.

  • by Anonymous Coward

    If he hates Web 2.0, I hate to be the one to tell him he's not going to feel any better about Web 3.0. This "sell yourself as the product" (either on purpose or out of blindness and ignorance) mentality isn't going anywhere, and it's not going to get any better until privacy becomes important to the masses again.

  • by gestalt_n_pepper (991155) on Friday December 28, 2012 @03:59PM (#42413135)

    I’d rather take the risk of being wrong than not be talking about that.'"
    OK, you're wrong. One aspect of the raw, awfulness that is anonymous internet commentary is far more important than polite reasoned discourse. It represents the true feelings of the participants, unhindered by social inhibitions and cultural conditioning. It is digital drunkenness, and like drunkenness, often reveals ugly facts about human nature, which remain facts, nonetheless.

    Perhaps you prefer the sweet simpering smiles of courtesy. I do not. I would rather know who and what people really are. Reality rules. Fantasy is for fools.

    • by jedidiah (1196) on Friday December 28, 2012 @04:15PM (#42413303) Homepage

      Or as the Romans put it: In vino veritas.

    • by evil_aaronm (671521) on Friday December 28, 2012 @04:21PM (#42413351)
      Exactly. I don't know the kind of circles in which this chucklefuck runs, but he must be fairly well sequestered from reality if he thinks people can rise above our baser nature. People are animals: nothing more, nothing less. We grok tools pretty well, but we're still animals, prone to the same kinds of behaviors as lions, tigers and bears. Oh, my! Anyone who thinks highly of us, as a species, is in for some serious disappointment.
    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by Anonymous Coward

      It represents the true feelings of the participants, unhindered by social inhibitions and cultural conditioning.

      Please. I use it to troll. I don't represent any point of view aside from the one I think will get the most reaction out of fools like you. I come off as either a leftist or a rightist depending on who's ire I'm trying to rise and a preach against products that I use daily just to see how much of a twist the fanbois get in. And I don't just do that here, I have accounts across dozens of

      • But you too are a real phenomenon. Psychopaths exist. It's a fact that must be accepted and factored into human interactions.

        • by postbigbang (761081) on Friday December 28, 2012 @06:32PM (#42414533)

          The pseudo-cloak of anonymity would reveal perhaps less than that, but maybe more. When you came here, your IP was recorded. Go anywhere, and using that, they know you and correlate you.

          Oh, you used a proxy? Didn't hide much. You can be figured out fairly quickly. That means you, where you're sitting, reading this. They know. The ostensible mask of anonymity is vaporously thin.

          The hoops you need to jump thru to really randomize yourself are getting farther and farther from practical. Sure, it might be on a vast ten-dot network with thousands of machines behind a few IP addresses. Doesn't take long to figure out the local IP, and to correlate that. Just using a single email send will start to reveal oodles about you and your machine. The more you send, the more is corroborated and the less is guessed.

          The guise of anonymity is important, but on the interwebs today, it's plainly a thin veneer that's easily vaporized. Spew what you want; the direction and velocity of the chunks will give you away. True anonymity is pretty much gone.

      • "...and like drunkenness, often reveals ugly facts about human nature..."

        Mainly that when you've poisoned yourself enough you no longer function correctly.

    • by catchblue22 (1004569) on Friday December 28, 2012 @05:09PM (#42413803) Homepage

      I’d rather take the risk of being wrong than not be talking about that.'"

      OK, you're wrong. One aspect of the raw, awfulness that is anonymous internet commentary is far more important than polite reasoned discourse. It represents the true feelings of the participants, unhindered by social inhibitions and cultural conditioning. It is digital drunkenness, and like drunkenness, often reveals ugly facts about human nature, which remain facts, nonetheless.

      Perhaps you prefer the sweet simpering smiles of courtesy. I do not. I would rather know who and what people really are. Reality rules. Fantasy is for fools.

      I think the poster neglects something very important here, that the nature of our discussions and interactions changes us. If our default level of discussion is the internet equivalent of a bar room brawl, it will tend to bring out, to accentuate, to amplify those irrational and cruel tendencies. If this becomes too widespread, it will not end well for society.

      The poster refers to the "ugly facts" about human nature. If I want to discover these "ugly facts", a quick survey of Roman history [gutenberg.org] will suffice. Roman legions entering a town and indiscriminately kill 300 000 men, women and children. The mad emperors Caligula, Nero and Commodus committed atrocities that would make most readers want to throw up upon reading about them. Never mind the barbarism of slavery. We humans are quite messed up. We have the potential to be good, but we also have the potential to be monsters. Does that mean that we should tolerate, nay, encourage those traits?

    • by Omestes (471991)

      Either that or I prefer civility, rationality, and a level of consensus over knee jerk, unthinking bile. Feelings are all well and good, but in the end they don't really mean anything, especially when you consider that we have to all live together, and somehow get along together. This is hard when all of us are 100% correct, and everyone who doesn't agree with our feelings is 100% wrong, so the only people who truly matter are people just like me.

      Truth has nothing to do with how you or me FEEL about somet

  • 'Tis alright (Score:5, Insightful)

    by lightknight (213164) on Friday December 28, 2012 @04:01PM (#42413167) Homepage

    While it has taken some time, the internet has evolved defenses to many of these social problems.

    Adblock is so effective that advertisers want it outlawed. Spam Assassin cuts down on hideous amounts of junk mail, and Microsoft is offering bounties for the heads of spammers. Encryption is evolving at a frightening rate, spurred by overreaching agencies. Darknets are springing up, complete with obfuscated addresses. VPN is now a common term among the laymen.

    The only people getting cut out are the technically illiterate, and their numbers are dwindling each day.

    Yes, it shouldn't be like this, but realize, its adaptations are a direct result of our interactions with it; it's a mirror of our society, and it tells us that we have a very dark soul.

     

    • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

      by Mashiki (184564)

      Adblock is so effective that advertisers want it outlawed.

      I always liked this one, I mean it. I really like it, it means that the people are speaking loudly enough that they find their methods irresponsible. If advertisers weren't acting like flashers in front of 10 year old's, who had a side-job as peeping toms after 9pm, they'd probably wouldn't be having this problem with people installing adblockers.

      • by Kjella (173770)

        Meh, you have many people who'd block ads no matter how nice they were, after all they're interrupting or distracting you from what you're trying to do and trying to sell you something you didn't ask for and that's taking up your bandwidth and your screen real estate and minutes of your life. Asking how many would like to be without ads is like asking how many would like to shop without paying. No, I'm not talking about breaking the law but if you got the choice. But if you find the site has too much ads, d

        • by Mashiki (184564)

          Now don't pretend like I said it was a legal contract or the law or anything, but the social contract is to exchange content for ad views. And it's the consumers pulling a "I have altered the deal. Pray that I do not alter it further" moment.

          The social contract exists as long as: There is a service being exchanged for an equal service. And there is nothing disreputable going on. You and I both know that the chances of picking up malware from an ad. Are as good as picking up a antibiotic resistant MSRA in a hospital by having an open wound and rubbing along the floor. And that's because advertisers don't screen them, or they believe that the turnover from getting more money is worth angering people even at the loss of viewship from those site

  • Anonymity (Score:5, Interesting)

    by Dan East (318230) on Friday December 28, 2012 @04:02PM (#42413173) Homepage Journal

    I became aware of the impact of anonymity on a person's behavior back around 1991 when I operated a dial up BBS. Punk kids would get on and cause all kinds of problems, but when we politely showed up at their house and advised their parents that someone from that phone number had been dialing into our system and making all kinds of threats, well, the kids would typically practically wet themselves when their parents called them out on it. So for one thing, this is nothing new, and for another, it's an obvious fact of human nature that people will behave differently when they feel there isn't any direct accountability or ramifications for their actions in the "real world".

    However, I'm still having trouble seeing where this all fits in to be anti "Web 2.0". If anything sites like Facebook have taken things in the opposite direction, making it more difficult to be anonymous (or at the very least, encourage the majority of people to simply use their actual identity online). At the end of the day there isn't any "real" ramification to these "poison seeds" of anonymity.

    Perhaps a real-world example of what he's so concerned about would be more helpful. I skimmed through the rather large story at the Smithsonian site, and I just couldn't really pull any meat out of it. Lots of, um, words about disjointed stuff that I couldn't tie together. Maybe someone else can be so helpful as to sum it up in a way that makes sense?

    • Re:Anonymity (Score:4, Informative)

      by Kjella (173770) on Friday December 28, 2012 @05:00PM (#42413719) Homepage

      However, I'm still having trouble seeing where this all fits in to be anti "Web 2.0". If anything sites like Facebook have taken things in the opposite direction, making it more difficult to be anonymous (or at the very least, encourage the majority of people to simply use their actual identity online). At the end of the day there isn't any "real" ramification to these "poison seeds" of anonymity.

      Agreed, if anything the anonymous voice is being shut out from more and more of the public debate because sites increasingly use debate systems with a real name policy. You could of course register a fake Facebook account but that only lasts until someone cares to report it as possibly fake. People's perception of what the public opinion is, is now formed more and more on places like Facebook and less and less on places like slashdot where nicks are the norm. Sure it cuts down on the spam and trolling and generally obnoxious behavior but it also cuts down on the truth, but is presented as just as good or even better than the real thing.

    • by dumcob (2595259)
      Here is a good real world example - search for "bangalore exodus". Back in August tens of thousands of people thought their lives were in danger in Bangalore thanks to rumors spread both via the social networks and sms. The govt could do nothing for a week to control it. There were ministers standing at the railway station begging people not to leave.

      The big difference between anonymity in the 90's and today is scale. Today our networks reach billions of people most of whom, to put it as politically corr
    • by x1n933k (966581)

      Lots of, um, words about disjointed stuff that I couldn't tie together. Maybe someone else can be so helpful as to sum it up in a way that makes sense?

      Unfortunately there isn't much to the article. It started off like it had a real purpose but it is barely an introduction to Jaron Lanier.

      However, what's important to his arguments and a lot of us who feel 'anonymity' is important is this: Anonymity isn't about hiding. It's about being safe to be yourself.

      Your BBS example is important because reasonable parties involved resolving an act that isn't called for. Services like Facebook can do whatever they please the data you provide them with, especially sin

  • by icebike (68054) on Friday December 28, 2012 @04:04PM (#42413187)

    Lanier seems to cavalierly disregard the potential for being locked up simply for expressing the truth in open discourse.

    I wonder if he, in his wisdom, foresaw a time where government agents or Islamic assassins appear at one's door step simply for expressing an opinion.
    I can't imagine someone with even a modicum of historical hindsight would dismiss this so easily.

    • by Krishnoid (984597) * on Friday December 28, 2012 @04:45PM (#42413583) Journal

      Lanier seems to cavalierly disregard the potential for being locked up simply for expressing the truth in open discourse.

      I wonder if he, in his wisdom, foresaw a time where government agents or Islamic assassins appear at one's door step simply for expressing an opinion. I can't imagine someone with even a modicum of historical hindsight would dismiss this so easily.

      His experience in this area seems to actually be the basis for his opinion:

      But something he mentioned next really astonished me: "I’m sensitive to it because it murdered most of my parents' families in two different occasions and this idea that we're getting unified by people in these digital networks—"

      "Murdered most of my parents' families." You heard that right. Lanierd's mother survived an Austrian concentration camp but many of her family died during the war—and many of his father's family were slaughtered in prewar Russian pogroms, which led the survivors to flee to the United States.

      • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

        by bmo (77928)

        Yup. He'd be the one in the Warsaw Ghetto talking about safety and cooperation with the Nazis.

        The doublethink in this boy is strong.

        No, this is not a Godwin.

        --
        BMO

      • "Iâ(TM)m sensitive to it because it murdered most of my parents' families in two different occasions

        Hardly his experience, then.

        Don't underestimate the power of phrases like "it can't happen here" and "things are different now".

  • by Anonymous Coward on Friday December 28, 2012 @04:06PM (#42413219)

    We can only be honest when we're anonymous. That *is* our real self. It's when we have to be out in the open that we hide behind bullshit politeness and "civility" (aka "We both bullshit each other rather than being honest").

    • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

      by BitZtream (692029)

      No, that just makes you a pussy.

      If you don't have the balls to say something with your name attached to it then don't say it.

      Very few people actually have anything to fear other than making it obvious to others that they are morons with a retarded opinion.

      One in a billion people have something to actually fear about what they say getting them killed or otherwise harm, the rest just use is as a pathetic excuse to talk out their ass with no repercussions at all.

      No intelligent person with half a clue takes ano

      • by bmo (77928) on Friday December 28, 2012 @04:39PM (#42413517)

        If you don't have the balls to say something with your name attached to it then don't say it.

        Then why are you using a nom-de-plume, or is your real name BitZtream?

        Hypocrite.

        --
        BMO

      • by JWW (79176) on Friday December 28, 2012 @04:59PM (#42413709)

        One in a billion people have something to actually fear about what they say getting them killed or otherwise harm

        Um, while this may be true for the whole population of the world. It is demonstrably NOT true for the populations of China, Syria, Iran, Egypt, North Korea, Venezuela, Russia, Cuba, ........

        Hell, I'm beginning to think its not even true for the whole world and that you're quite wrong.

        Anonymity is unimaginably important when you are standing up to a power structure that does not want you saying what you are saying.

        • by bmo (77928) on Friday December 28, 2012 @05:07PM (#42413773)

          Anonymity is unimaginably important when you are standing up to a power structure that does not want you saying what you are saying.

          The SCOTUS has come down time and again saying that anonymity is crucial to free speech, and nearly everyone cites the Federalist Papers as a shining example.

          In China, the Communist Party has a great big problem with corruption, and online communication is exposing that. So they try to cover it up by making people fear for their lives for posting about corruption under their real names.

          Remove anonymity and you remove the last check against an abusive government.

          --
          BMO

          • Remove anonymity and you remove the last check against an abusive government.

            Speaking anonymously may be a check against an abusive government, but the ultima ratio doesn't involve talking.

            • by bmo (77928)

              Without talking and organization, you are just some idiot with a gun.

              --
              BMO

      • by Bodhammer (559311)

        One in a billion people have something to actually fear about what they say getting them killed or otherwise harm, the rest just use is as a pathetic excuse to talk out their ass with no repercussions at all.

        One in a Billion? More like 1 out of 7 methinks. i.e. http://news.yahoo.com/china-requires-internet-users-register-names-141101231--finance.html [yahoo.com]
        Ask the the internet users of Syria, Iran, and Saudia Arabia about their online freedoms to say and post what they want? Why did the UN/ITU (Or at least Russia, China, Saudi Arabia, Africa) try to to grab the internet this month?

      • You forget about the presence of another force on the internet: The assholes. The people who will see that you insulted their favorite politician/cause/team/singer and, with an anger immune to reason or self-preservation, proceed to email your boss to inform him of your hidden criminal past and create a blog in your name calling for the legalisation of child porn.

      • by Hentes (2461350)

        I'm happy to hear that only seven people are censored in the world.

  • by TeknoHog (164938) on Friday December 28, 2012 @04:11PM (#42413265) Homepage Journal
    People should be required to use full names and titles. After all, the opinion of a professor is much more worthy than that of a manual worker.
    • by Jartan (219704)

      I notice you have your real name linked on your homepage. Good for you not being a hypocrite. Unfortunately this led to you invalidating your point instantly.

    • by mwvdlee (775178)

      Only perhaps within the narrow field in which a professor is trained, and even then only if the professor provides better arguments (which he should be able to do). You never know in advance whether the opinion of some lowly patent office clerk turns out to be noteworthy.

    • After all, the opinion of a professor is much more worthy than that of a manual worker.

      Wise words from my (manual worker) father:

      Opinions are like assholes - everybody's got one, and the vast majority smell like shit.

      I've known many a Ph. D. holdin' folk who are so goddamn stupid when it comes to anything but the ultra-specialized topic their education is in (mostly Psychology majors), they can't get work outside waiting tables at Steak N' Shake.

      I guess what I'm saying here is, education level is not necessarily indicative of cognitive reasoning capabilities.

    • by fl!ptop (902193)

      the opinion of a professor is much more worthy than that of a manual worker

      Unless the opinion being solicited is how to use a shovel. Or thoughts on the NFL Playoffs.

      </sarcasm> ?

  • ... of the last century wore a white sheet and burned crosses in people's yards.

    Its one thing to stand up, identify yourself and state your beliefs. Its quite another to make statements that you are not willing to stand behind for fear of being ostracized.

    The valid case for anonymity, publishing some information that threatened those in power, used to have a solution. Members of the press would offer their reputations as a proxy for that of the whistle blower. They would vet the information (albeit somet

    • And yet you use a psuedonym to decry the anonymity ofothers. Please post your real name and full info to back up your statement instead of just being a whiny hypocrite.

      • by PPH (736903)

        Slashdot has my real contact information. They are acting as the gatekeeper for my identification, should I commit some heinous transgression. Although I'm certain nobody at Slashdot Corporate Towers would hesitate for more than a millisecond to out me should the Feds come with one of their warrantless requests.

        • Slashdot has my real contact information. They are acting as the gatekeeper for my identification, should I commit some heinous transgression.

          Cop out answer. You state that if you really believe what you say you should "stand up, identify yourself". Saying that "Slashdot has my info" is not standing up and identifying yourself. As I said before, you're nothing but a hypocrite and clearly a troll. Stop posting behind a pseudonym and identify yourself. That you won't identify yourself means that according to your own standard that you're just a coward who is no better than a KKK member.

    • It's not just ostracized.

      Killed, tortured, same to family, etc, etc,etc.

      Anonymity has a long and illustrious history, dating all the way back to nom de plumes in the Greek & Roman times.
      In fact, pseudonym is a Greek word.
      http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Pseudonym#Etymology [wikipedia.org]

  • by Anonymous Coward on Friday December 28, 2012 @04:22PM (#42413355)

    I cannot agree more with him:
    Anonymous cowards posting on the internet will be the downfall of society!!

  • by girlintraining (1395911) on Friday December 28, 2012 @04:23PM (#42413375)

    â"the acceptance, the welcoming of anonymous commenters on websitesâ"as a danger to political discourse and the polity itself.

    Anonymity is not optional in a free society. If we all had to put our names on our ballots, if cash were outlawed and everyone had to pay by credit card with their name on it, if we truly became the transparent surveillance society tech pundits keep pointing to as the future, then democracy is dead. Anonymity is the one thing that can change the status quo -- it allows expression of ideas, themes, and alternatives to it without retribution or revenge being brought down on the speaker. Without anonymity, the government can simply disappear anyone who disagrees. Corporations can lock out political and social undesireables from key markets. When you make speaking out against the establishment impossible without painting a big target on your ass, you've killed democracy. It simply cannot survive without it.

    The internet's free-wheeling and democratic nature, complete with our Anonymous cyber-terrorist groups and our Anonymous Cowards (mostly harmless, sometimes annoying), to cyber-bullies and cyber-other-things-left-unmentioned, is probably a shock to a dreamer like this guy. As a self-described pioneer, he's clearly an idealist. He doesn't see the practical long-term problems, only the ones keeping him from taking whatever his next step is on his ideological journey. For him, he's decided anonymity is the next problem to be kicked out on the way to utopia.

    Sir, with respect to your accomplishments, there are no digital utopias anymore than there are real ones. The analogues between our world, here, and the world out there, and your desire to bridge the two, is noble. But you cannot pick and choose ideological values for your new world. All you can be is a humble medium through which social change occurs. All the great inventors of the world know this. When Maxwell was approached by a politician on the usefulness of electricity, he remarked, "One day sir, you will tax it." I'm sure he envisioned homes lit by power 'from the ethers', and buggies that no longer needed horses as he slaved away in his lab, but he kept enough perspective to realize that what he was discovering would one day integrate into the fabric of society in ways even he couldn't imagine... and the idea of free power for humanity, while noble, was less practical in light of the fact (no pun intended) that it would be regulated and taxed. He knew that, before it even existed.

    Show some humility, sir. You are not the first, nor will you be the last, to become frustrated that the world you created did not develop at all like you imagined.

  • Answer: Having to find something other than VR to talk about, and too much sci-fi. HTH.
  • What? (Score:5, Interesting)

    by bmo (77928) on Friday December 28, 2012 @04:29PM (#42413435)

    "As far back as the turn of the century, he singled out one standout aspect of the new web cultureâ"the acceptance, the welcoming of anonymous commenters on websitesâ"as a danger to political discourse and the polity itself."

    Oh you mean Fidonet? AKA Fight-O-Net? Or like my local bbses where everyone knew each other? One wag commented just hours ago at another forum that the local networks were "the crazy story of raging hostility and love." And they were. We would fight it out online and go to Rock&Bowl and RHPS every weekend. The Greater Internet Fuckwad Theory doesn't account for cruelty and bickering among the people you know and love. It also doesn't account for the BS people post under their *real names* - see Facebook for that.

    This isn't some new phenomenon. This is human nature being acted out online. I don't know where he's coming from that he should be surprised at all. I think he led a very sheltered life online and offline. He thinks that the masses should go back to where they came from. We're well past that point of no-return. Maybe if he doesn't want to be immersed in society, he should go create another Internet, with a population of 1, himself.

    --
    BMO

  • What is the solution? Should we follow the Chinese example [nytimes.com]?
    • by bmo (77928)

      ESR would go right along with the Chinese. He is deeply offended by the "sexygirl69 problem" as he calls it. I followed him on G+ for a while and got disgusted by the fellating of Google and the Right of Corporations to know your real name. Never mind that there are valid reasons for anonymity, including violent ex-spouses, stalkers, or governments bent on silencing dissent.

      The backers of totalitarianism are within our community.

      --
      BMO

  • by Areyoukiddingme (1289470) on Friday December 28, 2012 @04:49PM (#42413629)

    Seems to me that while anonymity is a problem (and the post of the link to Penny Arcade deserves to stay at the top of the heap), pseudonymity is very very useful, and largely immune to many of the problems of anonymity.

    Take Slashdot, in particular. Slashdot has accounts and a reputation system. You are not required to use your legal name as your account name, but that's irrelevant. Once you've chosen a name, it's your name. Outside of astroturfers, most of us use only a single Slashdot account. (I'm sure there are those of you out there who work really really hard at muddying the waters around yourself. We know you're out there. Congratulations. Don't respond.) In consequence, the karma an account accumulates maps pretty well to a single individual. Lanier's concerns about a lynch mob congealing out of the masses are short-circuited by that mapping. We don't know each other's given names, but we know a name for each other. Except for actual Anonymous Cowards, we are pseudonymous, rather than anonymous. And that's enough to form a community, rather than a mob.

    Well, almost. I mentioned the reputation system and karma already, but it bears repeating. That plus conversation threading is probably indispensable as well. The @Blah convention of non-threaded comment systems works very poorly, since it doesn't scale. Taken together, the three features form a community.

    Lanier is right if you ignore Slashdot. Every other site that accepts comments is full to the brim with useless trolls. But it's easy to see why, and the names in use don't matter a damn. What matters is the lack of karma, moderation, and threading. Youtube comments are a cesspool of noise that should simply be deleted, right now, and reestablished with a SlashCode moderation system. The difference would be astounding.

    In truth, because the names currently in use are usually required to be unique within a system, they're usually better identifiers for an individual than their legal names. If my account name was John Smith, I could be one of thousands of John Smiths. But I bet there's only one AreYouKiddingMe on the entire internet. (I haven't Googled and I'm not egotistical enough to bother.) So advocating for requiring the use of legal names online is rather missing the point. The identifier isn't relevant to either the problem or the solution.

    And Lanier is wrong, whether you ignore Slashdot or not. There is one crucial difference between an online mob and an actual mob: nobody can get killed by an online mob. Driven to suicide is the worst it gets, and if our personal support systems (in-person friends and family) weren't so broken, even that wouldn't happen. Nobody has ever been strung up from a tree by a crowd of Youtube commenters, and they never will be, because they AREN'T a crowd. They're a bunch of individuals sitting in front of screens, separated by a cumulative total of millions of kilometers. That, and the psuedonymity/anonymity cuts both ways—the mob can't hang a person it can't find.

    • by Lithdren (605362)

      Nobody has ever been strung up from a tree by a crowd of Youtube commenters

      Of course not! Half of them wouldn't know what a rope is and attempt to hang said target with a string of cats; The other half would be terrified of the green stuff growing out of the ground and the big table-like-material object that seems to be growing out of it, and quickly run for cover into their basements.

    • by istartedi (132515)

      This. It jibes perfectly with what Bruce Schneier says about identity being less relevant to security than character.

      Trolling is a kind of security problem. Of course you're going to have trolls if you afford ACs the same privileges as regular users. ID is useful, but only to the extent it authenticates the character of the user. Once you do that you can filter to users based on character. The only downside to that is the "echo chamber" effect in which users only listen to what they want and never get c

  • by seandiggity (992657) on Friday December 28, 2012 @04:58PM (#42413707) Homepage
    The primary victim of "Web 2.0" seems to have been anonymity. We are tracked. Everywhere on the Web. And we have to work much harder than we should not to reveal ourselves...and it's not just our identity, it's our location, our friends, our habits, our pleasures.
  • by peter303 (12292) on Friday December 28, 2012 @05:04PM (#42413753)
    My first live Jaron talk was a rant against virtual reality at Xerox Parc in the 1980s. The VC's were exploring it as the Next Great Thing. Jaron had done some experimenting and found it lacking then.

    He does think about things deeply. So I value his comments even if I do not always agree.
  • by Anonymous Coward

    I think the main reason for Lanier's discomfort lies in idea that the web is driving us towards a significant shift in social interaction. The old standbys of social segmentation mean nothing on the net. Age, race, gender, religion, sex, even language. Anyone can rotfl or TL;DR or RTFA along side their now global peers, even if in reality they currently share no common norms. I think it is this one change which should be celebrated.

    This change has not come without consequences, however. With a lack of norms

  • capacity of people to congeal—like social lasers of cruelty

    How many similes and metaphors can this guy pack into 10 words? Let's count...

    • 1. Capacity of people
    • 2. people congeal
    • 3. people like lasers
    • 4. social lasers
    • 5. lasers of cruelty

    Simile and metaphor constructs are supposed to help us understand ideas, not make them more obtuse. I think he is trying to make an analogy to the resonance of lasing, but good grief! How many people understand laser physics better than the social dynamics of internet forums?

  • So basically he's reguritating a plot point from Black Ops 2? Except with high falutin' language?

  • Most of the "Anonymous Coward" postings I see here are folks with mod points that want to mod in the same discussion in which they are posting.

    It just took a couple of ham-fisted goofs (*waves* Hi "foe"!) to let me see what was going on.

    It's amazing how much more polite we get when we have to have our name (even an anonymized one) signed at the bottom.

    I found that Disqus [disqus.com] was "kind" enough to trawl all the databases they could, and found some very old comments (ones that I really regret making), and offered

  • I totally agree. Anonymity and false identities - two sides of the same sick coin - will lead to the fall of liberty. -- Polly Baker
  • What do you mean by anonymous? What else you want me to do? I already said my name is khan.
  • I've found myself thinking or agreeing with most of what Lanier has had to say in various contexts but I think overall I disagree with the larger question.

    In my opinion the most important key is forming structures which promote a desired outcome by anticipating human nature. It is all about governance. It is about systematic promotion and reinforcement of good over crap. Curtailing nameless action or leveraging shame never seems to me to have ever been all that effective in the aggregate.

    The most success

  • In any functioning democracy, voting is guaranteed to be anonymous. Voting is making a political statement. Making comments about politics is also making a political statement. If voting is anonymous, why making political comments shouldn't be anonymous. Lanier is clueless.

  • When I noticed myself getting mean online I thought, "Something has gone terribly wrong." It was obvious the rest of the ARPAnet had a social problem, not just me being some sort of asshole.

    My book You Are Not A Gadget: A Manifesto is ruffling virtual feathers across the ARPAnet. And so it should, because I invented virtual reality. Wikipedia, which is a tissue of lies, says so. Prospect magazine's Top 100 Public Intellectuals Poll lists me. Also, my hair is much better than yours. And I'm fifty. According

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