You know what? I'm not going to do this laundry-list style. I was going to talk about internet addiction and Second Life as a social safe space and our fascination with technological novelty, but I'd rather not. Instead, I'm going to talk about some of my feelings and experiences when it comes to being a young citizen of the Internet. You wanted to know "what it all means," Charlie. Well, I have no clue, so you're out of luck there. But here's what's going on with me right now, as I sit here typing this.
I'm currently on vacation with several friends in Denver, Colorado. We're all staying in a big old house, exploring Denver and Boulder during the day and partying at night. There are about a dozen of us, and for one week we're hanging out almost exclusively with each other. The strange thing is that, despite the insularity of this vacation, we feel weirdly "linked in" at all times. About half of us have digital cameras with us, and we're constantly photographing even the most boring of our little misadventures. We laid out a photography guideline at the beginning of our week: each of us would snap photos as if we were the only person with a camera, thus ensuring a ridiculously large and detailed body of visual evidence of our various acts and indiscretions. And what is the purpose, the ultimate fate of these photos? Display on Facebook, of course.
As we eat, drink, chat, and carouse our way through this brief winter vacation, we know that people from the future are watching us. What's private becomes public as we upload our photos en masse, sift through them tagging all the people for easy identification, and sit around with beers while we think of clever names for the online albums. With every outfit we don, every drink we consume, every goofy face we pull, every nice-looking girl (or guy) we throw an arm around, we're hyper-aware that our actions will be submitted for review to the court of public opinion in the form of our friends, acquaintances, and even total strangers.
This reminds me of another phenomenon of the recent past: Livejournals. There's something both endearing and absurd about a generation of teenagers posting their most "private" thoughts and feelings in a medium specifically designed for anyone to access and read them. I briefly wrote in a Livejournal back in 2003, and I remember a weird mix of desperate fear and fervent hope that the people about whom I was writing would find and read my posts. Above all, I didn't want the people about whom I was writing to think that I'd deliberately written my posts for them to read. That last transparent pretense, of wanting not to seem like the exhibitionists and attention whores (forgive my language) that we are, is already, culturally speaking, in its last throes. We like having an audience, and we don't care who knows it.
As our meatspace comings and goings become ever better-documented online, life feels more and more like performance art or reality TV. Presumably we're happy with that, since we're the ones responsible. No one's putting a gun to our heads and forcing us to photolog our winter break via Facebook. We want to do it. We want everyone to see. Orwell was right, sort of; the cameras are everywhere, but we're the ones holding them. Big Brother is us, and We Love Big Brother.
Another way that we've been amusing ourselves during our vacation is by watching Youtube videos. Our favorite so far is "RvD2: Ryan vs. Dorkman 2," an elaborate lightsaber fight by two nimble young geeks that's neck-and-neck in terms of quality with the better fights from the recent Star Wars prequels. We also like the very funny, very lowbrow and obscene videos done by the group Derrick Comedy. Watching these videos, created by regular young people like us, somehow adds to that feeling of being perpetually "linked in." There's really no being separate anymore, as even our passive consumption of entertainment reminds us that we're part of a network of young, empowered, creative people making things happen online. We're a generation of people who exist more comfortably online than in meatspace â it's no surprise, then, that we see an appeal in holding a trial in Second Life that goes beyond the actual utilitarian advantages of the tech. My blog gets one hundred unique hits a day and rising; my friend Andy has a modest Youtube following. We're contributing in our small but growing way, plugged into the multidirectional flow of information.
Holed up in this house, my friends and I feel less like an isolated group of people and more like a decentralized cell of some larger web of young cultural revolutionaries, in partial seclusion but still connected, always connected. Even our posting of photos and accompanying commentary is a contribution, however small. No matter that we're not doing anything particularly revolutionary at the moment (besides discovering the virtues of mixing equal parts pear cider with hefeweizen). We're the hip young gods of the Internet, all of us, indulging in the sort of rest and revelry in which gods are wont to indulge. John Perry Barlow saw us coming. Jack Balkin saw us coming. You saw us coming, and here we are. Hello, Eon.
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 My thinking, for better or worse, is heavily shaped by the pop and junk culture that I love and constantly devour instead of the fine cinema and literature with which I should probably be enriching my mind instead. When I talk about a "web of young cultural revolutionaries" â hip, plugged in, ready to change the world â the images that spring to mind and shape, piecemeal, my conception of this rather romantic idea come mainly from the comic books Global Frequency and especially my beloved The Invisibles. Also, of course, The Matrix. Idealized in my imagination, I see the cyber-zeitgeist, the new pop aesthetic. I'm seeing sexy, globetrotting hackers who know kung fu and C++, fighting the Agents and the Archons, clearing away the ugliness and creating something beautiful.