Don’t let assholes rent space in your head

Cory Doctorow wrote an excellent piece about trolls here (from which I took a phrase to furnish the title field for this post).

Here be sage advice. Life’s too short for meaningless quibbles with people who are either pathologically argumentative, or who will simply never understand your point of view. Ignore them when you can.

Goodness knows, I’ve had a few rows during my life online. My first exposure to a flame war was in 1997, while I was an undergrad. I had subscribed to an anti-APEC email list (this was around the time Indonesia’s then-murderous president Suharto was invited for a global trade meeting at my university at the time, which involved the famous barricading of the MOA, as well as the ANSOC department, and much of Northwest Marine Drive, to boot, remember? Then, when protesters scaled the fence they got pepper sprayed by the RCMP who at the behest of the Feds were determined to protect the delicate Suharto from ever seeing a placard…not to mention the civil liberties of many students were violated when they were arrested prior to the demonstrations, prohibiting them from taking part…).

Anyway, did I say email list? Yes. After subscribing to this well-intentioned and valuable email list for about a week, many of the well-intentioned and lovely people who posted to it heavily began to disagree over..tactics, was it? I can’t remember – perhaps there’s an archive somewhere. In retrospect, there were two fundamental errors made by this group of hostile posters: (1) they had no mechanism for defusing or deflaming flame wars, and (2) they had not a whiff of respect for the concept of using “Reply All” sparingly, self-centeredly posting their arguments for all to see, rather than emailing their opponent in private. The eventual result was a mass unsubscribe, which quietened what could have been such an amazing tool for student mobilization at a time when it was required.

Then there was the time (don’t I sound like an octogenarian….maybe in Internet years, I am!) I took a week off from EVERYTHING to defeat an Indymedia troll (likely a Provincial right wing political campaign office flak flunkie … shall we call them “flakkies”?) who sought to defame a grassroots recall campaigner here in Vancouver. I used every rhetorical trick and legal resource I could muster to embarrass this servile piece of crap, staying well within Indymedia’s guidelines, and being as polite as possible. Eventually the asshole retreated (logic triumphed over emotion), and I think his final salvo was of the “get a life” variety. Sadly, he was right. I fell behind in term papers, in course readings, and my girlfriend just stared at me like I had transformed into an insect, much like Kafka’s Gregor, fit only to be shut up in my room, a burden to everyone…whatever, I won.

Debating people online is always a risky endeavor, as text seems to (for disputed reasons) lend itself to easy enflamement; this observation is nothing new. My main pitfall is my tendency to feed trolls, who then become emboldened and attack, like raccoons do in cities when they are fed (don’t feed the fucking raccoons, either!). I’d like to swear off it altogether, but I don’t think it’s healthy (for the web) to do so, as I and many acquaintainces of mine report learning something from the exchanges. I do keep myself in check better than previously, which is working out well, and there are some old fora in which I no longer even lurk (believe it or not, some trolls manage to dominate and sustain entire communities that center around their own childlike political whims). And yes, the comments on this blog are moderated. Lump it.

What lessons can we take away from this shambolic retrospective about my experience with trolls and flaming? Well, for one (as argued by the perpetually insightful Alex Halavais here), show respect for the community, email list, or what-have-you to which you’re subscribed if you really want to be there. Secondly, if you really want to parade around like an emperor of something in the marketplace of ideas, get a fucking blog like I did. And thirdly – and this is especially directed at well-intentioned political activists out there – be sure to understand the nature of the medium you are using to mobilize and motivate people. As with the APEC student movement case, the email list got the better of the group to some extent, because they apparently had no idea that email was different from shouting through a megaphone.

And to reiterate, reclaim your head whenever it’s possible. Squatters should inhabit empty houses – not open minds.

(Apologies to my Facebook mates – I promise it’s the last time I’ll post this phrase here. You must be sick of it by now.)

Map of Online Communities

This is likely old news for some, but I just came upon this nifty graphic that I thought I’d share (hat tip to the insightful Online Fandom for sharing the link):
map of online communities

Be sure to avoid the “bay of trolls”. Heh.

Someone ought to make this taggable (I’m looking at you, Plazes)…

(if you can’t see the pic for whatever reason, go to )

Jonathan Coulton, repoproduction, and technological determinism

A recent story in the New York Times about the Jonathan Coulton phenomenon (remember – he’s the guy who posted a song a week on his blog for a year and so launched an infamous viral campaign interacting with fans who made videos for his songs, and who even recorded guitar solos for him to use) raises the spectre of how the internet has revised the rules of interaction between musicians and their listeners. I particularly like the second half of the article, where the author discusses the changing definition of what it means to be an artist in an online mediated regime of musical exchange:

Will the Internet change the type of person who becomes a musician or writer? It’s possible to see these online trends as Darwinian pressures that will inevitably produce a new breed — call it an Artist 2.0 — and mark the end of the artist as a sensitive, bohemian soul who shuns the spotlight. In “The Catcher in the Rye,” J. D. Salinger wrote about how reading a good book makes you want to call up the author and chat with him, which neatly predicted the modern online urge; but Salinger, a committed recluse, wouldn’t last a minute in this confessional new world. Neither would, say, Margo Timmins of the Cowboy Junkies, a singer who was initially so intimidated by a crowd that she would sit facing the back of the stage. What happens to art when people like that are chased away?

This resonates strongly with my own missives and misgivings on art in the age of digital recoproduction (or maybe it’s the age of repoproduction?).

But skim down the article a bit to get to this stuff – the first half of the piece is just more empty technological determinism such as we often see in conventional journalism:

In the past — way back in the mid-’90s, say — artists had only occasional contact with their fans. If a musician was feeling friendly, he might greet a few audience members at the bar after a show. Then the Internet swept in. Now fans think nothing of sending an e-mail message to their favorite singer — and they actually expect a personal reply…

The article goes on to credit the internet for its seemingly mystical ability to raise artists from obscurity to fame, arguing that “without the Internet, (Coulton’s) musical career might not exist at all.” Of course, this determinism grossly underemphasizes the basic characteristic of technology that explains why some musicians build profitable careers online while others do not: it’s what you make it. If Coulton is successful in building a profitable musical life online, it’s precisely because he is predisposed to a specific kind of marketing expertise that is appropriate for internet-mediated exchanges between himself and his listeners.

In simple terms – for whatever reason, this sort of musician is more comfortable or motivated working at his/her laptop for six hours a day than s/he would be pounding the pavement, harassing college radio programmers on the phone, postering, and getting friends of friends to submit reviews of his recordings to local music rags (how it was done – and still is done – in many localized music scenes). And then when a critical mass of indies take up this practice, it becomes just as mundane, routine, and enlurked by snake oil salesman as the old indie-major terrain used to be (and still is). The difference between people who successfully navigate one or the other network (or both networks), in my view, comes down to the simple calculus of which mode of communication they can tolerate better – yakking on the phone all day or clacking on their keyboard.

Anyway, I’m off to enjoy some much-needed sunshine in my still-musically-peripheral-city-despite-the-internet.

self-syndication, the future of music, summer of DRM

OK, that was a good drum break. Back in business. So much to catch up on. Heck, even the Future of Music Coalition is blogging now, which is wonderful news. Stick that in yer link chipper. I’m going to dig into their Policy Day coverage, which I sorely had to miss last week due to my preoccupation with finishing things almost on time. Lots to see there, and given (1) the media panic about camcording and (2) new copyright laws being designed in Canada (both pretty much at the behest of foreign publishing organizations), we’re in for quite a summer of DRM love. Egad, so much to digest. $225 million my ass.

Also – for those of you reading this on “” who are Facebook users, feel free to add request me on there (I’m Jean Hébert, though the acute accent might mess up their search function), as I’m now syndicating this content into my Notes feed. Nothing revolutionary, but I just got around to it. For those of you reading this on Facebook who are familiar with me, but not clicknoise, here you go, I guess.

happy clicknoise new year

This blog launched exactly one year ago. And it’s still here. Hooray. Unlike zefrank, it’s not ending. 12 months is still below average compared to the 33.8 month average lifespan of the Top 100 blogs. Of course, stats like this are still unreliable indicators – remember that we’re only just starting to enter the long tail of blogging, as its growth is only now just starting to slow down, both in terms of number of new blogs, and the post rate, which are both stabilizing. If that stat indicates anything, perhaps it shows that I’m 21.8 months behind the trends. I guess I’m not as cool as my Facebook profile says I am.

Anyway, a year’s a year. The Earth spun around the sun again, and we’re back in the same relative position to that big ball of gas as when I started (although apparently that spot is not so much the same sort of place it used to be, anyway).

Bad timing of me to take a 2 week hiatus, on a one year anniversary. But it’s just as well, as most the most valued web traffic is about yesterday’s Virginia Tech massacre right now, and I have nothing to say about that that hasn’t been said already.

Once the semester’s over (in a coupla days), the backlog of stories and news items will be uncorked (of course, that will only happen after the coming weekend’s libations have been uncorked, drank, passed out during, moaned about over breakfast, and then green-tea’d out of existence again). Lots to catch up on – we’re even getting our own version of the DMCA up here in Canada, and here I am writing term papers. Well, one more to go, anyway.

Coincidentally, April 17 also marks the anniversary of my cessation of smoking. 3 years without a twitch.

Anyway, chat with you soon.