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Monday, January 14, 2013

Lanza, Swartz, Roberts: Death By a Community of "Like"

Nick Meli - Ended the Clakmas Shooter's "Fantasy"
Aaron Swartz was an MIT student that decided the documents contained in JSTOR, a commercial "warehouse" for academic journals, should be "free" to everyone.  Swartz downloaded millions of pages of documents with the intent of distributing them to "file sharing" web sites according to the Huffington Post.

Swartz was apprehended and did not distribute the documents.  JSTOR's spokeswoman Heidi McGregor said "We don't own any of this content. We really have to responsible stewards of it. We worked hard to find out what was going on. We worked hard to get the data back."

In September of last year Swatz was indicted for wire fraud, computer fraud and unlawfully obtaining information from a protected computer - charges with a fine of $100,000 and a prison term of up to thirty five years.

Recently Swartz committed suicide.  No doubt rather than face thirty five years in prison.

I find this a fascinating turn of events not unlike the recent situations in Sandy Hook, Connecticut and the Clakamas Town Center Mall in Oregon.

In each of these cases the shooters also committed suicide.

To me its almost as if each of these individuals were seduced, as it were, down the wrong path to act criminally and then, when confronted with the "actuality" of what they had done, were so overwhelmed with shame or grief they felt no choice but to end their lives.

As if society had been sending them a message that the actions they took were "rigtht" up until reality showed them how wrong they were.

In some sense, and not to point the finger of blame, its as if modern technology (video games, the internet, etc.) all conspire to allow you to fabricate a world where your model of thinking is "real" - whatever that might be.

So, in the case of Swartz, he felt no doubt that JSTOR was somehow limiting the progress of society by charging money for documents - never mind it didn't own the documents and just functioned as a commercial library.  Perhaps too he felt that it was wrong to "own" information.  Its hard to tell but in any case his action speak for whatever he was thinking.

At the time he stole these documents (though now we will never know for sure) he no doubt felt the exhilaration of "liberating" the documents for all humanity.

But I guess he missed the part about the documents not being his property in the first place.

And this is where the whole notion of modern "community" is an utter failure.  In his world all that mattered was the "freedom" to access these articles irrespective of any actual ownership.  No doubt he felt that ownership was secondary or "antiquated" in the modern internet age.

Almost like a group hallucination or group hypnosis. 

Everyone believes TinkerBell is alive and she becomes alive.  Everyone believes the documents are being held hostage by evil "industrialists."

And some poor shlub like Swartz launches off the edge of reality to make it so.

Only its not "so" and so, like Icarus, he crashes to earth.

The internet creates a false sense of community in other ways as well.

Through violent video games like "Call of Duty" (via sharing the experience of war in real time with your friends), through things like "the flu epidemic" which we all "share" and through "news."

As I pointed out in my last post there is no rigorous scientific evidence that the flu vaccine does anything at all useful.  Yet each day during flu season we see endless articles about how important the vaccine is.

Yet it does nothing but at best offer some sort of placebo effect.

Still everyone "believes."

The internet and the information it presents is very problematic for several reasons.  For one, its very difficult to distinguish between "paid" content and "raw data."

Typically "paid content" will link to "raw data" but you have to be careful to follow the links and read what is actually there.  Otherwise you will fall victim to whatever the "paid content" authors want you do believe.

Most people, of course, don't do this.

They "surf" along at the surface looking only at what they "want" to see and, of course, upon finding it that's as far as they ever look.

Hence a false belief system is created for them to live in.

If you are mentally ill this is particularly problematic.

Fifty years ago if you believed aliens were going to take over (or whatever) you really could only sit in your room and stare at the walls.  If you actually went out the door and talked to others you would immediately be labeled a kook.

Today, with you handy internet connection, you can easily find others who "believe" as you do - no doubt replete with websites and videos to back up the claims.

You are immediately granted the status of "non-kook" because you've found "evidence" to back up your belief system.

Again, fifty years ago about as far as you might get believing in something like aliens was a letter to the editor (probably being used as an example of what's wrong with society).

Today you are a hero in your own mind.

At least until reality comes knocking at your door.

This also comes into play even in the "news."  Take David Gregory as an example.  As part of a Washington DC news story he waves around an "illegal" magazine for a semi-automatic weapon.

Its okay to have the magazine because it makes a point in the story, I suppose.

Then he's subsequently given "cover" by the DC district attorney (see the letter here) because a prosecution would not "promote the public safety" (page two, second paragraph).

So someone else, who might follow Gregory's lead, might obtain a similar magazine - but without similar consequences.

Gregory, too, it seems, is now a hero in his own mind - immune from prosecution.

The internet is becoming a very bad source of "positive" (positive in the sense of amplifying beliefs right or wrong) feedback for kooks of all sorts.

Put your "kooky" behavior out there and others, like you, will "Like" your behavior.  So you'll go further along.  More "Likes" - more kooky behavior.  And around and around in a positive feedback loop until you wake up in the Clakamas Mall or Sandy Hook school and realize you've made a terrible mistake.

I have to believe that this is also the societal model for most suicide bombers as well - except that instead or in addition to any "internet" aspects there is an advanced moral and religious element providing the same positive feedback.

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