Author: Lauren S. Smith

Finding Justice on the Internet

It was almost impossible to walk though Loyola’s Water Tower Campus last Friday, and not feel the exciting pulse of Anita Sarkeesian’s presence. With the disappointment still lingering from her last scheduled appearance at Utah State University it was, in a way comforting to know that Loyola University Chicago was doing everything possible not to repeat the same outcome. Frankly to see the increased security measures during the Digital Ethics Symposium made me feel special to be a part of something so controversial. However I was also saddened to think that people like Sarkeesian, who has only voiced her opinions and brought light to uncharted topics can still face harassments in the United States by doing so.

Unfortunately, I was unable so hear Anita Sarkeesian speak, but I did hear other guest speakers who helped me to understand the serious ethical breeches that continue to trouble our technologically advanced world. Dara N. Byrne, PhD, has researched what she calls digilantes, or digital vigilantes. This term is used for people who seek radical justice intended for the digital world. Think of this as the Batmen and women of the internet. However, instead of maintaining justice and peace throughout the online world, these specific digilantes find extreme pleasure in humiliating and dehumanizing those whom have victimized others on the internet. Byrne used the digilante group 419’s response to the popular Nigerian e-mail scam in the late 1990’s as a way to illustrate her argument.

 

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Dara N. Byrne, PhD

She used this scam as an example to legitimize her argument because the Nigerian e-mail scam marks the first time “National Consumers League’s National Fraud Information Center launched (an) Internet Fraud Watch to focus much-needed attention on cybercrime.” Byrne said.

419 Digilantism emerged because this group saw the measures taken by law enforcements to fight cybercrime as inadequate. The Digilantes in this group would force those who were known to cyber scam artists to commit humiliating and dangerous acts such as branding themselves and taking nude photos and post them on the internet. In a way this satisfied the Digilantes need for justice.

I will not go into complete details of Byrne’s brief presentation last Friday, but her argument does raise a few questions about how victims of internet scams and bullying can achieve a sense of justice. Where can the lines be drawn to indicate that someone has completely gotten even with their offender?

Because there are a lack of laws to protect people from becoming victims of scams and harassment on the internet, I can understand why someone, wronged through this medium would want to seek justice done on their behalf. Anita Sarkeesian comes to mind. However the justice sought out by the Digilantes described in Byrne’s presentation, portrays a very primal “an eye for an eye, and a tooth for a tooth” approach. Can it be considered justice to harass a harasser, or does this method further the harassment?

Unfortunately, as a person who has not gone through such hardships on the internet, I do not have an answer for any of my questions, but I suppose that this is the issues here. No one, not even law makers have an idea what to do about crimes committed on the internet. In a way each time we enter this medium, we are entering a world of potential unprecedented crime with no answers. So while I understand why a group of people, who have been victims of crime on the internet, feel forced to take the law into their own hands I am also skeptical of their definition of justice.

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Why Is it Stimulating?

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To enter the world of LambdaMoo is to enter the old and foreign land of the internet. When you initially enter this world you are bombarded with darkness and the only signs of life are the small white words on the left-hand side welcoming you to the page. My initial reaction to this world was to call the closest technical support team to make sure I had not broken my computer. However as I grew accustomed to LambdaMoo’s appearance I began to explore the world around me in the dark.

I was so anxious to begin to play LambdaMoo because I looked around the classroom and saw everyone else diving in head first. But I had to stop myself and truly think about what I was about to get myself into. This was not the visually stimulating computer games that we had played as children. This was a game that was stimulating in another way. It required us to use our imaginations from beginning to end while only providing its users a foundation. When I had a chance to explore LambdaMoo on my own terms I discovered that I had the power to make this world whatever I wanted it to be.

I began in the closet, which was very appropriate because my blank computer screen reminded me of the dark cluttered closet as described in the game. I made it out of the house, down the street and to a store of some sort. I thought that I would be welcomed and have the liberty to shop around, but I think something went wrong. The clerk began to offer me a chainsaw, saying that it was half off, but when I tried to reply or to walk away, I could not. This became so frustrating because every command I gave the computer did not understand.

I had to start over, but what motivates people to try again?

So again, in the closet, down the street, past the store, and through the forest. I kept going north. I think it was the descriptions that led me this way, the further north I went the closer I came to the beach and to warm sand. I ended my journey here.

When I logged off from LambdaMoo I could not understand what made this game stimulating. I felt as if I had just played an older version of the Sims but by no means were these games similar. What made this game fun enough to make people want to continue to play it over 10 years later?

I personally think it’s the games ability to allow players to create their own interpretation of LambdaMoo. Players can read what is there in front of them, but there is something very unique in letting someone imagine the world for themselves. Although the game is not as visually stimulating as the games of my youth, this one was still highly interactive.

The New Smartphone

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The older and older I become the more I seem to forget the world with limited technology of my early youth. I forget about those nights curled into bed with a good book, those mornings waking up to an incredibly loud analog alarm clock and playing outside with pieces chalk and rocks, which made a fantastic game of hop-scotch. The older I become I do however; think of a future like the one depicted in movie IRobot. My point here is to say that we are becoming the same utopian society depicted in this movie.

Now picture a society where there are no longer smartphones. The idea itself is now a distant memory for those old enough to remember those days. The new smartphone is a device that is implanted into everyone’s brain. This microchip allows its people to use their brain as if it were a smartphone. They can call, record, surf the web, and access social media solely on the power of their minds.

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If so there are some obvious utopian implications here. For starters, this device would create a world where people have the power to access the Internet while using a completely hands free device, and children would literally have the ability to learn new languages and other basic information at a rapid pace.

However the negative implications of this idea, for me out weight the possible utopia that it can create. This is where I am reminded of Will Smith’s movie. If the smartphone was turned into a microchip and implanted into every human being who could afford it, these people would quite literally be giving themselves over to technology. There would no longer be a distinction between what is considered human and machine. As a result, we enhance a now physical possibility of allowing ourselves to be programed.

There would also be no such thing as privacy. I understand that the word privacy is starting to diminish from our current existing truth, but if the union of human and machine becomes a reality, no one would be able to have a private moment again and the conflict of IRobot will be ours to live.

Decoding the Tweet of Twitter.

 

I am not huge a fan of Twitter. Reducing my words to 140 characters or less is beyond frustrating for me because there is always so much to say. However I will, admit that Twitter’s character limitation inspired me to be creative last night.

My first tweet proved to be the most difficult. I am sure this is because I am still very new to Twitter but also because I could not find anything interesting worth saying. I thought to myself, ‘what could I possible come up with that would be interesting and clever enough for someone to want to read, while portraying a positive representation of myself?’ Before I knew it I had put the act of tweeting on a pedestal where no one, except the cleverest people could reach.  So I began to scroll my Facebook feed, hoping to find something worthy to share.

I deliberately made my second tweet very different from my first.

I wanted to say something that was relevant to my reality; something that would be personal enough for readers to get to know a little more about me, without putting too much of my personal information on the internet. However this was when I felt the annoyance of the 140 character limitation. In order for me to put this message out there I had to make every letter and space count.

But why?

Why is the limitation of thought so greatly embraced by Twitter?  I completely understand Nick Carr’s argument when he mentions the mental changes he has undergone while using such technological tools; I too feel that my ability to focus has been reduced to only mere moments. We live in a reality where information has an expiration date. We no longer find it, because now the most popular demand is for information to find us, and to do so in a timely manner, before it becomes irrelevant.

Even the way we read, is completely different from how we use to. Looking back at my tweets I am amazed that my message is so clear.  This language we have created is something to both marvel at and be cautious of because they can be easily be mistaken for proper forms of communication among children in school. For everyone else, this language is a major shortcut to real thoughts. So the luxury of reading a book, becomes labor for those who once enjoyed it.

What is the benefit to this change? Despite his objections to Carr’s article, I do agree with Clay Shirky’s examination of new media in “Does the Internet Make You Smarter?”

Although this technology is a useful tool for overall communication we, as responsible users must find a way to shape this digital tool to increase our benefits.  It should not hinder us from advancing our own thought because then, the computer really is smarter.

 

The Proud Painter

While I struggle to recall my first memories of using a computer, I am more compelled to remember my first need for it. I simply didn’t have one. As a child, my parents did not immediately create an environment where a computer necessary. They had their computers at work and that was enough for them and I had my Disney books and toys which were enough for me. So in the beginning, we didn’t need a computer. My first experiences with it were very confusing because I did not understand its purpose. For a short period of time, even the word computer held no meaning for me, it was just a big white thing that sat in the corner of some relative’s living rooms. To everyone else however, the computer defined a new standard of living.

The first thing I remembered about computers was the Microsoft Paint program. Despite the machine’s power and endless possibilities, I just wanted to color.  Coloring inside the lines was and still is an impossible concept for me to master. Yet this program made me feel like I had the control to do anything—to make anything. So for hours, I would paint distorted landscapes of sunrises and self-portraits that were really unflattering, all while becoming slowly drawn into this digital world of endless possibilities.

Before I knew it getting on the computer began to feel like a normal activity. My most significant exposure came the day my mother installed the Jump Start typing program onto our first desk top. This program provided the basic fundamentals for typing but personally, it was what Van Dijk would describe as my first real “action and reaction” experience on the computer. It also gave me sense of commitment to it, every day I was to spend 30 minutes on this program practicing my typing.  What intrigued me the most was how I could both receive information and instantly see my mark on the page after I sent information back out. I enjoyed this quality so much that I began to use it to talk with real people. In a flash I was emailing close friends and family and developing my first social media profile.

Today I am still drawn to new media because of the valued interactivity and control it gives me. I am the author and editor of my digital life, I have the power to not only create and destroy content, but also share my most powerful and intimate moments. It is through this interactive characteristic that I am able to discover a piece of my identity. As sad as that is to write I’m sure I am not the only one who can admit it.

Although my relationship with computers has now evolved tremendously from the first time I used it, one dynamic remains the same. I am an artist– we are all artists. Our true beauty lies in our ability to join together and brag about our individual work even if it is a little unflattering.

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Despite my relationship with technology today, there are somethings that I do miss. I feel that children today do not take advantage of resources offered to them in their communities i.e park districts and recreational centers. In a way these resources have become outdated.  This article is interesting because it  shows that despite technological advances public libraries are able to stay relevant. This was refreshing to see.

 Discussion Questions 

1.Have you ever observed your parents or parent figures while you were using the internet? Explain your interactions with them during your computer usage and after.

2. What do you think will happen or has happened to classic board games and children books  as we become more and more technologically advanced?

Lauren S. Smith