Attention Hackers

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Danah Boyd:

"I would argue that 4chan is ground zero of a new generation of hackers – those who are bent on hacking the attention economy. While the security hackers were attacking the security economy at the center of power and authority in the pre-web days, these attention hackers are highlighting how manipulatable information flows are. They are showing that Top 100 lists can be gamed and that entertaining content can reach mass popularity without having any commercial intentions (regardless of whether or not someone decided to commercialize it on the other side). Their antics force people to think about status and power and they encourage folks to laugh at anything that takes itself too seriously. The mindset is deeply familiar to me and it doesn’t surprise me when I learn that old hacker types get a warm fuzzy feeling thinking about 4chan even if trolls and griefers annoy the hell out of them. In a mediated environment where marketers are taking over, there’s something subversively entertaining about betting on the anarchist subculture. Cuz, really, at the end of the day, many old skool hackers weren’t entirely thrilled to realize that mainstreamification of net culture meant that mainstream culture would dominate net culture. For us geeks, freaks, and queers who embraced the internet as a savior, mainstreamification has meant a new form of disempowerment.

As with security hackers, the attention hackers that are popping up today are a mixed bag. It’s easy to love the cultural ethos and despise some of the individuals or the individual acts. In recognizing the cultural power of the community represented by 4chan, I don’t mean to justify some of the truly hateful things that some individuals have done. But I am willing to laugh off some of the stupidity and find humor in the antics while also rejecting certain acts. I’m willing to lament the fact that it’s been 20 years and underground hacking culture is still mostly white and mostly male while also being stoked to see a new underground subculture emerge. Of course, it doesn’t look like it’ll be underground for long… And I can’t say that I’m too thrilled for every mom and pop and average teen to know about 4chan (which is precisely why I haven’t blogged about it before). But I do think that there’s something important about those invested in hacking the attention economy. And I do hope that we always have people around us reminding us to never take the internets too seriously." (