Re-visiones #6

Dossier

A ghost is floating around the Internet: nihilism

Marian Garrido (mariangarridohe@gmail.com)

Istituto Europeo di Design

Translation: Marian Garrido y George Hutton.

Abstract:

From the corporations, trying to grab their slice of the users’ hideouts of resistance, to collaborative platforms for consulting information, we can find numerous examples which challenge control but also threaten to derail the logic system which rules over the tangible world. Nothing matters in the virtual abyss. 

Key words: ¯\_(ツ)_/¯, Internet, user culture, Yahoo! Answers, Wikihow, nihilism, whatever, accelerationism, fictions, resistances, lol, meme.

¯\_(ツ)_/¯


In June 2013, Richard Dawkins, author of “The Selfish Gene” and father of the concept of the meme, appeared by invitation of the Saatchi & Saatchi marketing agency to perform the idea of mutation in the mind. Together, they made a video featuring Dawkins himself as the protagonist of a mesmerising mapping video, related with the so-called Internet aesthetics and deploying a corsage of effects that quickly achieved it aim: it went viral.

We also see in 2013 the appearance and dissemination, coming from the platform tumblr, of the viral .gif that points out “lol nothing matters”, perfectly condensing not just the matter of idleness, but rather the pure nihilism that the depths of the Internet forces us to confront. It is worth knowing that the verb annihilate comes from the late Latin form of annihilare, “to reduce to nothing”, from the root nihil. It might be worthwhile to stop and think how these ideas have witnessed an exponential rise since approximately four years ago – ever since the proclaimed end of the world that never came to be – and from there, perhaps, the “whatever” that turned into the emoticon ¯\_(ツ)_/¯ , lovingly called Shruggie, which could be a zeitgeist for the 2k10s.

If we take into account the premises of accelerationist thought, as noted by philosophers such as Benjamin Noys or Nick Land, that consist in rethinking how opposition to capitalism – normally via revolution – has not achieved its mission, an alternative could well be to accelerate the process of breaking up neoliberalism precisely by taking it to its extremes, finishing off its inherent developments and giving it the typically dystopian qualities of posthuman society. There, 3D or virtual simulation have replaced the body and everything is a commodity, all is generated and consumed, mutated and regurgitated. The corporations have joined the game of Internet resistance and, as with the Dawkins viral video, they tend to appropriate something which previously pushed them away, and which operated completely self-sufficiently.

In the article “Notes on the Apocalyptic .gif”, Jordan Yearsley describes the .gif artefact that consists of a 3D sentence rotating around itself as the closest space to the void, to a non-place, and he claimed it had the ability to end with the very mechanism that feeds the Internet / capitalism. It is as if that specific .gif raised the flag that stands for the thinking of this decade: in fact, the future seems to have been cancelled (for the moment).

The economies of the Internet user follow a clear circular flow: by and for, from and within. The contents that transcend the IRL1 end up being diluted into the illusion that there are still uncontaminated strongholds: it is not uncommon to hear a “LOL”2 between millenials, a paradox that, in being articulated from the physical condition, when the tongue moves into the roof of the mouth and the vocal chords vibrate to make sound, has turned the original meaning on its head, i.e. that which invoked a bodily action impossible to translate online, being analogous to the emoticon “XD”, where a face grimaces with laughter, the expression distorted. This new code is used without the slightest inkling of the gesture that it represents. The “whatever” might also be the mark of the conformity of a generation that, just like ¯\_(ツ)_/¯, goes further than the posture indicated by the emoji, transferring it to a mental state.

Nevertheless, the inflection point of this article is the way user culture modifies and contorts – mutates – forms in the production of content and knowledge, or maybe the ways of approaching and consulting it. Here we can find a range of practices, from the perpetuation of those with some degree of artistic basis, such as pranks, to the surprise brought about by the candour or even the amorality of users, something which does not correspond to any particular and real person beyond their avatar. Therefore, we will also delve further into issues related with atavistic feelings of the masquerade and the freeing power of anonymity.

There are, looking beyond the forums (4chan being the main focal point for the emergence of such webcontent, or forocoches in Spain), other platforms that have structured the mechanism of peer-to-peer information transmission in a less “academic” way than Wikipedia. This particular website, due to its consistency and its own merit, is considered a serious source of information, highly valued by those who were raised with it instead of the encyclopaedia or even Encarta. We can consider Yahoo! Answers, designed to resolve questions among peers, and eHow or Wikihow, platforms supposedly run by experts, that publish guides on “How to X”, each one a perfect example of a taxonomy of the arrangement of certain information.

This last one works hierarchically, where, as with the Wiki editors, there are supposedly people in charge of checking the veracity and appropriateness of the contents, and who are hired by the company. But it does not work like that; these sites follow a kind of business model known as “content farms”, in which the writers must include a wide variety of aspects of enquiry in order to attract users through search engines, monetising their visits and, therefore, they provide non-corroborated information. This depends on a demand for searches, where the most basic of instincts often comes to light.

The tyranny of the market ends up being absorbed by other thinking mechanisms, and the abject, delinquent and obscure human compulsions begin to show cracks. Furthermore, and unwittingly, this also opens a new way in the resistance of capitalism. The rest of the process, from data monitoring to the final product, remains a mystery to me, just like when we come across a neon sign with a spelling mistake: is one person to blame, or is the result of a chain of errors? Perhaps it is the concatenation of “whatevers” ¯\_(ツ)_/¯ .

On this site we can find articles on “how to beg for money”, “how to trick someone into thinking you’re pregnant”, “3 ways of becoming a con artist”, “how to fake your own death: 12 steps”, “how to make people believe you're a mermaid”, “how to use a knife in a fight”, “how to pass a drugs test”, “how to recover from rape or sexual abuse”, “how to force a lock”, “how to combat a spiritual war”, “3 ways of being an anarchist”, “how to throw knifes”, “how to make a bomb”, “how to get a girl to give you oral sex” among many others. What really stands out is how detailed the step-by-step explanations and tips are, but above all is the fact that there are illustrated guides in a clear, clinical, vector line style.

Can we talk about cyber-nihilism?

If we consult the entry for Yahoo! Answers on Wikipedia, we see the clear lack of credibility it has within the online community. To illustrate this, I will do a little – as they call it –  wikipasting:

  • Researchers found that questions seeking factual information received few answers and that the knowledge on Yahoo! Answers is not very deep.
  • Despite the presence of experts, academics and other researchers, Yahoo! Answers' base consists of a much more general group; hence, it has been criticized for the large number of dubious questions, such as "How is babby formed? How girl get pragnent? Condom broke, am pragnent?" [sic], which sparked an Internet meme.
  • This "Internet language" of incorrect spelling and improper grammar also contributes to Yahoo! Answers's reputation of being a source of entertainment rather than a fact based question and answer platform and for the reliability, validity, and relevance of its answers. A 2008 study found that Yahoo! Answers is suboptimal for questions requiring factual answers and that the quality decreases as the number of users increases. One journalist observed that the structure Yahoo! Answers provides, particularly the persistence of inaccuracies, the inability to correct them and a point structure that rewards participation more readily than accuracy all indicate that the site is oriented towards encouraging use of the site, not offering accurate answers to questions.

It is curious how this service has been a breeding ground for trolling. It could be due to the structure of the site, because it does not control the proliferation of anonymous or fake profiles – those made expressly to wreak havoc with answers that lead to nothing, with data that seems to refer to a real person in order to obtain certain veracity – or, though it might pain us to admit it, due to the surprising intellectual capacity within these Internet dumping grounds. Just a few months ago we attested a new Spanish meme phenomemon, based on Yahoo! Answers, where two universes seemed to collide.

This meme, known as “pa k kieres saber eso jaja saludos” (“y u wana know that, haha bye” [sic]) emerged in 2016, but it all started on 9th May 2009. At that time, a Yahoo! Answers user asked about “Nietzsche and nihilism”, incidentally both the key concept and, by sheer serendipity, the trigger for this essay. This case is worth highlighting because, despite these subjects having been introduced into a place which is, in theory, not pertinent for such a discussion, and where it would seem doubtful that any real solutions could be found due to the aforementioned lack of rigour, it must be said that in this community some of the users respond with an impressive amount of knowledge and detail about the matters at hand. Furthermore, the server itself offers different categories of information, such as “Art and Humanities”, which is then subdivided by tags like “Philosophy”, where we find similar doubts, normally coming from students. Since the objective is usually concise and no conversation topics emerge, the inquiry does not usually transcend the pointing out of some particular aspects, without exhaustive argument, as could happen on other peer-to-peer information platforms, such as Taringa.

Here we find bibliographical recommendations or explanations that are pertinent to, at most, two issues. However, although the question had a related thread of responses, two years later an anonymous user, without an avatar, responds with the previously quoted “pa k kieres saber eso jaja saludos” (“y u wana know that, haha bye” [sic]), a phrase that will be retrieve some years later and made viral. Clearly, the resultant mocking of this meme is due to the ignorant response, further taking into account other categories where the cani or nini3is reduced to an unwelcome element in society. These people are deemed ignorant and unproductive, and furthermore entirely uninterested. Thus, they are a viable laughing stock for those who, according to themselves, have made an effort and so consider themselves superior4.

We can twist this idea around and instead find a poetic sense in an answer that slots perfectly into the category of nihilism, undoubtedly putting into effect the claimed assertion: beginning with the syntax and the formal qualities of the sentence, we are taken to the free aesthetic use of the “k”5 or the complete negation of punctuation rules. The response hints at a deeper and more reflexive issue than the combined characteristics that academia would care to admit: Why does the user want to know that? I therefore wonder whether we are facing an exercise in pure nihilism, in which doubt and disorientation is provoked, to inquire about the predominant values and deal with them from the willing to learn. It also ends with a laugh, that could come from somebody who has already been down that path of knowledge, as if it were the retort of a sceptic.

Could it be the staging of a great, cosmic joke?

I don't know, ¯\_(ツ)_/¯ , Lol, nothing matters.


Bibliography:

Dawkins, R. (2014) El gen egoísta, Salvat Editores.

Land, Nick. (1992) The Thirst for Annihilation: Georges Bataille and Virulent Nihilism, Taylor & Francis

Mackay, Robin, ed. (2014). #ACCELERATE: The Accelerationist Reader. Urbanomic.

Noys, Benjamin (2013). Malign Velocities: Accelerationism and Capitalism. Zero Books.

Online articles:

Brennan, Eugene (12 August 2013). "Debate is Idiot Distraction": Accelerationism and the Politics of the Internet" 3:AM mag http://www.3ammagazine.com/3am/debate-is-idiot-distraction-accelerationism-and-the-politics-of-the-internet/

Mackay, Robin (2014). "So, Accelerationism, what’s all that about?". Dialectical Insurgency. http://deontologistics.tumblr.com/post/91953882443/so-accelerationism-whats-all-that-about

Moreno, Gean (2012). "Notes on the Inorganic, Part I: Accelerations". e-flux. http://www.e-flux.com/journal/notes-on-the-inorganic-part-i-accelerations/

Williams, Alex; Srnicek, Nick (14 May 2013). "#ACCELERATE MANIFESTO for an Accelerationist Politics". Critical Legal Thinking. http://criticallegalthinking.com/2013/05/14/accelerate-manifesto-for-an-accelerationist-politics/

Yersley, Jordan (6 Sep 2013) . “Notes of the apocalyptic .gif”. New Criticals. http://www.newcriticals.com/notes-on-the-apocalyptic/print


Referencias

[1] In Real Life, or “the material”.

[2] Laughing Out Loud.

[3] Translator’s note: ‘cani’ is a pejorative term for the Spanish white underclass, largely analogous to ‘chav’ in British English. ‘Nini’ is a term that refers to the new generation of young Spaniards who neither work nor study (literally ‘neither-nor’), with negative connotations (i.e. ‘slackers’).

[4] For more on these ideas, I recommend Chavs: The Demonization of the Working Class (2012), Owen Jones.

[5] Translator’s note: The use of ‘k’, as opposed to the prescriptively correct ‘qué’, is typical in Spanish Internet slang.

Enlaces refback

  • No hay ningún enlace refback.


Licencia de Creative Commons
Este obra está bajo una licencia de Creative Commons Reconocimiento-NoComercial-SinObraDerivada 4.0 Internacional.

 
 

 Re-visiones - ISSN 2143-0040
 
HAR2013-43016-P I+D Visualidades críticas, reescritura de las narrativas a través de las imágenes