Editing Wikipedia

   “Free knowledge” in the Internet has gotten my proverbial goat as a passing “researcher” on the matter of virtual environments.  My goat, baa-ing (or is it meeh-ing) across the field of topics I want to deal with in the future, is begging for a push.  Or a slaughter, depending on my mood.

   For example, the UP Baguio Wikipedia entry lists my friends and acquaintances Sloan, Joma, Jahzeel, Wilzen and Det as “notable UP Baguio people.”  I would give props to Det, who won the 2006 Palanca Award for Children’s Fiction for a story that centers around lesbians (don’t get anything in your head).  Jahzeel is indeed the (some say disputed) first summa cum laude of UP Baguio.  I would say that Sloan is a very intelligent young man, that Joma is one tall dude, and Wilzen is a conflicted (not closet) gay person.

   (I dare to ask: where the hell am I?)

   Another example: in Weird Al Yankovic’s “White and Nerdy” video, he edited the Atlantic Records page and wrote “YOU SUCK!”  And then there’s Conservapedia: where the “liberal bias” of Wikipedia is ditched in favor of a pro-American, conservative Republican stance.

   This brings to mind the paradox of (online) freedom: while the best things in life are free, you know what they say about free stuff.  I’ve written earlier about how I forsee myself in Wikipedia, and it just goes to show how easy it is not only to access information, but also to create it.  With someone like Joey de Leon invoking YouTube videos to be the absolute truth, it’s easy to see that there is a good argument for “digital anarchy,” as opposed to “digital democracy.”

   While Wikipedia was supposed to mean the death of the door-to-door encyclopedia salesman, it seems to me that it isn’t: basically, Wikipedia is Childcraft that comes for free.  There’s something postmodern about Wikipedia, in that “whose knowledge” is no longer a prime question, as opposed to, “Is it even knowledge?”  By what terms do we define “knowledge?”  And so, a series of questions emerge.

   I use Wikipedia, but I take everything in it with more than the usual grain of salt.  Stephen Colbert calls it “Wikiality:” truth by consensus.  Which brings to mind a series of more questions: whose consensus, whose truth…

   Dammit, I’m going to make a paper on this.

Manual Data Mining

   I’m a bit flabbergasted that danah boyd, who is a foremost expert on social media analysis, added my thesis to her list of known researches on online social networking.

   One of the more poignant things about my thesis is that I analyzed 417 Friendster Profiles manually, in the span of five months.  I still have bad memories about sitting down in front of my computer poring over the Profiles (and their screen-captures) for 12 straight hours for a full week, just getting color categorization right.  Needless to say, most experts on the matter of Internet research would stop short of calling this “stupid.”

   I haven’t heard of technologies and tools dedicated to Internet research before, like “data mining” and “sentiment analysis.”  From what I’ve read on the matter, tools ranging from simple scripts to full-blown programs have taken the place of the manual method I used in my work.  Personally, I feel a bit bad.  Pissed, even.  Had I known of these tools beforehand, my thesis shouldn’t have been a pain in the ass to commit into writing.  But with these new tools at the disposal of new researchers, I expect the floodgates to be opened for students at my school to do more social research on the Internet.

   I’m still stuck in the “dark ages” of Internet research.  I’m not a computer scientist: I am not very well-versed in programming languages, and I would probably end up with better results doing manual data mining.

   The disadvantages of manual data mining come to the fore, in that a (scientifically) less-objective methodology surfaces as a primary criticism.  There is no way, as far as I’m concerned, to do a strict and committed random sampling method in an online social network if you’re going to do it manually.  I relied on a particular Friendster group, so questions may be laid on (a pretentious sort of) objectivity.

   But even then, large groups come with large samples.  With large samples come hard work, and hard work demands extreme commitment.  Dedicated programs cancel out hard work and extreme commitment, leaving you with interpreting the returned data (in terms of correlations, variances, and so on).

   There is also no escaping errors.  Manual data-collation, especially with large samples, would lead to errors.  While they were minor ones in the case of my thesis (rounding errors), I still can’t sleep at night knowing that the integrity of my thesis can be compromised by a single miscalculated element.

   But then again, you can’t do much with numbers alone, no matter how good you are in statistics.  In general, I’m a skeptic when it comes to statistics: correlations, for example, don’t show actual relationships between arrays of instances.  It is still important for any researcher in social network analysis to go through the tedious process of reading the site itself, because each element is unique.  Establishing personality information, to me, is the first step in establishing the network for purposes of analysis: the whole is the sum of its parts.

   In general, however, I am impressed with the possibilities brought about by computer-aided data mining, in terms of researches on social media.  Dammit, I should have had a tool.

Extensions of Man

   Marshall McLuhan was wrong: the penis – not the media – is the extension of man.  Might as well name your penis, then.  Especially if you’re an exhibitionist.

   Given the season for American politics, I wonder if “Mike Huckabee” or “Barack Obama” are good names for penises, in that they lend themselves quite well.  After all, you have to keep up with the times: “George Bush,” while funny, will be out by November 2008.  In the Philippines’ near future, I think that more penises will be named “ST” (after Manny Villar) and “Mr. Palengke” (after Mar Roxas).

   Back in my UP Diliman summer days, I’ve seen men picking their needles from the haystack at the vacant lot near the church, of all places.  Go forth and multiply?  Moses tapping the rock with his staff and poof, water?  And then there are the bunch at the Engineering building.  Capillarity?  Do we sink this caisson or float it?  Wait: I think you named your penis “Bernoulli.”

   I’m serious about the “needle in the haystack” thing.  It takes a bit of visual combing to look at the mother louse.  Or beating around the bush.  This is the classic case of the bird killed with one stone.  I’ve smoked bigger cigarettes, picked my teeth with longer toothpicks, and eaten fatter longanissa.  Heck, I chewed on bigger Tic-Tac’s.  Bring on the guava leaves, folks, because this guy is long overdue for a date with the machete.

   I’ve come across my own fair share of exhibitionists: some of them gay folk who think that just because I have long hair, I’m part of the federaccion.  I would rather have voluptuous Russian lady spies go after me and momentarily knock me out unconscious by parting their trench coats.  Nah, women in miniskirts and plunging necklines aren’t “exhibitionists” as much as they would call themselves “liberated.”  Try that on a jeep.

   Here’s a question: why on earth would an exhibitionist call his package a “pututong” or a “butuytuy?”  Have you lost your mind, man?  I would understand a “Danny DeVito” or a “Tom Cruise,” and I understand your overcompensation by showing me your “donkey” and tell myself you probably drove one too many L300’s in your past life as a driver for some short Congressman who named his penis after Marcos.

   The furthest I have gone was to see somebody actually climax and ejaculate, sowing the oats somewhere near the Rizal Memorial fronting Burnham Park.  Padre Damaso?  Padre Salvi?  Ah, Camaroncocido!  And this is what Rizal died for?

   ¡Adiòs pene patria, tu tamaño es caramba!

Friend Overload

   Because I wrote a thesis on this topic, I should know how to explain phenomena that take place in virtual environments.  Allow me to indulge…

   While Friendster remains to be the number one social networking site (SNS) in the Philippines, I’ve observed that more and more people “jump ship” to other SNS’s like Multiply, MySpace, and lately, Facebook.  Which begs the question: why?

   In my thesis, I wrote:

   Because the “self” created in the virtual environment – in this case Friendster – is completely devoid of cognition and of feeling and of other things that make an individual an individual, it has no recourse but to be articulated in terms of what is available to the thinking, practicing individual.  It is solely defined by the structures surrounding it: the limitations provided for by the layout of the Friendster profile, the limitations of one’s connection speed, the limitations of one’s knowledge of coding and programming, and so on.  But the most important limitation that should be noted is the limitation of the self in attempting to articulate itself: to concretize its abstractness, to make itself known.  (2007: 326)

   While I myself am a bit disillusioned by Friendster, you have to give credit where credit is due: Friendster “revolutionized” (using that term loosely) social networking.  But as a rejoinder to the “limits” I talked about, a service like Multiply offers an all-in-one solution for presumed “needs” like blogging and multimedia: you can’t share your favorite music in Friendster (yet) without using Imeem, for example.  Besides, more and more Friends are added to Friend Lists: a sort of “Friend overload.”

   The difference is that there really isn’t any added responsibility for people to maintain close contacts, much less establish them.  In my correspondence with Andrew Feenberg of Simon Fraser University, one of his biggest disagreements with my thesis was that I seemed to take the term “friend” seriously.  “Friend,” as it seems, is a linguistic limitation.  But the way I saw it, I had to take it seriously: because Friend Lists in Friendster start with adding real friends and end up in the mere acceptance of invitations, the very definition of friendship is challenged.

   But every social networking site – be it Friendster or Facebook – comes with waiving responsibilities in establishing close contacts.  There really is no responsibility to maintain close associations in an SNS: the absence of this responsibility means that certain “responsibilities” come to the fore, like tricking out Profiles by adding widgets and embedded video.  The real, actual responsibility still lies outside the realm of the SNS.

   Regardless of jumping ship, however, the limit still exists.  You still don’t know who you are.

Signifier of the Signifier

   Roland Barthes, when he discussed semiotics (or “semiology,” to be faithful to his use of the term), expanded the traditional notion of Ferdinand de Saussure’s sign into two levels: denotation and connotation.  At the level of denotation, there is just the arbitrary and conventional relationship between the signifier and the signified.  At the level of connotation, there is the concretized and contrived relationship between the signifier and the signified: Barthes calls this “myth.”

   Advertisements are classic examples of “myth,” in that “subliminal messages” become part of the package, the marketing machine.  Think “Josie and the Pussycats.”  But to me, all this talk about “hidden messages” and “semiotics” surrounding certain aspects of a commercial is misguided analysis.  A class I took in my sophomore year comes to mind: a student said that there was a “sexist message” in advertisements for wristwatches, where the minute- and hour-hands of the watch’s face “represented the legs of a woman,” and the second-hand “represented the penetration of the penis.”

   But is it?  If my watch reads 10:10.01, should I then assume that the watch company has intended to do this to sell sex to me?  Obviously not.

   Marshall McLuhan comes to mind: the effect of media is not the content, but the medium itself.  McLuhan is often quoted and invoked for the phrase, “The medium is the message.”  There is no “pro-gay” message in rainbow-colored lights: the light bulb’s message is the expansion and the extension of waking, working, and leisure hours.  The medium that is the advertisement has served the purpose of extending “social realities,” but in truth, it doesn’t.

   In selling papaya-based skin whiteners, do I disregard a preference for the morena?  In advertising milk, am I in effect a racist because there’s no such thing as “black” milk?  Do I discriminate against curly-haired people by selling shampoo?

   If there is a “subliminal message” to any advertisement, it is that there is a different reading of truth, or a different truth altogether.  Advertisements “mythologize” truth: shampoo alone will not give you extremely smooth, straight and shiny hair.  Ice cream will not result in perfect scoops that won’t melt.  Washing clothes with a particular brand of soap will not result in a really old shirt looking brand-spanking new.  Herbal remedies are not substitutes to clean living and exercise, and there is no substitute to exercise.

   As such, all advertisements function at the level of connotation: not just soap, but this brand of soap.  Not just shampoo, but this brand of shampoo.  Not just a TV show, but this particular TV show.  There are no implicit messages about anything, but just an explicit message of the denial of choice, of signifying the signifier.

Dirty Little Secrets: An Assessment of Porn

   Disclaimer: I’m not a sexual beast, nor am I sexually preoccupied. 

   Yesterday’s entry was about a hypothetical porno movie about lechon, and it makes me kind of rethink the whole idea of porn in general.  Even if pornography is a multimillion dollar industry, it’s still pretty much illicit.  “Immoral,” even.  The conservative right would rather have it that the mere possession of porn be made illegal and criminal: Sen. Loren Legarda, for example, made waves in shutting down BoyBastos.com.  “Investigative reporters” with weekend shows make headlines out of busting porn rings and nightclubs.

   Like marijuana and herpes, having porn is one thing: hiding it is more important.  DVD hawkers, for example, sell X-rated DVD’s behind displays of pirated martial arts movies that feature Jet Li or Chuck Norris.  In Internet shops, surfing porn means really small browser windows.  Internet-sourced porn are hidden in folder trees or in ZIP files.  There’s no shortage of gay and lesbian MPEG files in the Internet.  This basically means that if you really have to have porn, you have to hide it.

   Rather than talk about porn movies, I delimited this experiment to kinds of porn accessible to many people: novels, magazines, and Internet porn.

Smut novels

   Before the Internet, “porn” was more of “smut.”  This basically meant sexually-charged novels.  (Vladimir Nabokov’s “Lolita” is not “porn” per se, but a classic piece of 20th century literature.)  Novelists like Harold Robbins and Irving Wallace, for example, became famous in discount bookstores for their very libidinal works that dealt with showbiz and sex: Robbins, for example, peppered his novels with sex on every chapter, and Wallace’s formula for sexing up his novels was to do it in each quarter of the novel.  Sidney Sheldon’s familiar solution was to put mild descriptions of sex in the beginning and towards the end, but puts graphic detail in the middle.

   But even before the romantic American novel, there were really “pornographic” novels that surfaced and made their marks in literary history.  The French are particularly famous for this, like Pauline Réage and Anaïs Nin are particularly good examples.  Réage’s “The Story of O” dealt with sadomasochism, and proved to be the quintessential model of hardcore porn films in the 1970s to the 1990s.  Nin’s “Delta of Venus,” considered by many literary critics as the most erotic novel of the 20th century, was basically a collection of short stories that talked about sex from a feminine viewpoint.

   While Réage and Nin are considered to be the mistresses (no pun intended) of porn, I think that “real porn” was “invented” at the turn of the 19th century by the Marquis de Sade, in his works “Justine” and “The 120 Days of Sodom.”  “Sodom,” in particular, would have even the most perverted of Literotica.com subscribers cringe with its graphic descriptions of torture, rape, and murder.

Tijuana bibles, “Heavy Metal,” and smut periodicals

   “Playboy,” “Penthouse” and “Hustler” are tame, and even classy: there’s nothing morally wrong with the photographic portrayal of nude women in my view.  There are, however, certain exceptions to the rule: in this section, I tackle a few of them.

   Tijuana bibles – or “Playboy of the 1920s” – are short pamphlets that tackle such sexual themes as bestiality and interracial sex, among others.  In “The Green Mile,” for example, a Tijuana bible is shown being read by one of the prison guards, concealed under a thick book.  Basically, a Tijuana bible is like a “Bazooka Joe” strip.  With the advent of glossy magazines, porn really came to fruitition.

   In the 1990s, the comic book “Heavy Metal” was the dirty little secret of many an elementary school kid: back then, some of my classmates were corporeally punished for having the magazine.  It’s more like hardcore sci-fi that involved muscle-bound women and machines.

   For the masses, though, P5 street tabloids became their dirty little secret.  Until now, sex tabloids represent a powerful force in shaping public opinion.  While “Bulgar” and “Tiktik” represent the archetypal smut tabloid, more and more tabloids have surfaced that serve the public right to be informed… about sex.  You have “Nightlife,” “Ang Playboy,” “Toro,” the list goes on.  National issues take fourth fiddle to the things that matter more to the readership: showbiz, sex crimes, and sex.  The reportage encompasses rape, sex scandals, and tips on sex.  There is no shortage of “news” in 75-year-old women getting raped on a news week.  “Xerex Xaviera” and “Roma/Amor” became part of Filipino popular culture for sex stories.

Internet porn

   With the Internet, porn became much more ubiquitous, even omnipresent.  Havoc was wreaked in flash drives and computers all over the world for viruses that came from searching porn.  With the Internet, porn became readily available and readily consumable: it’s no longer like an awkward moment in a drugstore to buy condoms.

   Internet porn made even illegal and morally-bankrupt porn readily available, raising global concerns on the proliferation of child pornography.  Global legislation and action made watchdogs like Cyber Angels and the End Child Prostitution, Child Pornography and Trafficking of Children for Sexual Purposes (ECPAT).  This raised – and continue to raise – debates on the matter of censorship and free speech (more on that next time).

Porn: quo vadis?

   The debate on porn raises so many questions: is porn the cause of sexual crime?  If we see porn as an effect, what causes porn?  With the Internet, new directions for porn have risen that it almost becomes a Quixotic struggle to battle pornography.

   As a passing “anthropologist,” I look at porn as not a dysfunction of society, but has become a function of it.  I did not define porn here because there is a certain stigma attached to porn: a moral stigma, an ethical stigma, a political stigma.  Sex, hidden from view for so long, has taken the character of the monster under the bed.

   Like I said before, if you have porn, you have to hide it.  Not because it is meant to be hidden, but because the function of it in society is to be hidden and deemed to have a corrupting value.  Porn is like many things we hide: corruption, Angst, among others, that contribute to how our society works.

   Eliminating porn, to me, is not only a matter of factoring out porn from the complicated equation that is society, but to reconfigure society in general to situate where porn belongs in the order of things.  This will involve a lot of critical assessments and debate: meaning we should take all sides into account.

   The dirty little secret that is porn will continue to hamper free and open communication.

Youth Suicide

   In the interest of humor, “Youth Suicide” is the name of a Wrestling Society X wrestler famed for throwing himself off 25-foot ladders and into thumbtacks and explosive ring props.  However, for this entry, I’d like to talk about a different sort of youth suicide: young people killing themselves before they reach the prime of their lives.

   Awhile ago, I talked about a recent suicide by a 12-year-old girl at Cabinet Hill, Baguio City.  The latter half of this year has been rife with youth-related suicides: Mariannet Amper of Davao City, a boy who committed suicide in Iloilo under the influence of rugby, and various hangings.  Rather than of the kind of suicides consistent with the depressing lyrics of Fall Out Boy and Hoobastank, these are suicides that are of a different nature from teen “emo” phases: there seems to be a prevalence of depression among the youth today.

   This article, haphazard as it may be, attempts to ground youth suicide into a framework: a social-anthropological one.  Here, I attempt to make sense of suicide from a different perspective outside of blogging commentary.

*     *     *

Boring sociological brouhaha

   Emilé Durkheim, considered by many to be the father of sociology, was also one of the first to study suicide scientifically.  In his work Suicide, Durkheim distinguishes between four forms of suicide:

  • Egoistic suicide: results from too little social integration, where suicide is committed because of having little in the way of social support mechanisms;
  • Altruistic suicide: results from too much social integration, where suicide is committed because people are willing to sacrifice their own lives for others’;
  • Fatalistic suicide: results from overregulated, unrewarding lives (i.e., slavery;
  • Anomic suicide: results from problems in integration like the inability of societies to provide for needs (acute and chronic economic anomic suicide), or the inability of societies to provide for adaptation (acute and chronic domestic anomic suicide).  (http://durkheim.itgo.com/suicide.html)

    Suicide, at least given this framework, is not caused or done solely by the individual: the value of Durkheim’s sociology (perhaps even its limitation) is that it frames social events and phenomena from and into the social world.  For the lay person reading this entry, it is already possible to assume that youth suicide is by and large anomic: for example, Mariannet Amper’s suicide was an acute or chronic economic anomic suicide.

   But while we can chalk up a lot of youth-related suicides to the inability of social institutions to provide for needs, surely something else outside of institutions has to be a cause for suicide.  If you asked me, from the structural-functionalist framework of viewing things, the social structure is composed of social agents: think of Lego blocks creating a tower of Legos.

   My newfound knowledge and appreciation for psychoanalytic theory leads me to a probable cause for suicide: the human psyche itself.  I’m fairly new to psychoanalysis, so right now, my firmest grasp on the matter is more towards Gilles Deleuze and Félix Guattari (BTW: they’re not “psychoanalytic” per se, they critiqued psychoanalysis) as opposed to Sigmund Freud or Jacques Lacan.

   The psyche being the Lego blocks in the tower of Legos, we need to consider the human individual: Deleuze and Guattari, in Anti-Oedipus, write that the individual, being a desiring-machine, works only by breaking down (this holds true for every machine).  This breakdown can cause many in the way of what Deleuze and Guattari call “neuroses:” while I’m not sure if suicide is in the text, I’m sure that it is a manifestation of it.

*     *     *

   It’s clichéd, but the reality of youth-related suicide (or suicide for that matter) is that it is not caused by a single factor: instead, it is caused by a multiplicity of factors.  There is no central cause to youth-related suicide: consider the MySpace suicide, among many other Internet-related suicides for that matter.

   I’m not saying that suicide is an event without a cause: all I’m saying is that because we cannot trace suicide to a single pool of causes that are easily addressed, there’s really no way to prevent suicide.  It is possible to alleviate the effects of suicide-causing factors so as its effects would not be so prevalent, like more jobs and a common social understanding for the lesser among us.  But as far as preventing something that has been with modern society since day one, it’s not possible.

   “Vicious cycles,” says my friend Rhon.  I just hope that’s not it for a problem I don’t really know how – or where – to start solving.

Lockdown

   I just got reminded by my mom that if I have any plans of getting travel documents in the way of passports and visas, I have to cut my hair.  Somehow, many of my relatives are quite concerned about my hair length.  It’s paranoia by syllogism:

  • I have long hair.
  • I’m from UP.
  • I used to be an activist of the street-rallying kind.

   It’s not that I’m afraid of having a haircut: when I took the summer term at UP Diliman a couple of years ago, I had a haircut.  Some of my friends were very nanghihinayang that I cut my hair when it was so long, shiny, and fell in a neat cascade almost to the small of my back.  Now my hair is below shoulder-length: it’s still too long by conventional and conservative standards.

   For all intents and purposes, I used to be very vainglorious when my hair was longer.  I oiled it myself on a regular basis, used handfuls of shampoo and handfuls of conditioner (not the all-in-one kind), and even went so far as to have it cellophaned once.  When pesky lice infested my hair, I took the burning sensations of Kwell, had my hair ironed, and then went to a hair spa a month later… all in the effort of ridding my locks of the parasitic vermin.

   Now that I have shorter hair – and figured out the cost of my vanity – I stopped giving my hair the kind of attention I don’t give my romantic prospects.  The truth is, you don’t have to go to a hair salon to have good hair: you only need to give your hair an extra oomph of shampoo.  Soap, surprisingly, works fine.

   But I don’t know what haircuts have to do with travelling abroad.

Jaded

   I was talking with an old batchmate of mine when the topic inevitably drifted to the matter of social action.  And so it comes with the jadedness of two guys bullshitting: him taking up law, me taking up the challenge of establishing myself as a “theorist” by the time I graduate.  In our heyday as young men in undergrad, we both shared the mantra of “down with the system.”  With someone like an Antonio Trillanes IV representing that same idea… well, it doesn’t sound so cool or so right anymore.

   I’m the first to admit that my social consciousness was made and formed in the streets by virtue of a placard or a streamer.  Yup, I was an activist.  I still am, although of a different sort.  I now make qualified distinctions between “militant,” “progressive,” “Leftist,” and so on and so forth.  The reason being is that having grown up with the general movement of the Marxist idea of improving society through struggles of many different sorts, walking the walk is different from talking the talk, and walking the talk is different from talking the walk.  Walking while talking is different from talking while walking.  It’s the way things are: it took me the better part of five years to figure that out.

   “Critical thinking” is more of a catchphrase to me than an actual practice: there is a difference in thinking critically and thinking in the end of criticizing.  “We denounce” is the kind of warcry you would see in a political statement, blowing everything out of proportion that every problem that there is in the country – or the world – can be pinpointed when you find someone to blame.  I’ve gotten a lot of flak for that over the years: where I have the power to write online, I do not blame.  You really have to look deep inside yourself to see if you are in the right plane to point fingers at anybody without your arm tiring.  Are you pointing up, or are you pointing down?

   All too often, the problems of this country aren’t supposed to be laid upon the finger of blame.  Judgment is reserved for those who can judge: those who themselves contribute to the decay of society in any way are bad judges of character.

   Jadedness… maybe it’s having to look from things at the other side of the fence for once.