Humdog (A Prelude), 2017
An ongoing, experimental video project inspired by the writings and life of cyber-pioneer Carmen Hermosillo.
A network of phantom limbs made from molds of the artist’s hands are linked together by metal chains, a mouth emerges from darkness oozing white foam; a phallus made of wax rotates in blinking neon and a plaster bust of the goddess Athena radiates pink light from her eyes: Weitz's imagery permeates a palpable, erotic terror.
Weitz discovered the writings of Carmen Hermosillo, also known by her avatar Humdog, while researching early cybernetic history and Internet subcultures. As early as 1994, Hermosillo articulated a complex argument about the problematic design of online social platforms in her prophetic essay, “Pandora’s Vox: On Community in Cyberspace.” She was an early participant in The WELL, one of the original online forums and an electronic extension of the counterculture magazine Whole Earth Catalog. Within this purported cybernetic utopia, Hermosillo called out misogynist behavior and derided the commodification of selfhood. As a Cuban-American woman, she expressed an underrepresented point of view in a tech community largely dominated by white hetero-normative men. Ten years later, she joined the simulated world of Second Life, personifying multiple avatars, publishing editorials for the newspaper Alphaville Herald and participating in virtual BDSM role-play. The psychological impact of Hermosillo's online relationships, however, tragically led her to delete her avatars and take her own life in 2008.
For the first installment of Weitz's project, she adapted excerpts of Hermosillo’s text narrated by artist Karen Krolak and collaborated with hip-hop producer Saviour Adu to compose an original synth-based soundtrack. Weitz has collected an archive of Hermosillo’s writing some of which appear below.
pandora's vox: on community in cyberspace
by humdog (1994)
when i went into cyberspace i went into it thinking that it was a place like any other place and that it would be a human interaction like any other human interaction. i was wrong when i thought that. it was a terrible mistake.
the very first understanding that i had that it was not a place like any place and that the interaction would be different was when people began to talk to me as though i were a man. when they wrote about me in the third person, they would say “he.” it interested me to have people think i was “he” instead of “she” and so at first i did not say anything. i grinned and let them think i was “he.” this went on for a little while and it was fun but after a while i was uncomfortable. finally i said unto them that i, humdog, was a woman and not a man. this surprised them. at that moment i realized that the dissolution of gender-category was something that was happening everywhere, and perhaps it was only just very obvious on the net. this is the extent of my homage to Gender On The Net.
i suspect that cyberspace exists because it is the purest manifestation of the mass (masse) as Jean Beaudrilliard described it. it is a black hole; it absorbs energy and personality and then re-presents it as spectacle. people tend to express their vision of the mass as a kind of imaginary parade of blue-collar workers, their muscle-bound arms raised in defiant salute. sometimes in this vision they are holding wrenches in their hands. anyway, this image has its origins in Marx and it is as Romantic as a dozen long-stemmed red roses. the mass is more like one of those faceless dolls you find in nostalgia-craft shops: limp, cute, and silent. when i say “cute” i am including its macabre and sinister aspects within my definition.
it is fashionable to suggest that cyberspace is some kind of island of the blessed where people are free to indulge and express their Individuality. some people write about cyberspace as though it were a 60′s utopia. in reality, this is not true. major online services, like compuserv and america online, regular guide and censor discourse. even some allegedly free-wheeling (albeit politically correct) boards like the WELL censor discourse. the difference is only a matter of the method and degree. what interests me about this, however, is that to the mass, the debate about freedom of expression exists only in terms of whether or not you can say fuck or look at sexually explicit pictures. i have a quaint view that makes me think that discussing the ability to write “fuck” or worrying about the ability to look at pictures of sexual acts constitutes The Least Of Our Problems surrounding freedom of expression.
western society has a problem with appearance and reality. it keeps wanting to split them off from each other, make one more real than the other, invest one with more meaning than it does the other. there are two people who have something to say about this: Nietzsche and Beaudrilliard. i invoke their names in case somebody thinks i made this up. Nietzsche thinks that the conflict over these ideas cannot be resolved. Beaudrilliard thinks that it was resolved and that this is how come some people think that communities can be virtual: we prefer simulation (simulacra) to reality. image and simulacra exert tremendous power upon culture. and it is this tension, that informs all the debates about Real and Not-Real that infect cyberspace with regards to identity, relationship, gender, discourse, and community. almost every discussion in cyberspace, about cyberspace, boils down to some sort of debate about Truth-In-Packaging.
cyberspace is a mostly a silent place. in its silence it shows itself to be an expression of the mass. one might question the idea of silence in a place where millions of user-ids parade around like angels of light, looking to see whom they might, so to speak, consume. the silence is nonetheless present and it is most present, paradoxically at the moment that the user-id speaks. when the user-id posts to a board, it does so while dwelling within an illusion that no one is present. language in cyberspace is a frozen landscape.
i have seen many people spill their guts on-line, and i did so myself until, at last, i began to see that i had commodified myself. commodification means that you turn something into a product which has a money-value. in the nineteenth century, commodities were made in factories, which karl marx called “the means of production.” capitalists were people who owned the means of production, and the commodities were made by workers who were mostly exploited. i created my interior thoughts as a means of production for the corporation that owned the board i was posting to, and that commodity was being sold to other commodity/consumer entities as entertainment. that means that i sold my soul like a tennis shoe and i derived no profit from the sale of my soul. people who post frequently on boards appear to know that they are factory equipment and tennis shoes, and sometimes trade sends and email about how their contributions are not appreciated by management.
as if this were not enough, all of my words were made immortal by means of tape backups. furthermore, i was paying two bucks an hour for the privilege of commodifying and exposing myself. worse still, i was subjecting myself to the possibility of scrutiny by such friendly folks as the FBI: they can, and have, downloaded pretty much whatever they damn well please. the rhetoric in cyberspace is liberation-speak. the reality is that cyberspace is an increasingly efficient tool of surveillance with which people have a voluntary relationship.
proponents of so-called cyber-communities rarely emphasize the economic, business-mind nature of the community: many cyber-communities are businesses that rely upon the commodification of human interaction. they market their businesses by appeal to hysterical identification and fetishism no more or less than the corporations that brought us the two hundred dollar athletic shoe. proponents of cyber- community do not often mention that these conferencing systems are rarely culturally or ethnically diverse, although they are quick to embrace the idea of cultural and ethnic diversity. they rarely address the whitebread demographics of cyberspace except when these demographics conflict with the upward-mobility concerns of white, middle class females under the rubric of orthodox academic Feminism.
the ideology of electronic community appears to contain three elements. first, the idea of the social; second, eco-greenness; and lastly, the assumption that technology equals progress in a kind of nineteenth century sense. all of these ideas break down under analysis into forms of banality.
as beaudrilliard has said, socialization is measured according to the amount of exposure to information, specifically, exposure to media. the social itself is a dinosaur: people are withdrawing into activities that are more about consumption than anything else. even the Evil Newt says that. ( i watched his class.) so-called electronic communities encourage participation in fragmented, mostly silent, microgroups who are primarily engaged in dialogues of self-congratulation. in other words, most people lurk; and the ones who post, are pleased with themselves.
eco-green is a social concept that is about making people feel good. what they feel good about is that they are getting a handle on what amounts to the trashing of planet earth by industrialists of the second industrial revolution. it is a good and desirable feeling, especially during a time where semioticists are trying to figure out how they are going to explain radiation- waste dumps to people thirty thousand years in the future. eco-green is also a way to re-package calvinistic values under a more palatable sign. americans are calvinists, i am sorry to say. they can’t help it: it arrived on the mayflower.
i also think that the idea of electronic community is a manifestation of the triumph of sign-value over worth-value. there is nothing that goes on in electronic community that is not infested with sign- value. if electronic community were anything other than exercise in sign-value, identity hacking, which is entirely about surface-sign, would be much more difficult. signs proclaiming electronic technology as green abound in cyberspace: the attitude of political correctness; the “green” computer, the “paperless” office and the illusion that identity in cyberspace can be manipulated to obscure gender, ethnicity, and other emblems of cultural diversity; the latter of course being both the most persistent and most ridiculous. both of these concepts, the social and the eco-green, are directly nourished by an idea of progress that would not have appeared unfamiliar to an industrialist in the nineteenth century.
i give you an example: the WELL, a conferencing system based in Sausalito, California, is often touted as an example of a “social cluster” in cyberspace. originally part of the Point Foundation, which is also associated with the Whole Earth Review and the Whole Earth Catalogues, the WELL occupies an interesting niche in the electronic-community marketplace. it markets itself as a conferencing system for the literate, bookish and creative individual. it markets itself as an agent for social change, and it is, in reality, calvinist and more than a little green. the WELL is also afflicted with an old fashioned hippie aura that lead to some remarkably touching ideas about society and culture. no one, by the way, should kid themselves that the WELL is any different than bigger services like America OnLine or Prodigy–all of these outfits are businesses and all of these services are owned by large corporations. the WELL is just, by reason of clunky interface, a little bit less obvious about it.
in july of 1993, in a case that received national media coverage, a man’s reputation was destroyed on the WELL, by WELLpeople, because he had dared to have a relationship with more than one woman at the same time, and because he did not conform to WELL social protocol. i will not say that he did not conform to ethical standards, because i believe that the ethic of truthfulness in cyberspace is sometimes such as to render the word ethics meaningless. in cyberspace, for example, identity can be an art-form. but the issues held within the topic, called News 1290,(now archived) were very complex and spoke to the heart of the problem of cyberspace: the desire to invest the simulacrum with the weight of reality.
the women involved in 1290 accepted the attention of the man simultaneously on several levels: most importantly, they believed in the reality of his sign and invested it with meaning. they made love to his sign and there is no doubt that the relationship affected them and that they felt pain and distress when it ended badly. at the same time it appears that the man involved did not invest their signs with the same meaning that they had his, and it is also clear that all parties did not discuss their perceptions of one another. consequently the miscommunication that occurred was ascribed to the man’s exploitation of the women he was involved with, and a conclusion was made that he had used them as sexual objects. the women, for their parts, were comfortable in the role of victim and so the games began. of the hundreds of voices heard in this topic, only a very few were astute enough to express the idea that the events had been in actuality caused more by the medium than by the persons who suffered the consequences of the events. persons of that view addressed the ideas of “missing cues” like body language, tone of voice, and physical appearance. none of this, they said, is present in cyberspace, and so people create unrealistic images of the Other. these opinions were in the minority, though. most people made suggestions that would have shocked the organizers of the Reign of Terror. even the words “thought criminal” were used and suggestions about lynching were made.
hysterical identification is a mental device that enables one person to take on the sufferings of a group of persons. it is something that until the 1880′s was considered a problem of females. in our society, many decisions about who a person is, are made through the device of hysterical identification. in many cases, this is brought about by the miracle of commercial advertising which invests products with magical qualities, making them into fetishes. buy the fetish, and the identification promised by the advertisement is yours. it is tidy, easy, and requires no investment other than money.
in october of 1994, couples topic 163 was opened. in this topic, user Z came on to discuss her marital problems, which involved a daughter who was emotionally disturbed. it began in a very ordinary way for this type of thing, with the woman asking for and receiving advice about what to do. in just a few days, though, the situation escalated, and the woman put another voice on the wire, who was alleged to be her daughter, X. the alleged daughter exposed her problems and expressed her feelings about them, and the problems appeared to be life-threatening. this seemed to set something off within the conference, and a real orgy began as voices began to appear to express their identification with the mysterious and troubled daughter X. the nature of the identifications and the tone of the posts became stranger and stranger and finally user Z set the frightening crown upon the whole situation by posting a twistedly lyrical monologue of maternal comfort and consolation directed at the virtual Inner Children who had appeared to take refuge within her soft, enveloping arms. the more that the Inner Children wept, the more that the Virtual Mommy lyricized and comforted. this spectacle, which horrified more than one trained mental health professional who read it on the WELL, went on and on for several days and was discussed privately in several places in disbelieving tones. when the topic imploded, the Virtual Mommy withdrew reluctantly insisting that only a barbarian would believe that she would commodify her own tragedy.
one of the interesting things about both of these incidents, to me, is that they were expunged from the record. News1290 exists in archive. that means that it is stored in an electronic cabinet, sort of like what the Vatican did with the transcripts of the trial of Galileo. it’s there, but you have to look for it, and mention of 1290 makes WELLpeople nervous. Couples 163 was killed. that means it was destroyed, and does not exist at all anymore, except on back- up tape or in the hard disks of those persons (like me) who downloaded it for their own reasons. what i am getting at here is that electronic community is a commercial enterprise that dovetails nicely with the increasing trend towards dehumanization in our society: it wants to commodify human interaction, enjoy the spectacle regardless of the human cost. if and when the spectacle proves incovenient or alarming, it engages in creative history like, like any good banana republic.
this, however, should not surprise anybody. aesthetically, electronic community of the kind likely to be extolled in the gentle, new-age press, contains both elements of the modernist resistance to depth and appeal to surface combined with the postmodern aesthetic of fragment. the electronic community leaves a permanent record which is open to scrutiny while maintaining an illusion of transience. in doing this, it somehow manages to satisfy the needs of the orwellian and the psycho-archeologist.
people can talk about cyberspace as a Utopian community only because it is literature, and therefore subject to editorial revision. these two events plus another where a woman’s death was choreographed as spectacle online, made me think about what electronic community was, and how it probably really did not exist, except like i said, as a kind of market for the consumption of sign-value.
increasingly, consumption is micro-managed, as the great marxists alvin and heidi toffler suggest when they talk about “de-massing.” so-called electronic community may be seen as a kind of micro-marketing of the social to a self-selected elite. this denies the possibility of human relationship, from which all authentic community proceeds. if one exists merely as sign-value, as a series of white letters, as a subset, then of course it is perfectly fine and we can talk about a community of signs, nicely boxed, categorized and inventoried, ready for consumption.
many times in cyberspace, i felt it necessary to say that i was human. once, i was told that i existed primarily as a voice in somebody’s head. lots of times, i need to see handwriting on paper or a photograph or a phone conversation to confirm the humanity of the voice, but that is the way that i am. i resist being boxed and inventoried and i guess i take william gibson seriously when he writes about machine intelligence and constructs. i do not like it. i suspect that my words have been extracted and that when this essay shows up, they will be extracted some more. when i left cyberspace, i left early one morning and forgot to take out the trash. two friends called me on the phone afterwards and said, hummie your directory is still there. and i said OH. and they knew and i knew, that it was possible that people had been entertaining themselves with the contents of my directories. the amusement never ends, as peter gabriel wrote. maybe sometime i will rant again if something interesting comes up. in the meantime, give my love to the FBI.
*"Pandora's Vox" was originally published online and also in a collection of essays edited by Peter Ludlow, High Noon on the Electronic Frontier, MIT Press, 1996).
The History of the Board Ho
by humdog (2004)
“don’t get broke off for free.” –Evangeline
people who participate in chat boards like stratics often fail to realize that they are really part of a corporate data mining project in which their posts are scanned for personal information, preferences, buying habits etc. they are, by virtue of their contributions, giving away valuable information about themselves – valuable to corporations that build video games and other tech toys. by providing this personal information, they also provide a jerry-springeresque spectacle for the entertainment of others, hopefully drawing more eyes to the board, hence more posts, hence more data for the marketing data crunchers. the participants, by giving away valuable personal information about themselves have commodified their private lives – by giving it away they have become “board ho’s”. the social structure of these boards is highly controlled to maximize this effect, with certain types of elite posters encouraged and rewarded – these are the board ho divas. these posters play a pivotal role in ensuring that the product delivered to the marketing machine will be as useful as possible. in return the board ho divas receive a kind of social capital from the other board ho’s. this essay is a history of board ho-ing, its emergence, its economy, its effects. it is also a confession, as i have been on the other side of the glass – i used to work for the suits that run the ho’s.
i. wherein humdog presents a credential from the humdogian bouquet
for several months now i have given too many hours to the sims online (tso) and its accompanying message board, stratics. i have created sims in three cities, including the test center. i have built things and i have wrecked things. i have met some nice people and i have met some fiends.
i came to tso from a background in customer relationship management (crm) tool design, a trade i learned while in exile at a huge software/database company for a few years. i look at these events through the following eyes: i am the monster whose job it was to worry about site churn, registration metrics and other horrors. my colleagues will stay up nights trying to figure out ways to get you to trade your personal information for a t-shirt or some other object of small value. my job was also to try to figure out what we should know about you, and what you should know about the corporation. my job was about trying to figure out how to get you to engage in acts of self disclosure. i am one of the shadows behind the button that says: submit now.
ii. wherein we learn some of the ways in which the business community discovered online social relationships
once upon a time there was aol, prodigy, and compuserv. these were among the earliest sponsored and moderated message board and chat room services. they were highly monitored or supervised message services – certain types of communications were allegedly not allowed, although they did take place. the aura of these places was a little prissy and one of the interesting parts of this was that attaching yourself to an aol address was a good way to get flamed in most other places on the internet if you went there. people were reluctant to mention their aol accounts, or if they did mention them, the mention was predictably either preceded or followed by some verbiage about airplane and hotel schedules and discount rates.
usenet was mostly un-monitored and before it become the last refuge of the publicity hound spammer, it was a place where people left messages about things that interested them. usenet was huge. usenet was chaotic. we mourn its decline and passing.
all of these places were mostly pre-howard Rheingold, pre-Salon, and howard was in the san francisco bay area then, in california, which as everyone knows is a wild-life preserve for idealists and romantics and where the utopians went to die. howard had a high moment of inspiration one day and it happened in the moment that he strung two words together: virtual community. when howard did that it was beautiful and idealistic and doomed, and he was doomed, too. howard was doomed because he didn’t pay attention to what he himself had pointed to about the history of telephones and television (he had been quoting isola-poole). howard was doomed because he didn’t pay attention to the way that multinational global corporations like ibm and microsoft and oracle were beginning to act like small medieval kingdoms, sort of independently and in defiance of established nation-states like the govt of the usa. all that aside, though, you have to give howard credit for saying the words ‘virtual community’.
when howard said virtual community what he appears to have meant was a world in which people would find each other through the internet. i am hoping that i don’t need to define the internet and if you still don’t know what the internet is, please go buy a copy of lawrence lessig’s code as law. you should read that book anyway if you go online. but if you don’t know what the internet is, just remember that it was created by the defense department in order to protect the integrity of communications in case we blow up the world with a nuclear bomb. the defense department made the internet and they also made change of address cards so you could go to the post office after the world gets blown up and pick up your credit card bills. but i digress.
howard was an evangelist for virtual community and as far as i can tell, he still lives there. in virtual community people find each other, learn from each other, enjoy and help each other. in virtual community there are no spammers, no griefers, and certainly nobody exploits kids sexually or otherwise. the idea was noble and idealistic. there was beauty in it, and some irony in the position: in his own way, howard, along with his mentor stewart brand, were sticking flowers into gun barrels like hippies did during the vietnam war. it makes sense that they did that: it is sort of their time and place. everything is beautiful.
in 1996 or so, after web browsers came out, a consultant/pundit type named george gilder wrote some essays and in those essays he suggested that there was going to be a battle for the internet and for what was then called cyberspace. he said that the battle was about dominating and owning that world, and about who would determine its destiny. gilder said that on one hand you had people like howard who were hopeful and nave and on the other side you had people like bill gates and mr lawrence ellison who were thinking about revenue streams. “suits v birkenstocks” he called it, and he said that the suits would win. it was in 1996 or so that stewart brand appears to have received gilder’s message and signed up on the suit side by founding the global business network (gbn ). gbn is a kind of expensive members only semi-suit-credible consulting outfit that uses the word ‘scenario’ a lot. i mention gbn only because it tells you the times.
about the same time, people began to go nuts typing words and uploading pictures onto the web. they would type extremely personal information into boards like the whole earth ‘lectronic link (the well) and usenet. on these boards people revealed absolutely amazing bits of information about themselves, including personal sexual preferences and behaviors and stories of their struggles with various substance addictions. they did this to some extent because it appears that at the moment they pushed the send button on some level they believed that nobody was actually listening or recording what they said: they were usually alone in a room & the audience was invisible to them. some people, who understood how information systems actually worked, were horrified when they witnessed these increasingly numerous acts of self-disclosure. they knew how hard it is to get rid of information. i remember talking to one of these horrified people, an engineer with a security clearance at the time. he said to me: “don’t you understand that the treasury department can get root access to anything whenever it feels like it??” in my mind, this became abbreviated as “treasury has root”. anyway i hope that the investigating arms of the us government appreciate what all these people have done to simplify the act of citizen surveillance.
other people saw these same increasingly numerous acts of self-disclosure and they were glad, because they also understood information systems and how hard it is to get rid of information. these people also knew that there was a tool called a relational database and they drew a line from the willingness of people to self-disclose to the ability of the relational database to receive, store, and play with, this information that people were so happily typing into their screens.
the business community is pretty good with language. they understand, and appreciate, the subtleties of doublespeak. consequently you will never hear anybody in the business community use the word “exploit” in a sentence. no. instead, the business community will talk about “leverage”. ok: “leverage” = “exploit”. leverage is an important word. it is a code word. it tells you where the revenue stream might be.
the business community began to understand that it could leverage online social interaction and online social relationships and this need-to-confess that seems to be such a big part of the web. the business community began to understand that it could make products that leveraged social interaction and online self-disclosure and so it began to make products.
this is how we get to datamining.
iii. wherein we learn some things you can do with personal information
in the mid 1990s after gilder wrote what i have told you that he wrote, our friend howard got his friends together and went after venture capital. this was a fashionable thing to do at that time and i do not blame him for doing it. he got a big pile of money from an asian financing outfit or kairetsu called softbank and created a project called eminds. eminds was a datamining venture dressed up in virtual community and for the most part the people who signed up for it, bought it. i signed up for it, too, but that is mostly because i like to watch. when speaking of eminds to his constituency, howard would stress social interaction and say “let’s be friends online” and things like that. he painted eminds, to his followers (who were mostly aspiring writers and such) as a place where people could be friends and be published and eventually make their reputations. when howard talked to the wall street journal, he described eminds as a place to collect early adopter demographics: it was a data warehouse.
howard’s followers on eminds either did not know or did not fully appreciate that they were being leveraged as both a content engine and as a demographics warehouse, and that they were perhaps more valuable to softbank for their ability to be a group of people that could be depended on to buy the latest version of whatever new electronic doodad in latest release that was out there in the world to buy, than they were as literati. eminds used cookies extensively to track user activity and behavior as the user moved through the site at a moment in time when cookies were still new and somewhat unexplored by the business community. at this same time, industry periodicals were running ads and articles rhapsodizing about how it was now becoming possible to narrowly target groups of consumers, or to create situations in which these narrowly defined demographics would self-identify and cluster together. leveraging this self-identified cluster is the grandmother of what we now call “mass customization”.
iv. wherein we are in babylon, weeping for zion
you may now ask my favorite questions which are: and? so?
after all if you are like me you know that there is nothing remarkable in what i have already said. if you are reading this on a screen perhaps you are yawning a little. i would be. but you must have patience with me because i have been giving you background.
if you are reading this on a screen, unless you have done some hard work and even purchased special software and/or hardware your information has been captured. you may not actually be sitting in babylon weeping for zion but you are captive and you did it to yourself. you did it when:
1. you registered to download a whitepaper
2. you bought a book or other retail/consumer object
3. participated in an auction
4. signed up to be a member of aol or another similar online service
5. you signed up for a virtual community or other similar blahblah board or game
you can not do any of these things without surrendering personal information to the database behind the application, and the marketing department monitors of the offering business community monitors all this stuff very carefully. and you know this already. think about it: explain to me why, if you are going to download a white paper, you need to give your address and phone number for any reason other than to solicit a cold call from a software sales ummmmm engineer. try to reason out why, if you want to engage in online self-disclosure you need to divulge your age or gender or approximate annual income level for any reason at all. explain spyware. explain doubleclick. i will explain it to you: social interaction online is a commodity. like bubblegum. like cheap ballpoint pens. it is also a huge illusion because it is a product that is telling you that if you use yahoo im that somehow your online social interaction will be shinier or hipper than if you use aol im when all of it is probably more or less the same technical functionality and the quality of the content is primarily affected by the quality of your head. aol and yahoo can’t do anything about your head. but you buy the illusion because you want to talk about that your mom hated you or that you love porsches or even that you want to do one-hand typing with a troll on the other side of the planet.
you buy it. you let your identity get leveraged. it is all about leveraging traffic to web and revenue streams.
of course the marketeers will not say this. the marketers will take out an ad with a suit hottie and the suit hottie will smile in the picture and talk about grave responsibilities and we want to help you and we want to improve your productivity. the suit hottie will insist that maintaining a 96 terabyte datawarehouse that tracks you and your phone bills and your bank records and your favorite sites and your frequency patterns is the most wonderful thing that her company can do for you. in the old days the suit hottie would hold focus groups in order to drag in members of the demographic groups seen as possible consumers of whatever products she was selling, but now with the web, it is much easier. now with the web, all that is required is that someone build a blahblah board or area. the demographic group will self-identify by topic and they will bring their friends so that the friends, also, may become enchanted by the possibility of free t-shirts. the other day i learned a new word: fluffer. a fluffer is a person who maintains a erection for a porn star between takes. learn to think of marketeers as fluffers: learn to think of the web as a fluffer relative to the act of maintaining excitement for and interest in the act of consuming goods and services among members of the community.
vi: wherein humdog wonders about things
i wonder why people including me go to blahblah boards, because i go to them and i see things.
i wonder why people rhapsodize online about their latest visit to rehab over their latest adventures with vicodin or something like that.
i wonder why they spell out the details of their latest sportscar purchase when they know that their x old lady is trolling for more child support and is probably smart enough to hire a detective with an internet connection for which the former sportscar owner will eventually pay (you picked her, dahling).
i wonder why they evangelize buttplugs online and sign their names.
i wonder why people freely commit text to a not-secure medium where anybody with a subpoena can help themselves and download the text. it is after all more efficient to store text electronically.
i wonder why people reveal confidential information online. it is so easy to string things together online. ridiculously easy.
vii: wherein the boardho is revealed
people do amazing acts of self-disclosure online. they do it, and i think they do it for one reason only. there is a different economy online and the payout is in attention and in time, not money attention is the big payout online.
i learned a new name for people who participate in this economy from uri. the name is board ho and i like that name very much.
every blahblah board has its board ho. the board cannot exist without the board ho. the board ho drives traffic to web. the board cherishes its board hos, and it especially cherishes the diva or queen board ho. the diva or queen board ho is untouchable and can do anything. people know this, on the board, by intuition. the board and the board ho nurture and cherish each other because the board ho drives eyeballs to the board. i am not speaking of unique visits although those are nice. no. i am speaking of repeat traffic. because of the board ho the board can dream of growth and expansion. the board leverages whatever it is that drives the board ho, unto the board’s success and growth. in return, the board ho receives attention and a following. negative or positive does not have a value relative to attention. to the board ho, attention is all good.
viii. wherein the board ho star system is examined
one of the things i see on blah blah boards is that many of the people who frequent them regularly appear to be people whose lives are not working for one reason or another. voices on the boards seem to have challenges, for example, with health, addiction, or socializing, to name a few. they seem lonely. they seem conflicted. these are voices in pain. these voices don’t seem to have people in their lives with whom they can talk openly. gail williams, now community director for salon.com once observed that:
“the key people to bring into a community are people who are hungry for friends, who don’t have any email yet – not people who already have tons of stuff to deal with online…” (wired news, nov 18 1996)
the expressed feelings and ideas brought by these solitary voices to the blah blah boards also seem to be feelings and ideas coming from secret or hidden parts of their lives.
now here is how you identify a board-ho:
on some boards, there are places where voices can join with other voices that have passed some kind of personal litmus test and have been deemed similar and/or acceptable. these voices open password protected group areas that are invisible to the other members of the board. some of these private areas are segregated by gender, others by special interest. the voices go there because they do not wish to be troubled by diversity or opposing points of view. truthfully, some areas are opened by multi-year veteran users who are just sick of reading lots of posts. the private areas opened by veterans tend to be democratic: everyone is a host. nobody is “in charge”, or, if there is a specified host, that host has either been nominated by the group, or is a voice who takes the job for a specific amount of time as a service to the rest of the group.
but sometimes a queen or diva board ho will open one of these secret conferences to place courtiers around itself. in the private area the diva auditions courtiers and trains them, by dictating the terms of the discussion. the green/throne room private area is where the board ho is vetted.
in the private area green room, the diva board ho accomplishes the following tasks:
1. testing possible new courtiers
2. nurture of existing courtiers
3. vetting rules and styles by which the board ho will operate in the public board environment
4. discussion and commentary about existing threads in which the diva board ho is displaying herself
5. score-keeping relative to public engagements
6. discussion relative to future strategy for the diva
7. receipt of praise and adulation from courtiers
8. distribution of nurture to courtiers
a courtier found, throughout this process, to be wanting in those qualities needed or desired by the diva will be penalized and possibly thrown out of the private area. the process of excluding a courtier from the diva’s group seems to include at minimum these steps:
1. recognition by the diva that the offending voice has refused to limit itself to those topics deemed appropriate by the diva
2. acknowledgement that the voice has not adapted itself to the expressive style favored by the diva
3. unspoken acknowledgement that the offending voice has not permitted the diva to exercise control over it.
the voice offending in these ways will be notified most commonly in these ways:
1. the diva may make a post or comment consisting of a warning couched in a light-hearted way but containing the serious message that the courtier has offended the diva
2. deletion, scribbling, or otherwise performing an act that destroys the offending post thereby silencing the courtier on the offending subject.
3. an email may also be sent to the offender, detailing the offense in plain language.
this offense is not generally fatal, especially if the courtier makes a display of contrition.
if the voice nonetheless chooses to disregard the diva board ho’s warning, the diva will begin the expulsion ritual. the expulsion ritual begins with the publication of a long-ish essay that generally contains the following:
1. a chronicle of the history of the private area, from its founding
2. a statement of the diva’s purposes in creating the private area, none of which will include a statement of the private area’s founding for use as a green/throne room for the diva
3. an exposition and justification of the rules of the private area, making heavy use of the diva’s world view, and diva-logic.
4. it is important to note that the diva’s world view and logic are grounded in an unconscious ideology that is totalitarian in outlook.
5. an explanation of how, in the diva’s point of view, the offender has run afoul of the diva and the diva’s worldview, and thereby offended the diva
at this point the offender has three choices:
1. the offender may make a display of contrition
2. the offender may choose to do nothing
3. the offender may choose to dispute the charges with the diva
the offender wishing to remain part of the diva’s entourage must make a display of contrition, or be expelled from the private area. expulsion from the private area is equal to expulsion from the entourage.
a person coming to a board for the first time will notice after several visits that there appear to be groups of voice that appear to be consisting surrounding, agreeing with, and defending a particular stronger voice. this stronger voice is the diva board ho. the surrounding lesser voices are the entourage or courtiers. i think of them as boardho’s in waiting.
occasionally an imperial board ho is seen on a board. an imperial board ho is a voice of such power and originality that it overshadows all but the strongest diva boardho’s on a board. these voices are rare and should be savored. in one case i saw an imperial boardho of such confidence that the voice hosted a public space that satirized the boardho system.
ix: wherein we conclude
people who participate in chat boards like stratics often fail to realize that they are really part of a corporate data mining project in which their posts are scanned for personal information, preferences, buying habits etc. they are, by virtue of their contributions, giving away valuable information about themselves – valuable to corporations that build video games and other tech toys. by providing this personal information, they also provide a jerry-springeresque spectacle for the entertainment of others, hopefully drawing more eyes to the board, hence more posts, hence more data for the marketing data crunchers. the participants, by giving away valuable personal information about themselves have commodified their private lives – they have become “board ho’s”. the social structure of these boards is highly controlled to maximize this effect, with certain types of elite posters encouraged and rewarded – these are the board ho divas. these posters play a pivotal role in ensuring that the product delivered to the marketing machine will be as useful as possible. in return the board ho divas receive a kind of social capital from the other board ho’s. At least they get something. The rest of us are getting broke off for free.
*originally published by the Alphaville Herald in Second Life
Confessions of a Gorean Slave, Part 1
by humdog (2006)
It was early in the evening when I met a man I will call Soames Forsyte. I met him in the recesses of one of those cesspool of the spirit that SL [Second Life] calls clubs where they have dungeons and private rooms and escorts and objects like that. Nobody dragged me there. Tell you the truth, I was bored and just wandering around. Now Soames was handsome – but that’s not unusual, because everyone in SL is just about as beautiful and sexy and desirable as their skill with sliders permits. These strangely and also clone-ish surfaces are an important part of the lucid dream that is Second Life. It makes me want to quote from that song “Round Here” where they say:
Round here we all look the same
Round here we roar like lions
Round here we sacrifice like lambs
Round here we stay up very very very very late (– Counting Crows)
To me, that SL in a nutshell, but to make it short:
I met Soames, and I went with him into his world, and his world is called roleplay Gor.
It would be very easy to write a story about roleplay Gor that would begin something like this:
“In December 2005, in Pakistan, a man called ======= killed his 24 year old daughter for dishonoring him, and then he killed his three stepdaughters, all under age 10. He then threatened to kill his wife for screaming while he killed her children. Mr. —- was very matter-of-fact when confronted by police about these so-called honor-killings, and explained to them that he had picked up the machete used in the killings on his way home from mid-day prayers. According to Human Rights Watch, there were at least 250 honor killings in the Middle East during the year 2005, and those are the ones they know about. In roleplay Gor, honor killings are acceptable.
In Afghanistan, and in other so-called conservative Muslim cultures, the honorable women of Muslim families are expected to wear a long robe called a Burka, which conceals a woman from head to foot, and includes the use of a face veil. Women in these cultures are expected to wear these robes whenever venturing outside their homes, and are not allowed to travel without an escort, preferably male, of some sort. In roleplay Gor, the Burka is called “Robes of Concealment”, five to eight face veils are required, and a freewoman wears this regalia and does not travel un-escorted….
A person writing an article about roleplay Gor that began that way would be opening themselves to a certain amount of screaming from the roleplay Gor community in SL. A person who wrote wondering why roleplay Gor celebrates human sexual slavery – an activity that continues to roll merrily along in modern Thailand and Africa, for example – would be accused of Sensational Tabloid Journalism about activities that simply are either exaggerated, happen by mutual consent, or just don’t exist. No doubt at least one irritable Ubar in some Gorean backwater of SL would get on the horn to His legal advisors and send a couple enraged letters to the editorial staff of the publication unfortunate enough to attract His attention should He see such awkward statements in print. After all, an Ubar’s work is never done.
No one here, however, is foolish enough to draw parallels between Taliban fashion statements and the wardrobe requirements of the Gorean Free Woman. No one here is silly enough to wonder why so many apparently well-heeled and apparently bored middle class Western European and American wives, mothers, students, and career women are willing to sign up and pay the cost of entry so that other well-heeled and apparently bored middle class men (and women) can roleplay social and sexual crimes against women in this very unusual and intriguing manner. Human sexual slavery is, after all, a RL [Real Life] problem. RL human sexual slavery with kidnapping, beatings, and forced prostitution is different, isn’t it, from the RP [Role Play] fantasies of a few thousand people waving the “safe, sane, consensual” BDSM flag? Anyway, it is clearly obvious that nobody is recruiting newbie women for these RP Second Life activities, and it goes without saying that absolutely no SL resident is recruiting RL subs and slaves from the SL population. That never happens. We all know that.
But I did go off with Mr. Forsyte. He had a room upstairs and I went there and he said undress and I did and then he made requests which I performed in the most cordial way possible. When I was leaving he said something to me and at the end of the list of his requests/orders/desires, he added “and you will wear my kol’lar…” and I felt shocked at this request and said no. Then we had this loop where he said you will and I said no, I won’t, and we went through that a few times until the loop lost its charm.
For those few people left in SL who do not know what a collar or kol’lar is, I will tell you that it is a complex symbol. The collar is an extremely tangible and visible symbol of a very powerful multi-level relationship of surrender. Putting on a kol’lar is a statement of transfer of personal power and control from the person wearing the kol’lar to the person who has given the kol’lar. The kol’lar itself tends to be made of metal or leather or some such material, and looks in many cases like the collar worn by a dog or some other pet animal, and in fact often the person wearing the kol’lar is addressed as “my pet” or is referred to as “my pet”.
(to be continued…)
*originally published by the Alphaville Herald in Second Life
Confessions of a Goran Slave, Part 2
by Humdog (2006)
A kol’lar is either given, or requested – in RP [Role Play] Gor, however, even though the Gorean Master will offer the kol’lar to a desired female, the kol’lar is said to have been “begged” of a Master. I didn’t know this until I found it out later on in the most unfortunate way possible.
Prior to my submission my Master and I had these discussions primarily because I found that I was very intrigued and charmed with the way he appeared to spontaneously express himself like an old Scottish ballad at times. It is very true that I have always enjoyed listening to this man talk. It was clear to me that Mr. Forsyte was not from Mainstream America, that he did not think every-day thoughts, and that he had clearly experienced life in a completely different way than had I. He was, when he wanted to be, articulate and eloquent. He seemed scrupulously honest. He was perceptive and intuitive in the extreme. He definitely understood, and raised to art, the act of seduction and he also scared me. A lot. The thing that finally made him irresistible to me was that he was clearly very strong-willed and emotionally intense, probably even more so than I am. It was my intuition that I would never, ever, be able to out-will this man that pushed me over the edge into submission. Nowadays I think that this man must have been extremely charitable in outlook to accept me, because I had absolutely no clue about what I was signing up for. Later on, I’d find out that he knew exactly how clueless I was, but that he also had more patience than a whole handful of saints.
About 3 minutes after the collar locked around my neck, I learned that there was a further cost of entry into Gor, or in fact any kind of D/s [Dominance and submission] relationship. This cost of entry to accepting/choosing/begging a collar is, in fact, any and all constructions of personal identity, habit, and/or personality that are deemed undesirable by the Master. The psychological and emotional requirements exacted by the collar are such that they are also not easily left in-world, if, in fact they can be left in world at all. One astute Master has written: “You should realize that when you put a collar on somebody, even online, you are, in fact, fucking around with a person’s real life.” I am not going to dispute the words of an experienced Master. I am just going to say: so much for the myth of in-world only.
I think it is important to say at this point, that most of the writing I have seen about D/s around here has been horseshit. When I say this, I am talking about the long-winded essays against D/s that only seem to make real discussion of D/s ridiculous, and degrade what is really a serious, and in the wrong hands, dangerous practice, into something you do on Saturday afternoon instead of watching a football game or something.
Dominance/submission (D/s) is called a “power exchange” because it is a kind of relationship between consenting adults that is difficult to describe. I mean if you know absolutely nothing about it, you can describe it for sure. You can say oh yeah, D/s is like, He/She says “do this” and she/he does it and its exploitative and all that. OK fine. Probably if you know nothing about Mozart you can tell me that he writes nice music and how he was a smart kid, too. In both cases, obviously, you have missed the point if you say stuff like that, and nothing shines like ignorance.
D/s is a highly mediated, highly negotiated relationship between two persons, and it is absolutely not a transparent relationship. In D/s it is absolutely not clear to persons outside the relationship what is going on in the relationship, and in D/s, appearances are absolutely deceiving. In the course of studying under my Master, I read about, I think, five books on D/s, and wrote a journal of approximately, I think 300,000 to 450,000 words or maybe even more, in total. (I think that’s about the size of a doorstop by Tolstoy, but maybe not.) My writings were read every day, and when deemed necessary, I received feedback about my writings. My Master was very careful about me, and his punishments were devastating precisely because they were specifically designed with yrs truly, here, in mind. He was also extremely sensitive to the fact that I had a real artistic calling in the performing arts, and was, in fact, the best psychological personal performance coach I’ve ever had. I am saying this so you know that I am not talking about some run-of-the-mill jerk. I was very fortunate. Some are not. Most are not, actually.
In D/s, with a good master, the slave or submissive, may appear to, and does in fact, give up control over the process of personal identity construction to the master. This is called “training”. However – and this is important – the Master is held to a much higher standard of self-discipline and self-honesty than is the slave/sub. The Master is also held to a higher standard of self-responsibility. A responsible and experienced Master will never ever inflict anything on a slave/sub that a sub/slave does not know about, and has not agreed to, even if only in a general way through use of some written protocol or contract. The Master is honor-bound not to violate the limits of the sub/slave, and He/She knows exactly what they are.
A D/s relationship between consenting ADULTS can be a relationship of deep emotional mutuality that requires a level of communication and trust that most people can’t do because either they don’t have the skills, or they have blocks. I failed because of blocks. I have lots of abandonment experiences in my childhood, and they basically overwhelmed me because I had put them away in a box, kind of. It is not unusual for this to happen to people because of the emotional intensity of D/s. When emotionally threatened, I would become the five year old girl I had been once, whose mother kept telling her that someday she was going to come home from school to find nobody home. Finding this five year old alive and well in my psyche was a devastating experience for me, and I paid for it in a big way.
I am saying this so you know that D/s is a real process of inner exploration. It is not about showing up in SL, sliding into buffness, putting on a titler that says Master and then telling some cute toon to suck your cock. No serious, responsible Master is going to be that kind of fool. No serious, responsible Master is going to sign up for a case of what is called “top-drop” over some toon. No self-responsible slave/sub is going to sign up to be psychologically abused. But this is not what happens in SL. In SL any jerk can put on a titler that says Master and any airhead can flutter her eyelashes and :smile sweetly: There are, at this time, at least three organizations in SL dedicated to cleaning up after the SL Master and his airhead. These organizations are probably able to speak to cost of entry. In Japan, at least one person has committed suicide over his/her experiences in virtual worlds. Several people in SL have commented to me that they expect, at some point, to hear that someone has committed suicide over events/relationships in SL, and they say that because it is their feelings that the Lindens appear oblivious to human cost of entry/experience in SL. Think about it.
*originally published by the Alphaville Herald in Second Life