4chan tells us very little about Ben Garrison, but it tells us a lot about the net.
This is how it goes with the “Id of the internet.” I don’t say this in any way to dismiss Ben Garrison’s terrible experience, the slander he lives with. Rather I say it to point out that many more people are likely to be in for a taste of Garrison’s experience.
4Chan is a predictor, possibly a forerunner, of what the net does in so many ways, and this is no exception. I am so glad that this curse laid on Garrison by our own network-Loki hasn’t broken him. It breaks a lot of people, these can be terrible curses. I hope this piece, and his own resilience lets him quietly kill Zyklon Ben. But it’s also important to recognize Zyklon Ben for what he is: a media doppelgänger, a being of-Ben but not-Ben that exists with its own life and own reactions, if not its own desires.
4Chan quickly and haphazardly creates very complicated network creatures — not sentiences, not AI, but native media creatures that link to a person without being that person. They roam the net, always available, even when their host person is asleep, away, or even at times, dead or nonexistent. But 4Chan isn’t alone doing this. Social media generates these doppelgängers, memes are constructed of these doppelgängers. Increasingly they have a network life without us, looking like us, being talked to (and sometimes replying) as us. Some are better than we are, and some are Zyklon Ben. Some are trapped, and some slowly trap us — signaling terrible things, just as doppelgängers always did. Figuring out how to manage these rogue instantiations of our identities could be one of the more difficult tasks of 21st century life. When they are constructed by bureaucracies, like innocent victims of the no-fly list and cases of terrorist mistaken identity, they can be even worse and more dangerous than Zyklon Ben.
Our doppelgängers never sleep, never need, and travel at the speed of light. We will only have more of them as the net grows, and we will all, every one of us, have to learn to tame them.
4Chan remains our little Cassandra, telling us about our earnest goodness and our downfalls, a little (foul-smelling) smokey crystal hinting at the future.