Attribution on the internet has been really weirdly perverted. And Tumblr, I ♥ u, but I kind of blame you. So I am sort of about to go on a rant, and I am going to leave things out. At the heart of my rant, however, is what I sense to be an ever-more-apparent anxiety about images and imagery; about self-representation and self image; and about ownership, and how that is kind of impossible on the internet. I care about u, internetters. I just want you to be happy and smart. Even though when you are dumb it gives me things to write and think about. INTERNET FOLK, YE ARE WARNED.

At the bottom level of this problem I have is the fact that copyright law in this country is deeply messed up. Here is my scintillating take on copyright and appropriation in art. It is complex and I am ambivalent, but at its core I think copyright has a good heart. But as far as it plays out on the internet, the laws are a huge mess (SOPA, PIPA, DMCA, etc.)  But let’s leave that to Creative Commons and Larry Lessig. I am more concerned about what I consider to be decent manners.

I have thought about this for a while but I just became confused by this website, Curator’s Code. It’s very beautiful, no? I saw “attribution” and space pictures and thought, oh, excellent, someone is trying to make etiquette (netiquette, barf).

While we have systems in place for literary citation, image attribution, and scientific reference, we don’t yet have a system that codifies the attribution of discovery in curation as a currency of the information economy, a system that treats discovery as the creative labor that it is.

Those systems exist, but who even uses them? Aside from students? That is a problem. To be fair, this system isn’t trying to be about content; it takes for granted that there are systems of attributing content. It’s about citing who delivered the content. So it is a symptom of a trend that privileges the finder (“curator”) over the original creator. Ok so everyone is a curator now. “Tastemaker.” This is breaking down authority? Well, you know what, I like authority in curation. Sue me. However, flying-by-the-seat-of-one’s-pants “curation” is ok too, but let’s not use that phrasing? Can we call it collecting? How many Tumblrs are sub-titled “here is stuff I like.” Well, duh? Actually, not duh. Because that is perfectly fine, and because some people are doing other things. Nice curatorial things. Nice aesthetic things. Really just cool things.

Anyway. Really what I find the weirdest is something that I have observed on Tumblr. I am really interested in what teens are doing on Tumblr, because teens are apparently really cool these days (no I will not be mentioning Tavi, sorry). Tamera has written about this wonderfully over on Verhext, most recently here. And you know what, I cannot even blame it on the teens. But anyway. Reblogging without attribution is one thing. Reposting someone else’s content without attribution is another thing (egregious). But then there is another interesting process, which I guess mostly centers around screencapping, or editing found images–>posting them on tumblr–>they get reblogged or reposted without attribution to the original poster–>the first person who posted it gets upset? That the content that they did not really have all that much to do with, but which they grabbed from their computer screen, or which they found somewhere weird, has not been credited to them. (I know these kids care, because they look out for their friends, but they don’t seem to see the big picture.) But hold on, kiddo, you made a gif of a movie..that someone else made. And you don’t want anyone else to know about this cool movie so you don’t even attribute your gif to the source. Someone likely holds copyright to that movie, and you’re claiming ownership to it in some way. Even if you are not making money off of it, it is NOT fair use. It is contributing to a culture that privileges a strange aesthetic, an image in a vacuum, because metadata is ugly. Fuck that. Citations are COOL. Manners are cool.

(Also I do not care about Shepard Fairey but god that whole Obama poster thing was and is dumb.)

I think at the core of this is “sharing.” People have always shared things, right? But the new “sharing,” which takes place over so many networks, and in so many forms–mostly visual now, because of ubiquitous cameras linked to ubiquitous computers–is the kind of “sharing” that..well, you know what, it’s not really sharing, now is it? Because who benefits? Am I being deeply cynical when I say it is more about saying “I am here, and you aren’t. I am doing this, and you aren’t.” It is about crafting an image of oneself, or a simulacrum of self, online. You can do that, you know. The immediacy of it is what makes me think that. But it’s very anxiety making.

A beautiful tweet from beautiful Dan Deacon which sums up everything I am talking about, why am I even:

I am thinking of my own use of photo sharing sites like Fotolog and Flickr, and how some care has always gone into the kind of photos I post there. Without going into the aesthetics of Instagram (barf), I feel like there has been a regression in this amateur photography business. It’s pretty complicated, and the aesthetic questions (and answers) are really horrible and disheartening. And I am going to check myself here, and say, well, these questions and categories are irrelevant, because Instagramming or whatever is not capital-P Photography. It is taking a janky picture with a cell phone. (Not that I do not love cell phone photography and its possibilities. I am looking at you, Trevor Powers.) But it is also just ANNOYING, ok. See this article: How to Use Your Smartphone at a Concert Without Being A Jerk.

The experience itself isn’t worth as much anymore—but the opportunity to take a blurry picture of a guy singing? Worth any ticket price. We all do it, because the experience of sharing stuff has begun to usurp the importance of doing stuff.

Why can’t you just go to a show anymore? I can’t speak for everyone, but I am not  interested in your paltry cell phone video as a substitute for experiencing or viewing a performance or anything. And I think this Jerk guy knows that. But Jerk wants you to know that he was there. That’s totally human, right? There are just so many tools that let people feed into their own pettiness and insecurity that they forget to just CHILL OUT and LOOK AT A THING.

That’s my advice: just chill out, and look at a thing. Advice to myself: it ain’t that serious, Annie.


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