One of my favorite bits from Jacob’s post on “seapunk” was this bit about keeping subcultures “sub”:
It is an impossibility for a subcultural style to be “owned”. Sub-culture exists when gazed at by mass-culture. The only way to ensure that your aesthetic is not going to become used by others is to never share it with anyone. Another approach is to protect your aesthetic with physical violence (see: gang colors). Otherwise, once you allow your presence to be seen, it can be consumed.
Most communities protect their culture through some form of obfuscation: hiding the meaning of their communication by making it hard to interpret.
This is a practice I’ve been studying for some time and some of it is incredible.
- Tum bl r an d L J u sers sep ar ate w ords thr ou gh o dd spacin g in o rde r to fo ol sea rc h en g i nes.
- Chinese users hide political messages in image attachments to seemingly benign posts on Weibo.
- General Pretraeus communicated solely through draft mode.
- 4chan scares away the faint of heart with porn.
- More technically astute groups communicate through obscure messaging systems.
If you want your subculture to go undetected, all of these techniques are moderately effective at keeping your activity away from people and their machines. Until they *want* to find you. Then they’ll find ways around the gates you throw up.
We see a lot of people posting whole posts in tags, so that they’re only visible in the dashboard and not their external-facing blogs, too.
update #2: Alex Leavitt points me to this First Monday piece by Finn Brunton and Helen Nissenbaum, ‘Vernacular Resistance to Data Collection & Analysis: A Political Theory of Obfuscation’
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