August 03, 2008

Everybody Wants to be Internet Famous

By Cyndy Aleo-Carreira of Shakespeare I Ain't (E-mail / Twitter)

The New York Times Magazine piece called The Trolls Among Us has been the talk of the tech blogosphere since its online release on Friday. There are those who feel it's an amazing piece of investigative journalism. Others are shocked that trolls who've been well-known by deed if not by name, have finally been revealed, including those who harrassed Kathy Sierra. I happen to be in a third camp. I'm disappointed in the Gray Lady for giving trolls a voice.

When Andy Warhol famously declared that in the future, everyone would be famous for 15 minutes, he had no idea that the Internet would be the platform that would make his quote a reality. While few people will ever achieve the fame that comes along with being a film star or world leader, the Web had provided a world stage where anyone who figures out how to be completely over the top at something can have those 15 minutes.

The Times piece has proven exactly that point. These trolls, who purport to carry on their activities for whatever random purpose suits them at the time, are just as desperate for attention as anyone else seeking Internet fame. The allure of being interviewed by such a well-known paper was obviously too attractive to turn down. If the purpose of trolling was really a psychological experiment or however those interviewed chose to spin it, then why agree to expose themselves if not for the egoboo of fame?

Somewhere, deep inside most of us, exists the need to be recognized for something, anything. But in this Web culture where anything goes much of the time, we seem to forget that most people become famous for doing something productive. The old-school Hollywood royalty was famous for making entertaining films, not flashing their uncovered crotches getting out of cars. As bloggers, we are slowly heading into more of the tabloid-esque coverage that has resulted in the craze for celebrity car crash videos and drunken fall photos. As users, we seem inexorably drawn toward gaining as much attention for ourselves as we can. The Times may have done it in a more traditional medium, but until we go back to covering successes and those doing good in the tech space, we may as well be the next Enquirer.