Follow-up #2: And Then There’s 4chan

on August 10, 2010

It often appears that once your attention is drawn to something, you start to see it everywhere. No sooner had I finished writing about the rat brain story earlier today than I found myself reading a Washington Post story about the notorious message board 4chan — which turns out to reflect many of the same organizational principles.

Created seven years ago by a 15-year-old, 4chan is a vast web of anonymous, uncensored message boards. No one’s in charge, but the site’s users have managed to pull off some of the highest-profile collective actions in the history of the Internet. …

The 4chan “hive mind” has been credited with — or blamed for, depending on your perspective — urging tween idol Justin Bieber to head for North Korea as part of his upcoming world tour (as part of an online poll allowing fans to select which country he should visit), spreading a story that Steve Jobs had a heart attack (which caused Apple’s stock to fall precipitously) and starting a rumor that there was a bomb at New York’s JFK airport (triggering an evacuation). …

How 4chan — a site built for fun by a teenager that barely ekes out a profit from online ads — manages over and over again to outwit the systems that multibillion-dollar corporations use to make money on the Internet is one of the great mysteries of the capricious online world.

“The community self-organizes, decides on goals and achieves them in an ad hoc, undirected manner,” said [Joshua] Schachter, who invented the social bookmarking tool called Delicious. “I see it like the financial markets — sort of chaotic. It’s hard to understand, but incredibly vital to understanding out how people operate together on very, very large scales.” …

Why people would decide to spend their time following suggestions by 4chan is what’s unclear in this chain of events.

“There’s a lot of energy in the system from people who have nothing to do, no outlet for their goofing off,” Schachter surmised.

There are enough different explanations in this article for the success of 4chan that I could spend a week just trying to sort them out — the holistic notion of self-organization, the multiculturalism-based ideal of a community where “no one’s in charge,” the Internet meme of the “hivemind,” and even a hint of the ideas about creative collaboration laid out in Clay Shirky’s latest book, Cognitive Surplus: Creativity and Generosity in a Connected Age.

I’m not going to deal with all of that right here and now, of course. But these are themes that I already had in my notes and I expect to grapple with them over the course of the next few entries as I try to bring the story of holism, multiculturalism, and creative imagination up to the present moment.

So once again — stay tuned.


A listing of all my posts on the cycle of visions can be found here.

A general overview of the areas of interest covered at this blog can be found here.

A chronological listing of all entries at this blog, with brief descriptions, can be found here.

A simple list of all the visions can be found here.

Read the Previous Entry: Follow-up to previous post: “Brain’s Wiring: More Like the Internet Than a Pyramid?”
Read the Next Entry: The Soul of Multiculturalism Expands

One Response to “Follow-up #2: And Then There’s 4chan”

  1. allynh says:

    Look at the first episode of the Brain Series that Charlie Rose is doing.

    The Great Mysteries of the Human Brain

    So we’re now looking again at the view of the left hemisphere of the human cerebral cortex. Now, the cerebral cortex looks like a cauliflower in this kind of view, and that’s the way we tend to think about it.

    But it is in fact a very elaborately organized sheet of cells which has been folded up so that it actually fits inside the cranium. The way to visualize that is the following. Imagine that the brain’s computing machinery is actually flat like this piece of paper. But skull is not well suited to accommodating a flat piece of paper.

    So what do we do to accommodate it in the skull? Well, we basically crumble it and fold it and we create a series of folds.

    Think origami brain.

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