Intellectual Property Lawsuits — What Would Bill Shakespeare Do?

A Note from Aaron: I published this post on my old blog when I was in my 20s and thought I knew more than I did. When launching my new site, I could either trash old content like this or port it over. I decided to port it over as a personal archive and reminder of my own evolution. In other words, sorry it sucks.


We all know the story: Two young lovers meet. But there’s a problem: They’re from feuding families. Despite the animosity between their families, the lovers get married. But before they have a chance to enjoy their happily ever after, one of the girl’s relatives kills the boy’s best friend, then the boy kills the girl’s relative, the authorities want to punish the boy, he flees, a plan is devised for the couple to be reunited, but something goes tragically wrong and the two lovers end up dead.

Yes, the story I’m referring to is the famous verse poem The Tragical History of Romeus and Juliet published in 1562 by Arthur Brooke.

Wait… that’s, not the story of two star-crossed young lovers you thought I was describing? My bad. You must have thought I was referencing the very similar tale published a little later in the 16th century by that famous man named William — Palace of Pleasure by William Painter.

What? That’s still not the story you thought I was describing? I guess I can’t really blame you. Those other works are a bit obscure, and as 21st century readers, you can’t be expected to know every story published in the 1500’s. Clearly, the story I’m referencing and I expect everyone to at least have heard of is none other than that famous Broadway musical, West Side Story.

Why bring up West Side Story in a blog that explores the impact of the digital age on society? Reason number one: I’m not afraid to admit my appreciation of Broadway musicals in a public forum. Reason number two: West Side Story remains one of the most beloved and respected Broadway musicals of all time despite being an unapologetic copy of arguably the most famous love story ever told.

Isn’t this the 21st century? Where are all the cries of plagiarism? Where are all the intellectual property lawsuits? How can we, in good conscience, let such violations of basic principles of individuality and proprietary ownership go unpunished? What kind of morally reprehensible lessons are we teaching our children?

I’ll tell you what kinds of lessons West Side Story teaches our children. It teaches them the Human Condition is universal. It teaches them feelings of love, feelings of betrayal, feelings of lust, anger, confusion, indecision, idealism, and hope were as important to a 16th century Italian peasant as they are to a 21st century American schoolgirl. It teaches them ideas are not commodities to be defended with courts and lawyers, but instead, ideas best serve the world when they are shared, expanded upon, and recontextualized to inhabit spheres of use in which they otherwise might never have benefited some of those very people they were designed to enlighten.

So tell me, what lessons are we learning from the ever-mounting pile of intellectual property lawsuits for digital technologies? Are we meant to think a touchscreen interface with logo-labeled applications is a technological privilege only to be enjoyed by people able to spend $500 on a phone and an additional $100 every month for service? Should we believe, within a world of exponentially increasing archived information, an algorithm specifically designed to help us better find the information we most need can best serve us so long as it’s only made available by one company? Can we be convinced a regularly updating list of information created by our friends and family is the property of the company helping us create that list?

Maybe that’s exactly what we should believe. Maybe a visionary like Steve jobs invented the best possible example of a smart phone, and while other companies might be able to alter the concept, they can’t improve it. Maybe a company like Google can successfully filter the Internet only by hiding how its filter operates. And maybe the tool that enables content generation should rightfully deserve some claim upon that content. I honestly don’t have a “who’s right” and “who’s wrong” answer for the alarming explosion of technology IP lawsuits.

What I do have, however, is history. Before the European Enlightenment, the concept of plagiarism didn’t have the taboo it carries today. But sometime during those years of philosophical exploration, people began to see their thoughts as valuable property. And property, as we all know, is often followed closely by theft.

Walls began to go up around ideas. The old models of learning through imitation that had so well served folks like Benjamin Franklin, Sir Isaac Newton, Shakespeare, da Vinci, Chaucer, Cicero, Aristotle, Plato, and Socrates, began to be replaced with academic models encouraging “unique” ideas. The model also created our modern conception of plagiarism as a despicable act of immorality. As a result, few non-violent crimes are considered more reprehensible than the theft of an idea.

Take a look at those names again: Benjamin Franklin, Sir Isaac Newton, Shakespeare, da Vinci, Chaucer, Cicero, Aristotle, Plato, Socrates. They represent nine of the most significant contributors to Western culture, and every one of them relied on, as Mr. Newton so eloquently phrased it, “standing on the shoulders of giants.”

By the way, Isaac Newton didn’t invent that phrase. It dates back to the writings of a 12th century French Neo-Platonist philosopher named Bernard of Chartres.

I can’t sanctimoniously preach the ideals of the past while knowing full well if I write the next Harry Potter or invent the next Google I’ll have half a dozen patent and trademark applications filed before lunch. But I can wonder if protecting my ideas from others will, in the grand scheme of things, do more harm than good. Just take a look at that list of names again and ask yourself, would you rather a few million dollars worth of licensing fees, or would you rather see your name alongside Franklin, Newton, Shakespeare, and Socrates?

I suppose the answer to that question is different for everyone, and I don’t know yours. Heck, I don’t even know mine. The only thing I do know is if my dad ever becomes a king, I need to keep an eye on my uncle because there’s a good chance he’ll try killing my dad to steal his wife and take his throne, leaving me to act like a brooding prince seeking revenge with help from my two best friends . And the only reason I know that is because I saw it in the Lion King.

Pay No Attention To The Man Behind The Keyboard

A Note from Aaron: I published this post on my old blog when I was in my 20s and thought I knew more than I did. When launching my new site, I could either trash old content like this or port it over. I decided to port it over as a personal archive and reminder of my own evolution. In other words, sorry it sucks.


Before my students begin writing their papers, I try to remind them of the importance of establishing their ethos. I also spend an entire class period discussing what the heck ethos is, but since I don’t have that luxury here, I’ll summarize by explaining that ethos is the reason your audience should care about what you’re saying. It’s why when Mitt Romney speaks, people listen (whether or not they agree), but when Sarah Palin speaks, everyone chuckles and thinks she’s backwoodsy-adorable. Romney has the ethos of being credible, intelligent, learned, and successful, Palin has the ethos of being… well… backwoodsy-adorable. (For the record, I’m using the Romney/Palin example not because I agree or disagree with either of their political ideals — that’s partially why I chose two politicians from the same party — but because, deserved or not, the mainstream media has assigned them very distinct brands.)

Why bring up ethos? Because I’m about to break the number one rule I tell my students: you should never have to explain your ethos; let your argument establish your ethos for you.

Now I’m going to ignore my own rule (and hope none of my students are reading). You should care about what I’m going to explain because before I retreated to the Isengard-like-safety of the Ivory Tower, I was a copywriter at a small Internet marketing company. I realize this professional claim is, to most readers, extremely dull and nowhere near as ominous as I’d like it to be. But to the few folks who read my former job title and thought “I’m not sure I like where this is going,” you’re damn right — that’s exactly where I’m going. As for the rest of you, I’m about to pull back a tiny sliver of the Internet’s proverbial curtain. If you don’t want to learn how the magic happens, stop reading now. Look at some adorable puppies instead.

In my seven years since graduating from undergrad, here’s a brief glimpse at the many, many, many expertises (my ethoses) I’ve shared with the World (Wide Web):

  1. Fitness Guru: I’m not necessarily fat, but the only successful diet I’ve ever created I lovingly referred to as “The Pizza Diet.” To be fair, eating one pizza a day and nothing else did help me lose 20 pounds; still, I hardly think it qualified me to be the lead blogger for a fitness website with thousands of users.
  2. Blushing Bride-to-be: You may laugh, but wedding blogs are big business. So when a client needed a wedding blogger, guess who wrote it. Oh-by-the-way… I’m a dude.
  3. Stock Analyst: Want to know an industry where you absolutely shouldn’t believe anything you read? Penny stocks. In this case, it’s not just because guys like me can do the writing. In fact, you’d be lucky to read something I wrote because I actually cared enough to make sure everything I produced was triple-checked by former SEC attorneys to avoid the potential for legal “actionability.” How many attorneys do you think are verifying “next hot penny stock” newsletters being written in Cyprus? Or India? Or Pakistan?
  4. Philanthropist: I’m actually proud of this one. I run a charity… we try to do good in the world. But still, writing copy for a charity is a far cry from the next example.
  5. Serial Dating Website User: If weddings are big business on the Internet, dating is HUGE business. Plenty of companies are trying to capitalize on all the online-dating traffic, and SEO-rich blogs are a key component. Someone has to create those blogs; can you guess who’s been one of those “someones”? Fun fact: I’ve never used a dating website and I’m married. Am I the guy you want giving you your online dating advice?
  6. Mommy Blogger: This time last year, mommy blogs were the new industry darling. As I posted about taking my kids to soccer practice and defeating diaper rash, I couldn’t help but wonder how many other mommy bloggers didn’t actually have children. Plus, like I wrote before… I’m a dude.

Those are some of the bigger projects I’ve contributed to, and while I could certainly list more, you hopefully get the picture. Also mixed in were things like nutritionist, extreme couponer, ticket broker, and, one of my personal favorites, neighborhood blogger (in six different cities around the country, none of which I’d ever lived in).

The point is, the Internet is big business. When there’s billions of dollars at stake, the only thing you can be sure of is that companies will do whatever they can to legally (and sometimes not-so-legally) get you to click a link, watch an ad, or, the holy grail of all web marketing, capture your credit card information.

To be fair, capturing your credit card information isn’t necessarily a bad thing. Online marketers aren’t outright thieves (most of them, anyway) and the last thing any successful online marketer wants to do is get a credit card chargeback. Too many chargebacks means losing the ability to process credit cards, and losing the ability to process credit cards means they can’t make money. However, it’s their goal (and it was my job) to convince consumers to take certain actions based on a website’s content. Who created the content didn’t matter so long as the readers felt like the content was genuine.

I realize for many readers my revelations won’t come as a shock. For the record, I actually hope they don’t. But there’s a difference between not being shocked by things (e.g. the media is biased, high fructose corn syrup is bad for you, the Holy Roman Empire was neither holy, nor Roman, nor an Empire), and having to be reminded to be aware of such things as you engage with them. The Internet is flooded by millions of websites and the barrier for entry to creating a website is incredibly low. I have no idea how to tell whether a website not belonging to one of the 500-or-so universally recognized name brands is actually a valuable resource, and I’m not sure anyone else does, either. Sure, you can argue “that’s what search engines are for.” But I’ll argue back, “I used to get paid good money because I was great at tricking search engines.” In other words, trust search engines at your own risk.

Still not convinced? Consider my current ethos. I’m claiming to have a PhD in English literature who also happens to be an entrepreneur and have an extensive background in web development and Internet marketing, plus… I’m a dude. Regardless of whether or not that persona is true, you have to admit, it’s certainly not the same as being a mommy blogger. Unless I’m Chaz Bono, I physically can’t be both. Maybe I’m neither. The point is, you’ve never met me, so how do you know which, if either, is true?

Perhaps just as importantly, does it matter?

Some Real Paul Graham Bashing (Because No One Else Is Succeeding)

A Note from Aaron: I published this post on my old blog when I was in my 20s and thought I knew more than I did. When launching my new site, I could either trash old content like this or port it over. I decided to port it over as a personal archive and reminder of my own evolution. In other words, sorry it sucks.


Over the past week or so, I’ve noticed an odd phenomenon at the top of Hacker News: There’s been an abundance of Paul Graham bashing. For example, one article attacks Mr. Graham’s recent essay regarding copyright because it “misses the mark in a big way.” Another article argues that because Paul Graham wrote an essay about “Frighteningly Ambitious Startup Ideas,”Y Combinator’s preference to invest in “startups making relatively small, iterative progress on existing idea spaces” is somehow disingenuous. And a third article goes so far as to map out the number of times, on average, PG resorts to verbal crutches like “uh” or “umm” when speaking.1

I’m not sure of the cause for this recent wave of Graham cracking,2 but, before I jump on the bandwagon, I wanted to come to PG’s defense. He is — and I’m not ashamed to admit it — one of my web-author man-crushes.

To the guy (or gal) who averaged Mr. Graham’s verbal idiosyncrasies, I’ll first appropriate an angsty teen comeback from my youth and tell you to “get a life.” Then I’ll… umm… defer to PG’s well-written response.

To the author of the article telling PG and Y Combinator to “put your money where your mouth is” and invest in ambitious startup ideas, I’ll suggest you re-read the article. Mr. Graham never indicates an overt interest in investing in such ideas. He seems to be implying the opposite. He describes the phenomenon of people applying to Y Combinator with frighteningly ambitious ideas, and, in doing so, he seems to be explaining why he, and other investors, get frightened and tend to shy away. If anything, I read his article as reminder not to apply to Y Combinator with a frighteningly ambitious idea, even if my ultimate intention is an ambitious goal. Instead, he specifically advises the opposite when he suggests, “If you want to take on a problem as big as the ones I’ve discussed, don’t make a direct frontal attack on it.”

Finally, to the author of the article concerning copyright, if you read up on your history of intellectual property, you’ll probably discover that PG isn’t too far off base. Sure, his opening metaphor might be a little shaky if you poke too hard at it, but that’s the case with any metaphor. However, historically, intellectual property, as we currently abuse it, is a relatively new concept dating to the mid-19th century. It derives from 18th century Romantic ideals about originality that eventually began to produce our modern fear of plagiarism. However, back in the not-too-distant past, imitation (i.e. copying) was one of the primary tools for learning. For example Ben Franklin, that bald dude on the hundred dollar bill, was a big proponent of copying other people’s work. In a discussion of Franklin, Peter Stallybrass, a UPenn professor and IP history aficionado, explains that:

For Franklin, ideas were a common treasury to be shared by all. The problem is not imitation or even plagiarism but the claim to intellectual property, a claim that justifies itself by producing plagiarism (i.e. the possibility of shared knowledge) as its moral and legal antithesis. Franklin argued that the immorality lay in the fences that intellectual property erected, which, preserving knowledge for the rich and powerful, prevented its free circulation.3

Now that I’ve come to Paul Graham’s defense, I feel entitled to (lovingly) question what appears to be one of his biggest intellectual contradictions. Mr. Graham, if you ever happen to read this post, how do you explain the seeming contradiction between your well-documented adoration of hackers and your unabashed, capitalist VC pursuits?

As someone who literally submitted his Y Combinator application less than 24 hours before the writing of this post, I should note that I personally applaud your capitalist undertakings, but then again, I’m not someone who runs a website called “Hacker News,” nor do I have a book called Hackers and Painters.4 You, however, do. As a result, your profession and your intellectualism — to me — continue to seem at odds.

Allow me to explain. The foundational beliefs of what we’ll go ahead and call “hackerdom” seem to stem from a Marxist-Hegelian perception of the Internet that Richard Barbrook, one of the earliest theorizers of the Net, describes as “anarcho-communism”.5 If I didn’t lose the last of my readers with that bit of pretentiousness, I’ll describe the concept less-snootily by explaining that it’s that concept of free-exchange of information and ideas in which hackers take so much pride.

What’s at issue, for me, isn’t the idealism of the hacker subculture. Instead, I have trouble rectifying Paul Graham’s obvious adoration for hackers with Y Combinator’s blatant, capitalistic commoditization of hackerdom.

Again, I want to reiterate that I, personally, don’t have a problem with it. I just want to point out that, if folks want to get to the top of Hacker News by writing hostile posts about Paul Graham, perhaps they should be discussing his most problematic actions.

To be fair, Mr. Graham does offer the occasional justification for Y Combinator that suggests money isn’t his top priority. In a brief essay called Why YC, he claims, “We didn’t start it mainly to make money.” Instead, according to Graham, “The real reason [they] started Y Combinator is one probably only a hacker would understand. [They] did it because it seems such a great hack.”

Speaking of hacks, Mr. Graham,6 would a true hacker intentionally deploy a hack that, by commoditizing the subculture itself, violates the very principles on which hackerdom exists?

The very existence of Y Combinator, Hacker News, and the highly-cultivated persona of “Paul Graham” reminds me of a great description I once read about the movie The Matrix,7 so I’ll re-appropriate it here. Y Combinator exemplifies “the capacity of late capitalism and its mass media to commodify everything, including messages of subversion.”

With a little luck, this article will help convince Paul Graham to commodify me.

Want to Know Why SOPA Will Succeed? Ask Paula Deen

A Note from Aaron: I published this post on my old blog when I was in my 20s and thought I knew more than I did. When launching my new site, I could either trash old content like this or port it over. I decided to port it over as a personal archive and reminder of my own evolution. In other words, sorry it sucks.


As a person who has made his living on the Internet for nearly a decade, I, as much as anyone, have had reason to keep my eye on congress’s SOPA and PIPA legislation. Even though people were screaming about its terribleness months ago, I was never worried. “It’s never going to pass,” I argued. “It violates not only some of the founding principles of our country, it also violates the very logic of how the global Internet works.” Even as discussions and arguments about SOPA heated up, my belief of its certain failure never wavered — I knew it wouldn’t succeed. I was sure of it. But after yesterday’s Internet blackout to raise awareness, I’m not so sure anymore, and it’s all because of Paula Deen.

Before you start Googling “Paula Deen” to see if there’s some Paula Deen you’ve never heard of who actually has something to do with the Internet, don’t bother. The Paula Deen who changed my mind about SOPA is the same Paula Deen whose polished southern charm and deliciously fried southern foods fatten up Food Network audiences around the world. Even though, on the surface, Paula’s butter-filled recipes wouldn’t seem to have anything to do with regulating the Internet, it took an appearance by her on NBC’s Today Show for me to realize she has everything to do with it.

Let me start by explaining why I watch The Today Show. When life’s necessities — wife, family, house, job, etc. — finally forced me to become a morning person, as I sat down for breakfast, I would turn on the TV. Before settling on The Today Show, I decided I’d try to educate myself about world events, so I started watching the big cable news networks. I needed only a few days to remind myself of why I never watched 24-hour news networks in the first place. I got so mad at all the editorializing and sensationalizing that I actually found myself getting angry, and I carried pieces of that anger with me throughout the day. So I tried to switch to something lighter: sports. At first, ESPN seemed like a good morning dose of information about something that didn’t take itself too seriously, but I quickly felt like I was being brainwashed by a culture that already prioritizes sports far more than it probably should. I couldn’t respect myself for believing things like a Duke-UNC rivalry game was the most important thing happening in the world while I knew wars were being fought, people were starving, and new iPhones could be coming out any day.

I finally placed The Today Show firmly in my morning routine not because it necessarily fulfilled the requirement of educating me about world events, but because it didn’t make me think I was entirely neglecting them. While I’d still have to get my actual news from somewhere else, the light-hearted morning lifestyle pieces mixed with sometimes-serious interviews, combined with the occasional celebrity catch-up, were enough to keep me entertained while making me feel like I wouldn’t be completely oblivious if something important was happening in the world. I knew Matt, Ann, Al, and Natalie would entertain me, but I also trusted them to at least clue me in if I needed to pay attention to a significant event. And I’m pretty sure I wasn’t the only person with that belief.

Last Friday, The Today Show celebrated its 60th anniversary, meaning for 60 years it’s been providing folks like me that same mix of entertainment and important-enough-to-bring-to-your-attention news tidbits. The show paraded past anchors across the screen, and I admit I even got a little choked up during some of the montages about the world-changing events they’d covered: the Kennedy assassination; the moon landing; the fall of the Berlin wall; September 11th. During these moments, the cast continued to refer to themselves proudly as journalists. I remember those references because it seemed like a curious word. Were Today Show hosts actually journalists? “Sure,” I decided, “I guess I can see that.” Journalism isn’t limited to presenting only political and technological events. It’s about investigating all sorts of important issues, and reporting to their fellow citizens the ones we should be most concerned with.

The following Tuesday, the day before the Internet blackout, I was watching The Today Show again, and they were reporting on Paula Deen. More precisely, they were interviewing the Butter Queen herself, and she was revealing to the world, in a Today Show exclusive, that she has — pause to establish dramatic suspense — Type II diabetes. That feeling of shock you’re in no way experiencing right now is the same non-existent feeling shared by me and probably every other viewer. Finding out Paula Deen has Type II diabetes is less of shock than the discovering that cigarette smoke is harmful. It’s less of a shock than when it eventually becomes official that long-term exposure to cell phones causes cancer. A Paula Deen recipe is clearly one of those things where we all know how terrible it is for our health, but we enjoy it so much we choose to ignore the obvious truth. Paula, in the highly unlikely event you’re reading this blog post, I’m terribly sorry for you, but let’s not pretend this was a surprise, OK? Don’t you worry, you won’t lose a penny of my money. I’ll keep eating your delicious fried everything and sugar-filled everything-else until I have less feeling in my feet than I do shock at your announcement. Deal?

The next day, the Wednesday of the Internet blackout, I was watching my morning dose of the Today Show when, at 8:01, Matt sent us inside for our morning news update with Natalie Morales. There Natalie was, as perfectly made-up as always, listing the top stories. She said nothing about the Internet blackout. To be fair, I can’t say I was surprised. While the Internet blackout certainly seems like big news, I admit it might not be bigger than car bombs, or murders, or campaigns, or whatever else Natalie highlighted.

However, recently, at the end of the top stories, The Today Show has introduced a brief segment where the news anchor highlights the things being “talked about most online.” I realize the general silliness of the concept, but surely, on a day when some of the Internet’s biggest websites are very visibly protesting (so much so that I couldn’t write this article until today because (a) I couldn’t fully research it without Wikipedia, and (b) couldn’t get anyone to read it because the social news services were either blacked out or filled with people talking about the blackout), it was reasonable for me to expect some mention of the Internet Blackout, especially in a segment about “What’s being talked about most online.” How could it not be mentioned? SOMETHING. IS. TERRIBLY. WRONG.

As I wrote at the beginning of this post, I wasn’t worried about SOPA and PIPA before the Internet Blackout. After the Blackout? I’m terrified it might actually succeed. And to understand why, I need look no further than Paula Deen. There it was, replacing the Internet Blackout in Natalie’s report about what’s being talked about most online: Paula Deen’s revelation about her diabetes.

Don’t worry, I’m not worried about SOPA succeeding because I think Paula Deen’s diabetes was actually being discussed more online than the Internet Blackout. I know she was featured because NBC clearly has a deal in place with Food Network, which is why The Today Show always features Food Network personalities. They needed to address Paula Deen’s illness, so they did what they thought was best for her brand: put her in a light-hearted interview sitting across the table from happy-as-ever “journalist” Al Roker, and spin it however they could to stop people from thinking, “I’d better stop eating Paula Deen recipes before they kill me.”

Has anyone ever seen a Paula Deen recipe and not thought that?

What people aren’t thinking about is SOPA, and that’s why I’m worried SOPA could actually succeed. If self-proclaimed “journalists” don’t have the integrity — or worse, the actual knowledge — to at least present perhaps the most significant display of online unity in the young history of the Internet, can we reasonably expect mainstream Americans to care about it? Seeing Paula Deen’s sugary-white smile presented as the most talked about story on the Internet made me think maybe I care a lot more about this Internet thing than the rest of the country. If the majority of this country isn’t as invested in the Internet as I am, will they stand up to defend it against the folks who give them things like Paula Deen and The Today Show? Will they even realize what’s happening if the entertainment industry doesn’t tell them?

This morning I had two choices. I could turn my television back to ESPN and watch stories about things like how incredible Tim Tebow is for playing a game until I’m eventually numb enough to actually accept Paula Deen’s diabetes as a more important story than congress’s attempt to bastardize the Internet. Or, I could write this blog post, which no one’s likely to read, and feel like I at least tried to make a difference.

You’re reading this post, so you know the choice I made. Now we need to see if the power of this Internet thing is actually worth saving. Do you see that row of social media share buttons a few inches below? Click any of them, or click all of them, and let’s try to tell the country about more important things than Paula Deen.

Google’s petition against PIPA and SOPA

Maybe We’re All Anonymous

A Note from Aaron: I published this post on my old blog when I was in my 20s and thought I knew more than I did. When launching my new site, I could either trash old content like this or port it over. I decided to port it over as a personal archive and reminder of my own evolution. In other words, sorry it sucks.


I should begin this article with two caveats.

Caveat One: I get 90% of my news from article teasers.

Caveat Two: I’m 90% confident this isn’t a problem because: a) the articles themselves are incredibly biased (including articles by me); and b) thanks to Twitter and text messaging, I’ve learned to parse complex narrative meaning from contextualized, truncated prose.

For example, I can read a teaser that says “UN: Iran is working on nuclear arms” and know instantly it’s an article about a new UN report making a case for Iran’s production of nuclear weapons, so I don’t read it. Do I need to know anything else? Probably not. Is there definitive proof? No. Is Iran denying working on nuclear weapons? Yes. Is anything happening right now that requires my immediate attention? Nope. If the topic of Iran and Nuclear weapons requires my immediate attention, I like to hope the article teaser would look something like this: “Iran has nuclear weapons!!! F@%#!!!!!”

Similarly, if I read an article teaser that says “Lindsay Lohan poses nude for Playboy,” I don’t need to read the article to know exactly what’s important. Does the article itself have nudity? Nope. Is Lindsay Lohan going to be my generation’s Drew Barrymore? Undoubtedly. Will I see any of her movies five years from now once she unbleaches her hair and puts on enough weight to become adorably pudgy? Only if my wife moves it to the top of our Netflix queue without me noticing.

Hahaha… just kidding. In five years, Netflix won’t exist. Hopefully not because Iran already nuked us.

Turns out, this method is great at helping me get a sense of what’s important and worth learning more about, versus what’s not important and not worth my limited time. So when every major mainstream and social media news outlet makes a big deal about the death of Steve Jobs, I know I should learn more. But when only ABC News talks about Ricki Lake’s performance on Dancing With The Stars last night, I know it’s not worth my time.

Now for the contradiction to my personal news aggregation methods. Over the past few weeks, every major mainstream and social media outlet has featured articles on both Anonymous, the “hacktivist” digital collective, and the Occupy movements. Clearly, they’re worth knowing more about. And yet, I haven’t read a single article about either. Best of all, I’m about to very publicly weigh in on both topics. In other words: don’t expect any sort of journalistic integrity established through well-researched arguments.

(Don’t be so shocked. Journalistic integrity finally died five years ago. You know… back when Lindsay Lohan was relevant.)

As more and more stories appear about the friendly folks of Anonymous (please don’t DDoS aarondinin.com for writing about you… I’ve only got one server) and the officially unrelated but undeniably similar Occupy demonstrators (please don’t occupy my condo… I’ve only got one bathroom), I find myself increasingly inclined to avoid learning anything about them. I don’t want to know what websites got taken down and why. I don’t want to know which governments are violating what principles of freedom. I’ve even taken to using a different route to reach the highway so I don’t have to drive by an Occupy campground, though that may just be because they cause lots of traffic jams.

I guess it’s time for me to admit it. As a white, American, male, middle-class, well-educated, twenty-something-year-old struggling to pay my bills and wondering which government bureaucracy spent my piece of the American Dream, I’m officially a traitor to the cause. At least, that’s what I feel like, and I’m pretty sure that’s kind of the point. I imagine if I was one of the people occupying someone else’s street or web server, I would want all the folks in my position not championing the cause I’m championing to at least feel guilty. I hope anyone reading this article from a tent or… well… wherever an Anonymous person would be reading this from (your parents’ basement?) feels a slight sense of victory knowing you’ve made me feel guilty. Hell, I even feel guilty about that “your parents’ basement” jab. My problem is, I don’t know what I’m supposed to feel guilty about.

The obvious solution to my problem would seem to be for me to stop reading article teasers and start reading the articles themselves. But I’m pretty sure that’s not the solution. While I might not have read the articles in the mainstream and not-so-mainstream media about Anonymous and the Occupy movements, I’m confident those articles don’t give an accurate picture of what’s at issue. I’m equally confident the folks involved in both movements would agree. The media isn’t in the business of spreading the ideologies of movements, but that’s what’s at stake: warring ideologies.

The war, however, isn’t between who you think it is. The war I don’t understand isn’t digital hacktivists versus governments and supporting corporations cracking down on civil liberties. Nor is the war I don’t understand the battle between the privileged social and economic elite versus the people who, in a raw global economy, are getting a particularly raw deal. I understand both of those wars. To put all my cards on the table, I understand both those wars all too well from both the civil liberties side and the 99% side.

The war that has me both confused and concerned — especially as someone who should be riding the same horse in this race as the Occupiers and Anonymati — is the conflicting ideologies of Anonymous and the Occupy movement. I’m going to reach deep into my southern heritage here and add some good ole’ fashioned “y’alls” to these next statements because they’re that important: Y’all are working against each other. Y’all are contradicting each other. Y’all need to stop activisiming long enough to recognize that, in the digital world, your ideologies are inherently incompatible. And finally, y’all — and maybe even we — need to reconcile the two movements in order for either to succeed.

I don’t need to read a bunch of news articles to understand the foundational principle of the Anonymous movement (thanks Wikipedia!). Anonymous is clearly about acting collectively as a de-individualized entity in order to affect large-scale social change. It’s about acting as a “we” instead of an “I.” By doing so, governments and corporations are no longer accountable to individual people which they can easily defeat. Instead, they’re forced to be accountable to a much larger and much more powerful entity — a digitally organized, decentralized, anonymized collective. It’s a collective that crosses borders, both social and geo-political, meaning it’s not limited to the traditional constraints of laws, wealth, and social reach. In short, the power of Anonymous is that its membership can’t be treated like individuals.

While the strength of Anonymous comes from forcing governments and companies to not treat them as individuals, the Occupy protestors — and they may or may not realize this — are fighting against de-individualized and de-personalized treatment. For proof, consider the reason for this recession. The reason, if it can be boiled down to a single reason (which, luckily, on a macro level, everything can be), is statistics. Not “statistics” in the same sense as math class — that would make my argument awfully anti-climactic, huh? No, I mean statistics in the sense that corporations aren’t concerned with what will please individual consumers. They’re concerned with the overall trends of consumerism. They need to know what decisions will maximize profits and minimize costs. Doing so means not caring about Chris in Cleveland who got laid off and can’t make his car payment or Sarah in San Francisco who’s $100,000 in debt after graduating from Stanford. Corporate policies are determined based on what makes the most money, and making the most money requires ignoring the individual and focusing on the collective.

If we wanted to place blame somewhere — and I know I want to place blame somewhere — the number one candidate for our anger is greed. But before we can lambast corporate executives or political leaders for aspiring to success and doing what’s best for themselves, let’s not forget that, in seeking change, we’re also being greedy; we’re also asking for more for ourselves.

Instead of placing blame on an individual or an entity acting in its best interest, I’m going to suggest we do what’s best for everyone and blame an inanimate object. Specifically, I vote we blame the Internet. And no, I’m not suggesting we all stop using the Internet. Certainly don’t stop using it before you Tweet, Like, Digg, Stumble, Reddit, and otherwise socially disseminate this article out into the great digital void. What I am suggesting is the Internet depersonalizes our communications and our social interactions. We’re no longer individuals interacting directly with our friends and family. More importantly, we’re no longer individuals interacting with those companies we do business with. Instead, we buy online because it’s more convenient. We trade stocks online because it’s faster and cheaper. And we try to affect social change online because it’s easier than sitting in a tent. Are those bad things? I much prefer to order a book from Amazon than go to a store, even if that store treats me like a person, provides a coffee shop, gives me free wifi, and lets me hang out as long as I want (RIP, Borders). But should we be surprised when companies stop treating us like individuals and start treating us like statistics? To them, that’s all we are. That’s all we really can be. By increasingly choosing to live more of our lives online, we all make ourselves Anonymous.