Sky-Writing, Or, When Man First Met Troll
The Atlantic, Spring Issue
Editor's note: Stevan Harnad wrote the following essay in 1987 while at Princeton just as the Internet we know coalesced into being. It describes his first experience with a troll and then a flame war on a USENET bulletin board. I repost it for three reasons: 1) As Clive Thompson put it when he tweeted the essay yesterday, "some things haven't changed!" Which is satisfying to my brain at least. We *have* a culture on this here Internet, for good or ill. 2) Going back to such a finely observed primary document lets us feel the strangeness of the Internet again. This was something new unto the world! 3) I wish Harnad's term for Internet discourse -- skywriting -- had caught on. From his place in cognitive science, he intuited early on that Internet culture was something like a return to oral culture, as you can find summarized in his later paper, "Back to the Oral Tradition Through Skywriting at the Speed of Thought."
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