One of my favorite things about living in New York City is making use of the local libraries. The networking and proximity of libraries gives uses access to an entire borough worth of books to pick up and drop off at a local branch. It’s like interlibrary loan, but integrated in to standard library use. I recently made use of this by getting to pick up a copy of Cole Stryker’s Epic Win for Anonymous: an Online Army Conquers the Media, published by Overlook Press.
Epic Win for Anonymous covers the rise of Anonymous (big-A) and the history of anonymous (little-a) in internet culture. When I sat down to write this review, I noticed that the subtitle on the cover is an Online Army Conquers the Media, but inside the book, the subtitle is How 4chan’s Army Conquered the Web, a far more accurate description of it’s content. This is apparently only true for the paperback version. The hardcover appears to reference 4chan throughout. This difference and the publisher’s perceived need to change the title echoes what I feel public conceptions frequently miss when attempting to understand what has come to be known as “internet culture.”
My take on the book is that Stryker does come from this culture and is a good guide. He’s attempting to contextualize a weird, self-selecting youth culture (though participants do range in age). It lays out the social context of sites like 4chan, SomethingAwful, and Rotten; as well as Usenet, WELL (Whole Earth ‘Lectronic Link), and BBS, which came the generations before. He does a good job explaining the user experiences and information flows in the different communities and what that means for the culture that is fostered the different environments. He also looks at the roll of external factors in shaping internal community dynamics.
Chapters 1 (Memes: Shared Nuggets of Cultural Currency), 6 (The Meme Industry), and 7 (The Meme Life Cycle) present a coherent summary of the phenomenon of internet memes and their place in human history as a constant tendency lit up by the enabling hand of new technologies. With this, and the rest of the book, Stryker balances descriptions of individual incidents or memes with explanations of broad processes. He succeeds in using details to illuminate without bogging down. It helps that large parts of what he covers are, well, for the lulz.
This book features an impressive 11-page bibliography. I plan on making a photocopy for future reading list reference. It alone would have made this book worthwhile. I’m looking forward to reading Stryker’s second book, Hacking the Future: Privacy, Identity, and Anonymity on the Web. I don’t think that I liked this book as much as I have liked what Biella Coleman has said on similar topics, though I think it’s important to recognize that Sryker’s book has mostly avoided academic terminology and is more approachable without the background knowledge that Coleman’s require for full understanding. Epic Win is epic win as a first look beyond news stories on the deep background of Anonymous, including AnonOps and LulzSec, and why that background is important for making sense of current discussions on the future of internet communication, especially when it comes to identities, communities, security, fear, and privacy.