Is the digital world rising above the law?

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I wrote this for another site but in the end it wasn’t used so I thought I might as well stick it on here for you lovely people.

The idea goes that no one person is above the law. A simple concept, but with the evolution of the digital world (and I’m not just referencing Digimon here) the notion is getting less and less tangible. Just like our criminals.

Last month saw the release of The Random Darknet Shopper, a robot who went to robo-jail after purchasing of ecstasy from the darknet. This digital Pablo Escobar is the handiwork of Swiss artists Carmen Weisskopf and Domagoj Smolijo, who created the bot as part of their art show. Given $100 a week in bitcoin, the little robot was sent into the depths of Darknet (a place not really fit for human exploration) and allowed to make random dubious purchases. The fruits of this shopping spree included not only some ecstasy pills but a fake passport, Diesel jeans, 200 Chesterfield cigarettes, and a baseball cap fitted with a hidden camera.

The project was created in order to mirror the illegal activities that persist throughout the internet, questioning how our society should be dealing with spaces such as Darknet markets. However, art or no, a real crime was committed. In the words of the artists: “We are the legal owner of the drugs – we are responsible for everything the bot does, as we executed the code.”

Although Weisskopf and Smolijo admit responsibility for their bot, it seems that our laws as they are now may not be up to date in how to handle such misdemeanors. Criminal law usually upholds that there needs to be an “intending mind” present for a crime to be prosecuted. Therefore, if a bot was set to only buy items at random, could the creator reasonably be held responsible for the purchase of chance illegal items?

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In the case of The Random Darknet Shopper, such a case was never presented as the robot was cleared of all charges. The artists’ site states that “the possession of Ecstasy was indeed a reasonable means for the purpose of sparking public debate about questions related to the exhibition. The public prosecution also asserts that the overweighing interest in the questions raised by the art work «Random Darknet Shopper» justify the exhibition of the drugs as artefacts”.

Hurray for art, but this still leaves a lot of open-ended questions on how UK and global laws will deal with the emergence of robotic and digital loopholes. Loopholes such as the ones Holograms for Freedom have been recently taking advantage of.

Last month, thousands of holograms appeared outside of Madrid’s parliament buildings in protest to new ‘gagging laws’. The rightwing agenda of the current government has recently been gaining global attention, as new laws were introduced to prohibit certain forms of protest. These restrictions apply to any protest that occurs outside of government buildings or key pieces of infrastructure (such as nuclear power plants or refineries). Those who ignore these new rules can be landed with fines of up to €600,000.

But can you punish someone who isn’t technically there?

Reportedly, nearly 18,000 people signed up to Holograms por la Liberdad’s protest, by recording themselves on webcam. From these around 2000 ghostly holograms were created to march against the Spanish government, in a space that those in charge declared out of bounds. If those involved are able to avoid prosecution, the protest goes to show the ability that the digital world still has to transcend our Earthly regulations. Kind of like a holographic middle-finger to the powers that be.

Both of these cases offer us viewpoints into the pros and cons of an under-regulated cyber sphere. The (partially) lawless realms of our computers can offer us the potential to escape restraints in the physical world. But, like most things, the potential for either good or evil still lies in the hands of those behind the power button.

How long such power exists for has yet to be calculated.

 

I Adore Myself

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It’s a Friday night at The Miller Pub, a frequent venue for improv performers. Downstairs the bar is packed with students, men in suits, improv lovers – you name it. Upstairs there are five women huddled into a small closet, waiting for their audience to arrive. They form a squashed circle.

“Are you ready?” one asks, gearing everyone for the sacred act of warming up. They nod…

“IF I WASN’T ME, I’D WANT TO BE ME!” they cry, doing a blazen crotch thrust.

To anyone on the outside of that closet door, it might sound the mad call of a wild narcissist. To anyone on the inside of that closet… well, it would probably look the same. Except with an added hint of sexual perversion, thanks to the crotch thrusting.

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First of all, yes I was and am one of those women thrusting in the closet. Not only that, I invent this little warm-up. Well, kind of… I actually appropriated it from, what can only be described as, a dickhead.

Months ago I was watching a documentary on the super-rich (which, FYI made me want to rip off my clothes and run down the street yelling ‘SOCIALISM!’). One part of this show caught my eye when the cameras were taken to a lecture held by a very smug landlord. This guy owned over 50 properties and was currently renting them out and making a fortune. Any affordable housing that popped up, he made sure he was the one to get it. The presenter of the documentary asked this guy whether or not he thought there was a housing crisis. Smug landlord said that there was. Then the presenter asked if people like smug landlord were causing it and he sort of made a weird noise and said that ‘no, of course not’. So on the whole, this guy was a true out and out wanker.

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However, during his little lecture to a room full of slack-jawed-wanna-be-landlording-minions he revealed to the room where he gets his…jenesequa from. Yep, you guessed it. It’s from the crotch thrusting chant. This guy, without irony, stands in the mirror every day and tells himself ‘if I wasn’t me, I’d want to be me!’

As I watched him perform this strange mantra, I found myself giggling at the absurdity of it (and not just because it was absolutely hilarious). Here was a man who can very easily be described as a total shit, yet he has found way to make sure he gives himself a daily dose of love. In my own life, I know so many people who are the opposite of total shit (they are wonderful, in fact) who seem to go out of their way to avoid offering themselves a little self-admiration. I mean… what up with that?!

I get that being humble is a very British thing. That we all like to hide behind our hands when a compliment comes our way and try to deflect any praise away with an invisible Star Wars like force field (“Haha my work? Good? Haha maybe… BUT LOOK AT SARAH’S!”). But I have come to the conclusion that we could all stand to benefit from a dose of pure, unadulterated, self-love (and I don’t mean that in a wanking sense).

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I don’t mean that we all have to be swanning about, dick in our hands, and high-fiving our reflections all the time. But I do believe that we all need to have that brief moment where by we take time to appreciate how great (and believe me, there will be something great within you, there always is) it is to be ourselves.

If you come across a troll on the internet, someone who does their best to make you feel shit, you block them. Likewise, if someone is a knob to you in real life, you can choose not to invite them to your birthday party. Or you can burn them. But if the person who is being mean to you is yourself, then it becomes a great deal harder to escape them. So perhaps by offering ourselves some adoration, we can avoid trying to set ourselves on fire and endeavour to just have a little more faith in ourselves.

Much like the amazing Yayoi Kusama.

All or Nothing: How I Chose Life Over My Mother

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I recently wrote an article for Femsplain (a bloody amazing feminist platform) about my relationship with my Mum. Its a pretty personal piece and I feel very lucky that its able to feature on a website that I have such respect for. For the full piece, just click the link below.

Having a bad childhood can be really annoying sometimes. Even in adulthood it likes to creep in and trip you up.

The worst time is Christmas, when you’re forced to make happy festive exchanges silent by answering their unassuming questions.

“What are your plans this year?”

“How does your family celebrate?”

“When are you heading home?”

etc…

It’s in situations like these when I like to detonate the old PHB. If you don’t know what this is, that’s because I invented it. It means Personal History Bomb. An explosive word vomit that gives the key details of my early years — abandonment, estrangement, mild-poverty — in one easy to swallow monologue.

For you, the reader, I’ll try and recreate my PHB digitally…

Read full story here

Have We Lost Personal Projects?

At the weekend I spent my morning watching The Kingdom of Dreams and Madness, a documentary about the final cinematic venture of Hayao Miyazaki and his history with Studio Ghibli. I don’t want to go into a massive raving review of the piece, so just trust me when I say every film fan needs to watch this documentary. The personal genius of Miyazaki is perfectly captured in his quiet reflections of life, and like all Studio Ghibli products, is filled with childlike sincerity.

A scene that particularly caught my notice was one in which we first enter Miyazaki’s house. In his rather modest home, we find hordes of creative projects that Miyazaki has been quietly working on. One project was a documentation of daily life after the recession hit Japan. He flicked through page after page of a enormous scrap book, each one filled with photographs.

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“I tried to document the effects of the recession on the people in my area but what I ended up with was just pictures of everyday life.”

To me, a person of the internet, his scrap book seemed like such a foreign concept. The idea that he had put so much time and energy into a project that (if it wasn’t for the cameras) would have never been seen by another person. It was a project he had untaken for himself and for his eyes only.

Older readers of this blog (are you even there?) might be rolling their eyes at my confusion but to you 90s and millennial kids I have to ask – have personal projects died? Has the blog become the new diary? Tumblr the new scrap book? Facebook the new photo album?

When I think about my own creative projects – writing and improvisation – they’re all undertaken with the goal of anothers eyes. Yes, of course, I do them out of my own passion and pleasure, but would I feel so strongly about them if I didn’t have access to an instant audience?

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Someone in my office remarked today that the new app Periscope was symptomatic of our culture. “It’s just another way for people to feel like everything they do is worth something.” This statement was made as we watched Nick Grimmshaw (Radio 1 DJ – don’t worry older readers, I’ll keep you current) go running through an airport because he was running late for his flight. I mean… I do wonder what Shakespeare would have to say if he could see what we were feasted our eyes on. DON’T WE HAVE THEATRE TO WATCH OR SOMETHING?

It seems to me that we are the generation that has crossed from having too small a platform, whereby it was significantly harder to show off your amazing projects, to having too big of one. A platform so big that we can literally just take a picture of a taco and dub it #BALLIN’.

Now I’m not going to stop posting a majority of my creative endeavors online but perhaps it would be nice to have a secret project… a whisper of creativity that only I can open up and was created with only my viewpoint in mind. The internet often clouds who and what we’re creating for. I don’t think it’s a coincidence that most beauty blogs look the same, or that my own tone of voice sounds like some of the blogs I read. In many ways, the internet comes with templates or we find ourselves joining communities that we merge our voice into.

Being a voice within a community isn’t a bad thing. In many ways, the collective element of the internet is one of its best features. However, maybe once in a while we might enter that kingdom of madness and speak to ourselves for a while…

Being Heard in the General Election

The other week I wrote about finding a voice, which feels very poignant now that the General Election is in full swing.

I’ve always been afraid of writing about politics. I’ll hold my hands up and admit that I’m not the most qualified person to discuss such matters. Politics is the internet game for smart, current affairs people who can make funny remarks about graphs and stuff. They should talk about the election, not some woman who recently waffled on about her love of dog videos.

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However, this deprecating attitude of who should and who shouldn’t be discussing politics is a huge issue within this election. This is, after all, one of the most major conversations to be part of!

It seems that in the past political voice was defined by votes. The message was that if you voted someone was listening. We’re told that young people don’t vote and that this warrants a bad lot in life (a rise in tuition fees, the revoking of housing benefits, unfair renting, ect.)And it is true that young people have had a bad history of voting – in the last election, less than half of 18-24 year olds voted.

However, even if every single young person of today voted, according to a BBC Analysis, it would still take 30 years for us to become a electorally significant demographic.

So how can we be heard?

Well it really shouldn’t be that hard (note that I use ‘shouldn’t be’ instead of ‘isn’t’). Communication is the driving force of Generation Y. We tweet, we text, we snapchat, we blog… there’s so many platforms for our opinions out there, that it seems mad that most of us (myself included) are allowing our political views to go wasted in drunken rants in the pub.

I understand that David Cameron and the like aren’t going to watching my twitter feed or reading this blog, but at the very least we should be creating more awareness within the great potential-voter pool. So many communities are being marginalised by the current government and if we don’t all use the tools that we’ve been given, these people will slowly just disappear from view.

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London especially is a great example of this. Just look at the Focus E15 Mothers, who are currently occupying abandoned council estates in protest of the housing crisis. If these women sat back and proclaimed: ‘well it isn’t my place to question the government!’ Then they wouldn’t even have a chance of remaining in their local area. They would have been quietly pushed out of London, like most working-class people have been in recent years.

Even I know that lucky circumstance is all that has kept me out of extreme poverty. I’ve been financially independent since the age of 18, supporting myself through either student loans or finding work. I don’t have a good relationship with my parents. Once I left university, there was no home to go back to. No safety net against the jobs crisis.

My final year of university was filled with a crushing fear that only those who have come out of dire circumstance know and will never forget. What if I failed to get a job? What if I couldn’t afford to shelter myself?

The Tories have pledged that anyone between 18-21 will not be able to claim housing benefit. Now I’m sure they’ll make exceptions for the obvious cases – such as those who have lost their parents. But I doubt that those in my special circumstances, ones that have no documented proof of why they can’t live in their family home, will be saved from finding themselves either on a friend’s couch or (very likely) the streets.

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Judging from the Tories recent commitment to cut £12 bn from Welfare, this trend for demonizing and exploiting the most vulnerable in our society is only getting worse. And it’s no coincidence that this same group of people are the ones who feel they can’t speak out. That no one cares. That their voice doesn’t matter.

I refuse to believe that we are an indifferent generation and that we cannot shape the destiny of our own country. I have a voice, a vote, and a platform to say in which direction my country should be heading – and you do too.

And preferably, let’s have that direction moving as far away from the Conservatives as possible.