Phreaks, Hackers, and Trolls—Oh My!

Before we talk about the phreaks, hackers, and trolls, let’s discuss image editing. I don’t mean to brag, but I’ve got some crazy editing skills—just look at this amazing work done on my friend.img_2371Please, hold your applause. Can you tell the beard’s not real? Surprise. Seriously though, my image editing repertoire pretty much only consists of goofy stuff like doodling on preexisting photos (I’d show you the picture of myself that I “edited” to look like a vampire, but I’m trying to maintain some shred of dignity) and cropping pictures—all, mind you, on MS Paint. Fancy-schmancy terms like “layers” and “optimizing” elude me. I’ve seen a few YouTube videos of people editing photos and I must say, I’m impressed. Even a touch of editing can make a photo look incredible. For example, this puppy photo I found on someone’s profile on a website called “We Heart It”:

Yeah, I know, another puppy picture. What? I like dogs…

The pastel tint on the photo immediately brought to mind the term “saturation,” so I looked it up. According to my dear friend Google, “Saturation (or ‘chroma’) defines the intensity of a hue. Vivid primary colours are highly saturated, while pastel colours are unsaturated.” Therefore, this picture is unsaturated. Neat. I’m a bit nervous about having to actually edit images, because from what I’ve heard, it’s quite an arduous process; however, I’m willing to give it a go.

Now, let’s talk about the phreaks, hackers, and trolls. (There’s really no smooth way to segue from one topic to the other here, sorry.) When I think of a hacker, I imagine some guy wearing an Anonymous mask, typing rapidly, his computer screen raining binary like in The Matrix. Coleman mentions in the opening of her article that hackers follow a “hacker ethic”—“shorthand for a mix of aesthetic and pragmatic imperatives: a commitment to information freedom, a mistrust of authority, a heightened dedication to meritocracy, and the firm belief that computers can be the basis for beauty and a better world” (99). Sounds like they’re the heroes we need, but not the ones we deserve… Hackers’ ability to “watch the watchers” made them prime targets to law enforcement, which feared their technological prying. This resulted in the legal prosecution and persecution of hackers, in which “their punishment often exceed[ed] the nature of their crime” (108).

What comes to mind when I picture a troll is an acne-ridden neck-beard, purposely leaving racist or sexist comments on YouTube videos with the intention of stirring up trouble. Coleman writes, “Trolls work to remind the ‘masses’ that have lapped onto the shores of the Internet that there is still a class of geeks who, as their name suggests, will cause Internet grief, hell and misery” (110). She continues to explain that trolls serve a purpose—to “fuck shit up,” mostly, but on a deeper level, to take political correctness and make a mockery out of “the idea that language, much like everything virtual, is anything that should be taken seriously” (111). Personally, I don’t think that’s a good enough justification for the existence of trolls; all they do is spread hate and make people not want to be online. We don’t necessarily need jerks like these to shatter the concept of “political correctness,” especially not in the usually-crude way they do it.

Prior to Coleman’s article, I had no idea what a phreak was. The term “phreak” was once “phone freak,” but was “condensed out of the ambient cultural humidity” (103). These phone freaks were labeled as such due to their brand of hacking: “By 1961, phreakers—although still not named as such—no longer had to rely on perfect pitch to make their way into the phone system. They were building and using an assortment of small electrical boxes, the most famous of these being the Blue Box. This device was used to replicate the tones used by the telephone switching system to route calls, enabling Blue Box users to act as if they were a telephone operator, facilitating their spelunking of the phone system and, for some, free phone calls” (103).