If you're one of those people who are disgusted when you discover that one of your Facebook friends (probably a moron) has posted a link that was clearly on Reddit only a couple of hours earlier, you should read this. If you get physically irked when someone copies and pastes a photo from an art blog and uploads it to Tumblr without just hitting "reblog", then you also should read this. If you're on Twitter and somebody tweets the same joke as someone else without re-tweeting it, and you get seriously miffed, then read on. There are a lot of people like you. And it's fucking gross.
Why are you using the internet? Seriously, I'm asking. Have you asked yourself that question? Was it because your friends were using the internet? Did some cool kid have a Tumblr and then everyone else did? Were you a loser and so you used your time online instead of making friends? If you witnessed a person go to work every day, sit at a desk, and hit themselves in the face with a telephone for eight hours, you'd probably ask them why they were hitting themselves in the face with a telephone every day. Or maybe you'd want to hit yourself in the face, too, I don't know. If everyone else is doing it, I guess.
There are two main problems here: a problem of authenticity and a problem of culture dissemination. Really, they're the same problem: people don't understand the internet. You keep opening Internet Explorer or Firefox or whatever and you keep hitting yourself in the face and you don't realize it. You keep having feelings about things being wrong on the internet. The internet is just a toy to you. A dumb, recursive, self-indulgent toy, that you take for granted and have no way of appreciating. It's as if we've dropped a Speak & Spell in front of a Neanderthal child and then have the gall to be baffled as to why they couldn't understand it, why they aren't learning language.
You don't get it. You are that Neanderthal child. I know you're probably one of those "digital natives" — like me, by the way — but this requires some thought. There's a distance between those digital immigrants (our parents) and us digital natives, but the more interesting distance is the space between the digital natives who know what the internet is about and those who don't (see: most everybody). But I'll try to break this down into two parts.
Authenticity is dead, get over it.
Yes, authenticity and sincerity don't exist on the internet. Not as inherent, anyway. Stop assuming it's there. We don't need them; the functionality of the system is more important than knowing who built it or why it was built. Yes, the historical facts are useful in analyses of their original intention, but I'm talking about the manipulation of culture rather than some journalistic endeavor. Furthermore, we've already moved two steps beyond that, artistically. The why is not as interesting as our interpretation. We already built Wikipedia, we already know the whys, just look them up.
We've already had great art movements in which the sole action of the artist in the creation of their art was the uncovering of sources. There are plenty of paintings that are "about" the paint itself, or the marble that makes up the sculpture, or the camera that took the photo. That's boring. Modernism was making art with rules defined, written down, explainable, and "perfect". Postmodernism was the subversion and destruction of those rules, while referencing them. Automodernism (TODAY!) is the decoupling of "source" and "rules" from art, replacing its message with the context of its message, or lack thereof. More importantly, the automodern age leaves the references and the rules to the machines. We don't need to contribute to the social graph: it's already tracking us. The nerds took care of it, move on.
When I copy and paste content rather than simply reblog it, I'm making a few conscious decisions. I could argue they're artistic, but it's irrelevant, since even art is social. One, when content is decoupled from source, I'm actively replacing the importance of that source with the context of my action. Context is greater than message. Second, I'm not claiming that original image as mine, I'm claiming it as somehow relevant to me. I'm archiving it, if anything, as I would buy a print of a Warhol painting.
The difference between the Warhol poster in my living room and the one on my Tumblr is that I'm making a decision to associate that piece of media with me in a digital, trackable, quantifiable system. Furthermore, the context of that system is infinite — the bits that make up the image could easily be text instead, it's just rearranging bits in a computer, nothing physical is gained or lost. This is why the message — in this case, the Warhol image — is not as important as the context of why I'm posting it.
Is it inauthentic to take a tweet, copy the text, and post it, without using that damn "retweet" button? Is it insincere to download an image and upload it to my Tumblr without adding a link to the source? If so, why? We've had this debate. Allusion has been around for hundreds of years. Pastiche and found art were big in the 20th century. Do you really think an artist is going to get paid more if we link to their website? Is it some kind of ephemeral collective fuzzy feeling of justice you think you're contributing to when you provide a source link?
Listen, if you're writing a news story, then yeah cite your fucking sources. If you're posting something to Tumblr or Facebook or Twitter, get over it and understand what you're getting butthurt about. I've heard people respond "well, I want the source so I can go find out more" but what you're really saying is "make my life easier because I'm lazy". People make the best connection with art and culture that they have to go out and discover for themselves. Do you really think reading the Wikipedia page for Van Gogh will be more culturally informative than just going and looking at his goddamn paintings? It's not. Go look at them. I don't need to provide for you a source link for you to figure that experience out.
Information is not fashion.
For some reason, people think there's some kind of status associated with knowing about a video on YouTube "before it became viral". As if the cultural object of the video could have ownership — as if cultural value is like kinetic energy, and there's a means of identifying the vast sums of potential energy inside a not-yet-viral YouTube clip. You could spend years shuffling through billions of videos, trying to find the next big viral one, and all you'd be doing is wasting time.
What's with the behavior patterns associated with knowing before "everyone else"? These behavior patterns are associated with a couple of other phenomena already: fashion and art. Fields in which there is a perceived cultural distance between one group ("in the know") and another ("everyone else"/mass culture). However, the distance between "high and low" in art and fashion are socioeconomic, based on scarcity, based on physicality. It's based on a very few having access to things before others. This has already been turned on its head, as some fashion has come from the bottom and gone up, but it was still based on physicality and scarcity. The internet has none of those things, so we are somehow magically manifesting cultural value from absolute nothingness.
The only person in our internet situation who might hold significant cultural capital is the original owner of the content, who almost never gets recognized. Only at very weird, marketer-heavy events like ROFLCon do the people behind the memes become physical, and their power is only available in the context of their meme. They are not the meme, therefore they actually have very little capital at all. As I stated above, a lot of people care about citing sources, but not for memes? There is a perceived authenticity within the sharing of content, but not in the production of content? There is still some kind of distance here — the kid who's in a viral video does not wield the cultural power of that video. Again: the context is more important than the message (in this case, that "message" is a person).
This "knew it first"/"cool internet kid" paradigm is a kind of sociocultural distance, since on the internet, the economic gets shuffled away (or at least, as long as the net remains neutral). Is this how post-scarcity economics begins to work its magic and create culture out of nothingness? When the value of physicality melts away in favor of completely ad-hoc social castes of "in the know" and "everybody else"? Is that the best we can do?
When someone posts a story on Facebook that's obviously from Reddit, what do you want when you get pissed about it? What would you rather have? For them not to ever find it? Do you feel special for seeing on Reddit "first"? Because it wasn't on Reddit first — it was first on whatever website it originated from. Why are the aggregators becoming the legitimized sources of information, what makes them special? Are we really that stupid?
How would we establish the sociocultural distance between the cool kids on Reddit and the lowly everybody-else if the masses never eventually found what we already know? Digg self-destructed because of this. Too many people were on it, muddying the waters! Too many people were in the secret club, and it was suddenly not cool because it was not secret! Why do we care? There's too much fucking content on the web. Reddit (and Digg) aren't going to catch them all, filter them, and make them cool. Why do we cherish these filters so much, as if they validate us, or qualify our cultural tastes?
You know what's cool? Being the source that someone can copy and paste from. Contributing something, even if it's just context. Build your own damn site with original content. When I see someone copy something from one of my Tumblrs and post it on their own without hitting that damn reblog button, I'm happy. I don't give a shit. I've seen things I posted on my Tumblr get copied and pasted to someone else's, where it goes on to get 1000+ reblogs. Do I give a shit about that sweet, delicious REBLOG CULTURE-MONEYS I lost? Fuck no. In fact, I get super fucking annoyed when one of my posts gets reblogged a lot, because I get a million goddamn notifications. Fuck that. I don't need my internet experience validated by teenagers clicking a button.
What I'll close with is something interesting — curation, which is related to these issues of authenticity and dissemination, but a bit more controlled. As I've written about before, I help run a site that "curates" content from around the web. And it's a cardinal fucking rule that you don't post shit you found on Reddit or post YouTube videos with over 10,000 views. You post original shit that nobody has "seen" yet. But why? What makes this different? Mostly, the result of posting content has no associated sociocultural value. There's no fucking LIKE or UPVOTE buttons, no goddamn KARMA to rake in for being so stupidly clever on the internet. By stripping these validation schemes away, you create a community of people who simply enjoy discovering content for its own sake. Like the old internet, pre-social, pre-sharing.
Bottom line: stop caring. Enjoy the internet. Copy and paste. Make some content. Create some interesting context.