Lost in the Filth Simulacrum

Black Hole with binary

They say the children are our future. But if 4chan is any indication of what they have in store for us, we are in for a very rough time indeed.

For the blissfully innocent, 4chan is an image board — a format copied from popular Japanese sites, it allows users to post text and images anonymously. The anonymous nature of the board, of course, allows users the courage to post everything from the most extreme pornography to death threats to the coordination of raids on public institutions. The site was started in 2003 by a kid named “moot” (then fifteen) who set up the site with his mom’s credit card, and who has managed to keep it going with sporadic ad revenue from only the dodgiest, least scrupulous advertisers. (Improbably, moot was a top 100 finalist for Time magazine’s “most influential person of the year” award for 2009.)

4chan and its sister sites, the other “Chans”—7chan, 420chan, 711chan, etc. al.—are the black hole of the Internet. They collect the worst that the Internet has to offer, a morass compounded from the ids of the world’s adolescent shut-ins. All extremities, all filth, all illegal activities — such complete chaos that even Lovecraft’s monsters would be forced to make a sanity check, and all updated at a speed far beyond what even an NSA data miner could process. Yet somehow, out of this singularity of abject wrongness, the Chans spew out the Internet humor that preoccupies middle America — LOLCats and the “Chocolate Rain” video, for instance. The Chans are like a particularly huge toxin processor for human consciousness. They are also, I suspect, our best preview of where human consciousness is going.

Mainstream media coverage of 4chan and its sister sites has been extensive, especially after the much-noted raids on the Church of Scientology, coordinated on the Chans and conducted on the web and in real life by Anonymous users wearing V for Vendetta masks to conceal their identities from the infamously vindictive organization. The general attitude of the mainstream media towards the Chans has been one of rubbernecking disgust. (In typical overstated form, Fox News called it an “’Internet hate machine’ filled with calls for domestic terrorists to bomb stadiums.”)


Photo: 4chan.orgYet what the media has failed to grasp is what 4chan can tell us about where we’re headed. The Chans aren’t the freak sideshow of the Internet. They are the heart and soul of the Internet. And they are the ones furthest ahead of the pack, leading us. At this point there should be little doubt that the Internet is mutating the human species into something completely different. Therefore it’s instructive to look at the most extreme, freebased forms of the Internet to see where we’re going — and 4chan is that freebased version of mankind’s new drug of choice.

Permanently glued to their computers, the Anonymous users of 4chan exist in a kind of suspended animation, where no attention span is too short. The Chans show us the chaos at the edge of human perception, where the mind has consumed so much information through artificially enhanced sensory inputs that it begins to break down and cannibalize itself. The brave pioneers of 4chan are the Magellans of media desensitization, who abandon the grim reality of their parents’ basements to wallow in infinite, recursively self-referential filth.

In the last decade, we’ve seen the increasing acceleration of information (a la Terence McKenna and Moore’s law) heralded as the key to new business development, though it has, in fact, so ruined our attention spans that it is almost impossible for modern man to get any kind of productive work done. We’re too lost in the datastream, too focused on taking in new information to complete a task that takes more than a few minutes, at best. I think a direct correlation can be made, for instance, between the rise of social media and the fall of the economy. The kaleidoscope of the Internet is more endless, more distracting and more mutating than even the most potent psychedelic drugs could have ever prepared us for. And 4chan is the ultimate, final trip.

It is the car crash that cannot be looked away from. Ever.

If the mainstream Internet-using world has driven itself to distraction and insanity with social networking, the denizens of the Chans have upped the ante past all conceivable boundaries, like switching from a light alcohol problem to crushing and injecting Oxycontin. This is the place where all senses are deadened, where the mind cannot function because it is trapped in its own overstimulation. This, I am sure, is where media theorists from Marshall McLuhan to Neil Postman to Douglas Rushkoff assured us that the inherently liberating force of information technology was leading us. And though I am sure they knew that the filth and fury would follow, I’m not sure they ever expected it to look quite like… this.

My own 4chan addiction crept up slowly. Once a casual user of gateway drugs like icanhascheezburger.com, ytmnd.com and Encyclopedia Dramatica, I followed a link to the black hole itself one day and — sucked past its event horizon — have since been unable to escape. Stuck there now, I am clicking back and forth from this article to peruse the halls of 4chan’s /x/ forum, afraid that I might have missed the latest spew from the Internet’s collective maw. It is the car crash that cannot be looked away from. Ever.

Jason Louv. Photo: jasonlouv.comWhat is happening here? The escape from the constraints of the flesh? The escape from the constraints of being human? The inevitable purge following the collective unconscious’ information binge? With the Internet we can now erase space and time, erase the restraints placed on the mind by matter. But what for? Once mankind set sail to explore the limits of the human world and to discover the frontiers of the planet. And once mankind plunged into himself to discover the limits, or lack thereof, of his own nature, through inner experience. But this is a new world, one bereft of the luxury of such meaningful activities. And in this new climate, the collective entity known as Anonymous has found a new frontier, and set out to discover the limits of boredom itself, mining the darkness for glittering jewels to bring back to the rest of us.

4chan is, I contend, the most interesting angle we have on the evolution of human consciousness. It is a shamanic experience, a bardo of becoming, where the soul is detached from the body, set free to wander in the wilderness of banality until it encounters the epic lulz of meeting itself… and finding that it, itself, is the most disturbing thing on 4chan.

Jason Louv is the author and editor of the books Generation Hex, Ultraculture and Thee Psychick Bible, and a blogger at the popular culture journal Dangerous Minds (www.dangerousminds.net). www.jasonlouv.com

74 Responses

  1. Anonymous says:

    i think you adults should really stop theorizing about how bad our generation’s going to be, and start fixing the mess you’re going to be leaving us.

    • “You adults” being whom? “the mess” must be fixed by everyone and needs a concrete fix or solution. If there was a “mess” or problem in the first place. Besides, you are talking about “theorizing” as if there was a solution or something. That, and it isn’t necessarily your “generation” that is to be. It’s about humanity in general.

      I will enforce my idea of waiting, observing and taking notes. Now is not the time to take action.

  2. Anonymous says:


  3. Anonymous says:

    This article gives 4chan quite the benefit of the doubt.
    Honestly, I can sympathize with the author’s spiral into 4chan descent,
    Encyclopedia dramatica was my initial gateway, and I haven’t been able to pry myself away from /b/.

    Granted, that 4chan is at the forefront of internet memes, the memes themselves are from the
    Arbitrary corners of the internet. What’s new on 4chan are misinterpretations of embarrassing
    Moments from youtube, flicker, or what have you. And that’s 1% of 4chan. The rest is from the
    Everpresent ‘newfag’ recycling old content.

    one thing that bugs me aboutt 4chan though is the persistence of the ‘candlejack’ meme. Surely, there is nothing more childi

  4. Hamish says:

    Facebook is evil! It will be the downfall of us all!

  5. Anonymous says:

    Is that pic from 40 years ago? I saw it and thought it couldn’t be a pic of the author, he’s gotta be at least 65.

    Protip: facebook is what you want to write about. facebook is the end of everything.

  6. Anonymous says:

    1: tl;dr

    b: Kids-in-sandbox.com

    Γ: Op is a giant faggot

  7. Anonymous says:

    The chans don’t signify some dark, evolutionary cusp of degenerate consciousness – they simply allow the free expression of what people really think (and have always really thought) but don’t say in any other social situation. The chans are the eye of God, what we really are, rather than what we pretend to be. It is the expression of forbidden thought. It’s fascinating, ugly, tiresome, hilarious, weird, and real.

    • Anonymous says:

      The internet is the great leveler, the great anonymizer. Today people mostly stick with an identity when they are online, lately they have been encouraged (myspace, linkedin, facebook) to even use their real identity. But, the internet is highly anonymous in nature. On 4chan and other anonymous posting boards we see what the internet will be like when society has adapted to it and lost its reflexive desire to present a unified identity. As the internet becomes more central to everything we do, and as it develops the ability to securely allow more and more actions to be anonymous, you will see a slow spread of 4chan-like behavior.

      What you are seeing on 4chan is what the world will be like in the future when the world is the internet and anonymity is the norm. In this sense it is a glimpse up the evolutionary chain of society.

      I am reminded of a four panel cartoon I’ve seen posted to /b/ which describes the evolution of a /b/tard, from “this is sick” through “fapfapfap.” Do you know it? I think society today is mostly in the first panel and 4chan today is mostly in the fourth. In 15-25 years I think society will mostly be in the third panel, which is likely where it will stop (as long as meatspace remains significant).

  8. The irony of this article’s comment section is that it is filled with anonymous comments.

    It seems that this type of subjects are not for public debate. None of you got to a relevant or demonstrated point. Possibly because not many cared before about such, in such a manner to start a large enough debate (and in flesh and bone, to eliminate anonymity as a factor). (when I say large enough debate, I mean one the size of a convention. Because you have too many variables to determine in an article comment section)

    Oh, and [Anonymous (not verified) on Fri, 12/11/2009 – 07:02.], what is the relevance of homosexuality in the paranormal image board? (“/x/ is for faggots” to cite you)

    [Anonymous (not verified) on Fri, 12/11/2009 – 04:17.], use arguments (“4chan is the future of human consciousness? Oh please.” cited), not just a “no”.

    If I can’t have your name to call you after, I will label you. By month/date/year-hour:minute of post, if needed.

    • Anonymous says:

      and whats so funny about this is that you think anyone anywhere cares what you think because you’re a namefag.

    • Anonymous says:

      Kudos to the person who pointed out that Jason could use a little “maturation”.

      But in actuality, he is far too “important” to respond to the criticism in any other way than looking down his nose at the text and snorting.

      Don’t believe me? He was evicerated in the comments here: http://www.dangerousminds.net/index.php/site/comments/thee_psychick_bible_now_out/

      …which, I might add, is another glom-on to meta-memes, including his claim to be part of a

      “group responsible for popularizing body piercing and tattooing, acid house music, and magick”

      I am not making this up.

      In short, I think this quaint little group of Jason’s is some kind of weird textual circle-jerk, with Jason as the pivot man.

      Seacrest, over.

      • Sincerely, I don’t get what link does your comment reply have to do to my comment.

        And I haven’t heard of any Jason and the “bible” thing in the link is a first time see for me. Sincerely, I don’t think humanity requires a bible (any at all). From what I read, it looks like a fanclub for a band or something. (seriously, 999 copies? why not a round 1000?) And, really, what’s with the “thee”, “magick” and “psychick” (unless it meant psy-chick).

        As well, why didn’t they reprint the “My little red book” (or whatever was that pseudo-communist propaganda book some guys released in England)? I mean, if we are going to throw crap (excuse me) at the masses, why not throw it all? We can also shove it down the throat of the masses, to make it even better.

        Now, really, is there any point in a religion, especially when it presents such lies and aberations? What is the point in “magick”?

  9. David says:

    The Internet doesn’t shape consciousness or behavior; it removes barriers to its expression.

  10. Anonymous says:

    4-chan is a temporary aberration that will change the internet but unfortunately they are going to destroy the freedom on the internet more then any one group could possibly hope for.

    Eventually they (a very small percent of 4-chan) will piss off enough political leaders that they will slowly start to grind out control type legislation that step by step will shut it down.

    Kids grow up and become interested in other things, these kids will grow up, most of them will become interested in other things and then remember how psycho they acted on 4-chan and want to have their kids protected from it. So when the politicians start enacting laws they will see it as a good thing. These future parents will not want an avenue for child pornography to exist as they now have children or for other teens to try and torture mentally another over the net as they wont want it to happen to thier child.

    No if we want the internet to stay unregulated then 4-chan needs to go away. My bet most of the adults on 4-chan already know this and are lying thorough their teeth about their power. And will enjoy the luz when it all comes crashing down or as it slowly gets whittled away.

    4-chan is a temporary outlet for the usual amount of crazys that exist in our world at any given time and a place for teens to entertain themselves and feel empowered. The crazy’s are not new, communication is not new, bored teens is not new, all that is new is the speed in which they can pass wierd information and usless lies. These adults prey on the gullible teens. None of this is new or a evolution, all that is evolving is the anger in which the powers that be will flash back at these guys penalizing the rest of us.

    For all the good that the internet does to allow people to access a broad range of information instantaneously, be in contact with his fellows and get work done, 4-chan is busily working to weaken that value with cornball pranks with vile intent. When you are unsure of the value of the content that you are reading the content has no value.

    • Anonymous says:


      But I did spot one thing you said, and I agree. The users of 4chan do grow up. I myself no longer frequent it despite having been a long time visiter. The shits gotten stale. Nothing new comes out of it. It’s the same things on an endless loop. Anyone new visiting the site won’t find anything amusing enough to make them stay, and those that currently use it and remember the glory days will find themselves at a point where they get fed up with it.
      4chan’s dying. It’s not the future of anything. It was just a brief blip on the internet radar.

  11. Anonymous says:

    You sir, are an idiot

  12. Anonymous says:


    also, /x/ is for faggots

  13. Anonymous says:

    4chan is the future of human consciousness?

    Oh please.

  14. If you cut out all the word-games that article would have been about three sentences long. Unless the word-games were the point? Did you think the readers wouldn’t quite understand how overwhelmed by epiphany you were?

    4chan isn’t scary and it isn’t our future, at least not in the way you seem to think. First, it’s not scary because anyone who visits it can simply close the window and stop participating. Not everyone is as fascinated by the avalanche of BS spewing out of 4chan. Second, it is merely an example of one thing that will continue to happen in the future, not The Future itself.

    When two people think the same way they can communicate much more quickly because they don’t need to provide any context for what they say. That is the “click” people describe when someone “just gets them.” As we become increasingly interconnected people will find it easier to gravitate towards others who think like they do. These pockets of like-minded-minds will naturally seem strange to outsiders who don’t think like any of the participants. But, because people have to gravitate towards those who think like them, it makes it inherently difficult (impossible?) for the different groups to communicate with each other.

    Even if 4chan was broadcast on a cable channel most of the people who saw it simply wouldn’t engage with it. The number of these “channels” will increase, and they will each become larger, and their methods of interacting will improve. . .but they won’t take over. By their very nature they are insular things. They are not self-reproducing, they are not infectious, they are not magnetic; at least to the the majority.

    A better prediction of the future, based on 4chan, is a consciousness with multiple personalities. The ID will be there, as it always is, but it will be marginalized by more productive personalities.

  15. Anonymous says:

    Blaming 4chan for embodying societies collective underlying hatred is like blaming an MRI machine for telling you that you have cancer. Just be happy that their hatred manifests as internet cruelty and hijinks and not as bullets fired at classmates as it often did nearly a decade ago.

  16. Anonymous says:

    I totall fapped to this article!

    I CAME!

  17. Anonymous says:

    “Permanently glued to their computers, the Anonymous users of 4chan exist in a kind of suspended animation … The brave pioneers of 4chan are the Magellans of media desensitization, who abandon the grim reality of their parents’ basements to wallow in infinite, recursively self-referential filth.”

    You seem to be misinformed. 4chan is a diversion, a momentary amusement to distract the well-adjusted twenty something betwixt lectures on computational modeling and reading the Theban plays. It is also a place for friendless fourteen-year-olds to congregate and commiserate, to view pornography and rage against the small fragment of society they occupy.

    In other words, 4chan is everyone. There is no typical 4chan user. Some of us are utterly, ridiculously uninformed and unintelligent; others of us are lawyers and astronomers.

    4chan is not the future of human consciousness, 4chan merely the publication of a long-hidden segment of our minds. We have always been filthy-minded people, and the things spoken of and shown on 4chan would certainly not make the Marquis de Sade blink. It all just seems new and extreme because it wasn’t publicized before, when it was locked away in our minds on dark and lonesome nights before the advent of conscious-numbing television. Now our dark ideas have become known to all, and they are not unfamiliar, you just refuse to admit it.

    That is not to say that 4chan is dark. 4chan can be cuter than the wildest parody of a Japanese middle-schooler’s daydream. Your own screenshot shows a hilariously lovable cactus from Final Fantasy. We also invented LOLCATS for god’s sake; there is nothing forty-year-old women love more.

    The point is…

    We are all things and we are all people; this has been said, but it has not been understood. Good day sir.

  18. Anonymous says:

    Cleverly written, but your article is essentially language games and projection.

  19. Anonymous says:

    I think the words of a famous “anonymous” would perfectly describe this article:

    “OP is a faggot”

  20. Anonymous says:

    “The Chans aren’t the freak sideshow of the Internet. They are the heart and soul of the Internet.”

    wrong, they are the heart and soul of the current evolutionary stage of the human being, the lemming consumer.

  21. Anonymous says:

    Blogger self-promotes using famous internet Kleenex, the chan groups. Finds heart, soul, boogers. News at 11.

  1. August 27, 2012

    […] while back, I wrote this about 4chan for Humanity Plus: They say the children are our future. But if 4chan is any indication of what they have in store for […]

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