Untangling the Web: the NSA's supremely weird, florid guide to the Internet

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I am proud to say I never wrote like that, even in high school.


(with bonus Mino-Troll):

Ain’t that great.

I only write like that when I’m drunk. Or trying to piss people off.


Isn’t this basically how academic writing in the humanities works? Weird analogies and florid writing are rampant there, or at least they seem to be every time I read a book on history or literature published by a university press.


So some guys or girls are paid to delve into the weird and nasty world wide web and then write a 650 page tome about it all. I should of been a spy.


I dunno… This reads a little like Paul Graham’s “Hackers and Painters” to my eyes

Published in 2007? It reads like something that was written in the '90s - 600 pages of metaphors and diversions to wind up with the obvious conclusion (that, in this century I would have expected to be a starting point) that the internet has more information than one can grasp, including some about people, and it will have real-world consequences, some of which aren’t obvious. Hmm, but it’s the 12th edition, so I suppose it was originally written in the '90s - but that raises the question of why anyone thought it would be relevant to continue adding to it and republishing it into 2007, especially if all they were going to do was make it a longer version of a document that stopped being relevant almost a decade earlier.


My 97-year-old aunt […] had a bit part in a movie in 1989 […] listed in IMDB […]

Shouldn’t that be enough to identify the author? Certainly with the right crowdsourcing…


They couldn’t just use The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Internet?


In a way, this makes perfect sense. The authors of this are at the center of the square establishment. They’re defending a way of life that peaked in the mid 70’s and is never coming back. They’re used to seeing themselves at the center of the real culture, hip to what’s really going on, never mind what the Hoi Paloi is going on about.

Despite the best efforts of Amazon and Facebook, the internet is still a psychadelic experience when taken as a whole. Where LSD was something the establishment could schedule and marginalize and criminalize, the internet has made it into our water supply, there is no escaping it.

Tasked with policing and regulating this brave new world, the power elite of the 70’s are in over their heads, and at some core level, they know it. But it’s bad job security to admit it, so the cognitive dissonance oozes out between the lines.

I almost feel sorry for them.




Ironically, the url listed in the NSA letter (www.na.gov/public_info/declass/index.shtml) is long gone from the NSA site. Fortunately, Internet Archive has it in the wayback machine and Stanford Library also has a copy locally stored in their digital archive. Digital preservation doesn’t just happen and things disappear from the Web all the time.


Weird analogies and florid writing? Hey, for some real head swallowing fun, pick up a journal on semiotics.


“… journal on semiotics…” No, thanks, I’ll stick w/ my old high-school pal’s articles. Alan Sokal is his name. You can look it up :slight_smile:


My brief foray into reading semiotics literature caused my writing skills to regress so rapidly that I thought I was getting smarter.


The humanities journals I read (and in which I occasionally publish) don’t look anything like that. The prose might be a bit dense, but not as much as in my own STEM field (where it can take an hour to understand what is said in a single paragraph).


I suspect I did.

Or do.


I feel like we’d all be delighted with this kind of writing if it hadn’t been written by the NSA, or about the internet.


The NSA has all the good stuff, all the bad, all the everything, really…

Now wut?