Lag War and the Landscape of Why

Last week during a chain reaction of cascading phone upgrades, my son inherited a hand-me-down iPhone 4s. It's basically an iPod Touch, as it's got no cell service, but now he can use our family subscription to Apple Music. And since it's an iOS device, he can now text and FaceTime other iPhones. That means we now send many poop emojis to each other. 

Many of the other kids in his school have fully capable phones, and I learned about a way they mess with each other: the Lag War. Lag War is essentially an SMS-based DDOS attack on another kid's phone. You send a flood of text messages in order to completely seize up their phone, perhaps crashing it. I hear this is hilarious.

It reminds me of when I first used email in college. It was miraculous. The concept of sending a free, instantaneous letter to anyone, anywhere was just magic (I wrote quite a few letters then). Problem was, I only knew a couple people who had email addresses. One, my high school buddy Jorj, was always way ahead of me in technology, and he was already In Charge Of Things. So we'd exchange email, and it struck me as pretty damned funny to send thousand-line emails consisting of mostly ASCII patterns and a one sentence message somewhere in the middle. Seems moronic now, but I felt like I needed to find the medium's comedic boundary. And I'd receive equally dumb-but-hilarious emails from him.

One time I received my first anonymous chain email, and I thought, "how clever! The connective goofiness of a chain letter, but without the pain in the ass of spending seven stamps." So I forwarded it to seven people I knew, because that's what you ought to do. It took about a minute for Jorj's reply, which gently explained that participating in chain emails, while seeming harmless, could wreak havoc in servers. So one shouldn't do that.

That moment sticks out. It was one of the first times I realized I had no idea how a tool I was using really worked. The structures behind it, the environment that supported it. I intensely disliked my lack of understanding, and that not understanding had consequences. I was already a changing person then, because college. That was another shove in an important direction.

I wonder if that's why I insist on spending so much time on those subjects in my courses, maybe to my students' chagrin. Why can’t we just Do Photoshop? Does it really matter why the HDTV specs are the way they are? Does it really matter why any technology is the way it is?

Yes. Yes it does matter. You can never really master the How until you perceive the landscape of the Why.