Monday, June 09, 2008

The Internet's False Carte Blanche

This morning I wandered into the comment section of a news article on ksl.com. Normally I avoid the comment sections like I would avoid the plague, but today for some reason I wanted to check in to see if the ugliness was still as rampant as I remembered. A bare ten seconds into the read confirmed it was.

It never ceases to amaze me what anonymity will embolden people to post. Hatred. Anger. Stereotyping. Ill humor. Small mindedness. The most appalling thing is the hate. People spray it all over the place, their cheeky comments reeking with oily sticky hate.

If you were to put these same folks in a room and make them talk about these things face-to-face the reactions would be vastly different. Sure, the feeling of an Internet forum would lead one to believe that a knife or two might be pulled, but I have to believe that is a false impression. Most of them would behave like a group of embarrassed seventh graders at a school dance. There'd be a lot of embarrassed shuffling of feet, no dancing out on the floor, and not a heck of a lot of interaction. The truth is, all the hubris hack posted out in the ether has to be due to the false sense of security the Internet allows us to engender.

The real troubling thing to me is that it fosters hate. Especially across demographic, space and time. We have folks who would never speak uncivilly to one another face-to-face airing their thoughts out for all of cyberspace to see. It's a false pretense, yet to the people posting it, and receiving replies to it, take it as a very personal affront. A scene from Romeo and Juliet comes to mind, and the scene where the Capulet and Motague boys, fueled by testosterone, find an excuse to pounce on one another (Act I, Scene I).

Enter ABRAHAM and BALTHASAR

ABRAHAM
Do you bite your thumb at us, sir?

SAMPSON
I do bite my thumb, sir.

ABRAHAM
Do you bite your thumb at us, sir?

SAMPSON
[Aside to GREGORY] Is the law of our side, if I say
ay?

GREGORY
No.

SAMPSON
No, sir, I do not bite my thumb at you, sir, but I
bite my thumb, sir.

GREGORY
Do you quarrel, sir?

ABRAHAM
Quarrel sir! no, sir.

SAMPSON
If you do, sir, I am for you: I serve as good a man as you.

ABRAHAM
No better.

SAMPSON
Well, sir.

GREGORY
Say 'better:' here comes one of my master's kinsmen.

SAMPSON
Yes, better, sir.

ABRAHAM
You lie.

SAMPSON
Draw, if you be men. Gregory, remember thy swashing blow.

They fight


'Not so!' you might say, claiming that the Internet empowers people to be honest in what they're thinking. Whereas a muttered-under-the-breath comment may have been spoken and discarded, now one can, with full a breath and aided by the diaphragm, sound his YAWP from the rooftops of the world. And relive/rehash it ad nauseum. There's the true honesty. There's the truth unpainted, unfettered, unrestrained and in a ten second sound byte.

I read an article in the April 2008 The Atlantic titled The Britney Show. The author, David Samuels, meets up with and runs around with several paparazzi while they chase Britney for that million dollar shot. It goes over the well documented melt-down and raises ethical questions separate from this posting, but I took a key point from it. Mr Samuels talks about how popular gossip websites proliferate the media frenzy by creating forums and allowing the readers to comment and hash it out for their favorite celeb. All in the attempt at getting us to buy into it. All in the attempt to sell us the news and make some cold hard cash. Pretty slick method, yet nothing new. Gossip rags have sold for years at the newsstands. The e-form has also been around for close to a dozen years in various listserv and forum guises. The issue I have is that it's widespread and may be consumed wholly as reality for some folks. Where will the balance come from?

Don't we need a little restraint? Especially in today's busy road-rage-filled society?

Imagine if we didn't restrain ourselves a wee bit. Everyone would be pulling guns on one another on the freeways. The checkout lines at Wal-Mart would be a constant brawl. Disorder and anger would reign everywhere. Sounds very Bradburian doesn't it? But still...it could happen. If we become a nation of narcissists, bent on our own opinion and not concerned about the feelings or views of others, it could happen.

Order is built on the fact that we need to suck it up, swallow the snide comment, beg pardon when bumping elbows in a crowded space. Society demands it, propriety demands it, tolerance understands it.

So lay off the hate. Tolerate.

-Jay

No comments: