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So why are so many people such loons on the Internet?

Here’s a few perhaps less obvious thoughts on the matter:

A World Polluted By Egosteroids

Before we ask, “Why are some people such egomaniacs,” maybe we should ask, “Who encourages it?”

How often do people get told, one way or another, how wonderful, how important they are? What do the advertisers say to get you to buy their products? What do the news shows say to keep you watching? What does anyone who wants you to do something for them, from voting to schoolwork, say about you?

Their messages “pay” a lot of attention to you, don’t they? A lot of times, they pander to you a lot. They say how important you are, don’t they?

Is it surprising that after a steady diet of this, many times a day, everyday, everywhere, some people might start believing it, a lot? After all, not too many people hate praise.

Expansion Dilutes Quality

A few decades ago, there really wasn’t much media around. Let’s take TV as an example. A few networks, a few independent stations in each city, and that was that, at most.

Then came cable, and suddenly, you had dozens, then hundreds of channels, all needing material. And no matter what each channel was doing, odds are it was facing a lot more competition doing it?

Imagine your favorite professional sport suddenly having three or four or five times more teams than before. Don’t you think the level of play would slip a bit?

And let’s assume those extra teams didn’t play in different cities, but the same ones, so instead of having one team in a city, you had four or five.

That’s pretty much what happened to televised media in the last few decades. Standards slipped. Places dumbed down and spiced news up. Good-looking faces replaced good minds. Emotions replaced information. After a while, people started saying, “Jeez, I could do better than that.”

Attention Span: An Endangered Species

In a few months, we’ll have U.S. presidential debates. If the last series of debates in 2004 is any indicator, each candidate will be asked questions and be given a couple minutes at most to respond, and the whole debate will last 90 minutes.

A hundred and fifty years ago, there was a series of debates you might have heard about called the Lincoln-Douglas debates. They lasted three hours each, with the first candidate speaking for 60 minutes, the second getting 90, and the first coming back for another 30.

The 2004 debates were watched by a largely college-educated and mostly high school-educated audience. In contrast, the vast majority of the audience for the Lincoln-Douglas debates had an eighth-grade education or less.

This gives you some clue as to how our attention spans have dwindled over the course of time.

Yes, you can say that nineteenth-century political speeches were too much of a good thing, but we’ve gone to the other extreme, and not just for boring political speeches.

This is not a new trend. It began with newspapers, quickened with radio, and really accelerated with television. TV accustomed us to increasingly briefer explanations and quicker solution, so now we easily get bored with everything.

Take wars, for example. It used to be that when you had a war, it would take awhile, even years. When D-Day happened on June 6, 1944, nobody asked on June 8 or even July 8, “Why isn’t this over?”

In contrast, you had journalists saying just that during the last Gulf War, and I suspect that a small part of the real reason some people oppose the U.S. occupation of Iraq is that it’s just taking too long.

What does this have to do with jerks on the Internet? Well, you just can’t express much of anything in thirty seconds, much less anything complicated. If you don’t think so, quick, explain the Bible in a hundred words or less. Sure, you can, but don’t you lose a little something in the process? What happens in real life media is that you either turn a complex issue into a verbal cartoon, or you ignore the issue or talk only about issues that you can explain in thirty seconds.

And again, if that’s what the pros are reduced to doing, is it any surprise people think, “I can do this, too?”

The Global Soapbox

We have a world in which people are constantly exposed to being told how wonderful they are. They live in the world where there’s more and more media with no more serious things to say and less time to say it.

Then what happens? Here comes the Internet!

Boil the excess fat off, and there is literally nothing being done on the Internet that wasn’t done to some degree before. What makes the Internet an innovation is that it makes mass communication easy, instant and virtually free.

This allows for a lot of activities that previously were impractical or severely stunted because communications were too costly and/or time-consuming.

Many of these activities are quite beneficial, but it also gives everyone who wants it a (theoretical) global soapbox, a chance to talk to the world and tell it what to do, a chance to be a bigger deal than you would otherwise.

If cable took a shotgun to television standards, the Internet is like nuclear weapons. Imagine a pro sports league where everyone can form his own team.

And just in case building your own soapbox is too much for you, all those millions who built soapboxes are telling you how important your comments are to them, and if that isn’t enough, all the old media stars are begging you for them, too.

And we wonder why we see what we see?

We’ll conclude this Monday with some more thoughts on the matter and conclude with where we think this is headed.

Ed


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