As we saw in our last piece, by inflating self-esteems and deflating the standards set by the “pros” then providing a means by which anyone can say anything to the whole world, we’ve asked for what we’re getting.
However, saying that these factors cause such behavior is like saying violent video games create murders. They might have a little effect on a few, but those few were pretty far down that road to begin with.
So it is with the global soapbox. It creates plenty of legitimate opportunities for people who really do have something to say, and often can say it better than “official” media. Unfortunately, that opportunity also lets those who don’t that capacity in, too.
Let’s look a bit at the latter:
It’s important to realize that Internet anonymity is not used and abused by a loon to hide one’s identity. Identity is the one thing the loons desperately demand. Wherever they are; they want personal glory and grandeur. You can’t say “I’m important” without the “I.”
If they really wanted to be anonymous, their handle would be just that, “Anonymous.”
No, what anonymity allows is the ability to establish one’s real identity while hiding from responsibility and accountability for that identity. “I” becomes a pen name, an alias, a “me” by other means, like Samuel Clemens became Mark Twain. But unlike your real name, an alias is disposable when and if necessary.
This is hardly a brilliant insight, but it’s important to establish that for a loon, it is not any desire for privacy but egotism that drives anonymity. It is used to reveal one’s true self, not hide it or create new selves.
This is not the equivalent of grown men pretending to be teenage girls in some chat room. This is WYSIWYG. We are seeing “the real them.”
However, such revelations have one unfortunate side-effect.
Exposing Oneself and Gresham’s Law
The problem with showing the “real me” is that even the sanest people have unreal opinions about themselves, so you can imagine what those one or two short of a sixpack might think.
I think it’s pretty safe to say that once youth and inexperience are no longer factors, loons are people who feel somehow cheated by the world, a world that does not adequately value them.
Shunned (at least by their standards) by the real world, loons look for a better one in cyberspace, one that will properly appreciate them.
Unfortunately, all they end up doing is exposing themselves. A loon essentially says, “Here’s the real wonderful important me,” but what they’re really doing is demonstrating why the world doesn’t share their opinion of themselves.
What we really see in play is the average mind at work: the egotism, the laziness, the irrational emotionalism, the intellectual limits. The Internet is the promised land of the bitter mediocre.
All this is aggravated by the unfortunate truth that silence is not golden on the Internet, where the First Principle is, “I type, therefore I am.” Nor is time; the Second Principle seems to be “Speak now or forever hold your peace.”
So the average self-important person finds that he needs to say something badly, and that’s just what he does.
At first glance, one might think that such people would get eradicated by the law of the jungle: the swifter, smarter participants end up eating those lower on the food chain. And that is indeed what happens, provided there are enough swifter, smarter ones around.
But very often, there aren’t, and when that’s the case, the bad drives out the good by sheer weight of numbers. That’s the Internet equivalent of Gresham’s Law.
Birds of a feather do tend to flock together on the Internet. This is usually thought to mean that the Internet concentrates people who have similiar views and thoughts. That’s true, but I think the Internet concentrates people who have similiar quality of views and thoughts.
I’ve noticed that even where there are opposing sides in a particular arena, the level of competency/incompetency by either side is about the same.
Think about it a bit, and this makes a lot of sense. People don’t want to be in places where’s everyone’s an idiot, nor be in places where everyone is calling them an idiot.
Of course, if you post to prove how wonderful the “real you” is, and others have a less glowing opinion, it’s of course personal, no matter how true or justified the comment, which is why discussions turn into alternating salvos of personal rancor so quickly.
Believe it or not, that’s not the lowest of the lowest. The lowest state of a public forum is when a “discussion” consists of no discussion at all, but a bunch of individuals saying whatever without listening to each other at all. Each person gives his Gettysburg Address, and no one else notices. It’s the state of solopsists seeking praise from each other.
Some of the comments I got on this subject said that the high level of lunacy is a sign of the times, one even suggested that it was a sign of the End Times.
In all honesty, I’m not even sure the End Times will stop this. After all, even after Judgment Day, there will still be a Hell. 🙂
Seriously, while the times aren’t helping, I think this is a matter of technology revealing what’s been there all along.
Does that mean we’re doomed? Well, yes and no.
So long as places have minimal real standards, unless they’re very lucky, they’ll have minimal quality. There will always be plenty of demand for that, human nature and capacities aren’t going to change.
Would getting rid of anonymity solve the problem? No. It would reduce the number of semiloon posts, but the real loony tunes won’t even care. Ironically, removing anonymity would probably reduce the number of good posts, too, since a lot of rational people like anonymity just to keep the kooks an extra step away.
The real problem is standards aren’t free. Moderation takes a lot of time and effort, and is a thankless task at best even when standards are minimal. Imagine the time, effort, and especially outrage if moderators deleted merely mediocre posts.
If anyone really wants a high-quality discussion area, that’s easy enough to do: Charge admission and set serious rules. Actually, if you do the first, you probably don’t have to do the second.
That’s not the only alternative, though. Keep in mind that public arenas usually aren’t born bad, they go bad, and they go bad because bad behavior is not stopped. Draw a line and enforce it. You may not end up with high quality, but it should keep the bad from taking over.
Don’t encourage inoffensive but lowish behavior. If you don’t want people making one sentence posts five jillion times, don’t give status based on number of posts. If you have to have status symbols, do it on the number of excellent posts, or some equivalent quality measurement.
Lower your expectations. You’re not going to get perfection, settle for good enough.
Finally, don’t despair. I know, you can go to some places and walk away thinking that most of the world has gone stark, raving mad.
Don’t worry, they haven’t. Most people, even most people posting on the Internet, remain relatively sane. It’s more like finding a barrel of rotten apples. Most or all of the apples in that barrel may be rotten, but it doesn’t mean all the apples in the world have turned.