Like all other things in a modern time, the Internet was a new frontier which, after being explored by some brave people with the capacity for theoretical thought, was immediately inundated in a horde of people incapable of it. If you doubt me, go look through the past versions of websites, or public postings. Notice how things became brutally dumbed down starting in 1996 and, once that had become accepted and the “‘net” was taken for granted by upcoming generations, how quickly the Internet became a sounding board for wounded egos.
The cynical among you, of course, presupposing yourselves to be clever and witty, have a reply waiting on your lips: but isn’t that what you’re doing? — No. If I’d wanted to aggrandize myself, I’d have a blog that focused on me, instead of being a public forum for philosophical (and, linked to them, political and social and artistic) opinions. There’s a difference between those who publish information, and those who “participate” in neat little egofests like blogs, chatrooms, web forums, etc. Because that type predominates, anyone who’s serious about actually “sharing information” – the ostensible purpose for getting us all on the AIDS-ridden Internet in the first place – is immediately labelled a “troll” and shunned.
But the Internet was once a more hopeful place, despite being addled by the cumbersome self-esteem problems endemic to those who work in the computer industry, as well as their shortsightedness; nerds are content to play with some gadget that they feel only a select few can operate, and congratulate themselves endlessly on being of that group. Their impetus is not to make something others can use, or even something that other smart people can use, but to make something like a religion, that only those who have memorized its arcane and illogical ways can operate. It’s not a test to admit the elites; it’s a club of the willing, and the clubhouse is there because nerds, at heart, realize they spent the years they should’ve been socializing in front of the computer, playing with arcane and illogical gadgets.
Thus their revenge is to try to exclude everyone else, but really, if you put your mind to it for some hours, you can master anything they do, and probably reorganize it in a more useful way, at which point they’ll scream. While admittedly the Macintosh computer is unreliable, expensive, breaks frequently, and has a user group that is the social equivalent of having a lobotomy on LSD (it just seems profound, but they’re actually breaking a hole in your mind), even the most hardened anti-Mac cynic has to admit that the idea of an interface that people can actually use is a necessary invention. Too bad Apple didn’t invent it, but thankfully, Microsoft – who makes operating systems that mostly work – had adopted it, so we can all have it. (You could also run Lunix, but for most daily tasks, that’s a step backward – you don’t need real time multitasking, nor do you need to have to use some bloated piece of crap like OpenOffice to edit a Word document.)
However, the nerd club is but one example of the ego-blight afflicting the Internet. Every special interest group has one. I’ve been to vegan forums that made church gatherings appear non-judgmental. There are internet drug forums where you can be thrown out for thinking that drugs aren’t for everyone, and white nationalist forums where you can be seen as an enemy for using the word “African-American” instead of a more grotesquely historied term. Worst of all, these are the norm; there are the super-mainstream alternatives, on giant sites like CNN.com or MSN, but those are really for those who are discovering the world of computing with their credit cards. The “culture” of the Internet, if the AZT-needy thing even has one, is the behavior found on the majority of these boards.
Now, I’m not blaming the Internet; we live in a time when ego-ueber-alles is the password to what’s left of Western culture. If you set up a society around the notion that people should do what they personally feel like, so long as they subject themselves to equality and attend mind-numbing work and brain-depleting bureaucratic function, you will get people who in their off-time have one motive: seize power by enacting revenge, thus becoming “important” outside of their trivial lives, which of course are destructive to their personalities, health and intelligence. After a few generations of this shit, it’s no surprise that most people are trivial and weak. Now, since every brain-numb worker has a credit card, they can get an HP computer at Wal-Mart and be online with AOL in a matter of hours – minutes – seconds, even. Here’s democracy at its finest.
What makes the Internet such a pain in the ass is that everyone brings baggage – a few truckloads – and sets up an identity, usually some clever screen name such as TnSxF16 or xxxDarkLordxxx, and then defends that identity in order to assert some “power” to get around their baggage. Swift little monkeys that humans are, others don’t miss this fact, and rush in to attack as a means of securing their own power. What follows is the kind of bickering that makes an appropriate soundtrack to the fall of a once-great civilization, namely the illogical and emotional argument of people with the minds of machines but the unstable personalities of monkeys. And people wonder why I talk about eugenics so fondly?
My solution for the Internet won’t be popular, but it comes from the hilarity of Scandinavian universities. Back in the early 1990s, when US universities were trying to figure out if usernames should be first initial + last name or last name + first initial, the Scandinavians had a practical idea: give people incomprehensibly detailed numeric usernames, to remind them that computers are just machines and the internet is just a tool. Thus some guy named Rolf Svensen would have a nifty login monicker like ur2398138 or a-rsv-1992. It was great; you can imagine xxxDarkLordxxx setting up a persona and a little fantasy world around that name, but ur2398138? Try finding an aesthetic theme to unify that string of incoherence.
The effect was to make everyone anonymous. And, as spiritual anonymity – usually found in collectivism, or admitting that one’s world does not begin and end with the individual, although one’s representation of the world does – leads to religions in which people are more interested in leading sane lives that glorifying themselves through public displays of pity for others, this anonymity benefitted the Scandinavians, at least until some “progressive” Americans brought AOL-style cuteness to the otherwise beautiful Northern countries. In addition to puncturing fantasyland, anonymity made it difficult to attack other people, which, horror of horrors, returned focus in online discussion to the topic at hand. OMG WTF LOL.
The exchange of information does not require ego-ueber-alles, just as spirituality does not, and the healthier forms of religious practice do not involve self-aggrandizement by “helping the poor” or “pitying the weaker.” It removes the illusion of absolute that both spiritual practice, with its giant open-ended topics like “meaning” and “fulfillment,” and the Internet, with its chatrooms and web forums and blogs, have. This might not be a popular thing, but when have popular things such as junk food, fast cars, nu-metal and American beer been useful things? An anonymous Internet would be a return from fantasyland to function.