Saturday, October 28, 2006

Miss Sunny...Idiot?

It seems many topics on blogs I frequent have recently focused on the darker side of humanity on many different levels. I've been hopping all over, spreading my sunny naivete, giving tons of credit to my fellow humans, and I started to wonder if I'm just being an idiot.

Open any newspaper, turn on the TV...heck, walk across the street or drive down the highway, and there is evidence that we live in a world of mean, nasty, selfish, horrible people. I constantly contend that they are the loud minority, that most people are good and open-minded and caring and well-behaved. I also contended recently that people are no more vicious and horrible than they ever were, we just have more forums for them to be that way.

But am I wrong?

After I posted on Erica Orloff's blog, I went out, and no less than three people in 15 minutes displayed the kind of behavior that makes humans look like dirtbags. I started wondering if I'm totally wrong, and people like us are the real minority. Then Erica disagreed with me that people are just as vitriolic in person as they are on the Internet, and I'm not sure she's wrong. I want her to be. Desperately. But she knows more people than I do, and a much wider variety of people, as well. And just because I haven't SEEN it doesn't mean it's not real.

I started thinking about that, too. I don't see the viciousness of which she speaks, on the Internet, but I'm not LOOKING. Part of it is seeking people who are of a like mind as myself, and part of is it subconscious avoidance of more public realms where such things are displayed. Yet even as I admit I could be sheltering myself and therefore shading my viewpoint...well, it doesn't mean they're not a minority, does it? I mean, we have 300 million people in this country as of last Tuesday. Ann Coulter is only one person. We don't even have a majority population on the Internet yet (I think), and I still believe that if we could quantify the vicious idiots, we'd find they are a very tiny percentage of the population.

Erica says she has never in her life witnessed in-person vitriol like she sees on the Internet. I say the Internet just gives those people a forum for being vitriolic and they would be anyway. Can we both be right?

And why is it so important for me to believe what I believe? To deny that the Internet is making Americans as a group be worse people than they used to be? Is it because I love the Internet so much, and what it's given me, and I don't want it to be considered "bad"? So what if it is? It doesn't change the benefit I've gotten from it, and it's certainly not going to be taken away from me. Maybe I should just admit that Erica and others are right, and join in the despair and gloominess that knowledge gives us all.

Except I can't. I can't live that way. I have to believe the better of people as a whole. I think I have a fundamental belief that the more credence we give to negativity, the more power it has over us. In my sunny, idiotic way, I'm trying to balance that by spreading posts of hope and joy.

The bad gets enough air time. I just want to give some to the good.


Typing Slave said...

I don't know if people are "worse" now, but I believe they behave "worse" online than they do in person. One could argue if the internet or the equivalent had somehow been available 100 or 200 years ago, the effect would have been similar. Trolls R Us. Rather, Trolls R Them :). IRL, I observe a different type of nastiness than on the internet. It's less frequent, less pointed, and less intentional. Like the person cutting you off in traffic -- is that person intentionally nasty or swerving to avoid a pothole? Or talking on the cellphone and not paying attention (Evil, but not nasty)? Etc. On the internet, although there are no physical cues to enhance communication, more rudeness I see is intentional and vile.

I might compare the internet to "mob mentality", wherein people get fired up about something they may or may not feel that strongly about. Sort of a...."I can do this and remain safe because of this buffer (mob, internet)." If people can get away with nasty behavior, if there are no consequences, they're more likely to indulge. (Too, some people might not think certain behavior *is* nasty -- nasty is sometimes in the eye of the beholder.)

I mean, my Meankitty website gets hatemail on occasion, which is understandable, but recently I got hatemail based on my personal website. Obviously I find the accusations therein uncalled for and nutso :). Would the person who issued them have made the same accusations to my face, were I sitting, oh, in a booth at a booksigning? Not likely. Would they have secretly thought them? Perhaps. But online, they could fire off an email anonymously and try to hurt my poor wittle feelings.

Okay, I've rambled long enough without using proper essay format. I have no thesis statement.

Natalie J. Damschroder said...

Okay, I'll make a slight concession to you guys on this.

I still contend that people do not BECOME vile and hateful because of the Internet. I think they would still say the same things in person...but they would say them to a friend rather than to the person they are talking about directly.

Typing Slave said...

I thought more about this, and my jury is out. I don't think we've had the internet, particularly the blogosphere, long enough to see whether or not the nastiness bleeds out into RL behavior. I hope it does not. Imagine if people communicate the way they do in blog comments! Yikes. Makes me want to ban my girls from the internet during their formative years just in case.

Which years are formative, anyway?

Natalie J. Damschroder said...

Um...all of them? :)

There's been stuff in the media about cyberbullying, and it can go to extremes. But I think back to the bullying I received as a kid, and it can't get any nastier. And we didn't have the Internet.