"We're so lazy, we're soap-box heroes and we've got so much to say. But if I never cast my ballot I wash my hands and walk away."
Enter the Haggis
There was a time, not that long ago, when I would have needed a paid position with a national newspaper or magazine to inflict my opinions on the world. Today, I can shove them into the faces of an entire planet the moment these farts of inspiration emerge from my brain. It is widely accepted these days that we live in a wonderful age when any human can transmit their words and images around the globe (and theoretically across the universe to beings unknown) with minimal cost or effort.
Yet, I sometimes wonder if this is a good thing.
In 1960, when J.C.R. Licklider called for the world to link computers together across a worldwide network, I'm not sure he was looking for a better way to share our funny cat pictures. When Professor Leonard Kleinrock first established computer communications with other scientists across great distances in 1969, do you think it occurred to him that this would be a super way to share his videos of guys being hit in the nuts?
It is estimated that there are over 50 hours of video being uploaded to the internet every single minute of every single day. I suspect that if you take out the groin injuries, dancing animals, amateur porn, and the awful music covers that should never have been made, you can reduce this to fifteen minutes of actually useful, informative, and entertaining video.
Acclaimed science fiction author Ted Sturgeon once made an observation generally referred to as "Sturgeon's Law". Sturgeon made the statement that 99 percent of everything is crap. It should be noted that Ted died in 1985, before the internet became anything like what it is today. This explains why he so badly underestimated it as we all know today that the crap ratio on the internet is WAY higher than 99 percent.
Personally, I feel the biggest problem with the internet is the complete and utter lack of accountability. I might add that I completely understand that this lack of accountability is precisely why internet use is so high. It is absolutely delightful to share your ranting and raving and angry anti-whatever opinion when you know no one can take you to task for it. Hiding behind a message board ID or a pseudonymous Gmail address, we can say literally anything. It doesn't have to be politically correct, it doesn't have to be diplomatic, and it doesn't even have to be true. It's not like we actually have to take responsibility for the things we say, after all.
We eschew censorship in this country on general principle. Yet the general principle is riddled with exceptions. For instance, we cannot use our words to ridicule or belittle certain groups. There are certain words, in fact, that we are simply not allowed to use at all. Out in the public space, in real life, we laughingly tell ourselves that we have freedom of speech protected by the constitution. Yet we don't. We have freedom of approved speech.
But even this isn't necessarily a bad thing. Civil discourse encourages thought. It is good to exchange ideas, even the ones with which we do not agree, in the interest of learning more about each other. We SHOULD have the right to say things that are unpopular, but we should also try to persuade, not browbeat. We should freely express our disagreement, even with the idea of censorship. We can, for instance, publicly make a case for doing away with political correctness and we can do it without actually being politically incorrect, as odd as that may seem. If the main effect of restrictions on hate speech is to make discourse more civil, I can hardly disapprove. We need more civility in life. We need it badly.
On the internet, however, we have true freedom of speech. Here, one can say anything, no matter how shocking, absurd, useless, hurtful, or badly written it may be. Here, we can post that screenplay that was rejected (and with damn good reason) by every publisher in the world. Here, we can post that short film which is so badly written, acted, and directed that it is painful to watch. Here, we can post our completely fabricated and utterly deceptive statistics proving that the CIA programmed John Wilkes Booth to be an assassin by spraying chemicals from airplanes and sending radio signals with the HAARP project, then sent him back in time to assassinate Abe Lincoln with the help of space aliens and Bigfoot before the president revealed the connection between Scientology and genetically-modified crops which are being used by the Illuminati to allow Jews to take over the world economy and force us all to drink fluoride laden lemonade infused with high-fructose corn syrup in order to make us more receptive of a one-world government that will enslave white people and force us all to give up our guns and have a chip implanted in our kneecap that allows the government to keep track of us at all times.
Plus, there's this car … and it runs on water, man!
Every now and then, I reach the point where I am convinced that by now, everyone knows you can't believe most of the crap you read on the internet and most of all, that there really isn't such a thing as a free lunch. Then, someone on my deceptively small Facebook friends list will share an image believing they are about to get a free trip to Disneyland or a free iPad or $5000 from Bill Gates. And of course, what is much more likely is that they are about to win a free computer virus.
It's amazing to go onto the internet and see someone posting behind an internet handle like "TruAmerican89" as he or she denounces others for being too cowardly to take responsibility for their words. It's utterly baffling to see people insisting they stand behind everything they post online when, in fact, the only thing standing behind their posts is a fictitious internet avatar named 'sxygrrl21'.
And most amazing of all, they aren't being intentionally ironic!
We have entered an age where everyone with internet access has the inalienable right to be a complete and utter dumbass in front of the entire world and then pretend like it was someone else and not them. We have entered an age when sociopaths have unimaginable power to annoy and harass uncountable citizens from the comfort of their homes. Or cells. We have entered an age where the ability to place your views in front of an audience is so incredibly easy, anyone can do it, no matter how ill-advised or utterly wrong they may be.
And as a result, we have entered an age where the utter lack of accountability on the internet has completely diluted the actual persuasive power of words. When Shakespeare wrote about being full of sound and fury, signifying nothing, he was talking about internet forums. And ironically, he may have been someone else merely pretending to be Shakespeare!
Here's a hint: you don't change the world by clicking a 'like' button.
Just do it for real.