One acquaintance told me that after posting an article on (of all things) chair design, he was told where to go in no uncertain terms; doubtless by some obsessive chair design malcontent. I mean, why get upset about chairs?
Why are people so rude nowadays?
A little while ago I happened to find myself on a web site that seemed to encourage "trenchant" opinions from its readers. On this site, an argument (rather wrong-headed in my view) had been set down and the floor had been thrown open for readers to reply. This is not an uncommon thing in cyber-land. Lots of websites barter for passing traffic, and many people daily use forums or browse the net during office hours, if only too break up the tedium of the working day. Readers are the life blood of most things on the net, and any attempt to keep them reading or participating is seen as fair practice by a site's creator.
Anyway, I think we've all had enough of my school-marmy explanation. Let us return to the story in hand.
Back on this site, I decided to enter into the debate in trenchant fashion – albeit couching my arguments in the politest way imaginable as I was taught that one should always be polite to strangers. Within minutes my rather sardonic replies were met with a fusillade of screeching, intemperate swearing and rather unpleasant threats. The amount of profanities used was actually quite shocking, even to one raised in the shadow of Accrington's Nori brickworks. Surely, my original answers didn't merit such a savage riposte?
It seems that I am not alone however. Later the same day, pint in hand, I told some friends of my experiences. Most laughed and admitted they were either the victims, or progenitors of this cyber-rage. One acquaintance told me that after posting an article on (of all things) chair design, he was told where to go in no uncertain terms; doubtless by some obsessive chair design malcontent. I mean, why get upset about chairs?
Even on the forum that I frequent, a place which is a lush oasis in a forum desert of smilies and incomprehensible teenage argot, there are outbreaks of utterly irrational anger and spite; which (for me) taints the usual reading matter of obituaries, recipes and map references. New people are sometimes met with a barrage of abuse, abuse which would normally be meted out to drunken intruders at a wake. It is as if once people have found a cosy nook on the web, they automatically become cyber-nimbies. If a newcomer challenges an almost Masonic code of forum rules, they are told, often very rudely to go and find a "better ole". It really can be a case of "not on my forum". Not that these newcomers are always innocent. I remember one chap who used the moniker "rude boy", frequently posting abuse on a forum. Why? Was there really so little for him to do in his "outside world"? Could his behaviour genuinely give him "kicks"? Sometimes I despair of civilisation.
Maybe I'm taking all of this far too seriously, after all, why shouldn't people let off steam in an argument? You could say that taking the trouble to sit down and argue on the internet I very civilised indeed. After all, no blows are exchanged. Maybe it's just the modern way of letting off steam. Or maybe I'm not taking this too seriously. Maybe people who regularly use the internet and who wouldn't normally say boo to a goose allow themselves to show a smidgeon of bravery or intolerance in their opinions. The added advantage of them not being reprimanded for their views by a real and sentient human being is to them, a big one. After all, who's going to hit you sat behind a screen? It'd take someone who is pretty deranged, not to say desperate, to fly over from (say) Ohio, and sort you out for your ill-informed views about grain production in the Mid-West.
The real problem is that none of this stuff - the actual internet posting and exchanging of views that is - is actually real. It runs parallel to our daily lives. None of the arguments you indulge in on the net should have any bearing on your everyday existence.
Things have, however, been known to get out of hand. A short while ago, the BBC reported that a Chinese man who was playing a fantasy quest game on the net was killed by a fellow gamer, simply because he "stole" an imaginary sword. This does point to a serious misinterpretation of what is real and good, and what is not.
Whilst most people wouldn't resort to murder to obtain an imaginary sword, I do think it is permissible to ask - hopefully without fear of retribution - whether the use of the net (and all it's spin-offs) augurs the beginnings of a de-railing of the basic, everyday, rough & ready, person-to-person moral code that has served us for the odd, ooh thousand or so years? After all, things such as facial expressions, bodily actions and the sound of someone's voice are all rendered pretty obsolete by the internet and are entirely absent from any exchange of views in cyber space. And typed words can't always convey the feelings behind them. It goes without saying that typed messages can be misinterpreted rather dramatically by the reader.
I suggest we all try to show a smidgeon of tolerance, patience and good humour in the face of any unpleasantness that we encounter whilst communicating on the jolly old net. Indeed it is beholden to us to do so. Imagine future historians wading through oceans of cyber fucks cunts wankers and tosspots in the search for some glimmer of reason and intelligence in an age they will surely dismiss as one of greed vanity and intolerance.
And with that sobering thought, I bid you all good day.
Words: Richard Foster.