The anonymity of the internet makes people brave. Unfortunately, being brave doesn’t make them smart.
John Hawkins has written a worthwhile piece on pajamasmedia.com called “How the Internet Damages Our Culture.” The crux of his argument is that the ability to speak out anonymously has emboldened the crude, the rude and the thuggish to spew their venom without threat of public censure. He’s not wrong. Civil discourse has taken a giant step backwards. Ad hominem attacks are the rule of the day. Rational argument has been marginalized by the spectacle of public abuse. In our own industry, the recent firestorm over anonymous comments about Eric Silver and Lee Garfinkel confirms it.
However, I’m not sure the internet bears complete responsibility for this development. Long before people ever heard of blogs or message boards, we began behaving badly thanks to a totally different piece of technology–the automobile. When people are sealed up in their driving capsules, they get astonishingly brave. Minor breaches of traffic etiquette are met with breathtaking fury and gestures suggesting unnatural sex acts. And more often than not, the people making these gestures would probably mutter a slightly embarrassed, “sorry” if you accidentally bumped into them in a train station.
I’m certainly no Luddite, but it’s hard to get around the conclusion that technology that isolates us and hides our identities diminishes in some way our humanity. Social networking must not be allowed to wipe out the rules of collegial discourse that apply in the town square. Say no to anonymous posting. And while you’re at it, roll your windows down in the car.