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The Degradation Of Communication On The Internet

5448 words - 22 pages

The Degradation of Communication on the Internet

Talking on the Internet, people regress. It's that simple. It can be one-to-one talk on e-mail or many-to-many talk on one of the LISTs or newsgroups. People regress, expressing sex and aggression as they never would face to face.

Think about it. Current estimates say 23 million people communicate on the Internet from most of the nations on the globe, and that number is increasing at 12% a month. And all this just grew like Topsy, with no one planning or controlling it. Here is one of the extraordinary technological achievements, one of the great _human_ achievements, of our century. But _homo sapiens_ reverts to primitive, childish behavior. Why?

There are three major signs or, if you will, symptoms of this regression. The one Internet primitivism that everybody talks about is "flaming," flying into a typewritten rage at some perceived slight or blunder. "Everywhere I went in the newsgroups," writes John Seabrook in _The New Yorker_, "I found flames, and fear of flames" (1994, 70). No wonder. Seabrook had written a friendly piece on Bill Gates, the powerful president of Microsoft. In the "profile," he made a point of the way he and Gates conducted their interview on e-mail. This is what appeared on Seabrook's screen (courtesy of a certain computer columnist):

Crave THIS, asshole:

Listen, you toadying dipshit scumbag . . . remove your head from your rectum long enough to look around and notice that real reporters don't fawn over their subjects, pretend that their subjects are making some sort of special contact with them, or, worse, curry favor by TELLING their subjects how great the ass- licking profile is going to turn out and then brag in print about doing it.

Forward this to Mom. Copy Tina [the new publisher of _The New Yorker_] and tell her the mag is fast turning to compost. One good worm deserves another.

This last was a veiled threat, since a "worm" is a computer virus and the "flame" might have caused damage to Seabrook's data and programs.

A second primitivism on the Internet is sexual harassment, crude invitations to people about whom one knows no more than their online signatures (which may well be "gender-benders" that hide the sex of the speaker). It happens even in professional or intellectual groups, but the "chat" groups are the worst. Women complain that going into chat mode can feel like a walk past a construction site or a wrong turn down a dark street (Span 1994). But males are not the only offenders. Women also proposition men. As one of the subscribers to my list-conference PSYART described it,

Once, while in a chat, I changed my nickname to a female moniker. A woman (and I use the noun to refer to what she presented herself as--not that I have any reason to doubt her, but who knows on IRC [Internet Relay Chat]) . . . left the conference, and told some people there was a new woman on the net. She returned to the conference, and many men...

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