Monday, February 11, 2013

The Internet: Telling Me More About People Than I Really Wanted To Know

Dear Internet,

Maybe you didn't realize this -- but you don't actually have to say all the things that come into your mind. 

It's not the TMI I'm objecting to -- though I know a lot of other people have been on you about that.  They don't want to hear about your miscarriage, your one-night stand, your kid's poop, or what happened the day you went to get a Brazilian and the stylist found crabs. 

But TMI isn't my concern.  Actually, in some ways that stuff suits you very well:  you bring the magic when you connect up people who've each had some obscure and troubling experience.  The internet:  putting the "over" in "overshare" since 1995.

And it's not the abundance of cats/babies/nature pictures I'm upset about either. 

Again, I know you've been in for some criticism on this score.  There's some eye-rolling about the fact that people want to use the internet for Cuteness instead of Important Matters Like Politics.  There are also people who seem to find the posting of babies offensive -- like babies are some kind of implicit boast about how together and wonderful someone's life is. 

That's a view I don't get.  I mean, cats are the star of the internet because they're awesome.  As for babies -- who doesn't like to gaze upon a baby they don't have to actually take care of?  Babies are adorable.  What's not to like?  Do these critics somehow have lives so stuffed with cuteness and nice things that they're overfull, overstuffed?  If yes, they live in a different world from the one I do. 

So.  What's getting me isn't the TMI and it isn't Niceness and Cuteness.  What's getting me is the nonstop personalized complaining, indignation, know-it-allness ... often mixed with racism and sexism just for good measure.  I feel like about half the time I'm on the internet, I'm like "Would you just shut up?" or "Is this really worth arguing about?" or "Even if that's true, do you realize that saying it now shows you to be an insensitive jerk?"

Everyone singles out YouTube comments, but the amount of ass-hattery even on regular news sites like The Toronto Star, the Huffington Post, or The New York Times is unreal as well.  At The Star, the comments are like a glimpse into the dark schitzy heart of Canadian racism, homophobia, and snobbery -- everything Canadians are not on the surface. 

The New York Times is a bit better because it's moderated.  But even with moderation, most of the comments really boil down to, "You are dumb and brought your problems on yourself; I am smart and know things you don't; Yay for Me."  

Like last Saturday, there was a New York Times article about the recent big snowstorm:  some areas without power; some people stranded in cars; some communities with closures and so on.  
Honestly, over half the comments were people saying "GEEZ it's just a SNOWSTORM, what's your PROBLEM getting all EXCITED, we had snow like this ALL THE TIME when I was a kid with no goddamn NEWS MEDIA getting us all WHIPPED up.

That just seems to me a ridiculous thing to put in a comment about story about a snowstorm.  It's especially ridiculous to say it for the 271st time after 270 people have already said it.  Even if it's true that the news media gets overexcited about weather events, do you really need to say so in a context where people are trading stories about being stranded or left without power or unable to get out the front door?  What, do they think we're all going to bow down and say "Thanks, Smart Guy, For Putting It All Into Perspective!  You're The Man!"

Sometimes dealing with these remarks feels like peeking inside the subconscious of a family member -- someone you'd suspected had disturbing hopes, dreams, and opinions, but were never sure -- and finding a seething toxic mass of rage, greed, and narcissism.

I wonder sometimes if that's how we'll look back on the early 21st century.  It's like, for thousands of years, people didn't really know what was on other people's minds.  Then suddenly --  they did.  And everybody freaked out.  Because what was on other people's minds -- it was pretty bad.

So, internet, with a hat tip to James Thurber:  You're telling me more about people than I wanted to know. 


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