richard: (escher)
Richard ([personal profile] richard) wrote on April 7th, 2007 at 06:26 pm
Pseudo-wit and snark on the Internet; a bit of a rant
I have spent a great deal of time on the Internet, and when one is on the Internet for a significant amount of time, one who is the reflective sort tends to notice certain social phenomena in such a medium.

My anecdotal observations seem to show me that many people enjoy a sort of sophomoric 'wit' that passes for intelligence and originality, and it is the sort of attitude that allows them to gain dominance over others in this medium. In general, their behaviour shows a flippant attitude towards Internet communication of any sort, unless it is towards someone such as a work superior. Commonly called 'snark', it pervades the Internet with its childishness. Most fora, chat rooms or any other areas that allow for human interaction are rife with this rubbish. Every topic is fair game, and even the nastiest, most despicable things, such as the Holocaust, slavery, misogyny, hatred of homosexuals, Adolf Hitler, rape and paedophilia, are made light of in this arena. (To see an example of such nasty behaviour, I would recommend visiting a highly populated web forum; you will most probably see some reference to these things.)

Depersonalization of others is also a common feature of this culture, especially once the perpetuator of snark is confronted with his behaviour. When someone of a less 'snarky' disposition tells the snarker off, their response is to depersonalize the other party with phrases like 'You are only on the Internet, so you do not know me' (or variants), 'This is not "real life"', 'You should not take the Internet so seriously' or 'It is just text on the screen, so this means nothing.' It is as if many of these people are trying to forget that the Internet is populated with people as real as they, and that they are trying to find catharsis through a medium that will allow them to do so at the expense of others. It is as though distance allows others to forget that there are actual people typing responses to them, with feelings and concerns that may or may not mirror their own. I believe that a sort of transference of 'person' to 'computer' occurs. People intellectually know that other flesh-and-blood people are communicating to them (at least for now; no Internet bot sounds human yet); however, since all that they can view is the computer, they sub-consciously perform an act of transference, and they treat the other person's behaviour as a computer print-out for the most part, especially when the conversants agree on a subject. When the conversants disagree, they are reminded that someone else is typing the words, and they start depersonalizing the other party in different ways, by emphasizing their physical distance and the erroneous idea that one cannot actually properly know someone on the Internet, or that all Internet communication is imaginary or contrived. (Aside: I also think that this attitude may also come from those who play games using telecommunications; they may have a sub-conscious association with games when the Internet is concerned.)

I think that these attitudes are going to become increasingly detrimental to Internet communications in future; as more people use the Internet as a means for social interaction, people are going to tolerate this school-bully behaviour as normal. It will be acceptable for people to invalidate others' relationships and communications because of distance, and I think that this will adversely affect any attempt for organizations to use the Internet as a tool for social change. However, I do not think the solution is despair or acquiescence; it is action. I think that people concerned with keeping the Internet safe for true activism, change and communication should make a conscious effort to treat other people online as they would treat people any other medium, rather than using the tactics listed above. I shall do my part and lead by example.

(This post intentionally left public.)
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