I will be the first to say it: my relationship with the internet is not entirely a healthy one. This is no-one’s fault but my own, really. Sitting around at home feeling like a hermit, a nuisance, and a drain on society all at once, I use the internet for distraction and socialising, as well as a good outlet for my grumpy old lady side. (24-going-on-85, you know what I’m saying?)
Those are good days. On bad days, everybody (including me) hates everything (… including me) and opening your mouth in an argument feels like sticking your head out the top of a trench and shouting ‘looks like they’ve all gone home, sarge!’ in a particularly carrying tone.
Why? Well, for a start, there’s the Internet Fuckwad Theory – or, to give it a slightly classier name, the Online Disinhibition Effect – which tells us that anonymity provides a convenient cover for people to shout all the things that they wouldn’t say to one’s face. It works for good and bad: obviously, people use their internet soapboxes to sling mud in all directions, but you’ll also find that people are more willing to stand up for themselves and what they believe in on the internet too. It’s a great leveller.
Mind you, it’s also a great pile of rubbish, sometimes.
This weekend everybody on the internet watched the Olympics Opening Ceremony, myself included. I wrote about it earlier today, but suffice it to say: it was excellent. Dramatic, heart-warming, moving, and all that good stuff. Months of planning and effort and time on the part of the organisers and the volunteers, which all went off perfectly on the night. Well done everybody.
Which is fair enough, right? Even if you don’t support the Olympics themselves, if you don’t approve of the money they’re costing or the way the British government is handling things or the influx of foreigners to London (look, I’m trying to cover all sides here, including the batshit racist angle), you can credit those people with a job well done.
Wrong! THIS IS THE INTERNET. YOU ARE WRONG. It’s written by the door.
Nobody was happy. The Right thought… well, I’ll let this charming gentleman speak for himself:
(damned if I can find the source of this screenshot – if it’s yours, let me know)
– while the Left argued that we shouldn’t let ourselves bank the fires of our general outrage for an evening to watch a pretty show.
(I feel duty-bound to mention here that although I’m an equal-opportunity taker of the piss, I’m also a dyed-in-the-wool leftie, and far more sympathetic to the waste of money/misuse of resources argument than I’m letting on. I just don’t think it was Danny Boyle’s, or his performers’, fault that seven or eight years ago the British government – still in the green fields of economic success – thought it would be a good idea to apply to host the 2012 games. I also think that there’s an awful lot of Awful out there in the world, and maybe things that make people happy and inspired are worth more than just their economic value.)
That was far too sincere. Back to piss-taking.
The Onion sums it up very nicely in this mini-article: Man Who Enjoys Thing Informed He Is Wrong. It feels like that, a lot of the time, especially if you spend a lot of your time around people with very strong convictions: it’s fine when you all agree, but every so often an issue comes up where you feel more moderate than your friends, or more strongly, and suddenly you’re facing the wrong side of the high wall that stands between Us and Them.
There’s a Kingsley Amis quote about grammarians, paraphrased here by Nick Cohen:
Just before he died, Kingsley Amis wrote that two dismal groups fought over the use of English: the berks and the wankers. Berks were permissive types who rejected all rules. “Careless, coarse, crass [and] gross … they speak in a slipshod way with dropped ‘Hs’, intruded glottal stops and many mistakes in grammar. Left to them, the English language would die of impurity, like late Latin.”
By contrast, wankers were authoritarians who wanted to impose every possible restriction on speakers and writers. “Prissy, fussy, priggish [and] prim … they speak in an over-precise way with much pedantic insistence on letters not generally sounded, especially ‘Hs’. Left to them, the language would die of purity, like medieval Latin.”
I think of this quote almost every day on the internet, except in place of linguistic argument I’m thinking of who’s offending whom on any given issue. From whatever your standpoint, the unthinkably rude and freewheelingly offensive are one step to your left (berks), and the overly uptight and righteous censors of socially acceptable vocabulary/ideas/happiness are one step to your right (wankers).
And the extra fun bit is that those two categories redefine themselves with every new reader of every new post… which is why you really can’t ever please all the people all the time.
You just have to live with it. You’ll always be somebody’s berk and somebody’s wanker.