I type, therefore I am. The ancient Greeks wouldn’t have understood.
“What’s type?” they’d have asked. They knew type as a subject not verb. They might perhaps have
understood type casting but typing?
Today we have the Internet. Anyone with a keyboard can type. With that comes freedom of expression. The democratic right to free speech has its grey zones. Can the police arrest a pulpiteer in a public park for homophobic, racist or otherwise offensive diatribes? How about shock-jock radio or comics who go too far? Should social media platforms safeguard against abuses to common sense and good taste? Where does totalitarian censorship begin? Unlike the judge who knew pornography when he saw it, there’s no global consensus on where that line is.
In the olden days, trolls were mythical beings of Nordic folklore. Today they’re Internet miscreants. So are shills, phishers, hackers and fake-news abusers of technology, information and access. Some are obvious. Others are much harder to spot if not impossible; or only when it’s too late. Oops. There just went your personal banking information or passwords.
Granted, the Internet is a relatively young phenomenon. Birthing pains are to be expected. That includes lack of effective regulation on one side, over-eager control by autocratic regimes on the other. Like elsewhere, forum administrators and publishers in the hifi review and discussion space continue to struggle with the right balance. It’s become a common observation that a few rotten apples can spoil a rather large harvest to poison an otherwise popular forum. Poster anonymity is an obvious issue when people abuse it to say things they’d never say to our face or if their identity were known to the global audience. It gives new meaning to the old saying ‘flying off one’s handle’.
I type, therefore I deserve. Inherent in free Internet access—let’s remember how free access is no global guarantee yet—can be a sense of entitlement. This often overrides awareness on whether one has anything actually meaningful to contribute. Because it’s so easy and quick, posters may not take proper time to verbalize a comment, vet it for intelligibility, facts, brevity and a non-offensive tone. Just because we can comment doesn’t mean we should. Letting off steam may be a psychological necessity but turning it into public spectacles ‘off our meds’ only spreads the poison of negativity around the globe until the moderators step in; if there are any.
Having an opinion is cheaper than cheap coffee. It’s free. Anyone can have an opinion far more times a day than their body would tolerate caffeine. But a meaningful opinion that has practical relevance to a particular discussion and contributes something that’s not been already said so many ways? That’s a different matter. Actually, such opinions aren’t free at all. They are earned. They’ve been paid for by personal experience and careful consideration. Behind them is something with far more substance than a quick throwaway comment which was only made to make oneself look informed and knowledgeable; or because one was bored.
I read, therefore I want it free. The Internet’s formidable 24/7 access creates expectations that content is and should be free. It extends to music as well, artists be damned. ‘Free’ makes no demands on us re: responsibility, maturity and reciprocity. It appeals to the unholy very entitled trinity of me, myself and I. If you think on it, don’t we tend to value those personal achievements the most which cost us the most effort, time or money? Meanwhile, things that come too easy or free get devalued precisely because they cost us so little or nothing. This devaluation seems to be endemic to our times. It appeals to the lowest common denominator. It rewards mediocrity. It suggests that to make no real effort has actual value. Isn’t that an expression of poverty consciousness? It may not equate to material poverty but poverty of spirit is very real, too.
It’s one thing to exhibit it within the confines of one’s own four walls. It’s quite another to do it in front of a global audience. Do we contribute more darkness, confusion, noise and static to the ‘thought field’ of the worldwide web which has become a constant influence on so many? Or do we leave it a slightly better place than it was without us?
If so, it won’t have cost us materially beyond whatever our monthly Internet access fee is. But I expect it will have cost us something in terms of care, consideration, time and goodwill. If so, that and our actual experience and honesty are what gave it value and worth. Free is terribly overrated these days and the entitlement that stems from it is an actual disease. We’ve got one nasty virus going around as it is. Why add another for which there never will be an official vaccine?