Thursday, March 31, 2016

Root Causes

Several observers of modern public discourse, which is heavily influenced by online information and the role of social media, figure that things have only gotten worse in the last few years.

My unscientific sampling of my friends and of people I read online shows that folks who identify as liberals think this worse happened around 2008. Folks who identify as more conservative seem to push that date back to around 2000. And old fogies mumble something about "that bastard Nixon." I leave it to you, reader, to associate those years with any particular set of circumstances with which they may connect.

But as it turns out, the idea of hot-headed electronic communication, where people might rip out a response without benefit of time for thought or cooling off, has a history almost as old as the medium itself. The good folk at Mental Floss unearthed a college campus newspaper article from 1986, the dim protozoic period of the beginning of e-mail, soon after several colleges set up campus-wide electronic messaging services. The article notes the new phenomenon of "flaming," in which a person responds in the heat of the moment to some message that has offended them with heat equal to the moment.

Professors and administrators quoted in the article suggest that the problem is not the form of communication, but "inexperienced operators" who have not yet learned that the ability to communicate instantly on some subject does not imply the necessity of doing so. Electronic mail was at this time confined mostly to college campuses and the youthful age of the communicators may have played a role in the shoot-from-the-lip errors plaguing it. Sounds about right to me. Immature twerps need to learn how to control themselves before writing whatever comes into their heads.

What? The year on my college diploma? Hmmph. I can't see how that's relevant in the slightest.

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