Is it possible that the Internet is showing us who we really are as people? What we really think about issues and each other? And is it bringing out the worst of us or showing our humanity in some way?
Probably a little of all of these, and you can catch it all in the comments section of most articles. Usually much better than the articles themselves, the comments section will let you know exactly how people think because they can say whatever they want using an alias of some sort. This means more freedom to express one’s opinion without the fear of being personally ridiculed for said opinion, but it also means one can ridicule without fear of being called out.
I don’t get many comments on my column, I suppose because I try to stay away from controversial issues. I do this because I believe most of us are simply products of our environment, and it is very difficult to change someone’s opinion once they have their mind made up. A waste of time you might say. Arguing about religion comes to mind. You either have faith to believe in something you have not seen but felt, or you don’t. Trying to convince another person to believe a certain way with regard to religion would be like trying to get a dog to eat celery. It’s difficult to make that happen unless the celery was part of his/her upbringing.
Notice I said “difficult,” not “impossible.” If I had said “impossible,” there would have been at least five people reading this who would take exception. So, by saying “difficult” the fuse is taken out of the bomb, so to speak.
My nephew’s wiener dog eats all sorts of vegetables on top of everything else, but she grew up that way and currently has a weight problem, so he’s trying to get her to lose some weight by eating more celery. Most people are like that dog. If they get hungry enough, they’ll eat anything, even vegetables. So I stay away from controversy, preferring to spin political and other issues in a humorous vein.
I don’t write in the comments section either. Most of the time someone has already written what I am thinking and adding to it seems like, you guessed it, a waste of time. Besides, I can be very nasty when no one knows who I am, and I don’t like the way I feel about myself after I write something nasty. So the comments section is not a good place for me to be.
Most of the time, if you follow a comment section trail long enough, the conversation will become vitriolic on the part of a lot of folks, particularly if their arguments are not gaining ground -- then they begin personal attacks on people they don’t even know. If you want to learn new curse words or ways to insult others, the comments section would be a good place to start.
Sometimes these people are referred to as “Internet trolls,” but that seems a little harsh. I like the term “writing impaired” because it sounds more intelligent and may be more politically correct. After all, even when using the comments section, one has to have a semblance of writing intelligence in order to make a point.
I wonder how the comments section might change if one was required to put name, address and phone with an entry? Not that some sections don’t have that (defusing the bomb again) but others don’t and it might make a difference in the decorum of the place. I don’t mean to insinuate that all comments are without good taste. In fact some reveal caring, sensitive people who have opinions that may be at odds with others’ and can be expressed without personal insult. One commenter the other day said about the jury in the Hernandez trial when discussing Hernandez’ girlfriend’s testimony, “Any juror that doesn’t have to be watered twice a week will see her testimony is inconsistent.” (Paraphrase) Funny, imaginative and got the point across without vitriol. The Internet is a Pandora’s box in some instances, innocently opened by innocents who can then be exposed to the worst and best of humanity. Guard it with care.
Sonny Harmon is a professor emeritus at Georgia Military College. Visit his blog at http://sharmon09.blogspot.com.