I'm not the oldest guy in the world, not by any stretch, but I do remember a time before the Internet. And I remember when it first showed up, full of promise and potential none of us understood. I remember when you needed to make your computer dial a number to access it, and I remember the Internet tying up phone lines, and I remember suddenly losing your Red Alert game if someone in your house tried to make a phone call. I remember it being so new that the majority of people didn't even have it; if you didn't have it set up yet, you would just go to your friend's house-- the one friend you knew who had it -- and you'd simply "play Internet" for a while. I remember Google not existing. I remember using WebCrawler. I remember. I was there.
I've seen some shit.
In those early days, there wasn't much to do as far as web-surfing went. No one was uploading movie trailers or writing articles or breaking any stories, so mostly you would just e-wander around, checking to see if certain companies had websites, for absolutely no reason. ("I wonder if Pepsi has a website ... They do. It's about Pepsi.") If you were me, you'd alternate between basking in the modern thrill of checking the previous day's weather online and staring at grainy pictures of Buffy the Vampire Slayer, two experiences that, for several months, I genuinely believed were the only things on the Internet.
That's all changed now and the Internet is plastering its image on the face of the world though, like those slow-to-load, low-res photos of Sarah Michelle Gellar leaning over a library book, that image isn't quite clear yet. We know it's there, and we know it could be great, but we also know that right now it's pretty shitty. And we need to fix it before it's too late.
This is us.
And I'm not talking from the position of a disapproving father figure, I'm not disappointed in anyone in particular, because I'm here, too. I'm treating this like I would treat the common area of a college dorm: We all have to share this- can we please not make it awful? I just want it to be presentable so, when my real friends show up, I won't be so embarrassed.
We're Forgetting To Not Be Jerks in Real Life
When web-surfing became too boring in the early days, which happened almost instantly, me and my other twelve-year-old friends would stumble into anonymous chatrooms and stir shit up. Just go in, figure out what was important to everyone chatting, and then talk about how shitty it was. Then we'd giggle and leave. We never meant any harm by it, we were just bored, and curious, and stupid, and going into a chatroom to make fun of a bunch of strangers was our version of making prank phone calls, (though, yes, we also made prank phone calls). Like most twelve-year-old trolls, how we acted in an anonymous chat room was vastly different from how we acted in real life.
Somewhere in the evolution of the Internet, that stopped being the case.
Chris Gethard is a writer/actor/comedian who performs with the UCB Theater in New York. Several months ago, he landed a show on Comedy Central called Big Lake, and it was fine. Or, I thought it was fine, (I'm a sucker for Chris Parnell). One IMDB commenter disagreed and thought it was so bad that he needed to hit the discussion forum on Gethard's page and openly proclaim that Gethard had "no discernible talent, no charisma, no personality, and no recognizable skills," and that he should "stop acting, spend a few years making atonements for [his] sins, and vow to never ever ever ever stand in front of a camera for the rest of [his] life." Now, that kind of thing is common on the Internet (hell, this particular posting is actually fairly tame). We expect people to hit the Internet and be as awful as they can be thanks to the thick layer of anonymity that a keyboard and computer screen affords them. We accept that, like Ghost Porn, the internet is full of invisible dicks. People will hide behind user names and scream about how much they hate this or that, or how this person, whose job it is to be creative, should never create anything ever again and should in fact seriously consider suicide. It's just a thing that happens, and there's no real surprise.
Well, Gethard decided to meet his troll face-to-face. So moved was Gethard by the IMDb comment, he actually tracked down the author, Travis, and flew him to New York for an on-camera discussion. The two had never spoken about the comment previously; they just sat down and had their first conversation about it, right on camera.
You'd think the absence of anonymity would remove some of the commenter's asshole stank, but it absolutely does not. Travis, (a grown man), shows no remorse, or empathy and seems to even take a bit of pleasure at hearing his comment read out loud. He never actually formally apologizes for his comment and, while he says he would never say those things to Gethard's face, he also says that he still stands by what he said... right to Gethard's face. As if telling someone point blank that you have no regrets about advocating their suicide isn't enough, he rolls his eyes, he looks around the room as if he's bored, he makes little jokes direct-to-camera, he carries himself like he can't be bothered by the whole affair, (even though Gethard comes off as one of the kindest human beings I've ever seen), and, in general, he's such a pompous, disinterested dick it's almost distracting.
Also he thinks that's what hair looks like.
Travis's main argument, which I've found to be very common online, is that while he is being a "troll" and a "bully," it's "just the Internet," so it shouldn't really matter. Not only is that a logical jump that I don't understand, (there's nothing inherent to the Internet that forces us to be dicks), it's completely overshadowed by the fact that Travis is still being a total shithead in real life. That behavior was never supposed to leave the message board.
Everyone on the Internet thinks that they're an expert on everything. No matter what fact you're trying to present, and no matter what evidence you're using to support it, the comments of your article/video will be filled with internet scholars saying "Uh, actually, that's not correct, Shakespeare never wrote those poems because he didn't have hands. Do your fucking research next time," or "Typical liberal/conservative bullshit, I can't believe you actually TRUST the government when they tell you things, you sheep," or "Well, technically [fart noise fart noise fart noise] and further [fart noise fart noise]."
(Yes, that's how Internet commenters sound to me. With the exception of the bright and sexy commenters here at Cracked.)
So, the Internet makes us all armchair political scientists and joke professors. And it gives us an inflated sense of entitlement, teaching everyone that every thought they've ever had is important and that people need to hear it, ("Well there's a place for me to make comments, so I guess that means I have some valuable to say ...") And it takes away all sense of empathy. For better or worse, that's how the internet goes, but now that's bleeding into the real world. Is anyone else worried about this? Do we really need to keep being so ... shitty?
That shittiness, it should be pointed out, isn't just reserved for trolls; it extends to all of us. Anyone who makes, reads, or judges jokes or any other piece of content on the Internet. We've all got work to do...
We Keep Destroying What We Love
On March 11, 2011, the Internet found out about Rebecca Black's pop song, Friday. If you haven't heard it yet, don't lie to me, because yes you have. You and 88 million people as of now have heard that song. I saw it because, that Friday, it was linked to me about 340 times, (though, to be fair, the majority of those links were mostly sent to me by John Cheese). It's an infectious yet horrible, auto-tune-laced pop tune that deals with the serious issues that plague all teenagers, like how great Friday is, and how sometimes seats can be overwhelming, and so forth. As far as parody source material goes, it was a goldmine.
The day after the Internet took notice, someone calling himself "Danimal" turned on his webcam and recorded a cool cover of the song. The day after that, Mike Bauer recorded a cover of the song as Bob Dylan. On March 14th, a band called Tucker arranged the song with three-part-harmonies and put out a boy band version of the song. On March 15, Casey Harper put out an indie, acoustic cover. That same day, someone mashed the song Friday up with Ice Cube's Friday. On the 17th, a screamo version was recorded, with a full band, and another guy produced a professional-looking music video to a sad, depressing piano ballad version of the song. On the 21st, a community theater troupe in Charlottesville wrote, cast, and staged a ten minute play based on the song. So many covers, parodies, remixes and at least one Christian reimagining all on the Internet, all almost immediately after the source blew up. Twitter, Tumblr and Facebook were all just covered in Friday links, and every news and entertainment site was doing a story. The result is that, less than a week after we'd been made aware of the song, we were not only tired of the song, we were tired of parodies of the song. We were tired of lists of parodies of the song. We were tired of interviews with anyone associated with the song, we were tired of articles talking about how tired we were of the song. Everything even remotely related to Friday was met with instant eye-rolling and calls of "Ugh, are we still talking about this?" Four days after it came out. We're not just tired of it, we're angry when it gets brought up. I was so sick of it that, when Stephen Colbert announced he was going to do a cover of the song while accompanied by The Roots, my knee-jerk response was "Jesus, not another one." Stephen Colbert, maybe my favorite living satirist, and The Roots, an amazing band that I think would really like me if we just got to hang out for a while or whatever, and my instinct was to roll my eyes when their cover was announced, because it happened three weeks later, instead of within 48 hours. We watched this abrupt cycle of "This is hilarious wait no I'm sick of this please stop talking about this forever" happen before, with Charlie Sheen, and the Insane Clown Posse "Miracles" video before him. The Internet says, "Hey check this out," but it's already moved on by the time you click the link.
When the time between something being fun/interesting and annoying/shut-up-about-it-already shrinks down to almost nothingness, how is anything supposed to last? How are thoughtful parodies or thoughtful pieces of commentary supposed to emerge if anything that isn't produced within two days is immediately hated? I'm not saying we should hold up Rebecca Black or Charlie Sheen as a heroes who deserve more attention or time in the spotlight, I just think it's ... weird. And it must seem extra weird from an outsider's perspective who just drops in to the Internet and is bombarded with one hundred equally popular covers of an impossibly shitty pop tune one day, and then one hundred pieces of criticism the next. The Internet is turning into a hyperactive, ADD-ridden machine that murders its own babies mid-embrace.
Oh, right, the image we're presenting to the rest of the world. That reminds me...
We Look Terrible
Decades ago, there were people who liked computers, who like comic books, who liked Star Wars and role-playing games. They were called nerds, or geeks, and because no one was careful, the mainstream took it upon themselves to show the world what a prototypical nerd looked like. This is what they came up with:
That was the image of Nerdom, as dictated by the mainstream. This was the first vision that jumped into the minds of a lot of people if they were asked to think about someone who liked Star Wars and comic books, (which seems just ridiculous now). They had nasally voices, a terrible fashion sense and were all but socially catatonic. As the years went by, the nerd image that existed in the popular consciousness evolved a little bit to include anyone who played video games. For years and years, a stereotypical gamer was a fat kid in his or her (but let's face it his) mother's basement covered in Mountain Dew stains and Cheeto Dust. It's 2011. Everyone loves or at least knows Star Wars, almost everyone plays video games and, if box office records are accurate, everyone enjoys comic book movies. Even with all that, nerds are still just barely overcoming this stereotype. Just ask this terrible advertisement that paints "Internet boys" as skinny, quiet losers who don't know how to talk to women. The idea that a person who is tech savvy and interested in computers is also a socially awkward, scrawny, mouth-breathing nightmare is one of the most pervasive caricatures in American history, and we're still fighting it.
We cannot let the mainstream decide what the image of the Internet is. Or, if we assume they're going to do it anyway, we have to be better. Imagine you'd never been to the internet before and you just decided to "drop by." What would you see? Endless memes that have never made and will never make a god damn bit of sense. Fucking irony or, rather, people who seem to enjoy claiming that their love of an artist or site or upcoming movie is "ironic," while also showing off that they never actually understood what irony was. Cats. Lots and lots of cats. To the mainstream world, your average, savvy, internet-goer looks like a douchey, entitled, clueless hipster. Is that what we want?
For another look at why the Internet is so horrible, check out 5 Ways to Stop Trolls From Killing the Internet. Get you some more DOB, in 5 Things You Love to Discuss That Nobody Else Cares About.
Things could always be much, much worse.
The cops will come swooping in the seconds the credits roll.
You've probably never heard of it.