Ah, the internet. I really don’t know what I did before the internet. I probably watched a lot of television (total broadcast television watched in the last 7 days: 0) or ran along the street pushing a hoop with a stick or something. I love the internet. Facts at my fingertips. Twitter. My t-shirt shop [ahem]. This blog. Unlimited porn. I love the internet.
Those who know me probably know that I’m not a huge fan of human beings. I’ve met many of them and they appear to exist to annoy me. Still, I get though most days without killing any of the fuckers, so it’s not like I can’t cope with them. The problem is, the human race has joined me on the internet. Again, I can cope, but I really wish I knew why it drew out in particular the sociopaths, the stalkers and the generally maddest in such numbers and so vocally.
The other day I posted a confessional of sorts about a dead friend of mine. Within a short space of time – too short, I’d’ve thought, for Google to have found it, someone popped up with a comment that suggested I was being disingenuous – my “gay lover” had clearly left me boat loads of money, so what was I complaining about. Now, tell me: if you’re in the pub and a friend, or a friend of a friend, or the person behind you at the bar or whoever was relating a story about the suicide of their partner, would you be inclined in any way to turn to them at the end and sneer “wah wah wah” and wonder aloud why they were complaining since, you had decided, they’d made money out of the entire business? And even if you were tempted, would you ever, for any reason, actually do it?
I signed up for something called Foursquare, mainly because I had a new iPhone and stuff that looked playable-with and was free seemed worth downloading. The idea of Foursquare is, every time you go somewhere, you “check in”, which notifies your Twitter and Facebook followers where you are. Yeah, bit strange, but still. If you check in most often, you get made “Mayor” of the location. You also can win “badges” for going to unusual places and can get not-very-appealing discounts by becoming mayor of certain overpriced shops and drinking establishments. Nevertheless, it’s an amusing enough diversion. After a few months of using it I was mayor of four places, none of them very exciting, as I pointed out in a screenshot of the application I posted on Twitter. Now here’s the thing: shortly afterwards, one of my mayorships was lost to someone else. Ah well, that’s how the game works. Then, another of them was lost to the same person a few days later. Looking them up online, I couldn’t see how they were visiting my places quite so much – they were far away according to their Twitter feed – but it’s how the game is played. Then I got displaced as mayor from the hotel I stay in London by the same person… while their Twitter feed had them at home. They were telling the app that they were in locations they were not, once a day, everyday, until they displaced me. And they were running down the list I’d posted earlier. So they weren’t playing the game, or visting places, or anything else: a complete stranger had stumbled across my list and thought, “I know, I’ll spend 5 to 10 minutes a day, everyday, from now until possibly six or seven weeks time, checking into these places and stripping this guy of his mayorships. Ha ha ha!” or the like. Why? Can you see any way at all that you would gain pleasure from doing that to a totally ordinary, total stranger? I decided that I wasn’t going to play, so deleted my account. I assume he wanted that (again: why?) or, when he saw I had deleted it, thought “oooh, get her, touchy!” or the like.
When I first started out on the internet at the beginning of September, there was very little to see on the web and most of the action was in something now forgotten called Usenet. I remember saying something in reply to a thread suggesting I didn’t agree with the poster. They replied to say I was wrong, but entitled to my opinion. All done. Except a day later they thought better of it and wrote to me by email to tell me I was a fuckwit. Fair enough. Oddly, over a month passed and I got a follow up email that just read “oh, get over it already you twat”. Um, okay… except that I didn’t realise I wasn’t over it; in fact I didn’t quite remember what the guy was banging on about because I was so much over it, whatever “it” was. Would you ever do that in real life? Publicly disagree politely, privately disagree loudly and then, over a month later, ring the stranger in question up, call them a twat and hang up sure in the righteousness of your actions because they clearly hadn’t got over the even in the way you had?
Yesterday, my mate Louis was minding his own business on Twitter when a “mention” lit up on his screen. A total stranger, someone not following him or any of his friends, someone Louis was not following, tweeted at him the single word “clown” (one of the few words the guy has spelled correctly in his tweet stream). Again: why? Louis asked him, but got no reply. He had taken time out of his busy day replying semi-literately to celebrity tweets to call a random and not-very-famous (comparatively – sorry, Louis; here’s a plug for one of your brilliant books as compensation) person he wasn’t following a clown. I assume he felt better for that, had gained a moral revenge against whatever crime he believed Louis had committed, or otherwise had a reason of some sort for setting fingers to keyboard and lashing out. It’s just not evident what that reason was.
Wikipedia is place where this type of thing goes on. Of course, with any open editing system you’re going to get vandals – idiots as compared to the people cited above who would seem not to be idiots per se – and if you undo or have blocked a vandal, of course they’ll turn up and attack you, which you’ll also undo. But the place crawls with people who are very happy to attack other people who are just editing, whether you’re a new user trying to add information with a source and being called a twat for not formatting it perfectly in their arcane markup, or an established editor reverting really nasty attacks but not doing a good enough job of it for a new user who then chooses to have a go at you for even trying.
At Transdiffusion, comment threads need to be kept under a watchful eye and pre-edited: the site offers a nice big “report an error” button, an email link on every page, even a postal address, but a spelling error (not a factual error, a spelling error) can earn the volunteer writer of the page a vicious tearing down complete with accusations of being deliberately ignored, and once even a disturbingly-specific death threat. For a spelling error!
I wonder if on the internet they forget that there is another human being at the end of the screed they’re writing to them; that they think it’s a bot at the other end with no feelings? Or has the internet liberated the inner-sociopath amongst a broad swathe of the population, giving them licence to be as creepy and vicious as they’d like to be with the bus driver and checkout assistant but don’t have the cajones to do in real life knowing that it could get them arrested?
Above all, how do they react when it’s done to them? Is the world now full of hurt little sociopaths, angrily crying into their laptops?