Tuesday, August 26, 2008

Finding Gossip and Love in All the Wrong Places

While I remain convinced that this whole internet thing is bound to catch on, recent days have brought instances of a couple of the sillier stigmas still attached to it. To wit:

  • Would you be shocked to learn that college students, whether they are on a university campus or enrolled in an online college, are trading in mean-spirited, unsubstantiated, unfair, deeply personal, potentially damaging gossip about one another? I wouldn't. I think this sort of thing goes back to the very beginnings of college students, and indeed, I would not be a bit surprised to learn that vicious gossip among young adults predates the inception of the modern university system by, oh, something on the order of a hundred thousand years. All well and good, but I hope you're seated because yesterday's Talk of the Nation broadcast discussed the fact that this exact sort of gossip has now begun appearing on the internets! Surely the end is nigh.

    The conversation passed into the ninth level of the absurd when one of the participants noted that most people have enough common sense to receive anonymous online postings, especially ones betraying obvious personal biases and agendas, with some skepticism; to which another participant responded by noting that in many such cases, people close to the situation know there is some truth to the accusations, back-stabbing, and assorted calumny. So ... if they already know of the situations described and the characters involved, the evil internets have added exactly what to the situation?

  • My calendars indicate we are well into the second half of 2008 CE, but apparently it's still too soon for couples to stop feeling ashamed for having met online. After confessing with evident embarrassment that he met his wife in an online dating forum, an unnamed party I'll call M* felt it necessary to declare "it's just as good as meeting someone in a bar." Well, it depends, doesn't it? What sort of bar are we talking about? And what sort of online dating forum? Bars tend to attract and coalesce around certain kinds of people -- there are biker bars, hipster bars, gay bars, swinger bars, sports bars, bars that serve as the barely-concealed entry points to brothels, and so on. Likewise, there are online match-making sites intended for widely various audiences, tastes, and self-descriptions. Is any bar hookup less unseemly than any online meetup? Really? I don't think so.
It's 2008 and humans are much as they were centuries before. The internet is still new and sometimes alarming, but I wonder just how much of the hype is justified as assessed on the level of basic human experience. For all the breathless excitement and fevered worries of the panters aligned on a rather familiar pro and con axis, it seems to me that people and people's problems are much as they have been, whether or not rendered in pixels and HTML.

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* I feel obliged to confine my more detailed and incriminating revelations about M to the bathroom's graffiti wall, the calling circle, the employee lounge, and the water cooler; I would hate to think of the catastrophic consequences of releasing any of it to the internets.

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