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Adolescent, anonymous

BY NICHOLAS KELLY | APRIL 08, 2009 7:30 AM

Audio: The author reads his column


“Anonymous: Because none of us are as cruel as all of us.”

Few statements better summarize the effect the facelessness of the Internet can have on some of its users.

The Internet and the digital veil it provides to those who use it can be a liberating thing. For some, it offers an opportunity to find venues for expression and exploration less open via analog venues. For some, it may be the inroad to all sorts of nameless communities. Many may find it presents opportunities to pose questions perhaps to embarrassing to ask out loud or to petition for advice or support where it can be hard to find in the tangible world.

And for others, it can be the impetus to participate in the grand, global masquerade ball of Internet jackassery — to don that harlequin’s mask of online un-identity and see what happens when one tries to cash the Internets carte blanche on acceptable conduct.

This, of course, is where things Internet get interesting.

The nameless soon find themselves drawn to extremes. No longer is a movie, song, or book just “bad”; it’s instead an abomination in the face of god which has apparently personally tortured the online forum or blog reviewer enough that said commentator is now personally calling for the creator’s public execution.

Or, the faceless may soon find themselves drawn to argue incessantly. While offline arguers may temper their tone as to not sound belligerent or perhaps will eventually concede that the opponent’s point may also hold some truth, online schools of arguing thought hold TALKING ALL IN CAPS AND SIMPLY MOCKING WHOEVER YOU ARE ARGUING WITH IS UNDOUBTEDLY THE BEST WAY TO WIN ANY INTERNET ARGUMENT!! ALSO, MAKE SURE YOU COMPARE WHOEVER YOU ARE ARGUING WITH TO HITLER AS SOON AS POSSIBLE TO REALLY MAKE YOUR ARGUMENT STICK.

Or, of course, there are the Internet posters who have truly taken up the mantle anonymity has offered them, deigning to do little more with their posts than offer up typo-ridden tirades unintelligible to anyone save the poster or to verbally abuse anyone they can just to see how long the Internet will put up with their shit. For bonus points, look to these posters to have some sort of forum signature either linking to an Internet delight such as tubgirl.com or perhaps a countdown to when the starlet from the Harry Potter Films or, of course, Hannah Montana finally turns 18.

However, despite the proclivities of some of the biggest beneficiaries of online obfuscation, it’s important to note the effect that net anonymity has on candor may not be fully understood, and while online anonymity may draw some posters to do their worst, they may not be the worst of the Internet.

This is not to say that the faceless nature of the web doesn’t tempt users to step outside of accepted social mores, to see what they can say, just because they can. Certainly not, the impish impetus that Internet anonymity brings is undoubtedly a real thing. But, perhaps there’s something more to the foul-mouthed inhabitants of cyberspace wanting to test the boundaries of digital decorum, just to find their breaking point.

After all, the web is a medium that is still in its adolescence, and it would be hard to point to any desire more quintessentially adolescent than testing the limits of one’s growing autonomy in the world. So while screaming fits, bouts of unintelligibility, emotional extremes, and, of course, attempting to discover just how bat-shit crazy one can be and still get away with it may sound like the exact aspects of the Internet people point to when they claim the web is a cesspool filled with nothing but perverts, bigots, and psychopaths hiding behind nonsensical screen names, it is important to note those exact same things are part of growing up offline, too.

What’s more, just as it may have taken an endless succession of groundings, detentions, or times deciding it’s just not that interesting to sneak out of the house late at night for a given person to finally figure out what boundaries worked best for her or him, maybe the Internet, too, is working its way through best defining its own adulthood of anonymous expression. So for every Internet post that has made a reader pull a face, scowl, and wish the poster would simply learn to grow up, maybe in part that post is part of the Internet’s way of doing just that.


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