Today marks another day of violence in our country. Senseless violence. It doesn't matter how it is performed, whether it's with a gun, a knife, a bomb, a car, etc. It starts with a mind focused on harming others. Why so much violence? How has our society reached this point? I'm certainly not the only person asking this question. And I doubt my opinion of one part of the problem's root is unique.

I'm a software developer working in web applications. That means I make my living off of the internet. The internet is a wonderful platform for performing tasks that make our lives easier or more fun. You can share information that helps businesses function, people get to know one another, play games - all sorts of really positive aspects.

But there's a darker side to the internet that makes it probably the most destructive influence in history. It's something that can be summed up in a single word: immediacy. It's a word that can be defined as this: "the quality of bringing one into direct and instant involvement with something, giving rise to a sense of urgency or excitement." Why is this bad?

When I was young and got upset about something, I would sometimes get sent to my room. Why? To give me time to cool off, calm down, and see the situation for what it was. My parents would keep me from doing or saying something stupid. It boils down to "stay calm and think before you speak". I'm not the only person raised that way. At school you wouldn't just say the first thing that popped into your head at another person. It could be misunderstood and cause a problem. So you learn to think before you speak, considering the consequences first.

You see where I'm going with this don't you? The internet is a world free of constraint. You can say whatever pops into your head with no fear of immediate harm because you're not even in front of the person. Twitter, Facebook, and all of the other mechanisms of the internet have enabled a culture of immediacy. This is bad? Yes, because we say things that we ordinarily would not say if we were right in front of the other person. Reasoned discourse has devolved to angry sound-bites.

Science fiction author Larry Niven wrote a short story in 1973 called "Flash Crowd" about a simple event blowing up out of control because of the immediate spread of "news". It's interesting because though written long before the internet, it presages a lot of what we now see. How did Niven think of this? Because like many authors of speculative fiction, he's a student of human nature. He took a simple idea and extrapolated it out.

So what am I proposing? The elimination of the internet? Nope. That "Pandora's Box" can't be unopened. What I wish could happen is that people would think before they speak - think before they write - think before they tweet. However, I'm a bit of a cynic, so I believe this will never happen. Human nature is one of taking the path of least resistance and of instant gratification. Self-discipline and self-restraint have become attributes of the past. What I am proposing is that we should now expect that events like today's will become commonplace because we have all engineered an environment that frees society of its inhibitions. It's the dark, nasty underside of the stone that is the internet.

This post has no happy, uplifting conclusion. Just sadness at the devolving society that we live in.


Category: commentary