September 03, 2008

The History of the Internet. . . Sort of

I really think the scientists who dabble in science should conduct a scientific study, using science, regarding the phenomenon of obsessive Internet commenting. I genuinely think this could be a ripe area for scientific scientists to exploit in the name of science.

I've basically been plugged into the Internet now for well over a decade, having spent most of my professional writing career staring into the radiating warmth of countless computer monitors, usually for eight straight hours a day, if not more. In that time, I've watched as the Internet has morphed into a technology that enables narcissistic navel-gazing to a degree previously deemed impossible.

In the mid to late 1990s, the Internet was still mostly a repository of static Web pages consisting mostly of text relaying information of varying degrees of value. Companies wishing to remain hip and with it established their own official Web pages, while some enterprising individuals armed with some understanding of Internet language coding carved off their own personal corners of the Web.

The insanity that is the current state of the Internet really got a boost around the turn of the Millennium, at which point personal Web logs (or blogs) emerged, which put the power of online publishing literally into the hands of the masses. Blog publishing tools were, and are, exceedingly easy to figure out, and in most cases they were, and still are, free. For the first time, people could expound endlessly on their love for cats, their incredibly niche hobbies and, most ominously, their political ruminations.

The most nefarious innovation made possible through blogging, however, was the advent of the comment engine. At first, comment engines were novel, dare I say "fun." Suddenly, the Internet became a worldwide discussion, no longer limited to newsgroups or other forums that had previously been the sole domain of the world's geeks. In those halcyon days of blogging and commenting—up to but not exceeding the year 2005—people engaged in, for the most part, somewhat civil and sane online conversations.

Invariably, blogging became even easier and thus more popular, eventually giving way to manifestations such as MySpace and FaceBook, forums that allowed countless teenagers to post images of themselves in various stages of undress, teenagers who were apparently oblivious to the fact those images would be accessible by roughly 408 million people at any given time. Sensing a ripe market for online exhibitionism, YouTube emerged at about the same time, which added the innovative touch of allowing people to comment on each and every submitted video, resulting in comment threads that are at the same time borderline unreadable and mind-numbingly idiotic.

Coming to the game nearly a half decade late, online newspapers and other Internet news outlets have begun equipping their content with comment engines. Unfortunately, because they're coming to the game so late, and because they have seemingly no idea how to moderate the insanity that now is online commentary, watching these news outlets adapt to unfettered commentary has been a lot like watching grandpa trying to set the time on a VCR.

The Internet of today is still trying to come to terms with the commenting Hydra it accidentally spawned. People who are otherwise mild-mannered and pleasant in face-to-face interactions can become vitriolic online ranters in the time it takes to open a Web browser. Anonymous commenting has become the equivalent of screaming "Hey, Baby!" from a moving car. Endlessly yammering Poindexters convinced of their own superiority can hijack comment threads and kill them through the weight of the sheer boredom they bring to the debate.

And the worst part? The worst part is: each and every day, several hundred thousand people discover online commenting for the first time and enter the fray, believing what they have to say is somehow fresh and illuminating, rather than the tired and irrelevant tripe it actually is.

You know, kind of like my ThunderJournal.

Posted by Ryan at September 3, 2008 10:11 AM | TrackBack

R U callin' us commintrs stuwpid 'er sumpin'?

Commenters = drive bys
Bloggers = static targets

Posted by: Dryheave at September 4, 2008 12:46 AM

Not all commenters, no, but a HUGE MAJORITY.

Posted by: Ryan at September 4, 2008 06:46 AM

And that's why I have comments disabled on the Red Pages. That, and I don't want to make it any easier than necessary for my crazy-ass mom to stalk my internet acquaintances.

But I just had to start them back up. I did.

Posted by: Joshua at September 4, 2008 01:18 PM

Well, look at that. . . you DID revive your Red Pages, at least for one post. Probably best that you don't have comments on it. The Internet today has 768 times as many crazies at it did back in 2004, to say nothing of Spammers. As long as I keep my content fairly innocuous and focused on bowel movements, the nutballs generally don't come knocking.

Posted by: Ryan at September 4, 2008 02:34 PM
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