Almost anyone who was online in the 1980s, if asked, will tell you that what used to be called "cyberspace" used to be a much nicer place, implying that once the rabble discovered it, it rapidly spiraled downward. Definitions of "rabble" vary, but all of them seem redolent of Sartre's dismissal of "Other People." Certainly a look at, say, a newspaper comment section, would suggest that the world has a finite, and perhaps declining, number of clues.

This is, of course, very much in keeping with the idea of the Internet as a conduit through which bad ideas travel at the speed of light. Now if you studied physics for more than a minute and a half, you'll remember that the speed of light represents an upper limit on speed generally: there has long been talk of particles that travel faster than light, but so far it's all been measurement error.

That said, there seems to be so much more in the way of bad ideas these days, though it's not a function of velocity, but of density: the quantity has increased while the speed remains the same. This is precisely the marketing niche occupied by social media, especially Twitter, which can feed you the same item of misinformation scores of times in mere moments. And this fact has left me with a dilemma now and then: if I pass along something which proves to be bogus, do I delete the tweet, or take my chances with the unwinding? (Worst-case scenario, which has happened once: I pull the item, but by then someone has retweeted it.)

It is, perhaps, a good thing that I don't have a major problem with admitting my mistakes. ("Hell, you advertise them!"—Ed.) Then again, I learned quite a long time ago that anything I knew was subject to some sort of review, and while the handful of Eternal Verities can be counted on to remain exactly that, anything else is mutable, sometimes surprisingly so.

I have no idea whether this policy, if policy it be, has done anything to enhance my credibility. I have seldom been rebuked for something I said on Twitter, and I have tried to be properly apologetic at those times; but if a follower drops me for something I said and doesn't tell me about it, I may never know. (Well, I'll know if I've been dropped — there are applications for that sort of thing — but I won't necessarily know why.)

And I am unwilling to surround myself with an echo chamber just to avoid points or notions I think questionable, pretty much for the same reason: so far as I can tell, nobody died and left me with the gift of infallibility, nor is anyone likely to. I admit to occasional frustration with social media generally, though this is due to the fact that my list of priorities coincides with nobody else's. And if by some fluke it did coincide with somebody else's, I'd have serious problems, starting with trying to find out how such a thing is even possible.

I wonder sometimes if I should start sparring with political or cultural opponents. Usually I don't, on the grounds that it's no big deal if someone is wrong on the Internet, and besides, there's a practical limit to how didactic I can become and still be tolerable. Furthermore, despite my relatively late arrival — mid-1990s, roughly — I saw enough flame wars on Usenet to last a lifetime or three. If I become despondent over such things, though, I can console myself with the fact that there have been only two people it was actually my job to set straight (one daughter, one son), and so far as I can tell, they wound up okay.

The Vent

#867
  1 May 2014

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