The Rhetorical State of the Internet

The founding fathers had it easy.  They only had to convince 13 pseudo-states to unite and throw off the oppressive bonds of monarchy.  Their congress like today was filled with earmarking (Jefferson went to the Orient as an ambassador to steal rice to give to American farmers), scandals (that dirty old Benjamin Franklin), and eccentrics (Franklin again – he really was the Strom Thurman of his day).  The only thing that they did not have that is used today is the Internet; the blackberry John Adams had was not the same as Obama’s… one’s a fruit.

Perhaps it was a good thing that the Internet was not around at the birth of our country: the forum post of independence, the blog of rights, or the federalist pod-cast just don’t have the same ring to them.

The Internet is to human interaction as zombies are to people.  Communication is hungrily devoured then resurrected into a shambling of its natural form. It is enough to make Al Gore weep with shame.  How did this happen?  Since we are all here to understand rhetoric (really?) let us take a journey into this phenomena and first look at a groundbreaking new theory that can explain how Internet communication really works, then support that theory with the best kind of evidence: generalized anecdotal evidence, and finally find out what this all means.

The one and only true theory of Internet interaction can be credited to John Gabriel. Behold John Gabriel’s Greater Internet Dickwad theory.

The theory is quite simple start with an ordinary normal person, someone educated and cognizant of the world around him or her.  Add to that a place where behavior cannot be tracked back to them and a vast audience. At that precise point they lose their normalcy and transform into monsters of pure maliciousness.

Mick LaSalle of the San Francisco Chronicle writes this last year that “when people hear an opinion that counters theirs on-line, they go from disagreeing to feeling threatened in a matter of seconds, and they lash out. But how does this technical process change a rational educated human being into one of those insult hurling monsters of mud-slinging?

Firstly, let us take a look at anonymity.  There are behaviors that people only do on the Internet. The world wide web provides a unique paradox where things are done in the privacy of ones own home end up in the privacy of other peoples homes. However with clever disguises and nomenclatures such as: Blahmaster37, Chunky lover 128, or Puppykicker64,  no one can ever find out who the masked marvels of malevolence really are. They become vigilantes leaving their meek alter-egos behind much like zombie victims.  Patricia G. Lange, a professor of San Jose State writes in 2006 “It is certainly possible that anonymity could prompt hostility that is subsequently compounded during the conversation and used by interlocutors to establish social hierarchies.” In essence people are mean to those who cannot respond back personally – she could have just said that… what a jerk!

A hoard of mindless zombies is not enough, brains… I mean an audience is needed.

An audience, however, is a tricky thing. The Pew Research center released their findings on January 14th of this year that “increasingly younger people are joining the ranks of Internet users. Moreover, newcomers to the Internet go on-line much more often for personal reasons than do more experienced on-line users.” This is confirmed by the Washington Post on January 25ththe Internet audience is now 1 billion with most of the audience visiting either blogs or sites of … entertainment nature”.   These Partakers of the Internet get bored easily, but do hold grudges forever so to keep an audience one must state or do the outrageous.  Thus the zombies of the world stagger off to devour some intellectual property.

We have seen the world-changing theory now let us see evidence from the newest medium of communication on the Internet: the blog.

There are others who say there are only 20 plots in the whole of storytelling and they just get reused over and over. There are others who say that there is only one plot, but I think those people have been watching too many George Lucas movies.  Just like movies the Internet only needs to give a round number to prove anything, so in the spirit of mixing mediums and oversimplification here is a painstaking generalization of the 3 basic blog posts:

1. Watch Out! In this type of blog the dangerous is rewarded. Try this experiment put up videos of yourself donating blood, raking leaves for the community, and breaking your leg ice blocking down a freeway: Guess which one is going to get the most hits.  Perhaps watching those videos makes us feel better about ourselves – that the broken bones of our fellow man at least made the world a more dangerous place… but also hilarious.

2. Weird Science!  This includes people’s homemade experiments involving Mentoes and diet Pepsi, zombie sightings … and if you must actual scientific studies.  However if you are going to talk about a scientific study you must take one of two approaches.  First, if you disagree with the study you must say “This is totally biased! I can’t believe that scientists get paid to say things like this”.  On the other hand if you agree with their conclusion you must say “This is completely obvious! I can’t believe that scientists get paid to say things like this”.  Either way you are educating your readers that you’re smarter than every scientist that ever lived.

3. My magnificent adventures! In the olden days we were content about talking about ourselves through letters, or phone conversations – it took time to compose the stories of our lives to make them sound more glamorous. Now we have reached the point in history where egotism is considered too much work.  So instead of actually talking about your life, your hopes, your dreams, and your fears one can just go and fill out a quiz about what video game character would date you (please not Mario … again) or one can just sit back and collect and get poked by ‘friends’.

Now that we have seen a completely unbiased and factual report of the state of the internet let us take a look at what this now jerk-filled medium can do to the nature of discourse.

Looking back at the theory, the sheer nature of the internet causes those who use it to stumble down Maslow’s hierarchy.  There are three lessons we can learn from this.

First, Psycology humor is not as funny as Zombies.

Second, we need to be aware of the situation – it’s the solve all of any essay; it doesn’t take any more work and that way we can all still complain about the problem. Newsweek on their December article ‘The Web Masters’ states “The Internet is always changing sometimes for the better, sometimes not – even people with the best intentions cannot stop or slow the changing nature of the web” Perhaps someday someone could solve this problem by posting about it on their blog and all will know how bad the Internet is to communication – the irony would be delicious.  Let the medium take itself down.

The third lesson we can learn is that fallacies have become more fun to use and get away with.  Hierarchies are established in the Internet by trying to get the last word and using bad logic. For example ‘Ad homonym’: this is attacking your opponent rather than your opponent’s arguments.  The distinction revealed by the Internet lies between of calling someone names as a way of refuting their arguments and calling someone names just for the sheer pleasure of it.  For instance say if I said that you are wrong because you are a complete fool that’s bad.  That’s a fallacy.  But saying that you are wrong and you are a complete fool is completely fine.  Keep this in mind next time you write an e-mail to your boss.

Another example would be ‘false dichotomy’: this is when you say that there are only two choices when actually there are more.  For instance you might say that someone is either alive or dead ignoring the fact that they might be a zombie.  Or you might say if someone is not a Democrat then they must a Republican ignoring the fact that they could be …  a zombie … in congress.  Once we cleanse the land from the undead hoards in the government we can finally have true change.

Today our eyes have been opened to the scourge of internet jerks and their cause, some generalized anecdotal proof, and to learn to watch for roaming zombie hoards. If the founding fathers could use the World Wide Web right now perhaps they could throw off the oppressive bonds of jerk-dom … that and zombie Benjamin Franklin.  Remember if you don’t agree with me then the zombies will get you – so watch your back.

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