Contemplation/Signs of the Apocalypse: The Internet and Mob Mentality

A two for fucking one special here folks.  Not only can I offer you a contemplation here, but I think the material within begs a GDAFSA!  As those of you who have read my contemplations before are probably well aware I have some  pretty strong opinions and thoughts about the use of the Internet, especially how it is used in its social aspects and in lieu of the slew of applications that put users out on the web to be viewed by whomever happens to stumble upon it.  Last week I wrote about what the future holds for a world where almost everybody is producing publicly accessible writing (of some sort) and some time back, before that, I wrote about the responsibility vested in people who choose to write on such an open medium as the Internet.

With those two previous posts in mind (and possibly a shit ton of others that I have written) I now direct you to a New York Times article about a Twitterer named brumplum and the shit storm he stirred up by making a slight comment about Stephen Fry.

In truth I have a hard time wrapping my head around the apparent insanity that was spawned from the rather simple (and not even that insulting) comment which went as such: “Much as I admire and adore the chap, they are a bit … boring.” (This was in reference to Mr. Fry).  So what happens when brumplum makes that relatively tame and fair comment?  Twitter users go fucking ape shit on his ass, attacking him with all sorts of angry outburst, in defense of Mr. Fry.

My question is why?  And furthermore, what does this reaction say about human kind as a social species?

Again, I will repeat, that it seems to me that in all intents and purposes brumplum’s comment was relatively tame.  Yes it was a criticism, but it was not really all that scathing (especially in comparison to the response the brumplum received).  It was a simple opinion, which as a firm believer of freedom of speech, I hold that brumplum was more than justified at making (it was not even slanderous or libel for god’s sake).  And yet, as has been said, it stirred up a mass insanity of reactionary defensiveness.

Part of it likely has to do with the popularity of Mr. Fry who has 934,000 followers on Twitter.  Part of it further has to do with the way in which Twitter works, specifically in how people search for trending topics and then join part of the clusterfuck. All it takes is a small spark to ignite an explosion on the social communicating site, and a popular figure like Stephen Fry is more than eligible to cause such an ignition.

That being said though, does it justify the response?  Twitter very obviously invites users to contribute to the cloud their every thought or happening, and allows for a strange form of social communication in which various taggings (if we may call them that) warrant more attention than others.  In some ways this can be a good means of disseminating information across a broad spectrum and demographic, providing for an openly accessible information source that can break relevant news (think about the protests in Iran after the mess of their “democratic” presidential election).  But then there is the other end, where the reactionary aspects of the masses create a hysteria.  Look at the fucking balloon boy mess.  Twitter itself is partially responsible for all the attention that the hoax got.  Look at this incident with brumplum.  The relevancy of his comment is in actuality pretty marginal when you consider it, and yet it captured a wide range of attention (enough so as to get a New York Time article on it).

Here then is my concern.  Mob mentality has been a subject discussed and contemplated for a long time.  Plato was weary of the value of democracy because of the way in which the masses tended to act.  Shakespeare touched upon the sway of the crowd in “Julius Caesar” (personally one of my favorite Shakespeare plays).  Charles Dickens touched the subject in A Tale of Two Cities.  All and all this is not a new realm for humanity to explore.  Sociology itself exists in part to examine how humans interact in social situations, and mob mentality has not been lost to it. 

So is Twitter just that, a mindless mob that moves and produces content with an almost arbitrary tenacity and tendency to latch on to whatever base whim strikes as relevant at any given time? I am not suggesting that everybody who uses Twitter is a mindless pawn of the hordes (I would never consider myself as such), but what does it say about what people choose to re-tweet or to add a # in front of on the microblogging site?  I wonder if Twitter as a whole is a mindless beast, which at times can provide benefits and use, but which ultimately lacks any certainty of character or moral gauge in direction.

I find no surprise in the sheer number of companies that have found the benefit of using Twitter as an advertising device.  Advertising has always aimed to appeal to masses.  Even if a product is intended for a specific demographic, that does not change that the product will aim to appeal to the greatest percentage of that demographic as possible.

My concern, and it may be unfounded, is that Twitter promotes a dumbing down of the discourse.  Again, there are some definite benefits to the use of the application, but if these benefits are outweighed by the overwhelming degree of inaneness and idiocy then what does it really matter.

Of course the same could be said for the Internet as a whole.  Look it all the shit out there.  If the Internet really is a series of tubes then I think it is safe to say that it could use a really good plumber.  We’ve known this for a while though, and people who are educated about the use of the Internet tend to be aware about not taking everything at face value.  Regular users have developed a degree of caution and skepticism in regards to what they encounter out on the Web, and this is a good thing. 

Perhaps in time the same will happen with Twitter.  People will use the service with a degree of conscience and consideration about what is really being said in 140 characters.  They won’t flip a shit just because some dislikes their favorite singer.  They won’t become a mindless member of the herd in repeating again and again inane bits of nonsense (which admittedly, I am a big producer of Twitter nonsense).

Of course on the other end, Twitter could just continue to promote the idiotic and those people who recognize it will be forced to deal with or go elsewhere, while the mindless mass rampages onward.

This is not is not in fact so much a criticism of Twitter itself.  The service cannot really be held accountable for the content that it’s users produce.  This is a criticism of humanity in general.  Maybe I am just stuck on thoughts of Idiocracy which I finally watched this past weekend, or maybe it is just my continued frustration with Web 2.0 and Social Media, but there are times that I think the real fucking apocalypse will be quite anticlimactic because we humans are too lost in our own moronic bubbles to recognize the end times around us.  Cynical?  Fuck yeah, but I think that might be a natural state of somebody who sees people acting all sorts of crazy just because somebody called somebody else “boring.”

I don’t make claims about what the future will hold.  All I can say is that some days it seems like a cabin in the wilderness might not be that bad an option.

So it goes I guess.

~ by Nathaniel on November 3, 2009.

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