“It’s only the Internet”

I frequent a number of forums, all of which demand (explicitly or not) that users write using proper grammar and spelling. Once in a while, you’ll see new users come on, disregard written rules for the forum, and neglect to lurk until they have feel for the attitudes and tolerances of the regular users. Inevitably, you can spot these users easily as the ones asking stupid questions typed as though by a drunk monkey. Or you simply have (if not trolls) users who have no concept of politeness to strangers, hidden as they are behind anonymous, disposable identities.

In either event, once chastised for poor behavior, many of these users get defensive, often resorting to my titular phrase, “It’s only the Internet,” the same way Godwin’s Law predicts inevitable comparisons of one’s opponent to Nazis.

It absolutely boggles my mind that anyone in this day and age could unironically make that “defense.” Older offenders should have witnessed the growth of the Internet first hand to see the power of its influence. Younger offenders should have grown up with Internet as a fact of life. One could argue personal distaste affecting the former and the latter could be taking it for granted, but neither appeals to logic or basic observation.

It’s the Internet; there’s no “just” about it. This is a concept that at its most basic has been around for decades now, and its present form has more or less been prevalent for at least 10 years. In all this time we’ve seen changes in distribution models, communication, shopping, information retrieval, data back-up, entertainment, marketing, advertising, et cetera, et cetera. Yet this attitude that the Internet is only for reclusive nerds, that it isn’t real, that it doesn’t really count persists. Amazing!

There’s a similar disconnect in ignorance of or apathy towards basic writing skills. “I’m not a writer,” I recently saw in someone’s self-defense of poor grammar, or: “Language just evolves! Stop trying to restrict it!” or: “Who cares, you understood what I meant when I said ‘their’ instead of ‘there.'”

The problem arises when not all such minor errors are so innocent and easily interpreted (“i helped my uncle jack off a horse”) and furthermore: the Internet is a medium of written text. Yeah, there’s pictures and Flash and HTML5 and videos and podcasts and whatever else. But the basic website you visit relies on text to inform and guide the reader, if for no other reason than to convince them to download their videos and podcasts. (Text also conveys information more quickly than lagging through speech time, but that’s a whole other issue.)

It doesn’t matter that you aren’t writing an essay in school or composing a report for your boss! You’re still trying 1)accurately 2)express your thoughts to 3)people who aren’t you and 4)can’t hear your tone of voice or witness your body language for any additional hints. (I also question such an excuse’s validity, as my writing skills are so ingrained in me that completely writing out words and using conventional grammar is automatic. I don’t have a “school writing mode” to switch out of into “casual mode,” which would probably take me more effort in making sure I’m using well-known and unambiguous abbreviations or statements.) If you have no interest in presently yourself properly, and it truly is “just the Internet,” why waste the time–yours and mine– there in the first place?

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