|by Susan Barclay|
The "Dumbing of the Internet" was as inevitable as the dumbing of popular culture. We have at our disposal a computer network that can withstand the impact of a nuclear war and we are using it to disseminate our traditionally inane concepts. One doesn't have to look hard to find idiocy on the Internet: There is stupidity in instructional information, stupidity in concept, stupidity in content. On the World Wide Web, one finds outdated links galore and overly graphical pages that take hours to download. On the Usenet one finds inane conversations and flaming without apparent cause. Stupidity is rampant, but, once in a while, one finds things so nonsensical on the Internet that they put our "idiot filters" on alert.
The key problem with the Internet is, ironically, its popularity. Everyone is taking advantage of the ability to publish views and ideas in a public forum. People who have never used a keyboard are purchasing powerful systems that they cannot possibly take advantage of, just to take a peek at this wonderful network -- individuals who don't know a mouse from a touch pad! And, it's not their fault that they can't get online and enjoy the bounty that the WWW has to offer. After trying to help my friend connect for an hour or so I asked, "Do you have a modem?" only to have her respond, "The customer service representative said I didn't need one." How can a regional telephone company's technical support disseminate such erroneous information? Similarly, a software retailer's World Wide Web site notes "You must have a modem to buy software from <insert name here>". One question for the webmaster of this site: How the hell did I get here without a modem?
Stupidity in the concept of a web page is a personal preference, but I think that some pages defy logic. I am not talking about weird pages such as The Loser Living Upstairs or the William Shatner Sing-a-long Page, but the truly annoying web pages that defy even my definition of entertainment value (and I am pretty easy to please). Unfortunately, the most common producers of idiotic sites appear to be the corporate entities seeking a place on the World Wide Web.
Am I really interested in learning about the designs of a certain company's saccharine packages through the ages? Do I honestly want to purchase Fuller Brushes over the 'net? Heck, I can't keep these people away from my front door! Should I order garbage bags over the Internet? If you do, you can find the Bagmart, a cornucopia of bags for all of your rubbish needs. More frightening yet is that Yahoo lists three different sites selling these items. Does the on-line community require more trash containers than the average public? It must be all of the packaging from Mr. Noodles' containers and Jolt Cola bottles.
There are some useful parts of these sites, though. The Tide Detergent site has some great suggestions on eliminating those stubborn stains but if my clothes are covered in blood the last thing I plan to do is log onto the 'net. Picture this: "Honey, I just bludgeoned our neighbour to death and now my T-shirt is ruined." "Don't worry. I've got the Tide FAQ at our fingertips." That would relieve my guilty conscience quickly, I can assure you.
One corporate web site that defies logic is the I Can't Believe It's Not Butter web site. I have no qualms about a corporation creating a page about a butter substitute, but it would appear that the sole purpose of this page is to market images of Fabio. Before you go stampeding to this site, remember that you are limited to ordering only ten Fabio mouse pads per household. Damn! There goes the idea of my soundproofed Fabio theme room...
But, corporations are not the only villains in the dumbing of the Internet. I won't quote specific examples from Usenet, but any conversation about Intel processors that degrades into a comparison of the writer to Hitler certainly fits into the category of just plain dumb. In The Rules of the Net, the author notes that any conversation with the words "Hitler" or "Nazi," outside of a discussion on Germany, fascism or the Holocaust, automatically terminates the dialogue. And, unfortunately, these comparisons happen on a day to day basis during conversations about things as different as software piracy, free speech, and personal health issues.
Spamming on the Usenet and through e-mail could take hours to discuss but, in short, advertisements for 1-900 sex lines should not appear, under any condition, during a discussion about needlepoint. As annoying as spamming on the newsgroups may be, personal e-mail spamming is the most aggravating of all. After receiving unsolicited e-mail from a golfing supply company, I wrote the following reply: "Thank you for your recent e-mail. Unfortunately, I am a double amputee and, as such, have no need for your golfing supplies. Please take my name from your list." This really messes up their demographic surveys and guarantees that you will never receive any unwanted e-mail from this company in the future. Here's a fun idea for your next party: Prepare your own politically incorrect responses to junk e-mail (ensure that your guests have a good sense of humour).
Despite these glaring examples of 'net stupidity, it's still the best thing we have going. However, the menace of idiocy on the Internet will not abate regardless of any individual attempts. We can not censor the stupid, as they have the right to design their web pages and comment on discussions on Usenet the same as anyone else. Try to sift through the junk to find the pages and discussions that make the Internet entertaining and informative; there is quality out there; you just have to be patient.
Susan is really fed up with all the useless stuff on the Internet. She's also the webmistress of the Sea-Monkey Worship Page; check it out today!