Friday, December 11, 2015

Internet Phobia Among Media And Entertainment Elites

"Pray that there's intelligent life somewhere out in space,
'Cause there's bugger all down here on Earth!"
-- Monty Python, from The Meaning of Life, 1983, when only a few geeks had heard of the Internet.

Recently I saw a television program from Canada, on CBN, about readers' comments on the Internet. Or rather, I saw the first couple of minutes of it. Everybody on the show, the moderator of the discussion and her several guests, had his or her own online column, all of them had been horrified by the comments on their columns -- many of the comments had been hateful. Also, often discussions developed within the comments which seemed to have little to do with the article published by the author. (The nerve of some people, right?!) -- and all of them had discontinued comments on their columns.

Ironically, as soon as learned this much -- it couldn't have been much more than 2 minutes after the program began -- I changed the channel. I can only hope that later in the program, some other person joined the discussion, who for reasons the moderator and original set of guests couldn't fathom, ran some Internet presence which still accepted comments from the public, and who would explain to them what is meant by such strange terms as "comment moderation" and "blocking."

Some of us who do not draw large salaries writing columns for TV networks or high-circulation newspapers have explored a variety of places on the Internet where the general public leaves comments, and we well know that places where the comments are entirely unregulated do indeed tend to feature many horrifying comments. And so we tend to favor places where the comments are moderated. That is, someone associated with whoever makes the website removes and/or edits comments deemed to be offensive, and blocks some commenters: that is, clicks a button preventing them from commenting further -- usually after several warnings, but at the discretion of the moderator or moderators.

All such moderation involves, of course, subjective judgments about what is and is not an acceptable comment, and who does and does not deserve the chance to comment further. And of course, this leads to a lot of comments which complain about the moderation. Some complain that the moderation is too strict, some that it is not strict enough. Sometimes such complaints can grow rather dreary. Indeed, it has on occasion been known to happen that a commenter has been removed from a forum for no other reason than for complaining about the moderation.

In any place on the Internet I know which involves comments from the general public, whether it's the online presence of a newspaper or TV network which allows the public to comment on the news articles, or some place like Facebook, where the Great Unwashed ourselves are allowed to post things, more often than not in order for others to comment upon what we've posted (I'm picturing those Canadian journalists I watched for about 2 minutes shuddering if and when they ever learn what this Facebook thing they've heard about actually is: a gathering of public comments.), the comments are either moderated, or they're generally worthless. Sometimes both, of course. But moderation is a prerequisite for a chance of a worthwhile discussion.

Those 2 minutes of the Canadian news-talk show were not the first instance I've seen of surprising cluelessness about and horror of the Internet on the part of some of the more successful members of the media and entertainment industries. I can recall 2 instances of this from movies made by directors who seem much more intelligent and highly-educated than average, making their seeming incomprehension of things virtual that much more surprising: In Jonathan Demme's 2004 remake of The Manchurian Candidate, the only character who seemed both heroic and psychologically undamaged, Senator Thomas Jordan (Jon Voigt), refers to "the Internet, sacred sanctuary of idiots and nutters."

As if one doesn't see plenty of idiots and nutters everywhere one turns offline... I certainly don't dispute that there are a lot of idiots on the Internet. I do dispute that they are more omnipresent or influential than they were pre-Internet.

The 2nd instance of Internet-phobia I had in mind is in Steven Soderbergh's movie Contagion, released in 2011. Here, fear and loathing of the Internet is much more pronounced. Here, the Internet almost wipes out the entire human race with its stupidity, because a conspiracy theorist, Alan Krumwiede (Jude Law), has an incredibly popular blog, on which he spreads misinformation about a global pandemic, mistakenly claiming that the disease can be cured with forsythia, and also widely and inaccurately discredeting the CDC, which barely manages to save mankind in spite of him. Although criminally prosecuted, the idiot blogger easily makes bail and appears to be above the law.

Again, as if there hadn't been conspiracy theorists and purveyors of harmful non-medicine before the Internet. And as if a not-terribly-bright blogger could manage to garner more attention and more trust on medical issues than the CDC, all because of that bad ol' network of wires and satellites...

Really. A blogger. It'd be nice if we were that powerful. But of course, in the real world, long before a blogger became that powerful and popular, he or she would've gotten a full-time job with the mainstream media, and perhaps begun to rail against online comments and bloggers and the horrible, horrible general public.

Come to think of it, there seems to be a lot of dumb fear about technology in general in smarter-than-average movies. In the movies, how often do AI or robots or nanotechnology or the Internet, or just plain old unrealistically-depicted huge and powerful computers in general, not lead directly to the near-extinction and/or wholesale enslavement of mankind?

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