ECONOMYRules for curbing internet stupidity

So smart I can’t think of a strap

By Scott Shuey, Deputy Business Editor
June 26, 2012

I can’t decide: is the number of stupid people on the net growing, or does the interweb make normal, intelligent people stupid?

There seems to be a seemingly endless pile of evidence for both. I worry that when future generations dig down through the radioactive rubble that resulted from when Google transformed into Skynet, they’ll discover the digitals remains of Bronie culture next to the sea of celebrity Tweets. They’ll never believe it. They’ll never accept a world that builds a global computer network just so adult males can post images about My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic or that people who spend +Dh2,000 on handheld computers would get dragged into court because they couldn’t refrain from insulting each other.

It’s too easy — and just cynical — to say the number of stupid people online is increasing, but I’m still going to.

Six years ago, technology was still the domain of the knowledgeable. Sure, you could buy a smartphone, but you still needed to know a few things. Companies like Nokia were very helpful in keeping the riff-raff off the web with their 14-step process to get a data connection, but then Apple came in and simplified everything, thinking they would be able to sell their shiny new gadget to just about anyone. And they did. People who had wanted a smartphone but couldn’t figure it out suddenly came online in droves. Now they just had to push a button and they were online. Press another and they’re sending email. Press again and they’re on Twitter. It was only a matter of time before they also discovered they could post annoying little comments on forums anonymously, taking the internet sensation of trolling to new heights. Thanks, Apple.

There’s always been idiots and trolls, but at least before they had to wait until they were at home or at a PC before they could type stupid stuff. But with smartphones, it’s a PC in their hands. So no more waiting to get home to write some incredibly stupid libelous sentences. No more resting periods for people to calm down and get smart between anger over something they read, saw, heard and access to the internet.

You shouldn’t really blame anyone for that. Hell, we asked for this. We all wanted technology that was quick and easy to use, but we thought - and boy, was this stupid - that when people were freed up from trying to figure out what “smtp” meant and what a “WAP network” was, they would actually use their brains to add universe-altering commentaries.

Sure, a few people tried this, but they were ignored. They were told their posts on things like politics and economics were “TL;DR”, which stands for “too long, didn’t read,” because, despite the internet being primarily text-based, no one wants to read anything longer than 160 characters.

People don’t want profound. They want titillating. Dark matter research at CERN (European organisation for nuclear research) is nothing compared to whether Ann Curry will get canned from the Today show.

Now, that would be - well, not really OK - but ignorable, if it weren’t for the fact that an increasing number of smart people are now engaging in what I will politely call “questionable behavior,” which roughly translates to not knowing when to keep your piezoelectric (which is Autocorrect for pie hole) shut. Some of these people are even celebrities and politicians, which while not universally acknowledged for being the sharpest knives in the drawer, usually got to those positions by showing an understanding of how not to make grossly inappropriate or insulting remarks (the exception to this being Fox News anchors and certain former Republican presidential candidates.)

How can a simple use of technology shave - er, scratch that - chop points off a person’s IQ? They may be studying that phenomenon for years, but until someone figures it out, I have a few suggestions on how to not embarrass yourself online, culled from nearly 30 nears of being a sarcastic smart-aleck.

First, never, ever, write something that you would not be comfortable having your mother read. Don’t laugh. Your mother is probably the only person who reads your Tweets.

Second, never ever write something that you wouldn’t be comfortable seeing on page one of a newspaper. This used to apply just to journalists, who to relieve some pressure before a deadline would write outrageous headlines just to be funny. Inevitably, someone would forget to change the headline before that deadline and that witty sarcasm they were so proud of would end up costing them a job. Don’t write anything that would get you fired.

Finally, when I say don’t write, I mean, don’t write it. Ever. I really shouldn’t have to point this out, but I think there is an inverse correlation between the complexity of a new technology and people’s ability to really comprehend what it does. You can go online and find thousands of people who know how to configure a graphic processing unit (GPU) for better game play, but in the same group are people who don’t seem to get that Cut and Paste mean those snarky comments you made in your email will end up being posted on Twitter.

What we really need is a online stupidity filter. A couple of years ago Google came up with a way to stop people from sending emails after a raucous night out by requiring them to pass a basic, timed math examine. We just need to modify the questions.

You want to flame your ex-girlfriend for what she posted on her Facebook page? Fine, just give us the square root of Pi to the 20 place in binary. If people can figure out that math but still insist on posting stupid comments, then there is just no helping them.


New Stories in Sectors