Opinion from PC Magazine: The Zeros vs. the Ones

Information revolution notwithstanding, the Internet will prove to be the undoing of society and civilization.

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after witnessing the latest presidential election process, it's apparent to me that the internet is turning into a bad dream. nobody wants to admit it, but the web's natural ability to remove normal interpersonal structures that prevent society from falling into chaos is not a benefit to anyone. information revolution notwithstanding, the internet will prove to be the undoing of society and civilization as we know it. it may not happen today, but it will happen sooner than we think.

just look at politics. thanks to the net and the so-called new media, the entire political scene has become one massive virtual hyde park corner filled with kvetching, squabbling bores. in the process, the dichotomous nature of binary communication has imposed itself on the public, forming two collectives with opposing and very rigid viewpoints. call them the ones and the zeros: the conservatives and the liberals. because of the internet, these two crowds—or mobs—are each growing in size and becoming increasingly intolerant of the other. since none of the purely liberal or conservative political parties are taken seriously in the u.s., these mobs have latched on to the major parties and hijacked them.

the best example of this is the recent sniping over the fabled george bush memos in which he was told to take a military physical in 1972. it seemed as if the letter could not have been written on a 1972 typewriter but was some sort of hoax. the two political beehives swarmed over this, making all sorts of accusations against anyone who even suggested that their side might be wrong. the untenable democratic position (which was the weaker) managed to save face by accusing karl rove of setting them up. as i was reading all this, i thought to myself, "so he was asked to take a physical. who cares?" there were other documents, of course, but it was an eye roller to everyone except the zeros and ones, whose ranks continue to grow.

rather than benefit from intelligent debate, the public is subjected to a lot of bickering fanned by the internet. i used to think that everyone was entitled to his opinion, but no longer. most opinions are worthless. as a culture, we are trained never to believe or say that opinions are worthless. for some reason, opinions are supposed to be revered because, uh, well, it's free speech! (no letters, please.)

i'm not suggesting that because most opinions stink they should be censored in order for us all to think a certain way. rather, thanks to the internet, we are confronted with too many opinions from too many people—a large number of whom are seriously disturbed or feebleminded. before the internet, these opinions would have been handed out in leaflet form to just a few people unlucky enough to bump into their purveyors. but now they're on the net, accompanied by miles of commentary written by people who are frustrated pamphleteers themselves.

almost everyone on the net is anonymous. when you see someone on the street handing out a flyer, it is usually not hard to determine whether he or she is a lunatic. not so with the haughty blogger who, by hiding behind a good online template, is actually taken seriously. a blogger who stays hidden long enough may even become famous. i know, not every blogger is a whack job—but that's the point. how can you tell?

saying from behind a false identity what one otherwise wouldn't dare say is a practice that began long ago, and blogging has just made it worse. i first noticed it with alter egos cropping up in e-mail, newsgroups, and especially online chat rooms, where true dweebs are suddenly transformed into don juans. the persona thing sometimes goes into new dimensions as boys are turned into men, men pretend to be women, and women turn into sex fiends. just keep the lights turned off.

blogs are now the easiest way to remake oneself, as the tools for their creation are fantastic and easy to use. they have emboldened a lot of otherwise shy people. this is the new media at work, creating false personas that are pumped up by other phonies. under the right circumstances, virtual lynch mobs emerge like swarms of locusts—individual bugs may be easy to squish, but a swarm is dangerous. i think these online mobs, where one or two troublemakers rile up the frustrated, are just as dangerous.

if it were up to me, i'd shut down the net tomorrow and make people get out of the house and mingle. by the time the liberal and conservative extremes, incensed by blog-driven blather, leave the house, it will be as two swarms of locusts hell-bent on revolution—or on battling each other: the zeros versus the ones.

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About the Author

John C. Dvorak is a columnist for PCMag.com and the co-host of the twice weekly podcast, the No Agenda Show. His work is licensed around the world. Previously a columnist for Forbes, PC/Computing, Computer Shopper, MacUser, Barrons, the DEC Professional as well as other newspapers and magazines. Former editor and consulting editor for InfoWorld, he... See Full Bio

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