In the movie Forbidden Planet, the heroes arrive to a deserted world, dotted with the ruins of a mighty civilization. In one of the laboratories of this long-dead race there exists a colossal machine, capable of giving form to thought, and of course the first thing the Krell did with the device was to wipe themselves out completely. The machine, created to make all their dreams come true, had also given life to their darkest nightmares and most twisted imaginings.
Sometimes I feel the same way about the internet.
We’ve created this incredible tool, allowing us to share information across the globe in seconds, giving us access to a frankly frightening amount of knowledge, and while there are those who lament the sheer number of people who use it for little more than posting pictures of cats and pornography, I have a somewhat different target in my sights this time.
One of the greatest, and simultaneously most pernicious aspects of the internet is the anonymity if offers. It allows dissidents to share information without fear of persecution, whistleblowers to bring down corporations and government agencies acting in reprehensible fashions, people to express their feelings without fear of attracting violence from those who would silence them… and it allows some people to be really, really obnoxious.
You can call it trolling, they can say they’re doing it for the lulz, but ultimately there are an awful lot of people out there who take a perverse glee in using the internet to make other people as miserable as they possibly can.
They’re the monsters from the id. The fraction of our collective psyche that acts purely on selfish impulse, desiring nothing more than self-gratification at any expense, somehow believing that in the act of tearing down others they elevate themselves.
They do it, of course, because they can. It’s not like anyone knows who they are, after all. They can go online, spew the vilest hatred imaginable on someone who doesn’t deserve it, and then disappear back into whatever hole they crawled out of, secure in the knowledge that there won’t be anyone knocking on the door to hold them to account for their actions.
Solipsism run amok, acting as though they’re the only real people in a world populated by faceless, nameless, soulless avatars, while failing to perceive the irony that they only act this way because they have hidden behind the shield of anonymity to make themselves faceless and nameless.
It’s their actions, however, that make them soulless.