I’m a shy guy and without the help of the internet I never would have met my wife. It’s helping introverts put themselves out there and meet people with common interests. It truly is making the world a smaller place. People from antipodal cities can now commiserate over common troubles. An old man in Spain can find a kindred spirit in a young lad in New Zealand. (As a quick aside, check out this map, ‘tis quite cool to play with. I was surprised that the despite the best laid plans of Calvin and Hobbes, it’s impossible to dig a hole to China from the States.) But not all the effects of the internet are good. One of the worst is the anonymity it provides.
As a result you get trolls and other opinionated blowhards. I’m not against people having opinions, it’s the attacks on opinions that get to me. For example, I tried to read The Hero with a Thousand Faces but got put off by all the focus on dreams. It’s been said that Lucas drew heavily from this book when he was creating Star Wars and like any certified geek, I’m fascinated by the world that Lucas created. So a book on the influences of that was something I needed to read. But, alas, like Robert Johnson and his influence on Clapton, the influential material can’t hold a candle to the later material. And that’s my opinion. So when I drew the ire of some unknown joker, I was shocked. Among other things, I got called too stupid to understand the theories behind the book. I’m neither black nor gay so I realize that vehemence of this buffoon’s attack pales in comparison to the vitriol spewed by racists and homophobes elsewhere on the internet. When the Bruins got ousted from the playoffs on a goal by a black man the simmering racism greats like Bill Russell used to accuse this city of was revealed as truth. Why people feel the need to deride someone for their opinions, their sexual orientation, or their skin color, I don’t know. But what I do know is that the internet has become infested with such ignorant wretches. So I wonder, would a cutting down on the anonymity curtail some of the behavior?
What if the idea put forth first by Neuromancer and then The Matrix was actualized? What if, instead of just providing you with an email address, Internet Service Providers provided you with a logon? When folks access Facebook or Yahoo Sports or Good Reads, they’re doing so with the credentials from their ISP. Then if some Neanderthal decides to take someone to task simply because he likes men, well then there’d be the possibility for repercussions. There could be a complaint department or a piece of software that would key on specific words, that could deny that unwashed miscreant access to the internet, save for email and sites such as their bank or their electric company. If there was a greater threat than just having to create a new username after getting banned from a site, would that give people pause before flinging insults? It’s already being done in companies everywhere. At Partners I logon to my laptop and everywhere I go in the PHS Intranet, it’s that logon that opens the doors to applications and websites. If I blow up a process, then the network services folks can deny me access to that process. When I leave Partners, my ID will be disabled and I won’t be able to access their intranet any longer. So implementing something similar on the internet itself wouldn’t be reinventing the wheel, but rather changing the size and materials of the wheel.
Now, I know some of you are worried about the freedoms of speech and privacy in such a scenario, and I concur. However, that doesn’t strip my idea of all its merit. The notion is a solid one, the execution stands on less firm ground. Putting something like this in place would literally change the world. If just some of the sites or a few of the ISPs bow out of such an arrangement, it would lose most of its power. The task is Herculean. But just because something is difficult, doesn’t mean it shouldn’t be at least tried. I don’t know what the answer is. But I do know that I’m tired of reading comments that are full of uncalled for malice. I’d be interested in hear your thoughts. Let’s take advantage of a boon of the internet, widespread collaboration, to see if we can rid it of a bane, repercussion-less anonymity.