That’s why you’re on the internet, cruising the interblargosphere. You’re looking for things to read that you might not necessarily agree with but which spark your interest because you’re always on the lookout for a new take or new point of view on something. It might even be something you already have a definite opinion on, but you read on because you like reading things that make you think regardless of whether you agree with them. You’re all about soaking up as many differing viewpoints as you can, but you’ve no interest in entering a comment-battle so if you do object, you do so in silence (possible but unlikely). You may be looking for things to read that you already know you agree with and very little else (more likely). You may even be looking for things to read that not only contradict you but flat-out piss you off in order to inspire you to write a post for the blog you’ve been neglecting (if you have a blog, that’s almost a given).
I’ll admit I’m one who trawls for material to inspire my personal outrage, vicious condemnation and inordinately long & verbose sentences, but it’s not a new addition to my activity budget. Long before the internet I was fond of writing essays, treatises, critiques, manifestos, poems (gah!) or comic strips about things which annoyed or intrigued me, or into which I’d put an inordinate amount of idle thought. They were many & varied: a convoluted comparison between the dangers of running red lights at a pedestrian crossing on my BMX with doing the same in a car; a detailed essay on the specific mechanisms of “clown evil” and the macro-karmic reasons for their hideousness; my pseudo-Freudian theories on why some men spend inordinate lengths of time reading in the toilet, delaying every other resident not currently using a colostomy bag and glorying in their own pungent stench; a series of unnecessarily graphic limericks featuring my best friend, a busty wench and zombies. Before 1994 and my first experience with electronic mail I’d fax (yes, fax), post or hand these missives to my friends and see what reactions I’d get. They ranged from “meh” to humouring me, the occasional laugh, occasional indignant defensiveness and – more often than not – sideways looks and quiet voicings of concern for my mental stability (especially when my letters were illustrated). I didn’t know it then, but with my unsolicited opinionated ranting, arguments for or against things noone was actually discussing in the real world and blatant & ridiculous attention-seeking behaviour, I was in Gilbert & Sullivan’s parlance the very model of a modern major pain the arse. In today’s terms: a blogger.
So, no, it’s not a new thing for me and certainly not a new phenomenon for humanity either, this public sharing of opinion with people who don’t care. Celebrated Protestant Original Gangster, Martin Luther, is famous for publicly posting his disagreements with Catholic dogma (except for the parts dealing with hating the shit out of the Jews, he was sweet with that). I shall distill his arguments thusly: “OMFG ppl teh p0pe is GHEY, Jezuz dont wan’t U 2 b @church!1! Jus spk 2 Him IRL! WWJD LOL ^_^”. Understandably, the Vatican was well shat with such blatant protest-trolling and, once the Pope had written wrote “FIRST!” and been flamed for being a n00b, the ensuing comment thread took off and still rages today (putting some of PZ Myers’ threads-that-will-not-die to shame).
Speaker’s Corner in Hyde Park is another great example: any munter with a half-baked opinion can stand up and voicecast it to the passing masses, as long as he’s prepared to be transported to Australia should he criticise the Queen’s hats or to be pelted, just for a lark, with empty Newcastle Brown Ale bottles or full Foster’s Lager cans (usually by expat Aussies working in London bars who know well enough to not drink that swill except in dire emergencies, such as being far, far away from a pub – fortunately not a likely occurrence in England, hence the reason for the stong Aussie presence in that small nation).
Of course, as we know, the interweb “changed everything” (much the same as those Biggest Loser surprises would, if they didn’t happen so often and so regularly that noone has any chance to get used to how things are meant to be normally before more surprises yet again crop up and “change the game forever”, yet again). Now, thanks to the anonymity of the wuhwuhwuh, you don’t have to run the risk of getting pelted with sub-par alcohol containers or rendered extraordinarily to a Delfin estate in Melbourne’s outer-outer-outer suburbs for saying something wrong, stupid, treasonous or contrary to Buffy mythology. You just get pelted with textual abuse by people who are generally as anonymously smug and full of shit and semi-literate as you are. Unless of course they actually agree with you, in which case they link to your post at their own blog because they don’t have any profundities of their own to share that day (woohooooo trackbacks! WIN!) or because they can’t be arsed linking to the latest xkcd comic because their favourite blog already did that.
So what it is about us humans that makes us want to ejaculate our opinions onto all & sundry, like so many stars of adult films, regardless of any possibility that neither all or sundry will even give the tiniest smidgen of one thin damn? Are we all just attention whores who think we’re completely absolutely freaking right most of the time and crave either adulation or arguments? What possible evolutionary benefit could this opinion-spewing possibly bestow? The answers, of course, are: “because STFU, that’s why”, “yes” and “who cares?”
It certainly goes back a long way, long before papyrus, long before Mayan relief sculpture, long before writing your name in the snow. Aboriginal cave paintings in Australia, for example, have been dated at tens of thousands of years old. In other parts of the world, much older. They are quite often depictions of ancient theology; daily life; everyday objects; legends; favourite foods or even current events (wife from tribe A married man from tribe B; tribe B leader died; new wife cooked mullet for the wake; mullet was the deceased’s totem animal and off-limits; tribe B got mad at wife and punished her; wife’s tribe, A, got even madder as the law said they should be doing the punishing; tribe A punished the living shit out of tribe B and nobody won the Great Mullet Wars except the mullet, who didn’t get eaten for a couple of months). It seems that as soon as our ancestors gained some sort of self-awareness, they developed in parallel a need to share with everyone the insights that awareness gave them, regardless of whether anyone asked them to. Fair enough. Got something to say? Say it! Hell, noone asks a dog to bark, right? But there he goes, “woof woof, and furthermore: woof.” Until another dog pipes up and says “Barkin: ur doin it rong!”, his neighbours chime in and there goes a good night’s sleep. Damn dogosphere.
So, what about the actual benefits of doing such a thing? Would it have been a mark of stature that you were able to draw on a wall and share knowledge? I suppose, with the transition from a nomadic & subsistence lifestyle to a more sedentary and reflective one with less time required for food-gathering and more time for making stuff up, individuals with intelligence who were able to impart knowledge and offer explanations were prized and respected. I think this gels with and goes some way to explain the honour bestowed on elders in many cultures – they’ve been around long enough to know what to do, what to eat, how to get it, where to go when it’s cold, how to avoid being eaten, exactly what to say in a letter to the Herald, etc., so they’ve earned an elevated position. They’ve earned the right to teach us about the world and tell us stories that explain the unknown. They’ve earned the right to tell you to get off their lawn because they fought the bloody Japanese so you could have a bloody lawn to run around on and get kicked off of, so go and finish mowing the lawn before you get your ears boxed.
Perhaps that’s it – we crave the respect of elderhood. We bloggers, we unbidden nailers of opinion to the doors of the internet, we sharers of wisdom of dubious value – we think we’re the elders of this online tribe. We think people should look upon the walls of the enormous foetid cave that is the internet, squint through the clouds of barely-legal teens and cheap Mexican non-prescription V1agr4 and see our stories, our favourite foods, our explanations, our silhouetted handprints, our Star Trek/Robocop crossover erotic fan-fiction. We want people to see for themselves the proof that we existed; the proof that we were individuals with unique qualities, unique thoughts, unique insights, unique reactions to “2 Girls 1 Cup” (link – language warning); proof that we were here and made an impact on someone else’s life or mind, even if it were only once or just long enough to make them write “lol u dumbass” in the comments thread and never return. We know things and think things and invent things that cry out to be shared because someone out there may find them useful, interesting or, hopefully, disagreeable in the extreme, sparking off a healthy exchange of insults and links to Wikipedia and World Net Daily articles. We may seem a little self-centred, even a little narcissistic in wishing for internet immortality in this way but really, it’s very natural & very human. It’s as natural as a hairy Cro-Magnon smearing his handprint on the wall of his dining cave with a mixture of blood, faeces & clay as if to say ” … um, so, that’s my wall”. Natural as laying your eggs into the brain of your host organism and flying away, leaving your offspring to burrow through its cherished memories. Natural as those bonobo chimps who have sex with each other, all day and all night, all riiiiiight…
What I’m trying to say is: blog on, my brethren! Share your knowledge! Share your Illuminati breakthrough! Share your link farms! Bombard your readers with your favourite lolcats! May the walls drip with our wisdom! One of us will eventually be so right about something that noone will dare question us again.