Tuesday, July 12, 2005

Flaming and Civility: Virtual vs. the Real World

So I received a comment yesterday:

“you’re a moron.”

That is all it said, and it was, of course, anonymous. It is buried somewhere in my old posts and I have not been able to find it, so I can’t even tell if I really was a moron or not.

This kind of thing always causes me to reflect a bit on the means of blogging and electronic communication in general. There is a powerful sense of disconnection and depersonalization that comes with the virtual world, and I wonder if anonymity has a kind of vice inducing power over a lot of people.

Anonymity, for one thing, makes us bold when we would otherwise be more thoughtful and measured with our remarks. In a public, face-to-face conversation, few people would consider that comment an appropriate way to behave. But once all accountability is removed, then deep motivations and twisted character traits are revealed.

I think what I worry about more and more is that the depersonalization of the virtual world is creeping into our face-to-face interactions. I worry that people deem that kind of crass, infantile and base behavior appropriate when they encounter something or someone with which they disagree or simply don’t understand. I guess any daytime talk show may serve as evidence for this concern.

I am finishing a book I hope to review soon, Uncommon Decency: Christian Civility in an Uncivil World, in which the author, Richard Mouw, makes the case for civility as a kind of public virtue for the Christian. One of the goals of the book is to convince individuals that civility is the best way of interacting with your fellow human being, and is certainly a powerful way of communicating the Gospel with a world that doesn’t know Christ. Although I disagree with some of his thoughts, I believe the basic thrust of the book is vital: civil interaction with your fellow human being is a kind of a virtue, and the sort of conversation displayed by my flamer is actually a character flaw-a vice.

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