Ages of Rage

It seems inevitable that anyone today will
come into contact with rage, whether they
are the target, product or producer of this
ubiquitous mood.

Daily, Americans deal with reckless
drivers who are cut off in traffic or take part in motorist vs. cyclist brawls, sometimes even culminating into a fury of curse words.

But, there's a new rage in town and it is here to stay: Internet rage.

To shed light on this topic, The Actor's
Gang Theatre in Culver City presented a
panel discussion entitled, "The Age of Rage:
Is the Internet Making Us Mean?" hosted by
Zocalo Public Square.

Moderated by Los Angeles Times columnist
Meghan Daum, the panel shed light on how,
in Daum's words, "the internet seems to not
have brought out our inner critic but for lack of a better word, our inner hater."

Also featured were media and internet
pundits, Dick Meyer, author of "Why We
Hate Us: American Discontent in the New
Millenium" as well as Time magazine writer
Lev Grossman to discuss who is to blame
for the new anger when we go online. The
panel jumped right into a thought provoking
discourse over the inner workings of America's growing e-culture and more importantly, the slur of hate comments that accrues with it.

Strikingly prevalent is the tendency for
comments to take on a life of their own,
growing larger than the article to which they are attached.

The comments become an endless thread of self-referential conversation, often coated with the sort of things people wouldn't say face-to-face. In the end, anonymity "is enormous in why you get so much venom in comments," Meyer said, Allowing more room for pessimism, anonymity has now created a new default setting for speech and a tongue-in-cheek ambiance.

Compared with a face-to-face conversation,
or even a phone conversation, where you can
judge people's moods and vocal inflections,
it is easier to have rhetorical knuckle fighting when you are typing in front of a screen.

As an editorial director of NPR, Meyer
noted that NPR launched comments in
September that required people to use their real name, which ultimately elevated the level of graciousness and civility on their website. Also, websites like Facebook and Twitter show a change in online commenting, by denying anonymous comments, therefore
mitigating Internet meanness.

On Facebook, Grossman said, "you're
embedded in that social matrix, which allows
you to behave properly and not be a jerk."
Although the capacity for online anger is profound, Meyer admits that "sometimes
it's fun to be angry." Echoing the sentiment,
Grossman added, "We really underrate how
enjoyable anger is.

There is a reason why people indulge in this
behavior." Claiming to not be above outbursts
of Internet coldness, Grossman further added,
"it's incredibly empowering. The Internet is a very democratic place and its very flat, so no one is really distinguished from each other in terms of status, and I think
there is a tremendous need to feel better than other people. There aren't many other ways to do it these days, so when people get a little taste of that, it's addicting."

There is a pattern of kinship that can come
from hating something. That's why in a lot of
online balkanized communities, they are all
about defending themselves, contradistinction, and hostility to other groups, which is what Grossman discovered when he wrote about the video game "Halo for Time."

"The torrent of hatred I received in
response to that piece was just enormous,"
said Grossman. Even though he embodies
the ever-enthused and ardent video gamer,
his critics seemed to believe that, "the rights to their subculture exists with them, and it cannot be taken from them."

An underlying cause for this epidemic "is
the amount of information in a day that is
mediated, that is not directly observed, but
comes to use through some sort of device,"
Meyer added.

Technological devices like a Blackberry
or a screen of some sort relays information
to people in a way that's really different than throughout the rest of human history, which Meyer said "distorts a lot of our emotional buttons."

For example, the latest target of our
collective anger, Daum noted, is Nadya
Suleman, who recently gave birth to
octuplets. With an alarmingly high number
of 14 children, Suleman became a target for
media exploitation, vitriol and jaw dropping

Daum noticed how the online comments
concerning Suleman "became a genre of
themselves." Procuring a tone of incredible
disgust, the comments demonstrate the way
rage really gets stirred up. It's hard to tell whether the commenting feature tends to
attract hateful people or somehow we become
hateful when we comment.

Maybe these
comments are simply part and parcel to the
sublime magnificence of the Internet.
Maybe Meghan Daum is right, stating:
"there was a time when there was righteous
anger in this country that was directed towards a worthy causes and that time seems to have passed."