I love the Internet. But ...
There are folks out there who swear Bill Gates is the paragon of evil -- so convinced are they of his ill intent that they make the Trilateral Commission conspiracy stuff pale by comparison.
And then there is the Mac mujahideen, a sorry paranoid sect of true believers that finds evidence of dark conspiracies against Apple at every turn. And while we're at it, don't forget the other sundry online nut jobs -- theirs is a veritable fruit cocktail of paranoia and rage that explodes at the most minor offense against their tightly wound world view.
They don't need to mumble by themselves in the psycho ward any longer. Courtesy of the Internet, these zestful citizens can share their collective wisdom -- and so they do on bulletin boards or talkback sections or chat groups. (I see it whenever I open my e-mail in the morning.)
Such is the privacy penalty exacted by the great communications revolution. A few years ago, the digerati were heralding the arrival of a limitless future where everyone could be a publisher.
Missing in that neat world view was the question of whether "everyone" should be a publisher. For every Thomas Paine, I suppose there are probably ten thousand Joe Blowhards.
I suspect we wouldn't miss much if the bozos returned to their true calling in life tormenting insects and small animals. Still, there's no turning back the clock. The voiceless now have a voice in the new world order where incivility is becoming a norm, rather than an exception.
E-mail is the talk radio of the 1990s (and beyond) and unfortunately, rude opinions from someone with a beef are only a mouse click away. Oddest of all is the way people can work themselves up over computer bus architectures or an operating system. I've seen more invective about this inane stuff than in religion and politics forums that I've surfed.
If you believe, as I do, that the Internet is transforming communications, then there's cause to worry. Can anything be done beyond inquiring whether the emotional upset of a flamer is driven by the absence of a critical piece of male genitalia?
I think so. To be sure, the Internet is a public trust, and the establishment of a cyber traffic cop would likely trigger opposition from civil liberties groups. Then again, maybe that's exactly what's needed.
In the same way that you can get the authorities to stop someone from mailing abusive letters or yelling obscenities over the telephone, there needs to be a body with the authority to get these cyber chowder heads to cease and desist. Should that be the federal government? The United Nations? The Internet Engineering Task Force? The question of jurisdiction is a subsidiary to the bigger issue at hand.
In the meantime, paranoid flame mailers can go ahead and give it their best shot. My delete key is itching for a good workout.