Michael Kinsley's op-ed in today's Washington Post:
There is something about the Web that brings out the ego monster in everybody. It's not just the well-established tendency to be nasty. When you write for the Web, you open yourself up to breathtakingly vicious vitriol. People wish things on your mother, simply for bearing you, that you wouldn't wish on Hitler.As an interesting side note, the Washington Post usually includes a Technorati "Who's Blogging about This" section in the side bars of their articles. This article doesn't have one.
But even in their quieter modes, denizens of the Web seem to lug around huge egos and deeply questionable assumptions about how interesting they and their lives might be to others.
This is strange. Anonymity, for better or for worse, is supposed to be one of the signature qualities of the Web. As that dog in the New Yorker cartoon says, "On the Internet, nobody knows you're a dog." The Internet is a place where you can interact with other people and have complete control over how much they know about you. Or supposedly that is the case, and virtually everybody on the Internet is committed to achieving that goal.
There's an element of amiable self-parody about a lot of this that makes it bearable. Or is there? It's hard to tell. Surfing aimlessly, I stumbled upon a Web page that describes itself as "The definitive site for finding out 'What is Doug Doing?' " Doug himself writes: "So I know what you all are thinking . . . Doug never updates this!" Doug seems genuinely apologetic about not keeping us up to date on the minutiae of his life. For myself, I'm worried sick that the grad course and two music history courses Doug is taking this semester, which he says are driving him "a little crazy," may not leave him enough time to keep the page totally current. Remember your priorities, Doug, and don't let school get in the way of maintaining your Web site.
For the ultimate in solipsism, check out Twitter.com, a site where -- once you register -- you can answer the question "What are you doing?" At 7:47 am on Monday, for example, Lynda was going to get a glass of cold water.
This raises more questions than it answers. Did she get it? Was it cold enough? Tragically, we'll never know until someone starts a site about what you were doing before what you're doing now. Or possibly an interactive site about what you are going to do next after you finish doing what you're doing now. There could be multiple options. People could vote. Hey, someone call Google. We're rich!
Here's my take: Nobody's forcing you to read "The definitive site for finding out 'What is Doug Doing?' " or visiting Twitter.com to engage in philosophical questions about glasses of cold water. And while I could argue that nobody's forcing me to buy the Washington Post, if I do buy the Post, (say for local sports) I am required to purchase a print copy of Michael Kinsley's opinion on writers that he thinks are less important than he is.
Mr. Kinsley hasn't used his space on one of the nation's leading opinion pages to condemn the web for the vitriol directed at student athletes (college and high school) or the lack of privacy for celebrities the web has created or make any other legitimate complaint about the Internet. He's used that space to tell everybody how he feels about who write for their own pleasure, for tiny (perhaps non-existent) audiences.
Mr. Kinsley spent some thousand words in a national newspaper telling us - peons in his eyes - that we should leave the writing to professionals.
I'm not here to defend the actions of Doug, Lynda, or anybody else. That said, looking the blogs of Myspace for the best writing the 'net has to offer is like looking to sports stadium concession stands for gourmet food. At a football game, a hot sausage with peppers and onions is exactly what you want and what you expect - but if you're looking for delicately balance flavors with creative texture and beautiful presentation, you're setting yourself up for disappointment.
Of course what Mr. Kinsley wanted was disappointment. It makes him feel important, knowing that his writing is the good kind of writing while all the unwashed masses out there can't cobble together a few sentences letting us know if the glass of water was cold enough, let alone discuss any of the great issues facing us as a nation.
Like 'self involved people' keeping online diaries.