It’s a cliché to voice one’s disappointment in the younger generation, I fully realize that. However, as I peruse the internet, I cannot help but notice the impersonal nature that “trolling” has taken on. Trolling is of course the age old practice of leaving bizarre and in some cases offensive messages for other members of the internet community to find. Wikipedia defines a troll as ” a person who sows discord on the Internet”. I don’t take issue with the behaviour per se, but rather the cowardice of internet users, who remain anonymous rather than take responsibility for their own actions.
Trolling is nothing new, it’s been going on since the well before the internet was a twinkle in *Tim Berners Lee’s eye. My friends and I regularly engaged in such loutish behaviour. You must understand of course that we were all socially awkward and comparatively unattractive. In fact, I can’t say we were friends so much as we were just abominations relegated to one another’s company. However, given our shortcomings, trolling was the only reliable way we could garner attention for ourselves.
In my youth, we didn’t yearn for the latest incarnation of the smart-phone. Rather, we spent long hours practicing our grammar and penmanship, awaiting the glorious day that our parents would walk us down to the general store, and allow us to pick out a stationary set of our very own. You’d better believe we left perplexing and inflammatory messages to people, but we did it by our own hand, and we always left a return address. That was part of the fun, the prospect of getting a letter delivered back in kind.
I remember my outrage at General Mill’s blatant refusal to let the Trix rabbit partake of the fruity cereal which he slavishly peddled to ungrateful children. My ire was further raised by the senseless abuse that Lucky the Lucky Charms leprachaun endured. Fists clenched, I railed off a seething letter, demanding that the company amend it’s ways and give it’s spokesmen their just dues. I never heard back but have noticed that the current cereal adds are far less pejorative than they were previously.
I regularly penned thank-you letters for befuddling items such as dugong saddles, feline sensualizers, troupes of girthy dancing-girls and of course the old stand by “services rendered.” I would then mail these letters, each written in a beautiful calligraphy script, to random addresses. Of course, I didn’t know who was to receive the note, and household occupant sounds so impersonal, so I’d write the name of the recipient as something general and banal like Thunder-Brute, or The Kentucky Dazzler.
While many times the letter made it’s way back to my hands with a “return to sender” stamp, I frequently received correspondence. Some were simply to clear up the fact that I must be mistaken, and had the wrong addressee. Others were tainted with outrage (though needlessly so) and some even carried on the pastiche, writing how pleased they were that I enjoyed the gift, and not to be a stranger. In fact, I actually met several childhood pen-pals this very way. Pen-pals are an excellent social outlet for homely children such as I was.
While visiting my parents’ house this weekend, I actually came across a stash of my old letters, returns and responses alike. These weren’t literary masterpieces by any stretch of the imagination, but they were honest attempts to enliven a world that is often bleak and mundane. People have no shortage of opinions, both insiteful and inflammatory, but they live afraid to take ownership of them. That, or they fall back on readily accepted retorts such as fake, gay, or any number of quotations cheerfully overused from whatever pseudo-offensive television programme is of the moment. Is it possible that humanity is determined to make itself even more dismally boring?
I heard this morning on NPR that specialty pen stores are falling out of favour in lieu of digital communication avenues. I couldn’t help but feel just a touch disheartened by that. There’s something dolefully impersonal about an email or text. So little effort is invested, often times we can’t even be bothered to fully spell out words. I won’t deny I have a curmudgeonly streak, or that I am oft times resistant to change and yet I wonder if we might be losing sight of what it is to actually be a participating member of the human race, or in my case, a fellow centient biological entity.
Marco A. Shatter
*The actual father of the internet, sorry Al Gore.