There is an old story that my psychology [from when I was in the military] and philosophy [from high school] teachers used to tell. It goes like this –
A college professor proposed an essay question to his doctoral candidates in Philosophy/Psychology.
He asked them to take one booklet and return to their desks; where the students were allowed to open the booklet and begin the exam. At the top of the first page was one question.
Five minutes later a single student got up and returned the booklet to the professor and left the room. Everyone else spent hours completing the test. The student that left early was the only one to pass the exam.
The teachers would then ask if we could guess what the one student answered? Well to be honest no one in either of those classed could. So we were finally let in on the joke. The answer to the simple question, "Why?", was why not.
Now this is not funny, enlightening or interesting in anyway until you begin to put it in context with other situations.
The internet has given us an open means of communication. We can now talk to almost anyone, anywhere at any time. We can cross oceans, borders and even enter space from the comfort and safety of our own homes. But this freedom has come at a cost; we are as a group losing our respect for and ability to interact with others. Even companies are getting in on the game as this trend becomes an ingrained habit.
Recently we had an anonymous commenter make a very rude and uncalled for statement about a fellow journalist. It was nothing less than an attack and had no place on this site [or any other]. Why did this person do it? Why not. You see the anonymity of the internet emboldens people to say things they would never say in person. It gives them a sense of invulnerability and security that removes all limits to normal and polite social conduct. To an extent this freedom is intoxicating and addictive. Once someone can say or claim something bold and obnoxious they are likely to do it again and get worse in their efforts the next time around. In real life it is highly unlikely that they would have the nerve to do something like this to someone?s face. After all there is no consequence to the author of a comment like this, and it serves the author of the article right for writing something that I do not agree with so; why not.
But there is more to it than just childish and rude comments on forums and websites. The internet culture has also bled over into other areas. For example, at CES 2010 we saw people stealing items off shelves and from booths. Runcore had their Macbook stolen; Otterbox a Palm Pre, OCZ had a prototype drive stolen [although that was later returned with a personal note, clearly showing that the person who stole it knew people in OCZ on first name basis]. Some of this theft was by attendees and some by the press. Why were people stealing? Again, why not. The internet has taught us that it is ok to share files back and forth to RIP movies and CDs and post them for other people to use without paying for it. There are no consequences for this as no one gets caught and no one is hurt. Even I am in two minds on this one, due to the control that the big industry players try and put on our purchases. But in many people it has led to the theft of physical items, they just do not see the harm in it. I mean, come on, companies were giving stuff away and they won?t miss this so; why not.
But this has invaded our culture so much that companies are doing this. Take Google, they recently made accusations that China hacked into their [and others] network to access IP and also to get information on human rights activists? Gmail accounts. They are not showing any proof it is China, they are not really showing proof of the vector of attack. They are only saying, it was China because we say so. Now I know they are putting in some additional information like claiming they tracked the IP addresses of command and control servers to ones that have been used by Chinese attackers before. But they are not offering more than a token amount of evidence – and as we all know, it’s not that Google has impeccable track record when it comes to protecting private information.
Why would they do this? Once again – why not. They know that the majority of people will not care to look into this and see reasons for making a claim like this. They know that if they put up enough of a bluster they can get what they want out of it. Google gets what they want by saying this publicly and loudly. After all, everyone knows that China is bad and they censor the internet and arrest human rights activists; so why not.
This type of behavior is not limited to Google. Apple, Microsoft, Dell, HP, Cisco and just about every other company have done something like this. I just used Google as a current and extreme example of this pattern.
As a whole we are becoming less and less skeptical of the information presented to us. We read it on the internet, or see it on TV and we take that as fact as long as it is not in direct conflict with our current opinions. Often we see multiple sites with the same information so we assume it is true. The problem is that in many cases you can trace all of those sites back to a single source which may or may not be false. This is what is called "the repeated truth" if it gets spread around the internet enough it becomes "FACT". But if the information we read does directly conflict with our beliefs and opinions then we attack it; we shout it down as false, fanboyism, lies and paid FUD. We do this without fear of consequence and because we can, so one final time; why not.
In the end, as the walls of polite society and human interaction crumble due to the anonymity of the internet we will continue to see people forgetting to show [un]common courtesy to others, to take what is not theirs. To act as someone they are not, and to repeat information they cannot confirm. Technology is truly a double edged blade. It gives us so much, but if we are not careful we can lose much more for its use.