Unleashing the social media id
Twitter, Facebook, and other social media sites really unleash the id. The combination of distance, anonymity, and attention is intoxicating, and some people are mean drunks. The Internet finally lets the rest of the world hear all the stuff people used to scream behind the privacy of their steering wheels.
In some ways, it strikes me as an acceleration of the way good manners have been degenerating for decades. It's striking to read written correspondence from a century ago, even between people who were not regarded as elites or intellectuals, and observe how much more elegant and formal it was. The elaborate requirements of polite society have likewise been scrubbed away by a combination of fast-paced modern life and the egalitarian spirit. That's one reason shows like "Downton Abbey," and perhaps even "Mad Men," have captured so much of the public imagination. They are windows back to a time when society expected certain things from decent people.
This is not to defend every aspect of those older social rituals. The pace of modern life, and the social mobility afforded by industrialized capitalism, was certainly going to change things, and some of the changes were for the better. The just-concluded season of "Downton Abbey" spent considerable time musing about the inevitable end of the old, stuffy British aristocratic ways, somewhat ham-fistedly using a visiting American character played by Shirley Maclaine as a sort of 21st-century audience surrogate.
But perhaps we lost too much of the respect and dignity we used to afford one another through good manners and restraint. At the far end of the transformation, we find the Internet an electronic wilderness filled with howling beasts, some of them maddened by rage, others deliberate and predatory. I recall that a common Sixties criticism of the old order was that people were inauthentic - the world of the Fifties had to go because it was filled with hypocrites and poseurs. Welcome to the Internet, where nobody is themselves.