Discourtesy on the internet

One thing many readers seemed to like about my 1990 novel Earth was all the interludes and snippets portraying life in 2038. All were written in the period 1988 – 1989 (as the novel was aimed to be a fifty year projection into the future.) A future we now inhabit, in many ways.

Several scenes from the novel are logged as ‘hits’ on prediction wikis and registries, such as this one on the Technovelgy site and another on FrontPage. A few are particularly pertinent to our world of 2022.

The snippet below presages the World Wide Web, some years before it surged across the world (and hence my made-up format for ‘net addresses.”) The ways in which it misses are as interesting as the on-target predictions. But overall?

This excerpt deals with the pervasive problem of offensive behavior on the internet. Unsurprisingly, people tend to exhibit more aggressive and rude behaviors online than in person, particularly when cloaked behind a veil of anonymity and no real accountability. Harmful gossip abounds – and does damage in real life.

Dear Net-Mail User _ EweR-635-78-2267-3 aSp —

Your mailbox has just been rifled by EmilyPost, an autonomous courtesy-worm chain program released in October, 2036 by an anonymous group of Net subscribers in Western Alaska.

{_ ref: sequestered confession 592864 -2376298.98634, deposited with Bank Leumi 10/23/36:20:34:21. Expiration-disclosure 10 years.}

Under the civil disobedience sections of the Charter of Rio, we accept in advance the fines and penalties that will come due when our confession is released in 2046. However we feel that’s a small price to pay for the message brought to you by EmilyPost.

In brief, dear friend, you are not a very polite person. EmilyPost’s syntax analysis subroutines show that a very high fraction of your net exchanges are heated, vituperative, even obscene.

Of course you enjoy free speech. But EmilyPost has been designed by people who are concerned about the recent trend towards excessive nastiness in some parts of the Net. EmilyPost homes in on folks like you, and begins by asking them to please consider the advantages of politeness.

For one thing, your credibility ratings would rise. (EmilyPost has checked your favorite bulletin boards, and finds your ratings aren’t high at all. Nobody is listening to you, sir!) Moreover, consider that courtesy can foster calm reason, turning shrill antagonism into useful debate and even consensus.

We suggest introducing an automatic delay to your mail system. Communications are so fast these days, people seldom stop and think. Some net users act like mental patients, who shout out anything that comes to mind, rather than as functioning citizens with the human gift of tact.

If you wish, you may use one of the public-domain delay programs included in this version of EmilyPost, free of charge.

Of course, should you insist on continuing as before, disseminating nastiness in all directions, we have equipped EmilyPost with other options you’ll soon find out about….

—and yes that was written in 1988—

Final note: What about sentient Artificial Intelligence? On that thread, my op ed – “Soon, Humanity Won’t Be Alone in the Universe” – just ran on the Newsweek site yesterday, shining light on the first Robotic Empathy Crisis that I long ago predicted for this year… that’s unfolding before our eyes.

Leave a comment

Filed under science

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s