I think I’ve worked out what the internet is.
It has taken me several years, at least two keyboards and countless thousands of words. But I think I’ve found the secret. Or at least one of them.
Of course, I haven’t figured out all of the internet. There are huge bits I haven’t yet experienced, let alone understood. There is quite a lot of the internet that I don’t want to visit. As the old map-makers used to say about undiscovered lands … “here be dragons”.
The bit of the internet I think I’ve worked out are the chat rooms. The online debates. The comment sections of online newspapers, like the Guardian or BBC News or the Mail Online.
The best analogy I can come up with is that this part of the internet acts like a fence post for a community of dogs. And we’re the dogs, or as our transatlantic cousins might say, a dawg. We leave messages on the fenceposts with our wee.
Take Brexit as an example. This is a subject which has divided the nation. Some think that the EU is a big nasty organisation like Spectre and that the referendum vote to leave was our “independence day”. All of the UK’s ills would be solved if we could only kick all the foreigners out.
Others see Brexit as an unmitigated economic disaster. And every shade of opinion in between.
So what do we do with our deeply held opinions? We head on over to the Guardian website or Mail Online or Mumsnet and we sniff the fenceposts. We want to see what the other dogs have been saying. We spot a comment that annoys us, and we have to obliterate it with our point of view.
BigBoyTed had left a wee-mail saying that “Brexit is going to be brilliant”, so we have to wee all over it saying that it’s going to be awful. And vice versa.
Later, BigBoyTed sees our wee-mail and gets annoyed by it. So he wees all over our comment with another pungent wee of his own. You say Remoaner, I say Brexshitter. Let’s call the whole thing off.
And on it goes. Layer after layer of wee.
It’s not just Brexit. It’s also Trump, climate change, Boaty McBoatface, Corbyn, ISIS, austerity, building a wall.
It goes beyond politics into the things we buy. Pick any make of car or computer or watch or clothes … and there will be a group of people weeing about how wonderful it is and another group counter-weeing that it’s awful.
My car is better than your car. Splash. Oh, no it isn’t. Splosh.
I admit it. I’ve been a dawg from time to time. I’ve wee’ed (how do you spell that?) on a fair share of fence posts. Some things are just too damned important. Some statements are just too crass and outright wrong to let them stand.
So I’ve pounded the keyboard. Cocked a leg and splashed my opinion over someone else’s. Guilty as charged. Someone is still wrong on the internet.
I’ve been pee-ed on too. There have been a few occasions when someone online has tracked me back to one of my websites to see if they could dig up some dirt on me. One even found out that I was (a) male and (b) white, which they then used to argue that I was too privileged to have a view about sexism. Woo.
Bless. It’s a hobby for them, I suppose.
Then I had a revelation. I realised that we’re never going to change each other’s point of view. There is no piece of evidence, no finely crafted argument, no elegant bon mot, nothing that will induce someone to slap their foreheads and switch to your point of view.
That’s the problem with weeing on a fencepost. It might feel good at the time, but it soon gets washed off in the rain. Or covered over by the next dawg’s offering.
So I’m trying to ween myself off the fencepost weeing. It’s addictive, but the high is only temporary. It doesn’t solve anything. I’ve stayed away from particularly incendiary forums (including one that I set up). I’ve signed out of my Guardian account. Hit the ignore button to block one persistent troll.
I don’t know how long it will last, but it’s going well so far. Then again, don’t all addicts say something like that?
Keats had this inscription on his tomb: “Here lies one whose name was writ in water”. It’s a great line, although a little ironic and too self-deprecating perhaps.
Perhaps the modern equivalent is “here lies one whose name was writ in urine” for those who spend a large chunk of their lives weeing on fenceposts.