The Internet has a reputation as being an unfriendly place known for its boisterous and bothersome participants who give nary a thought for their neighbors. Many view this hostile environment as a deviation from normal human behavior, but our behavior within virtual communities is merely an extension of our behavior in the physical world.
Instead of working through our problems ourselves, we turn to our virtual neighbors to solve them for us. Online discussion groups overflow with questions from particpants. Most of these questions have been asked, and answered, many times. They come from those who were not willing to do a little bit of research first.
Instead of looking up the answer in a book or checking the Frequently Asked Question files, they would rather bother their neighbor and spout their question to the world. Many of these leeches did not even bother to learn the societal rules of the virtual community before intruding.
This online behavior is merely an extension of human laziness and impatience. Whether assembling a bicycle or conducting a chemistry lab, we skimp on following the instructions. When a problem arises, instead of looking up the answer, we bang away with a wrench or turn to our classmates with our question.
Miss Manners addresses online behavior in her forthcoming book "Miss Manners Rescues Civilization". She suggests that our lack of consideration stems from the social remoteness of virtual communities. Since many do not live and work within virtual communities, they do not live with the consequences of their actions. However, this explanation is not unique to the online world.
Miss Manners cites nineteenth-century ocean voyages as an isolated community void of societal constraints. During these voyages, travelers were free to take on any identity, with little need to worry about a "reputation" following them.
While on the road, we suffer the inconsiderates who weave in and out of traffic, cut us off and refuse to give turn signals. We might curse them well enough to make a sailor proud, but they do not suffer any sanction from society for their actions. The anonymity of the road leaves them free to ignore society's strictures.
Our virtual voyages bring us into contact with large numbers of people, many of whom we would rather avoid. Any opinion, no matter how politely expressed, is a target for acrimonious responses from those who normally have to settle for yelling at their television.
Being online feels more hostile than the physical world because the ease of electronic communication exposes us to many people with whom we would not otherwise interact.
If our physical society were caring and thoughtful, we would not need Miss Manners. Online behavior is not an aberration, but rather a chance to see the true nature of the human soul.