I have to admit that there was a part of me--a fairly large part--that wanted to title this post "Please Don't Say Stupid Shit Anymore". I thought I'd reined it in, but apparently not, since I felt the need to share that with you all. Still, "Cut the Drama" seemed appropriate. That's what my mother used to say when I, at 12 or 13, wailed that she was "ruining my life" because she wouldn't let me go to some slumber party or mortally embarrassed me by picking up the phone and saying it was past my bedtime while I was talking to a boy. In my mind, that's a pretty good analogy for the drama that's sweeping the Internet right now.
Just a couple of days ago I wrote about free speech, and how everyone whose language is criticized or whose post is removed from a message board starts howling about the 1st amendment, having clearly missed the little part about how it only restricts governmental agents. And yes, I'll be honest: part of the problem is simply that inaccuracy makes my brain explode. I'd swear that I actually felt my brain melting a little this afternoon when someone in an online forum protested that Paypal had "labeled him a criminal" because they'd asked him to supply proof of identity. But there's a much bigger problem.
Let's take censorship, for instance. Censorship is a serious political issue. Governmental censorship can prevent the population of a country from obtaining accurate information about economics, international relations and much more. It can eliminate the conduits for information that allow people to cast educated votes, and even to make more dramatic decisions if and when they're called for. It once was, and should be, a powerful term. When someone suggests that censorship is taking place, we should all sit up and take notice and take steps to learn whether or not that allegation is accurate. But do we? Of course not. And the reason is crystal clear: every whiny-ass college kid who has ever had an article pulled from his association newsletter because he gratuitously used the f-word a dozen times or bored housewife whose comment was moderated on someone's blog is yelling "censorship!" With all those clamoring voices shouting the same word (and most of them coming to nothing), how would we ever be able to distinguish the occasional true voice in the crowd? Would we be able to reclaim that word and use it correctly if, for instance, the United States government prohibited publication of photographs that might tend to illustrate the number of young citizens we're losing in Iraq? Would we be able to separate out that kind of censorship?
This week alone I've seen multiple references to censorship on message boards and in discussion forums. I've read an allegation that someone's free speech rights were violated when a discussion thread on a privately owned forum was deleted. I've read the sad tale of the man "labeled as a criminal" by the big bad financial company that wanted to be sure he was who he said he was. And I've been asked (in a group setting) whether I'll miss my "free will" because California is considering energy saving measures.
Do we really live in a world where our biggest problems are having comments rejected on blogs and being asked to conserve limited natural resources? I hope so. I really do. And it's not just because that would be an awfully cushy world to live in. It's because we've expended so much energy and drama, used up so much powerful language and overworked our soapboxes on those little issues that we won't have any way of getting people's attention when something more serious rolls around.