Monday 24 October 2016

Tanya Sweeney: Have we become a nation of keyboard warriors?

Tanya Sweeney
Tanya Sweeney

Another week, another bunch of people getting upset over something and venting their fury with the heat of a thousand suns online.

Last month, the death of a Zimbabwean lion ignited enough righteous indignation to power a spaceship, and this month, EastEnders viewers took to their droves to complain that Carol Jackson uttered the word ‘bastard’ before the watershed (this is despite the fact that the word has been uttered countless times in the show’s three-decade history). 

Earlier this year and closer to home, RTE received a reported 80 complaints about Nicky Byrne’s Million Euro Challenge because the prize money was too stingy and the games too complicated.

Long story short: we’ve become ever so tetchy. How has it come to this? And more importantly, who has the time? Well, a growing faction of people who like nothing more than to get in a huff about anything, it would seem.

The interactivity of TV is wonderful for a great many things, but something curious, and a bit unsavoury, is afoot.

The keyboard warriors – folk who don’t enjoy a TV show unless they get to have a good old wheeze about it afterwards – are swelling in numbers. Besides, we love the fever of an internet kerfuffle. All that drama and the theatre of humiliation, albeit at a safe distance.


In bygone times, they had public stocks to shame folk; now, we scorn them online with scant thought as to the human being behind the thumbnail.

The internet is amazing for many things, but it has made us less-than-lovely people. We have a seriously entrenched sense of entitlement when it comes to the internet. Yet, we’ve never had it so good in some respects. Cue the rippling screen and harp music as we go back in time to the 80s and 90s. We bought calculators, video cameras, cameras, clock radios, computers and stereos at considerable cost. Oh, and a slick stack of encyclopaedias to set off the living room.

Now, we have it all on one device; a device we may have even gotten for free on the right phone plan. Email has done away with the hassle of posting a letter and paying postage; Skype has destroyed those long-distance phone bills. A music album in the 90s cost in the region of £17. And we had to go on the bus and trek into town to get it. The humanity.

Are we grateful for this technological innovation? This veritable bounty of mod-cons that has landed in our laps? Are we heck. Instead, we’re like the huffy Hollywood diva who

demands white orchids and only blue M&Ms in her trailer. We’re like the jaded rock star who complains about having to walk from stadium stage to limo. The internet has left us hopelessly infantilised and spoiled.

Every so often, a post crops up on Facebook, allowing people to proclaim something to the following effect: “I hereby declare that my copyright is attached to my personal details, status updates, messages, photos, videos and all other personal content. For commercial use of the above, my handwritten consent is needed at all times with no exceptions.”

If Facebook changes its page layout, users waste no time in blowing a gasket en masse. Folks then start to get shirty at the prospect of Mark Zuckerberg profiteering in any way from their ‘I had a bagel this morning’ status update. Truth be told, this makes me laugh even more than the Grumpy Cat meme.

Much as I appreciate the significance of data privacy, I’m happy to let Facebook have its wicked way with pictures of me falling over at the Electric Picnic, or paragliding in Mexico.

All told, it’s a small price to pay for the service Facebook provides: messaging friends in Australia, disseminating opinions and information across the world, sending photographs to several friends at once.

Still, it’s the done thing to get grumpy and indignant about this service. We do it because we can.

Elsewhere, the fact that we’re afforded a right to reply, or a contribution to the running news agenda, is a magnificent development. Some squander the privilege, mind. I confess, I laugh mirthfully into my sleeve when I see someone type a whiny ‘who cares??’ on a news story comment thread (um, you did, evidently. And by clicking on the story, you’ve also helped to drive the news agenda).

Some newspapers have installed a paywall so that readers pay for content (often for less than the cost of a physical newspaper). This too has been met with an outbreak of righteous anger.

Others take umbrage with the fact that a music streaming service like Spotify charges €10 a month for a premium service. As to rumours that Netflix is thinking of hiking its service by a euro a month… it’s enough to cause mass hysteria. Making the service financially viable – not your problem, right?


Envisage, if you will, a dystopian scenario in which Gmail starts charging 65c – as in, the price of a postage stamp – to send an email. Or, for that matter, Skype begins to charge for those lengthy long-distance video chats in far-flung places. Suffice to say there would be carnage. 

The sad fact is this: if it comes through the internet, people expect everything for free. And in a world where we get so much for so little, we’ve put next to no value on any of it. When it comes to the uneasy tango between man and the machine, there’s a strange current of resentment just below the surface.

Perhaps we’d do well to keep up our side of the bargain and acknowledge its worth every once in a while.

For as bargains go these days, it’s a pretty good one.

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