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If you’ve been online at all in the last several years you’ve probably noticed something: everyone is outraged. We’re offended, constantly, about everything. Social media has birthed this bizarre hazing ritual of unmasking and publicly shaming people who say idiotic things; a growing quota of our online activity involves participating in these social smugathons where crowds gather to cast moral aspersions on the hapless rube who did something awful that week. Outrage is a milieu in which we’re engaging others, and our boundless hunger for schadenfreude demands that we toss a new victim into the volcano every several days to keep the conversation going. It’s exhausting.

I wonder, O My Beloved, if you know about the time before there was an internet?

True, it was a long, long time ago before reality television and Kim Kardashian. (Some people refer to this time as B.K.K.) Also, before Google and Foursquare and Yahoo. Well, there was a four-square back then, but it was a game that children played with a ball. A ball was a round thing that went, bounce! And there was a yahoo, but it was a thing that children said while playing four square. It went, yahoo!

But Google had never yet been conceived of in the wide world, and yet the wide world was better and wider for it. Because back before the Great Google, if people wanted to know something, they would ask smart people. Or they went to the library. The library, you ask? That’s where you sometimes get videos now.

But anyway, wouldn’t you like to know how the internet came to be? This is how that happened:

There was a teenager named Jenny. And like most teenagers, she knew a lot. But Jenny knew even more than other teenagers. And the reason she knew more than other teenagers was because she wasn’t actually a teenager but a grown up person who only acted like a teenager. She was in her thirties or forties, I think. But her skin was smooth and her brain as wrinkled as a teenager’s. And she would tell people all day long about the things she knew, even if they had never met her before.

She loved standing in subway terminals, because there would always be people standing around there as if just waiting for her to tell them things.

She usually ate Sugar Daddys when she told things to people. She would bite down and pull the brown taffee so her eyes rolled to the back of her head, chewing vociferously.

“The sky isn’t actually blue, you know…” Jenny said to no one in particular.

“What?” no one in particular said (foolishly). Perhaps this someone was a tall man in a suit, his eyes shocked, his hairline receding.

“The sky is not actually blue,” Jenny repeated to the tall man in the suit. “It only looks blue. Everyone’s eyes are blue on the inside. They see everything a little bit blue when they tilt their heads up to look. The prettiness of the blue sky is really just all in their head.”

“Are you sure?” said the tall man.

“Yes, I have a degree in skyology… Also, all the bands you like are overrated.”

She nodded her head, and the foolish man walked away, dumbfounded.

“Even U2?” he wondered aloud.

Bite, chew, chew, chew. Franny kept a bag-full of Sugar Daddys in her backpack, and she chewed them all day long and said Important Facts to anyone who happened to be standing next to her:

“Did you know that Woody Allen hates cheeseburgers?”

“It’s a known fact that some people find it very, very hard not to quote Lionel Richie lyrics.”

“How about gophers? I know all about them.”

“Anything that floats is just chock full of Molybdenum.”

Jenny was so knowledgeable that her renown extended from the subway all the way to the bus terminal three blocks away, where a Djinn named Al Gore bought his paper every morning. And one morning, the Djinn Al Gore overheard a confused commuter who had just been told by Jenny that goldfish make the best accountants. The commuter was screaming into his cell phone at his wife for her to rush to the pet store immediately. (As always, Al Gore was looking very important but never so much as to not incline his ear to an interesting conversation.)

“Goldfish? Accountants?” Al Gore said to himself. “I didn’t know that, and I’ve got a college degree!”

So he rode on a saffron cloud to the subway terminal to pay homage to the wisdom of Jenny the Middle-aged Teenager. Arriving, he said, “Tell me, oh wise Jenny… How do I achieve enlightenment?”

“Impossible… No one will ever be as wise as I am.” This was one of the facts Jenny knew.

But Al Gore the Djinn was determined to become wise, so he went home straight away and invented the internet.

And that is how the internet came to be.

When Alexandra Wallace posted a YouTube video of herself complaining about the “hordes” of Asian students at UCLA and how their existence on campus interfered with her student performance (in the video Wallace mocks the way Asian students speak on their cell phones in the library. “Ching Chong, Ting Tong, Ling Long” she sneers, holding an imaginary phone up to her ear) the response was venomous. Tons of insulted students of all races, creeds and genders logged online to insult her back, oftentimes relying on racist and sexist stereotypes designed to insult and intimidate. Most of these insults drew attention to her cleavage and the fact that she was a “stupid, slutty little white girl”, rather than a bigot. Though the rage that Wallace provoked was certainly merited, as noted on blogs like Racialicious and Colorlines, the use of equally appalling slurs to shame her begs the question of what kind of dialogue we aim to promote in our current culture. Though there has been considerable backlash about what is politically correct and incorrect to say in our culture, the constant influx of these type of insult matches demonstrates how often discussions about racism, sexism, orany other “ism” end with piled on insults and relying on hurtful stereotypes in order to shame the other. This is the current landscape of 2011, a far cry from the days where politically correct labels were slapped on to anything in order to minimize conflict. These days, people want their conflicts right out there in the open. The question is, are these types of conversations actually working to minimize hate?

I didn’t really take notice World of Warcraft until my friends started disappearing.One by one they seemed to drop silently from my social circle, among whose survivors their departure was reported with the solemn warrant of a war film.