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ATPM 6.12
December 2000


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Apple Cider: Random Squeezings From a Mac User

by Tom Iovino,

Tidings of Comfort and Joy?

Now that we’re in the holiday season, it’s time for the networks to dust off the old classics and show ’em over and over again until we’re ready to barf.

You know the ones I’m talking about. It’s a Wonderful Life. A Christmas Carol. Frosty the Snowman. My favorite is How the Grinch Stole Christmas. No, not the current Jim Carrey movie, but the old, animated Dr. Seuss classic.

For those of you not familiar with the story, the Grinch hates the arrival of the holidays because all of the Whos in Whoville celebrate so much, it gives him a headache. To derail the Who Holiday celebration, the Grinch devises a plan to snatch the holiday spirit right out of Whoville.

After the Grinch swipes all the presents, decorations, and food for the next day’s festivities, the Grinch is surprised to see—and hear—the Whos celebrating the holiday as if nothing had happened. At that, the Grinch realizes that it’s not the trappings, but the friendship and love we share that makes the holidays.

Ironically, the live-action version of this tale is one of the most heavily commercially sponsored movies I can remember.

As we enter this year’s holiday season, however, I have to wonder about that spirit of friendship and good will toward men, and just how many people actually possess it. Oh sure, during holiday seasons past, not everyone in the world was enjoying peace and harmony. Witness the Battle of the Bulge in 1944 for a classic example. But, now, with the Internet and the anonymity that comes with it, have we somehow lost that spirit?

We all get frustrated or angry from time to time. If the teller at the bank makes too much small talk with a customer ahead of you, or the doctor keeps you in the waiting room when you were on time for a scheduled appointment, it can make you angry. To a certain degree, it’s okay to react to this impulse of anger by, say, breathing deeply to calm yourself down.

But there comes a point where behavior is unacceptable. Even those involved in the retail industry—where schmoozing customers is the number one goal—will not hesitate to ask belligerent customers to leave the store if they become abusive. While employees may typically be asked to exercise a great deal of patience, managers know there is a certain level of employee dignity that needs to be preserved, even at the cost of a sale. That’s just the way things are, and people usually understand when they’re getting close to the point where they’re about to go overboard.

Why, then, does it seem that quite a few people on the Internet believe that these mores don’t apply in the virtual community? Last month, with the U.S. presidential elections bearing down on us, I thought it would be funny if I strung together a few notable quotes from political figures. As the issue went to bed and was posted on the Internet, I was thinking that my choice of quotes would provide some entertainment to our readers. And I’m sure that it did.

But not for everyone. In the days that followed, I received a few blistering e-mails from some of our readers who believed that my choice of quotes appeared to be skewed toward supporting Al Gore over George W. Bush. In one, the writer didn’t mince his words:

I am stunned that you would take the risk of alienating avid fans by placing a Pro-Gore Anti-Bush Sentiment….Well I for one will gladly say….Go F%#k Yourself!!! Stay the f%#k out of Politics and stick to the Mac….Or maybe you should vote for Al Sharpton’s pal…Nader!…and please…feel free to remove me from your e-mail subscription list.

For years, my mom and dad told me not to talk about politics or religion, because some people aren’t able to differentiate the two, and defend their views on both with an equal amount of zeal. But wow. This e-mail took my breath away. First of all, this writer doesn’t know my political views or how I stand on certain issues. To be honest, I’m a conservative leaning moderate, a registered Republican, and I voted for W. Of all of the quotes I selected for my column, only one was made by a presidential candidate, and that one was made by Al Gore, and only because it had to do with his claimed creation of the Internet. In fact, I purposely looked for quotes from conservatives and liberals alike. But because one of the most prolific gaffe-makers in history (Dan Quayle) happened to be a Republican, this reader somehow thought I was attacking the Republican candidate for president.

Politics aside, how is it possible that a person can feel so free to dash off a scathing, vulgar e-mail to a person he has never met in his life, who has never once done anything to personally offend him?

The answer is anonymity. Unless someone has absolutely no control over himself, he would never consider, say, walking into a grocery store and spewing profanity at a cashier. Once you have to look into the eyes of someone you want to berate, you realize that there’s a person there—someone’s son, daughter, mother, father, cousin, best friend, or co-worker. Someone with a life and real feelings (and someone who can call the police and have you escorted off the premises).

On the Internet, however, when you look at that Outlook Express e-mail form or at the reply box on a newsgroup, it’s easy to pretend that the person on the other end has no feelings. In fact, some people may even forget that they are interacting with actual humans, as they would over the telephone or in person.

You just have to divorce yourself of that idea.

Don’t get me wrong. There are plenty of things to disagree about, and the free exchange of ideas—even if the ideas are at opposite ends of the spectrum—is what makes the Internet unique. What you do have to remember is that those are real people out there and that it’s wise to mind your manners.

A few days after I received the first e-mail, I received another about my October column from a reader in England. While he disagreed with some of my stands on the issue, he never once resorted to profanity or insults. He agreed with some of my points, and helped me see that there was indeed another side to the argument. Through the process, not only did I enjoy the exchange of ideas, I learned something about our readers: namely, that for each person out there who resorts to profanity and insult, there’s at least one who wields respect, a keen mind, and a sharp wit. Remember this holiday season that the words you read on your computer screen were written by real people who have real feelings as well.

During the American Civil War, a Union General prepared a scathing letter regarding the performance of one of his subordinates. He showed the letter to Abraham Lincoln, and the President contemplated the words the commander had penned. Mr. Lincoln suggested that the General tear up his letter and write a new copy, knowing that the General’s anger would have subsided after some time had passed. Before you hit that send button, you might recall the wisdom of Lincoln. That way, we might all have a Grinch-like revelation, and keep the holiday spirit alive year-round.

Happy holidays to each of you.

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Reader Comments (2)

Kathleen O'Doherty · December 4, 2000 - 01:01 EST #1
Amen brother! I work part time in the service industry and know that "over the line" feeling all too well. Unfortunately, it seems that rudeness and vulgarity have taken over our society. Don't get me wrong, my vocabulary can be quite snappish at times. I also work in the harness racing business where the ability to swear well is almost a must. However ,this is usually directed at a large beast who doesn't understand the meaning of the words. I have been totally shocked by the personal attacks launched on some of the internet forums. Fortunately, I also get a big laugh from the truly horrible spelling that goes with it.
MacinNW · December 15, 2000 - 01:01 EST #2
You make several fine points. But I disagree on one. You said, "the answer is anonymity. Unless someone has absolutely no control over himself, he would never consider, say, walking into a grocery store and spewing profanity at a cashier. Once you have to look into the eyes of someone you want to berate, you realize that there's a person there—someone's son, daughter, mother, father, cousin, best friend, or coworker—someone with a life and real feelings (and someone who can call the police and have you escorted off the premises)."

Anonymity is part of the answer, but these are the same people who use profanity in public, rather than reason. These are the same people who cuss out the cashier in the check-out line and have never uttered the words, "why don't you go ahead of me, you only have a few items," or, when someone has offered this to them, replied, "thank you."

They have no courtesy or pride in their appearance or how they conduct themselves in public. And, as another reader wrote, their spelling is usually horrible.

I have "dressed down" people like that in e-mails before, without using profanity. Unfortunately, they don't recognize the veiled phrases and inferences.

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