I have been online for an amazingly long time, compared to most people I know. A friend recently asked if I’d ever met someone in person that I’d originally met online, and I replied, "Not in about 12 years." When I first started using a modem to contact strangers, it was a 300 baud modem (when baud still meant bps – techie joke). That computer was a Commodore 64, and it was new, so that tells you the approximate longevity of my habit cum obsession. Regardless of how long I’ve been online, I’ve always tended toward the "community" aspect of the BBS’s and later the Internet. It seems that all too many people are more concerned with being jerks than being welcoming.
A prime example is on the alt.whatever series of newsgroups. Certainly, those of us who may on occasion flirt with some questionable aspects of life do so out of a curiousity and an utter amazement at the things we can do on a computer. When I entered the BBS world, lo these many years ago, if I were to make a faux pas in my postings, there would be fifteen people gently reminding me in a private message of the proprieties of that particular pseudo-community. Of course, even then, you could always count on the 2 or 3 screaming fools that would attack the slightest breach in etiquette, or what they perceived as a breach, anyway.
The way this antisocial behavior was always discouraged on BBS’s was simple: banning. Since BBS’s were run by an individual on his/her home computer, they were the masters of their domains and could easily control the riffs and the raffs that infest our daily world. Alas, the same is not true today on Usenet. Since there is nobody truly in charge of any particular non-moderated group in the Usenet hierarchy, the jerks and psychos have gained the upper hand. I long for the days that we could assume everyone was at least halfway intelligent and sane, just to have been able to figure out the computer and online systems enough to communicate. So, I guess, I blame this downfall of good manners online on Steve Case. If AOL weren’t so damned easy to use, we would have much fewer idiots online.