Stupidity in the cyber-age

Social media puts idiocy on display, which isn’t necessarily a bad thing

Ryan Janz

Once, in elementary school, a friend of mine was sitting by himself in a corner of the playground pouting. I walked over and asked what was wrong.

“I hate people,” he responded, looking at the ground.

“Why?” I asked.

He lifted his head, looked me right in the eyes, and shouted, “Because people are stupid!”

Recently, I was having that similar thought (and then some) whenever I went online. Whether I was watching a video on YouTube of some sub-normal jackass from South Carolina jumping on his best friend’s crotch, or reading barely-literate status updates on Facebook, I had the feeling that people weren’t just stupid. I got the feeling that the whole human species was getting dumber by the keystroke.

It was a depressing thought, but I’ve started to see things a different way now. It’s not that people are getting any dumber. It’s that, thanks to the advent of social media, people are more honest about how dumb they actually are. They let the whole world know and come clean.

For example, take that teacher from Churchill High School who decided it was a bright idea to perform a lap dance on his colleague in a gym full of students. Was that dumb? Fantastically so. Everybody in the place knew it was dumb and everyone who saw it on the news thought it was dumb. Really, really dumb!

Consider this. A decade ago, only a handful of people would have known about this – the people in the gym, the parents, the school board. Rumours would spread to schools nearby, but it would essentially be a local issue.

However, thanks to YouTube and a high school student with a cellphone (I understand that’s fairly common these days), the lunchtime lap-dance story blew up like gangbusters. It received global attention; the video was featured on the front page of It’s a safe bet that neither of the teachers in the video will ever be hired by any school division with a working knowledge of how to use Google ever again.

If there’s a moral to their story, it’s this: nowadays, if (and when) you do something stupid, people are going to find out.

Personally, I think that’s great. I’m looking forward to a future when the members of this generation start running for public office and the photos from their youth begin to surface. Smear politics will be that much more fun. Or maybe they’ll just disappear entirely. After all, if everyone has dirt on everyone else, no one can really claim the moral high ground.

The point is, if you’re ever crawling the web, that wonderous series of tubes, and you start to feel like the world is getting dumber, just remember that my grade school friend has been right all along. People aren’t getting any stupider; we were plenty stupid to begin with.

We’re simply getting better at admitting it.

Rob Holt is a second year student at the University of Winnipeg. You cannot follow him on Twitter.

Published in Volume 64, Number 21 of The Uniter (March 4, 2010)

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