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(Over) Simplifying the Complex

A few weeks ago, I published an op-ed opposing pending Net Neutrality legislation. The editorial appeared simultaneously on both href="http://www.news.com/Save-Internet-freedom-from-regulation/2010-1028_3-62...">CNet and href="http://news.zdnet.com/2010-9588_22-6222385.html">ZDNet.

Of course there are many in the technology community who disagree with me and who believe that legislation is needed to ensure the free-flow of content regardless of its nature, source, or use. I didn’t really expect to change any minds so much as cast a shadow of a doubt for those who have already made up their minds.

What surprised me about the response to this article wasn’t that so many people disagreed with me. It was the way that disagreement expressed itself, especially in the “Talkback” on ZDNet. Most of those who disagreed—and many who agreed—said little or nothing about the merits of the proposed legislation, which I suspect few have read or have the training to translate into non-legal English.

Mostly the comments boiled down to simplistic but passionate views in a much more basic argument. Those who disagreed with me largely see the problem as one of greedy corporations determined to take control of the Internet. Those who agreed with me largely see the problem as one of corrupt and incompetent government unable to get out of its own way even if it wanted to do the right thing.

Obviously there is a great deal of self-selection in the readership of both CNet and ZDNet as well as those who feel strongly enough to take the time to post comments. But I am still mulling over the combination of rage and blunt force that characterize nearly all of the comments. Who are these people? What is behind their anger and rejection of one or another basic social institution (I hate corporations! I hate the government!)? What is it about the medium (Asynchronous? Anonymous? Instantaneous?) that elicits this type of message?

I confess I am tempted to over-simplify myself, diagnosing the I-hate-corporations types as suffering from unresolved Oedipal dramas, while the I-hate-the-government types revealed unresolved Electra complexes. In both cases, the energy expended on commenting was directed not to my arguments or even to the issue of net neutrality, but to something much more primal.

That fact seems determined to tell us something about the nature of the Internet, or its users, or both. But one fact does not a theory make.

I wish I’d studied more psychology.

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