Rory Sutherland Rory Sutherland

The Wiki Man | 23 February 2008

Rory Sutherland's occasional column on technology and the web

There was formerly a rude custom for those who were sailing upon the Thames, to accost each other as they passed, in the most abusive language they could invent… a fellow having attacked him with some coarse raillery, Johnson answered him thus, ‘Sir, your wife, under pretence of keeping a bawdy-house, is a receiver of stolen goods.’

It’s said that the internet promises to usher in a new age of altruism and selflessness but let’s not forget there’s a good side to it as well. Free porn, video piracy, and above all the chance to insult new people. Like the riverboats of Dr Johnson’s London, the online world provides the two things essential to irreverent abuse — anonymity and safety from physical retaliation.

This week’s best raillery came from an unlikely source, the Guardian’s Online Travel section at http://blogs.guardian.co.uk/travelog. Its editor had invited Max, a 19-year-old middle-class north Londoner, to blog his gap-year travels through India and Thailand. The readers were, er, unenthused:

‘I didn’t have time to “find myself” at 19 — I was too busy finding the money to pay my rent.’

‘Is this for the gold or silver DOE award? Where are quentin, rupert and tiggy going to be?’

‘Why does nobody try to find themselves in Belarus?’

Finally, after 400 increasingly abusive posts (and, believe me, it didn’t help when someone discovered Max suspiciously shared a surname with a Guardian journalist) someone called oniongravy posted this gem:

‘I don’t think it honestly occurs to you — and when I say “you”, I mean London-based journos on the nationals — just how incessantly and how forcefully we are fed the stories of the lives of a small subsection of London society… their bleating, self-important voices complaining about their nannies, discussing whether it’s OK to wear a mini-skirt round the Portobello Road if you’re over 40, and yes, just what their kids did on their gap years.

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