SDMB: Reflection on Society

Something I give a lot of thought to, is the rapid changing of society, via the internet. The internet has dramatically altered all social interaction in the general populace. So I wanted to hear people’s opinions on the overall affect on society it can have.

A board like The Straight Dope is dedicated to reasoned debate (more or less) and for the most part it’s much more conducive to reasoned debating if everyone keeps their cool and tries their best to explain things to people. I think your average user realizes this. I’ve started to realize the flame wars are less savage than they used to be, or else I’m just less sensitive to it than I used to be. However, as the boards gentrify, the older crowd tends to become more tolerant as they’ve seen more and more of the same argument from the newbies. I know that I have made an attempt to stop engaging in flame wars completely, as I (clearly) get people to listen to me much better when I am being reasonable. So just from a purely selfish pragmatic point of view, it makes sense for me to be kinder in my arguments, then when that occurs, I start to realize, “Hey I’m learning more too.”

So on to the point. Do you think it’s possible that moderated message boards like this one, that are forums for what was once considered “Ivory Tower” debate, can influence society as a whole, to be more tolerant of alternative view points, by bringing a form of argument to the masses that was generally not thought to be the mainstream. (I do recognize the the SDMB isn’t exactly mainstream)

What are your thoughts on this?


no, they can’t
the average joe/jane wants to IM someone or look at crap on the web and I say crap in a nice way. I have a T1 connection at work and I have folks trying to show me horrible things they found on the net. Dead people and such.

Civility has left the planet and I think annonimity on the web did not help one bit.

SDMB did not do anything to make this so and the folks who need to get the message don’t read SDMB. (generally speaking)

I think that’s a more pessimistic view than I hold, as it also assumes that we live life in a bubble, and the people who post on these boards don’t actually interact with the people who send those IMs.

As for the pictures of dead people, I don’t see any corrolation between civility and voyeurism.

People constantly tell me that civility is dead, and I just don’t see it. All of my friends are extremely nice people, helpful, intelligent, and are working at becoming moreso.


Well, some discussions on this board have caused me to change my position on certain issues, and I can pass this information along to people that don’t even surf the 'Net. If nothing else, it has sharpened my debate skills to some extent, and made me wiser to how my fellow man thinks, which, in turn, has opened my mind to new ways of thinking about things.

I’ve used some of the information I have learned here in everyday life, and have changed others’ opinions, and if every Doper could manage the same thing, I think we could make small changes to the world around us.

Maybe I’m idealistic, but one drop at a time fills an ocean.

Lissa: Yeah, that’s my point exactly, and I wasn’t attempting to Deify the SDMB. I was just referring to the increased communication among people who probably wouldn’t be all that communicative without it.

For the most part, my impression at dopefests is that a large percentage of Dopers have lax social skills outside of the internet, therefore it would be much harder for them to find a forum to be heard on topics that they can discuss here.

I wonder if that will have a good impact on the world as a whole.

tunabreath: Another thing, you can’t expect massive social changes to happen within your lifetime, especially not in the 5 years that the internet has been mainstream.


I agree with this enthusaistically! I haven’t really changed many of my opinions, but I have been able to:

  1. expand my comprehension of my positions and their consequences
  2. acquire positions about issues I previously was uninformed about
  3. learn the pros and cons to the sides of an issue on which I remain uncomitted

This means that my positions are better informed, which rubs off on people around me when we discuss these things. My arguments are better, my counterarguments are better, and I’m more effective in understanding people’s positions whether those positions are contrary to mine or in agreement with mine.

I’ve met alot of people here, all sorts of people with all sorts of viewpoints and all sorts of interests, which also expands my ability to understand issues, and of course rubs off on those outside the board with whom I discuss various topics. For instance, IRL I spend almost no time whatsoever with women and almost never have an engaging issue-oriented discussion with them (many women seem to consider it offputting to do so unless they know you very well.) Here on the SDMB, I can actually learn what random women think about various issues without running the risk of engaging inappropriately heavy discussion in person. I don’t necessarily agree with other people’s conclusions, but knowing their perspectives when I otherwise wouldn’t have has fleshed out my own positions and made me better able to convey ideas to others.

As mswas says, it isn’t necessarily just the SDMB, it’s the ability to communicate with others about serious issues, despite that IRL it would often be inappropriate or otherwise not possible to do so.

RexDart: Well, what about the effect of changing what is appropriate topic of discussion? For instance, I have found lately that it’s not even gauche to discuss porn consumption in mixed company. At least not among my peer group.


Well, IMHO, that’s where a discussion group like this doesn’t help. Although I myself am probably comfortable discussing a wider range of issues than I may have been a few years ago, others around me may not be. My ability to bring up an issue is limited by what’s appropriate, and the appropriateness level of a conversation is equal to the lowest tolerance of a person in the group. If just one person in a group of 6 is uncomfortable discussing certain issues, then the rest of the group is probably going to avoid it out of politeness.

However, the increasing availability of ideas and resulting openness of people to those topics does eventually mean that there will be someone out there who will discuss it with you, you just have to look a little.

RexDart: I haven’t found that it’s all that difficult to find people to discuss issues with. I go to family get togethers and discuss politics with women there. My friend Barbie who is kind of the matriarch of that side of the extended family, is always talking with me about the new issue of the economist. A friend of hers is a general, and I spoke to his wife about it over Christmas, (he was in Kuwait). I turned another woman at the party onto “Foreign Affairs”.

I mean obviously I wouldn’t discuss internet porn at these get togethers, but among my peer group, we discuss it in front of men and women alike and no one deems it inappropriate, and I think this is due to the fact that porn is so prevalent on the internet that society at large was FORCED to accept that it’s the norm and not the exception.

You don’t see things changing in what’s deemed appropriate among your social circles?


Erek, fwiw I don’t think there’s any question about the fact that the internet has helped to make porn more mainstream and socially acceptable: so for that matter did cable tv, home videos, pay-per-view movies in hotel rooms.

I’m less clear, though, what you mean when you say that the net “FORCED” society to “accept” that that porn was “the norm and not the exception.” I think it’s more accurate to say that the internet helped to make sexually explicit materials of one kind or another more normal because it increased the availability and the consumption of such materials. It’s not as though there was, prior to the net, some natural level of porn consumption that was taking place in secret which the internet then revealed to be more common than was thought. Rather, technologies made it easier to do things that hitherto only some had bothered to do; and also to do them more frequently and with greater ease, expense, and exposure. With greater consumption comes greater acknowledgement and eventually, at least to a degree, acceptability.

There was an interesting article in the New York Times last week about how both the Internet and digital photography have increased the consumption of pedophilia.