The Problem With Anonymity. And The Prius.
It's been discussed ad nauseum, but I never could resist getting in one last boot at that dead horse. The web these days provides far too much anonymity, and, as a result, not nearly enough accountability.
I typically liken it to road rage. The overcaffeinated fellow behind you has no problem laying on the horn and flipping you the bird as he buzzes past in his midlife crisis if you have the unfortunate luck of turning just a little bit too slowly through that intersection. Outside the cramped protection of his tiny yellow sweatbox, he's probably a perfectly pleasant human being. He's got kids, he plays fantasy football. He's probably not so different from you.
But that's the thing. Behind the wheel, as on the web, you're not a person. You're an avatar, you're a Prius. And I hate Prii (I looked this up. Toyota has officially decreed that the plural of Prius is Prii). So when you tell me that the Samsung Galaxy S III is better than the iPhone 4S, I'm not going to react the same way as when Joe from accounting says that. Joe plays in my fantasy football league. He drafted Peyton Manning in the first round last year, and subsequently has bought every round of beer between January and now. Joe is a person. You, on the other hand, are just a username who deserves to be flamed.
Our anonymity has made us too bold. We don't hesitate anymore to write someone off as clueless, or viciously attack their loyalty to a certain brand. We all have to be right, and we're all convinced that we know more than the people around us. I'd be interested to see what kind of reaction someone like Topolsky would get if he one day decided to voice his opinions - which he is wont to do - under a new account. Would we still respect his opinions? I think most of us would freely admit that Josh knows more than the average tech enthusiast, but take away his name, and he's just another guy who needs to be downvoted because he doesn't agree with your personal brand of brilliance.
Look, I'm not saying that everyone is this way. And for the most part, I'm preaching to the choir. The Verge has one of the most civil reader bases I've seen, and for the most part, threads tend to stay on topic. But it doesn't matter how many kindly motorists yield to your right of way; you're only going to remember that one Prius doing 40 in a 55 with only one lane of traffic. And when you finally get the chance to pass that nameless gas sipper, you'll look to your right and see a sweet old lady who only wants to protect the environment. But you're going to give her the one finger salute anyway. Don't be that guy. On the road or on the Internet.