Ambiguous usernames that provide anonymity have resulted in an increase in freedom of speech and a decrease in liability

“I am seeking to destroy my deep-seated cynicism and ironic detachment via a strict regimen of self-inflicted enthusiasm!” proclaims blogger Beau Golwitzer. “Internet cynicism and naysaying getting to you too? I am going to avoid being negative online for a whole month and hope some people will join me, even if it is just to prove a point,” says another social networker. The very existence of these sentences — that we are in need of artificially-induced enthusiasm to overcome our weariness — is cause for concern.

Like social media, most content-sharing websites have sections for comments. More often than not, here’s where we find the strongest cynicism. Sarcasm and irony seen in tweets and status updates seem to win more brownie points than genuine passion or sincerity. There are websites dedicated to writing scathing movie summaries capable of showing even the best ones in a bad light. Grammar Nazis roam the Internet’s dark alleyways, waiting to jump at the opportunity to correct someone’s bad spelling or grammar. Any discussion on YouTube seems to escalate into a full-blown session of opinion-spouting, and it is common practice to mention Hitler to support one’s argument. Anything and everything is potential fodder for a cruel joke.

“It really baffles me why there’s so much cynicism, anger, and hatred involved in topics of common interest,” says Jamie Theurich on a popular Internet forum, only to be promptly beleaguered by disparaging comments. This isn’t just limited to opportunistic netizens commenting on things they stumble upon. These Internet trolls actively go out of their way to be acerbic. In fact, interns at a creative agency in New York have even come up with ‘sartalics’, a new font to indicate sarcasm.

A study in 2011 reported a 40 per cent decrease in empathy among college students, compared to their counterparts in the ’70s. Ambiguous usernames that provide the cover of anonymity have resulted in an increase in freedom of speech and a decrease in liability. But all this doesn’t account for the general air of disbelief. “Don’t believe all you are told,” is a perfectly sensible aphorism, of course. Great leaps in science and technology have been possible mainly due to constructive criticism. But automatically disbelieving anything one hears is, by the same token, a one-dimensional filter.

There are some who believe that this generation’s disillusionment is the result of increased access to almost infinite knowledge and information offered by the Internet. Anything new that anyone comes up with has been thought of or done already. They think this ‘Been there, seen it, done it’ attitude is the result of the creation of the global village, where someone from Chennai is familiar with an intrepid German’s failed attempt to fall through a frozen lake by way of YouTube.

There are some others who believe that the Internet isn’t the cause for cynicism, merely the facilitator. Tom Byron, in his answer to a similar question on the popular question-and-answer site Quora, says, “The Internet has given the people who view this as a global school, an opportunity for growth. For those who are, on the contrary, opportunists, it has become a dark place to exploit.”

So, what do you believe in?