Sure, you've probably heard some of these complaints before, the grousing of elders and eggheads about those darn kids and their clothes and their hair and their newfangled technology.
Critics deplored newspaper tabloids, which catered to first-generation immigrants learning the language and time-pressed laborers grabbing a few minutes to read lurid headlines on the train. In the early '60s, FCC Chairman Newton Minow famously called television "a vast wasteland," echoing the thoughts of many who had hoped that the medium would bring about a golden age of entertainment and enlightenment -- not "The Real McCoys" and "Clutch Cargo."
It's always something, the elitists charge.
Still, like television in the 500-channel era, the Internet is many things, many of them worthwhile. Along with the spitball-blowers and OMG hyperventilators, there are smart sites that use smart prose and smart graphics (and are quite capable of satirizing everybody else). They're the kids who are actually trying to learn something -- respect for others, at the very least.
OK, so they can sometimes be goody-two-shoes. And their voices often get drowned out by the unruly din of the digital masses. Does that mean they should end up at wrong end of wedgies?
Class? Class? Will class ever come to order?
Rachel Weingarten, a marketing strategist, sees some signs that the Internet is wising up a little.
Some of her clients, she says, are trying to use thoughtful whispers rather than sledgehammer amplification, talking up to customers rather than talking at them.
The reverse didn't work, she says. One well-known candy gave its front page over to a Twitter feed, inviting "every 14-year-old idiot on Earth" to talk smack about the brand. Now, "the boutique brands are saying, help us find our niche, and help us keep connected," she says. "People no longer want the big campaign. People now want you to help figure out who they are again."
In other words, they're growing up.
Michigan's Douglas also credits some of the Internet's noise to uncertainty. Web users are still figuring out whom to trust, how to communicate, what this new (and it IS still new) technology can do. They're like a bunch of kids getting their first surge of hormones. They won't always be bouncing off the walls.
But, in the meantime, it's going to take some work to leave the schoolyard. Sternberg, for one, isn't optimistic. She mentions Freud and his "Civilization and Its Discontents," which argues that civilization relies on restraint of childish behavior. The Internet, of course, is just a reflection of our larger civilization -- and she doesn't like what she sees.
"The idea that being an adult is prized in our culture -- that idea is evaporating," she says. "It's really uncool."