The internet is one of the most advantageous and versatile tools available to modern humans. Its development has opened up a whole new world with myriad opportunities for every person with a computer or a library card, and that is a very good thing.

But, of course, humans are ever quirky, and when they get a good thing, they have a penchant for finding a way to use it for ill. The internet is no exception.

It troubles me to think that as our technology advances, our civility is dwindling.

While it is certainly true that our ability to create things such as the internet sets us apart from the rest of the animal kingdom, I believe it is equally true that courtesy is the foundation upon which human civilization rests.

The sort of courtesy I'm speaking about goes hand in hand with empathy. It is the simple awareness of how you would like to be treated in any given situation and the subsequent action of behaving that way towards others.

We all get angry sometimes. We all have bad days. We all have irate thoughts about what we might like to say to the fool who totally failed to see our point of view when they wrote that stupid letter to the editor in the paper or what we might like to do to that driver who’s going 25 miles per hour for no apparent reason in the passing lane when we’re on our way to work. Sometimes the best thing to do is to hold one’s tongue and pass on the right.

Acting on angry impulse has been getting people in trouble since Cain killed Abel.

I have noticed on blogs and other interactive sites, that there seems to be a large and vocal contingent of people who perhaps would serve the world and themselves better if they did not have access to a keyboard. This has become painfully clear to me since the inception of our new website, which has given these vitriolic bloggers the ability to respond to anything they read (and I use the term “read” loosely) with the click of a mouse.

Most of the time, we at the newspaper are delighted when someone responds to something we have posted or written, regardless of what that response is. It means there is at least one person out there who is paying attention. However, when the response comes in the form of a personal attack against us or against someone who has written a letter to the editor, I am not impressed or pleased.

It is one thing to disagree with someone. We encourage people of differing points of view to start a dialogue. This allows all of us writers and readers to explore what we think and why we think it.

As some readers have noted, Mr. T. and I regularly disagree on certain things, mostly those of a political nature, but we never stoop to disrespect or cruelty. This is the sort of dialogue we wish to engender in our community as well – respectful dialogue that deals with issues rather than personal attacks.

Perhaps one problem is the freedom of facelessness that the internet provides. People can now interact with each other in ways that would have been impossible 20 years ago.

They can pretend to be slim millionaires writing from laptops as they nosh on caviar in Beverly Hills even if they are overweight 30-year-olds living in their parents’ basements getting Twinkie crumbs all over the keyboards of their PCs in Des Moines, Iowa. Police detectives can masquerade as 14-year-old girls, and 14-year-old girls can masquerade as 21-one-year-old supermodels. Students can pretend to be their teachers and teachers can pretend to be 18-year-old artists living in Paris.

But, the thing about the anonymity of the internet that I find most disturbing is the license it seems to give certain people to say things that are negative, disrespectful, and vicious to each other without regard to the consequences.

Name calling and vastly inarticulate ravings about the stupidity of others cannot serve any constructive purpose. The only thing it does is to cast the person who wrote it in an extremely unflattering light. I wonder if people who write rabid and insensible polemics would be willing to wear large pointed hats with the words, “I am an irrational and mean-spirited fool who talks too much,” printed on them in large red letters. I imagine the answer would be, “No,” and yet it is an exercise very similar to posting cruel and inane comments on the internet. The only difference is that no one can see their faces.

It serves individuals and the world at large much better when people take a step back and a deep breath and consider.

If you find that, after you have regained your composure, you must voice your opinion, please do. But think about courtesy. There is nothing better than a personal attack to guarantee your point will not be heard or respected. You might as well just shriek, “I am wrong!”  at the top of your lungs, because no matter how correct you are, once you cast aspersions on someone else, you cease to be right..

Reason and courtesy, on the other hand, might actually cause someone to listen to your point of view.