One of the worst things about the internet is that it tempts everyone to be a sophisticate – to take positions on what is hip and to consider, under pain of being considered unhip, the positions that everyone else is taking. Kraus may not have cared about hipness per se, but he certainly revelled in taking positions and was keenly attuned to the positions of others. He was a sophisticate, and this is one reason Die Fackel has a bloglike feel. Kraus spent a lot of time reading stuff he hated, so as to be able to hate it with authority.
The question is whether the effects of this dynamic are salutary or negative. Being the internet skeptic that I am, I personally feel that the dynamic is an unhealthy one. While I believe in the necessity of social conditioning, I think that such conditioning is most appropriate when influencing community behavior, and least beneficial when it comes to arguments and ideas, which suffer if they are too easily influenced by social pressure. In other words, the online world, which much more resembles a debate hall, classroom, or legislative body than a social community, is precisely where we would least hope to find explicit markers of social approval. What’s more, it’s important to think about what kinds of online behavior tend to get these little nods of approval. Jokes, insults, messages of professional regard, and showy displays of disaffection are just as likely to receive these little digital strokes as good writing, thoughtful ideas, or kindness. And by their nature, some of the most important of social values can never be rewarded in this way: humility, reserve, gentleness, restraint, and quiet compassion. If the internet frequently feels like a pit of meanness and obligatory jokes, that’s because those are the behaviors that are most rewardable and are most rewarded.