One of the saddest things about the Internet is the fact that it's fostered an age of instantaneous opinions.  Remember Am I Hot Or Not (which is now a dating / social networking site)?  My friends and I spent hours there, laughing our heads off; it's ingeniously set up so that you can't see more funny photos without making a judgment about the one in front of you.  Facebook's "like" feature is similarly shallow, but requires even less effort; there's only "Like" (no "Dislike" except in the passive sense, constituted by a lack of reponse.)

What does this do to people, over time?  We'll probably never know, of course; our lives are sufficiently complex that it's impossible to isolate one specific feature.  But yesterday, I started thinking about it when I got into a disagreement with a student about the article she wants to write for the school paper.  She had the brilliant idea of a food issue, in which all the writers would share recipes and review restaurants and food-themed movies and TV shows.  Everyone was on board, chattering excitedly and throwing around ideas.  For her article, she asked to review nice restaurants in the area, possible candidates for pre-Prom dinners and fancy dates.  I told her, great; make up a list.

She returned her list to me the next day: it consisted of five or six steakhouses in Baltimore.  Hmm.  I gently suggested she branch out a little: what about seafood, for which Baltimore is renowned?  No, she'd only been to one seafood restaurant and hadn't liked it.  What about a Brazilian churrasceria or one of the venerable pasta houses in Little Italy?  She hadn't been there either.  What about people who don't eat meat?  "Well, there's other things on the menu."  I suggested she talk to some other people about good restaurants, but she didn't want to do that in case they might be wrong.  Bottom line: she wanted to write an article consisting solely of restaurants she had been to and liked a lot.

I made an appointment with the guidance counselor to talk this through, since I felt a lot of hostility toward the mere suggestions I'd dared to make.  But after that, I started thinking about how all this "Like"ing might have affected her ability to see the bigger picture and consider, if not respect, the opinions of others.  My students aren't even offended when I say, "Who cares what you think?"  They simply dismiss the thought.  Of course people care.  It's their opinion, and opinions are interesting, especially their own.