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May 22, 2009

The World is Made of People's Dirt

I've recently discovered people's dirt. No, really; there's a website--PeoplesDirt.com--that is causing a local uproar. I heard it when I recently started picking up a local weekly, but it has gotten a WaPo write up twice in the last week.

I find it fascinating. Not the site, it's plain, oddly laid out and uninspiring. It'll never become more than what it currently is. It's the responses of parents and school administrators that has me captivated. Really, I'm not sure there's a TV show more interesting.

In their quest to make a perfectly sanitized and unblemished life for their kids, they've completely forgotten that kids are some of the meanest, most ruthless and vindictive people out there. What keeps them from totally destroying society is the fact that they are minors, the ward of adults. It should be no surprise that today's kids run amok on this website as if it were a modern-day interpretation of Lord of the Flies.

To be certain, I understand their concern. But I also remember my time in high school sharing sexual conquests and pitting myself against rival factions. My last two years were in a boarding academy, where it seemed at least monthly we'd gather in a dorm room with a yearbook and discuss our female classmates' appeal and availability. Even in middle school we did this; I remember the notorious "notebook," which anonymously floated around collecting tallies of the cutest girl, hottest boy, the biggest jerk, and so on.

Perhaps it is possible to minimize these kinds of activities, and I think adults are good to curb their prevalence. Yet I cannot understand the local drive to shut down the site and vilify its creator, who apparently moved from the area to Colorado recently. To me it seems like suing Mead for making the composition book we passed around in 4th grade.

You don't punish the medium. The discussion board is not hurting you or causing you distress. It is your children placing that filth on a perfectly neutral platform. Stop passing the blame and accept that your perfect children are creating the perfect storm. The effort wasted in trying to pull down a perfectly legal (albeit also perfectly repugnant) site is energies that could be to improving our lives and responses to life's difficulties--so that those under our care don't grow up thinking that elitism, mockery and disparaging comments are ever good: online, at the dinner table, or on the TV.

As the internet continues to develop communities that are outside of the scope of traditional methods of dissuasion (social condemnation, lack of majority support, restriction of resources), we will ultimately need to reassess the laws that provide protection and security for our life , liberty and pursuit of happiness. PeoplesDirt is introducing us to smudges of the new world.

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