On February 12, 1999, physicist and cyberethicist Robert Newsome (Ph.D., D.Sci.) measured the amount of internet rage, channeled through email, listservs, and websites, on the day of Bill Clinton's impeachment acquittal. Dr. Newsome quantified the total internet-expended rage of that day as one KHAN. (The measurement is always expressed in full capital letters).
Since 1999, the KHAN measure has been exceeded on a number of occasions, most notably December 12, 2000, the day the United States Supreme Court decided to reverse a lower court in Florida in Bush v. Gore, 531 U.S. 98, 121 S. Ct. 525, 148 L. Ed. 2d 388 (2000).
It was on that day that Dr. Newsome was forced to revise his scale to accommodate the growth of the internet, as well as the breakdown of social inhibition caused by prolonged internet usage, to record the world's first GENGHISKHAN. A GENGHISKHAN, according to Newsome, is exactly One Godzillion KHANs of internet rage. Dr. Newsome's team measured the aftershocks of Bush v. Gore at approximately 1.4 GENGHISKHANs.
Our correspondent Ezra sat down recently with Dr. Newsome, who is on sabbatical at the University of California Berkeley, to discuss his work and predictions for the future of internet-based rage. He was kind enough to share this interview for publication:
Ezra: What brings you to California, Doctor Newsome?
Newsome: Well as you know, I began my career in high energy physics, a field not too dissimilar from the study of internet rage. I'm taking a year off at the Berkeley radio lab to study a collision among three galaxies in the constellation Draco. Imagine the fires of hundreds of billions of suns, with three supermassive black holes at the center, all going off at once. Just think of the holocaust of energy such a collision would release.
Ezra: Have you ever encountered similar energies in your studies, Doctor?
Newsome: The closest would be June 2 this year, when scalpers bought out every ticket for the Justin Bieber concert at Madison Square Garden in thirty seconds. That produced an explosion, on the American internet, approximately half as powerful as powerful as the galactic collision I'm presently studying.
Ezra: Doctor, you claim that as the internet expands, American political discourse degrades into incoherent ranting. But isn't it true that this sort of thing was common in the time of the founding fathers?
Newsome: Yes and no. It's true that Adams allowed his supporters to call Jefferson a Libertine Poltroon. And it's a fact that Adams was tarred as a Monarchist Whoremonger by his opposition. But that was a play for the uneducated masses. Today, serious, informed people genuinely believe that Democrats want to install a Stalinist oligarchy in place of a republic, and that Republicans want to see poor children die of measles. The internet is a great leveler.
Ezra: You made your name back in 1999, studying the aftereffects and echoes of the Clinton impeachment on internet-based rage.
Newsome: Yes, and that's still my primary field of study. And great things are coming. I believe you'll see more than a few Nobels awarded based on research that's about to begin later this week.
Ezra: And why is that?
Newsome: We have the confluence of three great events, much like a collision among three galaxies. You see, on Monday, the United States Supreme Court gutted Arizona's immigration law, but not so sufficiently that either side on the issue could claim total victory. While most of the law was overturned, the Court left standing the controversial "papers please" portion of the law, the one that most infuriated people in favor of a relaxed immigration policy.
That unleashed a torrent of rage, on both sides. Many Shuvs and Zuuls knew what it was to be roasted in the depths of the Slor that day, I can tell you.
Ezra: I'm sorry?
Newsome: Forgive me. When one studies the peculiar speech of web forum devotees too long, one picks up some of their habits. As I was saying, Monday saw a veritable flood of butthurt and bile cascading across the internet, as partisans of one side called the others NAZIS and BIRTHERS, and partisans on the opposing side shouted COMMUNIST! and the like.
Ezra: You can speak in caps lock?
Newsome: I speak d00d, haXXX0r, all the languages of the internet. Now, to put Monday's events in perspective, we'll borrow concepts from seismology. While the Arizona immigration decision produced rage, butthurt, and WTF? measuring at least a GENGHISKHAN in power, it was only a temblor, a minor warning shock of what's to come.
Ezra: Why so?
Newsome: On Monday there were a hundred fifty thousand people viewing the Scotusblog live feed, and it's safe to say than no more than one in a hundred were there for the Arizona decision. The other ninety-nine were all waiting for the decision in Florida v. Department of Health and Human Services, the health care case. And yet each of those hundred and fifty thousand people, all of whom have strong feelings on health care, had an opinion on the immigration case. So all of them left Scotusblog feeling wounded, like a kid whose dad has promised to take him to the next Transformers sequel on opening night only to learn that dad has to work late that night, so he'll have to wait until Sunday afternoon.
After the resultant tantrum, on both sides, over immigration, the internet is sensitized, more vulnerable to the next shock than it would have been had the Justices kicked immigration to the next term.
And the next shock, well, I can remember November 17, 2006, when the Playstation 3 was released in North America with no games to play. I had to wear mittens to touch my keyboard.
And I was behind a computer on September 19, 2011, the day Netflix announced it was splitting into Netflix and Quikster for double the price. The rage flared so bright I had to wear a welding mask to read the monitor.
Ezra: Those were one-time events.
Newsome: Precisely. But the health care "debate", if you can call months of whinging, bitching, kvetching, and moaning a debate, has been going on for two years. And it's about to explode.
Ezra: Can that quantity of rage even be measured?
Newsome: Fortunately it can. As the internet has grown, so has the power and precision of our instruments. But we're going to have to come up with new scales. You see, on top of, or perhaps beneath, the health care decision, we're expecting the House of Representatives to hold Attorney General Eric Holder in contempt. On an ordinary day that would provoke many GENGHISKHANs of internet fury. But combined with health care, and an approaching election?…
If a GENGHISKHAN is exactly One Godzillion KHANs of fury, hatred, and rage, we're going to have to come up with a new measurement. I've proposed that we call what will happen a CHAKAKHAN, which amounts to One MechaGodzillion KHANs of internet rage.
Ezra: That's a lot of rage. Do you have a prediction for how the case will be decided?
Newsome: What's my prediction for tomorrow? Hmmm…