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WOSTER: Social discourse; changed, but not gone

The age of instant communications has brought a sometimes vicious tone to arguments these days, but I'm pretty sure it's always been human nature to engage in spirited disagreements.

I get a fair amount of my national and world news from online sources, so it's natural enough that sometimes I wander past the end of a story or opinion piece and find myself in the comments section. There I wade around hip-deep in reader responses that are angry, partisan, often ill-informed and sometimes complete fiction with little or no connection whatsoever to the topic of the piece that elicited the comments.

Remember the Pointless Forest, the place where Oblio and his faithful dog, Arrow, were banished in that wonderful children's story "The Point'' by Harry Nilsson? A fair number of comment sections I've encountered could be called pointless forests. It turned out in the Nilsson story that everything has a point, which is way more than can be said for a surprising number of online comments.

I often feel like engaging commentators when I read their responses; setting them straight, you know? I rarely do, because I'm not very good at the mean-spirited given-and-take that passes for social discourse on the internet. I guess I just don't feel like offering my thoughts and having them smashed back in my face.

That doesn't mean I don't like spirited arguments. I can get into a lively discussion of issues and ideas with family members and friends, if the occasion presents itself. It usually doesn't, for two reasons. First, I don't have many friends and rarely see the few I do have. Second, literally (and by literally I don't mean figuratively) every member of my family can talk louder and faster than I can, so even if I have something to say, the moment passes before anyone hears me. He who hesitates and all that.

Boy, it wasn't always like that. In my younger years, I had plenty of friends, or at least classmates who didn't mind hanging around me. We argued all of the time about every topic in the known world and beyond. We usually managed to disagree without resorting to a fistfight. Most of the time we didn't even stoop to name-calling, although that was always in reserve, a last-ditch tactic when all else had failed and the argument appeared hopelessly lost.

What did we argue about? Oh, gosh, you name it. In grade school, we'd walk home from the Saturday matinee arguing who was the King of the Cowboys. Was it Roy Rogers, or was it Gene Autry? I saw a Lash LaRue film one Saturday and briefly took him as my champion. It was kind of a non-starter, though. I couldn't get a single one of my pals to agree with me.

For a brief time we argued whether Elvis or Pat Boone was the better singer. I had a new pair of white bucks, so I took Pat Boone's side for a while, but not for long. How could a kid be 15 and think anyone but Elvis was rock and roll's top dog?

We had a long-running debate over Bill Haley and the Comets versus Gene Vincent and His Blue Caps. That one would have turned vicious in the social-media world. Back in our day, it ended in an amicable draw. I mean, it was hard to go against Bill Haley if you ever heard "Rock Around the Clock'' at the opening of the movie "Blackboard Jungle.'' But, man, Gene Vincent and "Be-Bop-A-Lula?''

We even argued one time over the possibility that a Sioux City radio station might be better than KOMA from Oklahoma City. That came about because my buddy's older cousin was in college, had her own car and stopped one evening to talk to my buddy while we were all hanging around. She sat on the hood of the car with the doors open and the radio playing rock and roll from Sioux City.

A couple of the guys sided with the older woman for a bit, but when she drove off, they came to their senses. A radio station better than KOMA? No way, not even in today's social media whirlwind.