The children's game Chinese Whispers is believed to have been invented sometime in the 17th Century when Europeans and Chinese started to have regular contact.

Such was the confusion by Europeans over not only the language but also the culture and worldview of the Chinese, that it seemed an obvious title for a game in which a spoken phrase becomes so distorted as it's delivered in hushed tones around a circle of participants, that it bares absolutely no resemblance to the original when the final person reveals the hidden message out loud. It naturally provides great hilarity for the participants as phrases morph into something unrecognisable by the time they reach the end of the human chain.

The modern equivalent of Chinese Whispers is reader comments on internet posts.

Whether it's articles, columns, blogs, videos, on Facebook, news sites, Twitter - you name it, the intentions of the author get so lost in the chasm of hurried retort that the original point is nowhere to be seen. We inevitably end up treading down and old worn-out track and arrive at a destination so familiar it's contemptible.


For example, my own column last week started out with a short précis of the Sydney Bledisloe Cup match (complete with typo) which led onto the tour group I was leading which, in turn, led onto the point I was trying to make; namely, the various personalities within that group were in my mind a microcosm of New Zealand's urban/rural divide. However, in the true spirit of a comments section that point became drastically lost amidst the readers' confusion and/ignorance.

One half-wit proclaimed, "start with the Rugby and kiss a***". She then went on to call farmers greedy and uncaring individuals who harbour the belief the rest of the country should "bow before them" and ended with the assertion that farming practices pollute the water supply of surrounding towns.

The other side of the divide was propped up by someone who began by referring to Aucklanders as "Auckwackers" - a term I'd never heard before - and likening them to Parisians and New Yorkers. However, said the keyboard warrior, Auckwackers don't have the same charisma as their counterparts in the Big Apple, who embrace their unfriendliness and wear it as a type of badge of honour.

I'm paraphrasing here as the author, and I use the term loosely, displayed an array of poor grammar and loose sentence structure typical of those who populate the average comments section.

Ironically, both comments actually highlight the point I was trying to make - the urban/rural divide in New Zealand would be better served if pre-conceived notions on both sides of the fence were dispensed with and each faction took the time to learn a little bit about the other. Or, remain ignorant but at least have the wherewithal to refrain from uninformed abuse. No wonder some site administrators have decided to shut down the comments section!

I suspect one of the chief reasons the message gets lost is because people don't actually read the article or post they're commenting on. It's often a comment based on a headline or a previous comment and, just like a Chinese whisper, the point inevitably gets lost somewhere down the line.