As a teenager in the late 80s and early 90s, I began using online services such as AOL and often posted on BBS’s. The formative Internet’s population was mostly comprised of other nerds like myself – happy to
have a new porn delivery system play with their new online ‘toys’ and generally welcoming of newcomers.
It was enriching for a small-town girl like me to freely discuss the nature of coronal mass ejections and Boba Fett with people from cultures I might not otherwise have encountered. Before that, the best I could do was talk to the dumb neighbor girl about her Barbie collection and ponies – things I found uninteresting. Here was a convenient way to rebel against the ‘no talking to strangers’ parental directive – and my small world was ripped wide-open.
Advances in graphical user interfaces and widely available broadband access now permit ease of Internet use. Almost anyone, anywhere in the United States (with the exception of certain rural areas, which is fine because they’re all Amish anyhow) can get online to collaborate, debate, organize and otherwise socialize. The promise and benefit of the Internet and needs no further proclamation – but I have since come to view the World Wide Web as little more than an overwrought asshole connection service.
Forsooth, ‘GIGO’ is a universal law in computer science.
In the decades that have passed since we measured our connection speeds in baud rates, I have largely fallen behind others in participating in what we now refer to as ‘social media.’ I don’t upload videos to Youtube, I wasn’t on Facebook until 2009, and I haven’t used an Instant messenger service regularly since ICQ was new. My lack of web input is, in-part, a result of a keen awareness of privacy issues and consequences related to such public discourse – but largely because the growth of the Internet has not affected my fundamental introversion.
I don’t have the same socialization requirement as individuals with more extroverted personalities. Introversion vs. Extroversion is a topic that is well documented elsewhere, but for the sake of this post I will explain how it relates to me. I’m happy playing my guitar for an audience of none. Sure, if someone else would be pleased in hearing my music (and that someone would probably have no taste in music, because I am admittedly ill-practiced), I wouldn’t deny them access to it – but my goal is not to put on a show for anyone – it is simply to enjoy the process. The same is true of this very blog that I write now.
Even although I’m interested in reading blogs, commenting at forums et al, I’ve made relatively few contributions to social media because of that aforementioned introversion. I just don’t feel the need to have my voice heard all over town. When I do require socialization, I am fortunate to have a manifold circle of friends in the meatspace I can pester. These friends and acquaintences are diverse in politics and beliefs and will happily engage me in debate or discussion without resorting to the conversational terrorism that plagues the Internet and will still call me in the morning. This is why the one social media site I do embrace is Facebook, but I will concentrate on that later.
In a fantastic article (on what is supposed to be a satirical site) called ‘‘7 Reasons the 21st Century is Making you Miserable’, author David Wong brilliantly addresses everything I find problematic with today’s computer mediated-communication. This technology which was supposed to help unite us and foster greater understanding among people of different cultures and ideologies has had the unintended consequence of working exactly against that. Now we can divide ourselves into infinitely smaller cliques, where outsiders are always shunned and new ideas are ignored without contemplation.
This is not something isolated to obscure Internet blogsites but is appears to be a systemic problem in modern society. However, the divisions of people are most observable on the Internet – and are manifest on just about every web ‘thing’ that has a comment feature enabled. Pick a website, any website – that has a comment section and you will immediately see the ‘trolls.’ Trolls can be anyone who makes inflammatory, non-constructive remarks, often by way of simple insult. Even on a website dedicated to people who love unicorns you will find individuals who cannot resist the impulse to tell the group that they think unicorns are stupid and ugly and add that anyone who likes unicorns must worship Satan and enjoy eating babies.
Trolls have become such a pox on the house DARPA built that new reputation-based comment moderation systems have been developed to keep the discussion productive and diminish the reach of visitors who have the express purpose of antagonizing other users. However, like any security system – there will ultimately be those who learn to game the system for their own advantage. So now we have people that spend inordinate amounts of time and resources trying to lower the reputation of people/ideas they find disagreeable.
All of this seems so excruciatingly counterproductive to the existence of mankind. Put another way, these people need to get a fucking life!
In the last month I’ve been so amused by one particular blog, I decided to break from my lurking tradition and made two comments. Unfortunately, my failed attempt has done nothing but reinforce my disgust for the whole shebang, and perhaps – by logical extension – society at large (as if I needed any more of that!).
I won’t bother to mention the site I’ve posted to (I’d guess this wordpress thingy has some way of connecting you to my comments, so have at it if you wish), but I have been reading the blog and enjoying the rapier wit of commenters who seem to share my worldview, or at the very least least – my appreciation of the blackest humor. All previous statements about the division of people considered, it’s still nice to engage in a discussion with like-minded individuals from time to time, right? RIGHT?
As it turns out, no.
Apparently, my first post coincided with that of someone who was found to be a ‘troll,’ who I gather has some kind of plan of assuming new usernames to continue his trolling. My second post, I later decided – was far too inflammatory in general (even though this particular blog following community might have liked it) and was the kind of thing better shared with my closest friends – so deleted it. By that motion to delete and by some kind of arcane user-view history deduction, one of the site’s users proclaimed that I must be a troll and, ironically – ‘trolled’ me. I know that’s hard to follow, but that’s why I’m still reeling from it because it just seems so positively insane. The experience is very much like a kind of blog hazing incident. I’m new, unknown – so I have to be initiated before anyone will validate my comments.
It is unfortunate that I could not be accepted by them. I was really hoping I could be accepted by a group of total strangers who will never be there to give me a jump when my car battery dies. Truthfully, this incident has indeed affected me in some way – as is evidenced by the authoring of this post – but I’m not hurt, just vindicated.
The observation most central to this entire blog post is that we are all, essentially, trolls. Every single one of us is someone else’s troll. What makes our troll-status something we can overcome is getting to know your troll. Some people are make themselves unknowable – but the truth of the matter is, if you get to know your trolls, they become less trollish and more like that 2nd cousin you’ve only seen at family reunions. Once you know someone’s story and realize they are a living, breathing human being – it’s not so easy to write them off.
Perhaps this begins to sound read a protracted ‘why can’t we all just get along’ themed missive, but I continue to be fascinated by the Internet and the power of organization it can engender. I don’t find it utterly useless, but perhaps not as useful as I’d hoped.
As it turns out, the people I connect with best online are my geographically local Facebook friends – many of whom don’t think anything like me. Friends of different religious views and social classes and with political ideas that – perhaps only superficially – differ greatly from my own. Miraculously, I’m still able to sit around a table, crack beers and crack wise at the ridiculousness of the world with people who don’t share my taste in music at all. For some, the only thing we have in common is that we grew up in the same community and got sent to the same principal’s office when we misbehaved as kids. To them, I am not some anonymous ‘other,’ I’m that silly, opinionated yet affable nerd who is always there to answer questions about where to camp and hike.
It is ironic that I seem to have come full circle on these here Interwebs. That dumb neighbor girl who liked Barbies and ponies would be there to rescue me if my car breaks down, and even though we come from different walks of life – we’re still walking it together. If not for her, I might never have gone outside of my comfort zone to try horseback riding – which I actually enjoyed.
I’ll still visit that site, because I do find it entertaining – but I think I will benefit more from ‘commenting’ with the Amish, in the good old fashioned meatspace. Like I tell a lot of people who dismiss their hometowns because they feel they are so much different from residents of their former community:there are assholes everywhere, but at least I know the ones I grew-up with by name.