The Underbridges of Internetland

Sometimes, there’s nothing to do but laugh at them:

The internet has taught us a number of things about human beings:

  • Weirdness is way more well-distributed than we used to admit or believe.
  • Groups of people can achieve pretty incredible things acting in concert, across vast distances, like building and refining the OS I’m using.
  • Unpopular is simply a different value of popular.

There are some uncomfortable truths mixed in there, too, though. One of them is the following:

At least, this is the insight I’ve gained from my brushes with trolls all over the Net–by which I mean not just people who happen to be having a bad day and act out temporarily (we’ve all been there, I’d guess) but people who make a habit, hobby, or even a lifestyle out of it.

The insight I’d push that further to is this one: large numbers of human beings are nowhere near as well-balanced, emotionally and mentally, as our cultures and legal systems suggest. Once you reconcile yourself to that, human history makes a lot more sense. You stop asking, “Why do normally sane people go along with things like genocide?” because, hey, it’s so much less inexplicable when you admit that, yeah, lots and lots of people are kinda crazy from the get-go. Maybe not crazy like the troll in the bridge above, but fundamentally not so healthy, and prone to shocking patterns of thinking (and, in connection with that, some pretty despicable actions).

Which is an interesting, if troubling, insight. I’m not sure what to do with it, besides being somewhat troubled by it.

6 thoughts on “The Underbridges of Internetland

  1. I’ve known people who just can’t do text-based communication well at all. In person, they’re great, or at least nowhere near as annoying as they are when they start posting. (Or taking it upon themselves to do some sort of admin stuff for a list that they don’t have admin privileges on, and generally pissing people off *that* way. OK, maybe it was just that one guy, and the admin had words with him, and as far as I know, he stopped. But he’s great about getting ice to the party.) I wonder if *some* of the problems start with that — people just not being good at text-based communication, and thinking they actually are a lot more competent at it than other people perceive them to be.

    Then again, there are the people who fuck up in the same manner in both RL and on forums on the ‘net. (And I have another specific example in mind for *that* one — but the fuckupery is somewhat limited, at least. It’s been more limited since folks caught on to him being a fuckup to the degree that he is, and not letting him *have* enough responsibility to do more than a certain amount of harm. And, he means well. He just fucks up and doesn’t understand what the problem is. Ever. Or at least it seems that way….)

    As for the rest, I’m still trying to figure it out. I just have a handle on a) people not communicating well via text-based media, and b) people being general fuckups.

    1. Julia,

      Good points, and yeah, it’s not as if writing is a natural mode of interaction. It’s a highly unnatural, stylized mode of interaction, in fact, as anyone who has taken any kind of writing class knows. When done well, it looks easy, but it’s actually not… not for someone new to it, and I count people as new to it unless they’ve generated a LOT of written text in their lives.

      It’s hilarious how I know exactly who at least one of those people you’re talking about is.

      But like you I remain puzzled at the other stuff… the sort of trollery that is satirized in the video, where people are just gratuitously offensive as long as they can remain anonymous.

  2. Actually, the two people I had in mind are in Austin, and on lists you’re not on. Bruce might recognize the second, if he were reading this post and my comments, but I don’t think anyone else likely to be reading this blog would recognize either.

    The text thing has been easy for me for awhile, partly because I spent a lot of time for a couple of years figuring out what not to do, based on what garnered very strong negative reaction. But it’s really hard for some folks, and I’ve heard of people who were incredibly professional in every other context being incredibly unprofessional in e-mail, and getting folks working under them somewhat riled up. Should there be some sort of course in “professional internet communications” for some majors in college, maybe? (Is there already something like that anywhere? I’m wondering if should ask someone I know who got an MBA relatively recently….)

  3. Julia,

    Ha! Oops. I guess the second example brought to mind That Unpleasantness of… what was it, 2000? 2001? You know what I mean.

    I don’t know if courses are offered anywhere, but I know that due to another professor’s being constantly offended by student emails (written, mind, in a foreign language to most of the students writing them), a colleague of mine did some research into what kinds of offensive gaffes students often end up including in emails.

    I also ended up writing a sort of style/conduct guide for writing polite emails to a professor.

    Of course, a lot of that is cultural/foreign language tips… but not all of it. And yes, in Korea, for some reason vast numbers of people seem to put anything but a real username into the sender line of their email, instead writing things like “I will succeed!” or “My Dream Hope” or random phrases in Korean (or other languages)… and then not identify themselves by name within the email either.

  4. I followed the link. That looks extremely useful!

    The all-caps is a fairly universal thing for e-mails in English. (There was one woman on a mailing list I’m on who didn’t get that *asterisks* could be useful for emphasis, and if she made too many posts in too short a period of time, I would get a headache reading that list.) Also, being respectful toward other people in the workplace is never out of line. (Being respectful toward your boss probably makes it less likely you’ll be fired. Being respectful toward the people you’re supposed to be managing will likely result in an overall happier attitude, and possibly more and/or better work done by them.)

    1. Julia,

      Well, I hope it is useful. I have to say student emails have become much more polite, if also more, er, templated since that went live and I started telling students to read it every semester.

      As for the insight into management styles… if only that logic were understood in every workplace…

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *