I consider myself a relatively intelligent person. I have a Bachelor’s of Arts degree in literature from New College, and a Master’s Degree in Education from the University of Florida. I have spent the twenty years of my adult life honing my perspective on the world, and developing my skills of writing and communication.
I am constantly trying to perfect my understanding of the world, and figure out what’s wrong with how I do things, when I do something wrong.
So when I have an online interaction that doesn’t meet my expectations, I immediately begin a thorough process of self-examination. Where did I go wrong? How can I do it right next time? Of course it’s possible that the person who is reacting negatively is just a jerk, or s/he doesn’t understand what I’m trying to say/do, or s/he is trolling with negativity just for the sake of trolling.
But I don’t like to write people off like that. I prefer to (as Wikipedia commands) assume good faith. We humans are much too quick to dismiss entirely those who disagree with us, and therefore most of us spend great swaths of our lives encompassed in cocoons of reassurance, where no dissenting voices can ever reach us (cf. the new US “Tea Party”).
Take Wikipedia. For the last year I have slowly and meticulously composed the article about Honoré de Balzac’s wife, Eveline Hanska. Without boring everyone (by which I mean the two people who are still reading) with the details, I’ll just say that nominating it as a Featured Article Candidate (FAC) has been extremely frustrating.
I’ve gone through the FAC process thirteen times already, and come close several other times (before I realized that the article would never pass, so I shouldn’t bother). I know that it’s often annoying and aggravating. But I figured that by now I knew what to expect.
I began responding to the comments right away — fixing citations, clarifying phrases, etc. I was a little annoyed when a week went by and not one person supported the article. Now, almost two weeks later, I no longer care if the damned thing passes or not.
The worst part is — again — I feel like I’m crazy, since the experience has deviated so severely from my expectations. It’s not as though I based those expectations on some article I read somewhere. My entire understanding of what it means to contribute meaningfully has been mauled.
The same thing happens on my favorite site these days, Reddit. I’ll find something awesome or post something I’ve made, and expect that it will do well. (“I know what people on Reddit like”, I tell myself. “This will get some upvotes for sure.”) Then I post it and it gets downvoted into oblivion and no one ever sees it again.
Part of the problem with Reddit is that — as with Newgrounds and lots of other sites — the new stuff is subject to the whim of a very small percentage of the community, and if it doesn’t get upvoted on those first views, it will probably never get upvoted. Granted, much of the stuff in the “new” queue really is garbage, but I can’t help wondering how much other cool stuff is getting deleted because one or two people gave a thumbs-down.
I guess at the end of the day, that’s the problem — people on the internet can have such a powerful impact, usually without even realizing it. I’ve posted rap tracks to Reddit, things I’ve spent weeks working on. To see them get no upvotes — or worse, get downvoted — is just heartbreaking. And of course, no one ever says why they don’t like it. Just: “BAD! IT’S BAD! YOU SUCK.”
I know that this has a lot to do with my ego, as much as I try to defend against that sort of thing. I take great pride in my thirteen bronze FA Wikipedia stars. After all, the article about Eveline Hanska is still just as superb without the star, right? So it’s obvious that ego is part of what drives that process for me. I can’t pretend like I don’t want barnstars and congratulatory messages on my talk page.
But it’s more than just ego. It’s about the self, and especially the intellectual self.
If someone says I’m not doing it right when I write a Wikipedia article, I begin to worry about what I’m doing wrong in other forms of writing. I start to worry if maybe I’m doing research wrong, or if maybe I need to change the way I approach things like teaching.
Of course several months from now I’ll look back and laugh at myself for getting so worked up about what one or two people say about that thing I worked so hard on (especially when I get the distinct impression that they didn’t read or listen very closely).
But right now I kinda hate the internet.
Here’s Joe Rogan talking for nine minutes about how messed up everything in the US is. Danger! Bad words!
Today I’m listening to: Soma FM!