There it is. I’m going to open up. Sort of. No, I’m going to try. I consume too much media and write too little of it. On a daily basis, I cruise a slew of mostly local media sources – CBC News, the Straight, Scout Mag – with frequent stopovers in Facebook and Yelp, and an occasional dip into Yahoo Screen to get my daily fix of Burning Love.
And I have to stop. Because comments are killing me. Sometimes I merely scan the article itself, then read the comments in detail. With the exception of The Tyee’s rather erudite community, most comments that people leave are just mean. Mean, small-minded, petty, pointless and often useless. Whatever the topic of the article or video is, there is someone who will take the time to tell us how they hate that thing. Article about how someone pulled themselves out of debt? Comments criticize how they did it, or tell us about how they think people buy too much useless stuff. News about Facebook? Commenters will usually enlighten us about how useless they find Facebook. (Or if it’s about TV, people come in droves to tell us how they don’t watch TV. Thanks. Good for you.) And my very favourite head-shaker is those who watch videos clearly labelled “stand-up” or “comedy” and then proceed to leave comments about how wrong the comic is or how the video “sucks.”
The stupid blind vitriol that fuels so much of the Internet is killing me. It really is toxic. Is everyone stupid? I think I understand the motivation behind all the meanness: people want to be heard. There’s a world full of chatter and so they’re shouting. Me! Me! Me! Over here! And the quickest way to get others to listen is to push their emotional buttons. Well, I’m (unladylike adjective here) exhausted of the name-calling, the anecdotal expertise, the political categorizing, the stereotyping, and the way it riles me up, invades my brain, and kills the creative drive.
Everyone wants to talk and no one wants to listen. Everyone says “How are you?” then tunes out the answer and then uses whatever you said as a segway into what they wanted to say. Listening isn’t sexy. Your stories are boring. That’s why we pay certain people to do it for us. Or marry them so they’re forced to lend an ear during commercial breaks, at least. Those comments on the Internet, too, are not there to add to any conversation. They’re just people having their say, reacting to whatever has been put in front of them. Negative, negative, negative – to change, to things that threaten our beliefs, to new ideas. It’s exhausting, trying to process all that.
Who cares?, you say, if you’ve gotten this far (Hi!). If it bothers you, don’t read it! In advance, thanks for the advice, Captain Obvious. I am going to try to stop, but it’s going to be hard. I’ve always loved reading opinion columns, the letters section of the paper, rants and raves, advice columns. I love learning about what people think. I love a good conversation or argument about ideas (in person). Up to a point – I am an introvert and usually need time to charge my batteries after an intense talk or social event or heated forum thread – anywhere and anytime too much information or emotion is coming in from other people. And the online, ongoing nattering of the world wide peanut gallery is getting me down.
And with the amazing, interactive power that all of our communications technology holds and all that goes into designing and making our magic boxes called computers and smartphones, is mean commenting really what we do with it? Bash strangers? Complain about things we had no hand in creating? (And I don’t even spend much time with Youtube comments.) I know there’s a whole positive world out there on the Interwebz, but at the moment, it’s clouded in a veil of “Your [sic] an idiot” level interaction and I am having trouble seeing it, much less breaking through to create, not hate.
This is an attempt to break with the toxic chatter, and to shake off the paralysis it has left me in. This is a writing blog, after all, and you should know why it’s hard to write for the internet. It’s a loud place, full of unpredictable reactions – not the safest place for a writer. It’s not that I’m some delicate flower like a golfer needing silence and shushers. In fact, I would predict this post to garner cricket chirps at worst and some amusing comment spam at best. Interactivity is good. Communication is what I crave. Real live human beings reading these words and talking back to me is the goshdamn thrillingest thing I can imagine.
I think sometimes one person can change the world, but I’m not going to try to be that person. Mean comments will likely continue, because we can make them so easily and the instinct to shout to be heard is never going away. However rational we think ourselves, we’re bags of emotionally charged water and our opinions spill out. So whatever anyone else spews about bike lanes or bad dog breeds or generation X vs Y vs millenials or vegan restaurants or kids in coffee shops or a million topics that are seemingly up for debate, it’s all too easy to get sucked in and then get riled up enough to jump in, all mouth and fingers. Avoiding all that emotional push-buttonery takes strength.
Can I move the mob in a more positive direction? Perhaps. Can I be one less torch n pitchfork in the crowd? Definitely. Can I be a witty little light, an amusing critic, a careful observer, a funny sidekick? Yes. And so can you!
Bonus: Other people who said funny and useful things about comments
- Mother Jones: The Science of Why Comment Trolls Suck
- The Onion’s Extremely Accurate History of the Internet, Part 6
- Louis CK: Of Course, But Maybe (The relevant bit is near the end. And I saw him do this live, too.)