Monday, August 18, 2008

Internet self-analysis

I've commented/joked before that the internet is essentially the largest human behavioural research laboratory in history. I sincerely hope there are a few PhDs being worked on that analyse the group dynamic we see at play here every day. I'm sure some great truth about the human condition is waiting to be illuminated.
While being immersed in the horror that is the internet is more than enough to make you completely lose faith in human nature, taking a breath now again and stepping back can be very helpful. Even the worst, most infuriating behaviour from morons can help you learn something if looked at from the appropriate angle.
For instance, people's tendency to slip into paranoia and conspiracy theories freaks me right out. From high end 9/11 "truth" whackjobs to the insane conclusions people leap to when interacting on sites like Facebook or YouTube. There are days when I think the majority of the planet have their brains set to a default "crazy" setting - it's the only explanation for the leaps some people make.
It would be one thing if it was only paranoid schizophrenics having conversations with the saucer people who made these crazed dives into deep chasms of illogicality. But perfectly rational people (or people who are good at covering a lot of the time) will frequently indulge in paranoid responses to perfectly straightforward situations. One example is they way people respond to a glitch YouTube has been having recently.
I suspect this actually coincides with the last "upgrade" to Flash as YouTube (like most video sites) uses a Flash player for their videos. Whatever the source, this bug has gone unfixed for way too long (at least a month) What happens is that videos frequently fail to play. When you click "Play" you see a little spinny thing that suggests the video is loading but nothing ever loads - the screen goes black.
Actually, not quite nothing. YouTube make it worse by displaying an incorrect error message: "The video you have requested is no longer available." Speaking as someone who occasionally takes on controversial topics, I am frequently receiving comments along the lines of "OMG what did you say? They've taken the video down! Big Brother is silencing free speech!" Well, no actually. It's just a shitty site with a shitty glitch.
But a LOT of people leap straight to a paranoid conclusion. I've learned to be less stunned by people's tendency to descend into paranoia. Besides, with the US Government making it clear they're indulging in wholesale surveillance of the entire population, CCTV cameras on every street corner in the UK and an internet overrun with idiotic trolls determined to fuck up your enjoyment of life, paranoid may as well be the new normal.
And then there's the tendency of people to lie. Most rational people have a healthy suspicion of authority figures and the media. Great pronouncements of truth have a disturbing tendency to turn out to be self-serving lies. And the internet has been a valuable tool in exposing many of these lies that would have otherwise escaped detection.
Mind you, the internet is also obviously a massive source of the most outrageous lies imaginable. And a horrifyingly efficient distributor of lies. Like most people, I spent a lot of time being appalled at the most egregious lies being circulated. I've spent time trying to debunk some of them. But you know what? Sometimes it's enough to take away the lesson "Wow, a lot of people tell lies. A lot of the time."
I'd love to tear down the houses of lies that the politicians live in. I'd love to expose the venal media hacks who lazily and shamelessly circulate these lies without applying any critical analysis. And I'd really love to make the gutless scumfucks on the internet take responsibility for the vicious lies they peddle. But I can't. There's too many of them. Accepting that simple fact can be incredibly liberating.
I see people lie about petty, trivial things all the time. I see people tell lies that are absurdly easy to prove are lies. Not differences of opinion, not misrepresentations, not mistakes. Deliberate, premeditated, calculated lies. And when so many people do this over completely meaningless things, how much more likely is someone to lie when there is something serious on the line? As much as the liars I've been confronted with online sicken me, they've helped me by ensuring my bullshit detectors are usually turned up to 11.
Just because it's on the front page of the New York Times doesn't mean it isn't a lie.
So the downsides of the internet have actually helped me balance my worldview. Learning those things about human behaviour is helpful. But a helpful lesson I frequently forget is that it can tell a lot about me too. How I respond to negativity can be a very good indication of how balanced my mindset is.
The worst of the negativity is always on YouTube. While I have had the occasional stupid troll on this blog, they're few and far between compared to the cavalcade of idiots on YouTube. I strongly suspect this is because interacting on a blog required the reading and the reading is more challenging than the looking YouTube requires of you. Don't get me wrong - I love the looking. But there's no denying the reading requires an additional level of commitment.
My reactions to YouTube trolls have varied wildly over the last two years, something that may well have a relationship to my mood swings over the same period. I've gone from grinding them into the ground, trading insult for insult until they give up, to having zero tolerance and deleting abusive comments instantly and blocking the worst offenders. At the moment I'm leaning more towards block/delete but indulging in the occasional slugfest when it seems funny.
But I'm very conscious of how much it consumes of my mental and emotional energy. Case in point: a little while ago, there was a particular YouTube dweeb who was really pissing me off. He was going the whole way, indulging in truly insane conspiracy theories about the motivations of myself and other people, telling pathetically obvious lies that weren't even worth debunking. And he would not shut the fuck up.
I spent a bus ride to work thinking of a way to get back at him and came up with quite a good idea for a video. I never go after individual people in videos so this would have been going after his sort of stupidity generally rather than him specifically. But it would have been obvious that I was going after him. And that made me pause.
While I have a lot of fun going after the hater mentality I've been careful not to make it about them. When I have a go at haters it isn't from some deluded idea that I'll make them change - it's a message of support to the other victims of their stupidity. Giving someone the message that they aren't being attacked because they've done something wrong, they're being attacked because their attacker is a fucking moron can really make a difference. It's easier to bear stupidity when you have a sense of solidarity with other decent people.
So I didn't make the video. Yet. I'm still going to make it because it's a bloody funny idea (IMHO) and I think people will enjoy it. But it needs more distance so it's about me doing something funny rather than simply me biting back at someone who pissed me off. The moment I made that decision was incredibly liberating. A huge amount of stress left me when I realised I wasn't letting this mentality control me.
And I didn't even have to say anything to the fuckwit in question. Because they don't count. That is something that I really hope decent people understand. Sometimes, not responding is the most powerful thing you can do. Because then you're living life on your terms, not theirs.
Living well really is the best revenge.

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