The Blogosphere Is Full Of Jerks
On Friday I had a bad day. Over at my blog a commenter whose opinion I had valued left a comment in sharp disagreement with something I’d posted that included a personal attack that I found very hurtful. And it ruined my day. However, later that very same day I heard a program on the radio that put the experience into a little perspective and also cast some light on things I’ve seen around the political blogosphere.
On last week’s This American Life program, in one of the segments they interviewed a scholar who’s studying group dynamics and has found and demonstrated experimentally that the old adage “one bad apple can spoil the whole barrel” is correct from a group dynamics perspective. Even when people have strong motivations to succeed a single counter-productive member can prevent the group from being as productive as they might be. The behavior of a single individual can be so damaging to the group that the group can’t succeed at its objectives.
He identified three distinctly different styles among such individuals. First, there was the depressive individual, the negative and pessimistic person who’s continually complaining that the work is unpleasant or that the task too difficult.
Then there’s the slacker, the individual who doesn’t pull his or her own weight, or even does nothing.
Finally, there’s the jerk, the individual who contributes nothing positive to the common objective but is always ready with a put-down for those who are trying to accomplish something.
And that’s when it struck me: the blogosphere is full of jerks.
We all have our off days, all of us can be jerks from time to time. But some of us take special delight in it. Some of us seem to want nothing more than to ensure that everybody else has a bad day. That happy few will never make a positive suggestion, never contribute a considered opinion, or do much more than hurl insults and question the unknowable motives of other people.
You can’t remonstrate with a jerk: the jerk can always respond with more of the same. The only alternatives are to become a jerk yourself or to shut up and take it in silence.
The political blogosphere has the potential to become the greatest venue for discourse since the agora or the coffee-houses of 17th century London. However, anyone who has spent much time in the comments threads of many if not most blogs can certainly recognize a common dynamics: what starts out as a worthwhile conversation inevitably becomes dominated by the loudest, rudest, and angriest voices, by the jerks. Every comments thread descends into a shouting match and frequently the blog itself becomes an echo chamber in which only those who already agree dare converse.
OTB is certainly much better than most blogs in this respect and I think that James deserves a lot of the credit for that. I continue to see some meaningful discourse going on although even here many of the comments threads have a dreary sameness to them.
Here’s what I suggest: rather than using the comments threads of blogs as a place to vent, vent on your own blog. Don’t exploit the anonymity of comments. Never write anything in a comments thread other than on your own blog that you wouldn’t want your mother, spouse, or significant other to read. Try to be a good listener and understand the other guy’s point of view.
That might take the fun out of it for you but it will preserve the fun for everybody. And perhaps you’ll see a new sort of fun in it yourself.