The Knee-Jerk Now

Posted: April 8, 2013 in Uncategorized
Tags: , , , , ,

By now, most web sites have comment sections. Usually they’re unmoderated. Comments don’t have to be approved before they’re posted. The comments section allows you to spout whatever’s on your mind after reading the article  (or even the headline, if you’ve decided it’s TL:DR). Instant feedback, instant gratification! Everything in the future moves fast!

And I don’t like it.

I was looking through some old (read: mid-1990’s) issues of Computer Gaming World and EGM, two of my favorite, now-defunct mags from back in the day. Things were different then. Print was still largely how we got our news, especially concerning our dorky niche hobbies. Oh, and video games were a dorky niche hobby back then, in case you can’t remember a time when Microsoft didn’t make consoles. Anyway, these magazines had mail sections where the editors would answer the mail that readers sent in. While mail sections and comments sections serve largely the same purpose- to express the reader’s thoughts on what they read- they function very differently.

A mail section is by its nature moderated. If you read something that is wrong, or pisses you off, or uses the incorrect pronoun, you used to have to send a letter. Now by the mid-1990’s many people were starting to get email addresses, but it was nowhere near as universal as it was today. College students might have one, an enthusiast with AOL or Earthlink or Prodigy might have one too, but the only people that reliably had any kind of email were computer geeks. It was email or snail mail. You had to write that letter, an editor had to read it, consider its contents and intention, and answer it. You couldn’t just fire off a knee-jerk response in a blank text box or start a flame war. Letters were moderated. They are by their nature more personal because you are speaking directly to someone rather than fishing with dynamite. You had to be civil. You had to be respectful of the editors and other readers- I know of at least one case where EGM printed a letter from an individual of questionable literacy who spent their entire letter insulting  for the pure reason of pointing and laughing at him.

Write an inconsiderate or off-the-cuff comment on a web site with a comments section on the other hand- very few moderate their comments or force you to wait while they’re approved. You can troll, flame, insult, and demean to your heart’s content. It was a pretty cool thing when a buddy of mine got his letter in Nintendo Power. Would you be proud if everyone could see your comment you penned incognito; if they knew it was you that wrote it? Or do you revel in the anonymity the internet provides, using it purely to childishly act out? Paradoxically, one can use a comments section to simultaneously seek attention and remain anonymous. You’ll most likely get a negative form of attention for your petty snark, but people will pay attention. And I think for some people, this is all that matters.

The internet has changed our discourse. Rather than having to think our response out and find a good way to express that, we can just let it flow without seining out the vitriol and irrational anger. Just an idea: see something you don’t like and that makes you feel like launching into a tirade? Close the window. Go play a video game or watch a movie or listen to some music. Get your mind off of it. You’ll be happier. The opinion (or engineered controversial opinion to get site hits- trust me, it’s a thing) isn’t worth blowing a gasket over. A lot of commenters are like dogs licking themselves- only concerned about their own happiness.

I’ll leave you now with an awesome piece of music from Star Control 2.

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