Intensity and perspective on the Internet


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What is it about the internet that makes people lose perspective?

I was browsing Rotten Tomatoes last night and came across a reference to Kubrick's "A Clockwork Orange", a film I saw when I was far too young and found extremely disturbing. I decided to check out the RT reviews and was surprised to see that Roger Ebert wrote a negative review. Before reading Ebert's review, I looked at some of the reader comments on his review. Here's a sampling:

  • "... this cake eating fat boy hates everything that is good"
  • "One of Kubrick's best, so suck it Ebert you stupid fool"
  • "just die for **** sakes you old ****. this movie is excellent you turdnugget."
  • "you suck Roger Ebert... you stupid piece of garbage."
  • "we all know your just mad because you've never had sex with a woman that doesn't have down syndrome"
  • "go ****ing die already"
Now those are just a sampling, and it's not like I picked the worst 7 out of 2000. There were 64 comments altogether, and those 7 were made by seven different commenters. Keep in mind that this review was written in 1972 and the comments are being made 30 years later!

What is going on here? Possibilities:

  1. Many people are generally nasty and horrible, but we don't get to see that until they are anonymous.
  2. Nasty people are more likely to comment on the internet.
  3. Nasty people are more likely to react strongly to a negative review of this particular film.
As a forum administrator, some of the criticism I have received by PM/email has been shocking. I make a change to a forum that goes against the preference of some, and more than one member blogs or sends me a PM about how I am comparable to a murderer or some other great evil. Where is the sense of perspective?

I had the same thought when reading some of the comments on LeBron James' highly publicized decision to sign on with the Heat. Now I can understand Cavs' fans being upset and perhaps some criticism is warranted for the way James handled the situation, but just about every article with a comment section open to the public is like a mass meeting of lunatics. Even the Cavs' owner, a businessman in good standing, lost his mind in a blog post.

I don't know what it is that makes people act bad on the internet, but on the whole, our members have been wonderful at I hope we can build the same sort of vibe in this new forum, where members can expect others to be as nice on the web as we have come to expect from our friends in "real life".
I hear you, Amin, and obviously feel very much the same way.

Part of the climate of the Internet is that, I think, one tends to focus very intensely upon the very narrow view of whatever forum, blog, story, etc., one is involved in and if one has strong emotions, often those emotions are "zoomed in" due to the intensity of the focus one is giving the particular story or topic... And the more energy one puts into this without the balance of the greater world about them - be it work life, family, friends, other passions and interests...and even just plain old everyday life, can bring way too much zeroing in and create a very unhealthy almost oxygen free atmosphere - hence the intensity. Add in anonymity and you can get some pretty outrageous posts.

In a way, it's kind of like comparing the old small town life or neighborhood life in a city to the way many live today where people don't know each other and don't interact on a day to day basis... In the old days with town or neighborhood life or the community created in farming communities, people watched out for each other, helped each other, knew the children, the youths, the old folks and related personally... Not so much now. I realize I am painting a very rosy picture of the "good old days" and know full well that all was not bliss, but it was different and there was more personal responsibility and community interaction that was not was pretty much taken for granted.

Anyhow that's my take comparing the Internet and civility to non Internet life, as well

It's the same as when I was a truck driver. On the citizens band radio, some people would say anything. Kind of like a radio troll. We used to say that being on the citizens band radio made you think you were ten feet tall. The internet is the same way as it brings about some measure of anonymity. Lots of times you think you are talking to an adult expert on whatever the subject is and it turns out to be a child in the fifth grade.

People are encouraged to be trolls and disrespectful in this day and time. Some forums have a section for flaming. And I think this encourages people to be even worse.

The internet is a great thing bringing all this information to a place where most people can get to it. But it lets people you typically would not want to associate with get right in your face.
In a way, it's kind of like comparing the old small town life or neighborhood life in a city to the way many live today where people don't know each other and don't interact on a day to day basis...

That's a good analogy. It's like city life, but a step further as Ricky puts it below:

The internet is a great thing bringing all this information to a place where most people can get to it. But it lets people you typically would not want to associate with get right in your face.

So true.

To the first part of your post, I never trust movie reviews. There are movies that I loved which got horrible reviews and movies I hated that got excelent reviews and were up for all sorts of awards. I realize this was not the intent of your post, but I thought I'd comment anyways.

To the point of your post, I find our society right now is very polarizing and sensationalized. There are two distinct things going on though.

The first is the internet. People think that they have free reign on what they can say. They are enabled by the internet. In everyday life, we'd never tell a coworker or someone we know or meet to shove off, go to hell, or whatever explitive one can think of. We are never that rude in real life. We don't have the same kneejerk reactions in person as we do on the internet. People feel that they can't be touched by what they say on the internet. To some degree this is true, but people can be held for libel and slander if they aren't careful, especially if what is said on the internet is toward a business.

The second thing is the media. The media presents the same sort of shock and awe which throws gas on an already polarized society. And just to clarify, I'm talking all types of media, from all channels and all venues. Lebron's actions are a good example of this sensationalizm, and the response is the kneejerk reaction from society over Lebron's actions and choices. The media had just as much to do with it as did he and his fans(or those who didn't like him).

And to the specific example you gave, I don't care for basketball, but I was dumbfounded when I heard what Dan Giblert did. Suprisingly, we accept it as a society. Twenty or thirty years ago this sort of action would have been unheard of, and if it did happen, it would have had much more of a negative consequence.

Sadly, I'm starting to see the same polarization and reactions by people in real life. Its one thing when all perspective is lost on the internet, another when people openly berate others. This happend the other day at work with a buddy at work expressing his dislike for the current political climate. I was floored. Whether I agreed with him or not, its just unprofessional and child like.

Getting to BBW's post, I am fairly young(late 20's), but I am amazed at the lack of sense of community going on locally. This is going on everywhere. As a society, we used to use our differences to find the best common ground and to build relationships, towns, cities and beyond. Now everyone seems to only be interested in themselves and their own. I live in an apartment complex in the deep south, and I can't tell you anyone's name in my building who lives here when I've made attempts to know them. People aren't interested. They are cynical and selfish, and this shows up everyday on forums and blogs.

As you all can tell, this hits a nerve, and I could type a dissertation on the matter, but I won't. I think I've said enough.
Timely topic

Interesting post Amin. Just the other day I began to wonder what is happening online. It seems to me that over time the general attitude has become bolder, more argumentative, and downright rude in many cases.

A few years ago as I participated in high-end audio and photography forums the attitude was more congenial and helpful. You ask a question and people try to answer, or you offer advice and people accept it or respectfully disagreed. These days you are pounced on almost immediately for asking the wrong question, not being specific enough, being wrong about your facts (and of course they are all right!), and on and on.

I recently asked a question on an audio forum. I was very clear about what I was asking and why, and very clear about my caveats. 3 people answered directly and helpfully. 17 others did not answer my simple question and instead proceeded to respond rudely. I was thinking to myself, if they thought my question was a waste of their time then why did they even bother to respond?

This incident almost caused me to post a question on that forum asking people if they thought that the tone of online communities has become more negative over time. But then I thought, well heck they'll just trash me for asking that! And it was as if those 17 people did not read my post, they simply had to say what they wanted to say regardless of my original question.

As much as we all know we have to sift through the negative chatter to get to what we really want and need online it still gets tiresome and frustrating and sometimes depressing.

I hope this attitude does not increase offline, but as others are suggesting here we have become more polarized today and more argumentative. Listen to any newscast, interview or hosted show and they interrupt each other, talk over each other, argue, disgrace, etc. Everyone is talking and no one is listening. Where will the lead?
Andrew and Djarum, I hadn't thought much about it, but you're probably right about the way behavior is changing offline as well :(.