Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Anonymity Doesn't Make You Smarter

by Marcus Sakey


In my last post, I wrote about two things that recently moved me, Darren Aronofsky's The Wrestler and a computer game called Auditorium. The post wasn't deathless art, but then, we're on a blog. Anyway, besides the thoughtful comments we can always count upon here, there was this gem:
BlogSmacks said...
I'm sorry, are you supposed to be a talented writer? Your uncreative, hackneyed prose makes me wretch, well, actually, it inspires a florid complexion: the reification of my embarrassment for you; reading one of your books is like listening to a benighted hick-state imbecile intoning some vacuous, all-too-familiar pop song before the panel of American Idol judges. I didn't read this article. You aren't fit to comment on The Wrestler. Darren Aronofsky is a genius; you are not even close. However, I will proffer a modicum of praise your way for offering writing tips on your website. Although I'm sure this was done solely to further fertilize the narcissism you've cultivated thus far, it is still, I suppose, "nice." Keep up the mediocre work! God knows if Hollywood-- i.e., IDIOTS--understand and approve of your work, then you must be quite the sui generis thinker and novelist.

Now, there is a temptation--oh, is there--to lay into "BlogSmacks,"to point out the grammatical and spelling errors, the misused words, the fallacies of logic and rhetoric. But that's not why I bring it up. Instead, my reasons tie to a rant I made about tech support hotlines: I'm concerned about the increasing failure of people to take responsibility for their words.

I'm a writer. Words matter to me. I believe that there is no social force more powerful than a precise, impassioned, and thoughtful arrangement of words. The right words in the right order can change the world. Don't believe me? Talk to Obama--or to Goebbels.

I enjoy argument and debate. Crossing intellectual swords turns me on. And as my wife would be quick to tell you, I'm an opinionated guy. Sometimes right, sometimes wrong.

But one thing I always do, always, is sign my name at the end of my opinions.

My problem with customer service hotlines is less that they won't fix my phone and more that they won't admit their refusal to fix it. My problem with anonymous, argumentative posts on blogs is that they are the intellectual equivalent of holding a finger in someone's face while chanting, "Not touching you, not touching you!" They're a way to irritate, not communicate. And they leave me wondering, why?

Why take the time? Are they meant as jokes? If so, most miss the target.

Is it really as simple as the desperation of lonely individuals screaming for their fifteen seconds? The digital equivalent of graffiti?

Or is the anonymity the point, the sheer cowardly thrill of attacking without the possibility of response, like hucking a beer bottle out a car window?

People like "BlogSmacks" don't bother me--they baffle me. Their words don't wound; hell, they don't even prompt reflection. If they intend to do that, signing their name would be a good first step. Developing a more sophisticated opinion than "Nahnny-nahnny" would be a second.

But they do leave me curious.

What the hell is the point?

Any ideas?

33 comments:

Steerpike said...

My theory is based on anonymity - that is, people are much more willing in an anonymous setting to say or do rude or antisocial things than they would be if identified.

A similar issue occurs in online videogames, which often feature voice communication as well as text. The amount of racist, sexist, hateful and threatening vitriol spilled during a game of Call of Duty is pretty shocking, especially when you consider it's often spilled by twelve year olds. Most of these people are not racist, sexist, hateful or dangerous - they just say stuff like that BECAUSE THEY CAN.

The fact is, we live in a world of perceived consequence-free communication. People say what they say only because they know they won't get fingered for it.

Your friend BlogSmacks was so desperate to come off as shockingly intelligent that I also believe in his (her) case, it's a bit of a cry for validation. Oooo, a blog of successful published writers, which I, BlogSmacks, am not. I hate them for their success and will assault them with vocabulary learned from Word-of-The-Day Toilet Paper. How erudite of me! How pithy!

It just sucks that polite people who value words have to deal with such imbeciles. But you're wise not to take it personally.

Dana King said...

This is among the reasons I started leaving my actual name when posting comments. I found an inordinately high percentage of blathering comments to my bligs (not that I got a lot of any kind of comments) were left either anonymously, or with a name that told me nothing aside from the fact the commenter was hiding.

As Steerpike says, BlogSmack was desperate to come off as shockingly intelligent. Next time he might want to open a dictionary. Any attenpts to show a high level of eloquence and erudition are undone when "wretch" is used in the second sentence, when "retch" was the proper word.

Though, through his comments, BlogSmack strikes me as a wretch who makes me want to retch.

Corey Wilde said...

What a horrid thing to write to anyone, and how terribly cowardly to hide behind anonymity. I would like to feel a little sorry for someone whose life is so bitter that they must deposit such rancorous bile on an undeserving stranger, but I'm not so generous.

You have asked the right question: What is the point?

Libby Hellmann said...

It's probably naive, but I wonder if our new President's obvious courtesy and respect for people he disagrees with -- for whatever reasons -- will filter down to the rest of us.

I still believe Thumper had it right.

Mark Combes said...

These Internet Trolls (yes, there is a term for folks like this) come with the terrain. No matter how civil you want the conversation to be, there is always that bomb throwing guy that wants to cause a stir.

Freedom ain't easy and it ain't pretty - especially freedom of speech.

Breathe in, breathe out, move on.

David said...

These to me are the nline equivalent of driving down the road in daddy's pickup and smacking mailboxes with a baseball bat.

"Look. I've pissed you off and you can't t do anything about it."

First, ignore them. (Or do what I had to do and moderate comments.) Second, take heart that these kind of vandals sometimes get hoisted.

We had an oversized mailbox on a wooden post that was an irresistible target on the rural road where we lived. It kept getting knocked down, and I kept putting it back up. One night, we heard an awful racket out on the road. The attackers had managed to whack the mailbox so hard that it hooked back under the truck and got hung up on the exhaust pipe. (It was a whopper of a mailbox.) I hear them in the dark going, "Ow. Shit. Ow. Shit." As they tried to dislodge the thing and drive away. While I was pondering whether to call the sheriff or not, here came the county car from the other direction.
They got off with a ride to the courthouse and whatever their daddy handed out as punishment.

Sandra Ruttan said...

We could speculate on the motives of BlogSmacks for days and never know for certain what prompts people to post such things anonymously. I find myself wondering sometimes if that is the point.

For every moment we spend considering the words of someone who was unable to stand behind their words and had to hide behind anonymity in order to have the guts to comment we empower them. They've derailed the blog, they've been noticed. I bet they feel special today.

In a weird way, this doesn't seem that different from the serial killers who get off on seeing the press talk about them, even if they haven't been caught. I bet BlogSmacks checks back regularly to see if anyone's responded to them.

JD Rhoades said...

"BlogSmacks"--the name should say it all. This is someone who trolls blogs, looking to "smack" someone. The actual content of your post or your work is irrelevant to this person. They're going to go off on their version of a "clever rant", come what may. Don't feed t6he troll.

Michael Dymmoch said...

A really great boss once told me, "Rudeness is never excusable."

I think some people confuse it with cleverness.

FizzWater said...

What the hell you care about them for?

Bunch a dumbasses, you ask me.

Marcus Sakey said...

You're all right, of course, and I knew as I posted that I was probably making his day. But then, I'm really not raising it because he bothers me so much as because I'm baffled by that kind of behavior, and felt like musing on it.

Personally, the hours of my life number too few to get my kicks acting like Beavis with a thesaurus, and I'm curious why someone would chose to.

jnantz said...

Mr. Sakey,
That's probably because the hours of your life, like many of us, are filled with challenging, enjoyable, worthwhile pursuits. The hours of his life are obviously filled with regret and bitterness, which eventually becomes unwarranted vitriolic online waste.

But I could be wrong....

Michelle Gagnon said...

As a friend of mine once said, the internet (especially the blogosphere) has "spawned legions of very brave, anonymous people." Speaks for itself.

Anonymous said...

THE CAUTIONARY TALE OF NULL AND VOID

Back in law-school days when professors were harsh and students wore coat and ties to class, a classmate was answering the professor’s question: “Nothing follows from the contract, sir, because it was null and void ab initio.?
“Which one was it,” Professor Kingsley said.
“The adhesion contract.”
“Of course it was the adhesion contract, the very same one that the entire class, including yourself, presumably, has been working on for the past half hour.”
“Yes, sir.”
“So, to repeat, which one was it?”
“I’m afraid I am unprepared.”
“No,” said the Professor, slightly but unmistakably raising his voice, “You are not unprepared. I repeat: Which one was it?
The student is silent, looking baffled. Everyone else in the class is suffering for him.
“All right,” says the professor, “I am asking you whether the contract was null, or was the contract void?”
The student says, “I think it was both, sir.”
Professor: “You what? Did I hear you use the word think??
Student: “I guess it was both null and void.”
Professor: “Ah. Now that we’ve ascertained what you are doing, would you kindly explain how a contract can be both null and void without them canceling each other out so that the contract is in fact valid?”
Student: “I think – I guess the contract is simply dead. Terminated. Finished. Kaput.” (The last word elicits some suppressed laughter in the courtroom. The professor, never missing an opportunity, jumps right in.

Professor: “If a person is dead, does a lawyer need to get additional evidence in order to discover whether the person is kaput?”
Student: “I wouldn’t guess so, sir.”
“That’s very good. Now, would you say that the contract is null? Or is it void?”
Student: “I would say it’s either one. It’s null or void.”
Professor: “And who would decide which one it was?”
Student: “The judge?”
Professor: “So now we’re in court, and the judge asks you if it’s your position that whether the contract is null or void is a question you are leaving to the court ‘s discretion to decide. Right so far?
Student: “I think so.”
Professor, now playing the role of the judge, in a lower voice: “Are you leaving other issues like null or void to my discretion as well?”
Student: “Yes, your honor. I mean no, your honor.”
Judge: “Which is it, counselor? Is it yes or is it no? Or maybe the answer to that question makes absolutely no difference to you.”
Student: “No, it does, your honor. I mean yes, it does, your honor. [An aside to the class:] Maybe I should quit while I’m ahead.”

===========
Submitted by Tony D'Amato.

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