Friday, May 11, 2012

Reflecting on Trolling as a Pandemic

I speak as someone who has worked and played on the Internet since 2001, surfed the wave of its evolving economy, and been involved in various communities that have come and gone: I notice a change in the way we communicate, and I want to share what I observe.

A Brief History of Online Communication


At the beginning stages of the Internet, the population wasn't very dense, there were noticeably fewer trolls and social cliques were a little more open and not so serious about themselves. The Internet was mainly about getting to know your fellow man in different places and countries, of different persuasions, and of different social milieu that one wouldn't have a hope of meeting otherwise.
In my study of the Internet's history two things have changed on the user-end - traffic density and personalisation. Traffic density had the same effects on us as the metropolis had on us: Social claustrophobia. The next obvious step in the evolution of this medium was to decentralise further and build more use-specific websites. As website building became more and more accessible to us all, we could build websites with specific information and communities would grow around them. This was incredibly positive because we may be exposed to the strangers we wouldn't normally meet but have communities of people who didn't feel like strangers in comparison because of a common ground.
However this decentralisation has brought about an insular mindset online; another equally powerful expression of Man's social habits. A centralised place of meeting only took place on Usenet groups (by the end of the 90's they truly faced their demise), and in no way to the degree of MySpace or Facebook. MSN had a successful racket in the early 2000's as most Windows 2000 packages took users straight to MSN.com and Hotmail, offering them a free email account and then suggesting gaming sites, shopping sites, and a community for teenagers called Bolt.com. This is my only memory of a community that is anything like a carry-on from Usenet and a precursor to MySpace and Facebook. On this common ground 1,000's of young people came and went, discussed their lives, their loves, hooked up. Something that I call "genuine conversation" (consider the age range of the userbase) actually manifested. Bolt is largely responsible for spawning the evolution of Social Networks that eventually gave us hyper-personalised spaces.

It was 2003 that MySpace magically appeared out of MSN with a concept that took the "Friends" function and the personal page a step further. The page was where you landed, yours and everybody elses accounted for 100% of the dynamic content with exception to the chat rooms which were phased out. Like audio/video group chat, we collectively rejected open public chat. We had brought the Internet to a very insular level, we began to only find ourselves in the company of people like ourselves.

Collectives Distort Reality

Not to appeal to delusions of the past, but in the days when 99% of a community's website content was public discussion and static material, you were in less risk of surrounding yourself with people that you "authorize" to see what you're saying and communicate back to you. If, for example, you're a Conspiracy Theorist and one day you get a little bit too paranoid and spoke your mind on alt.conspiracy you're more likely to run into criticism that might make you think as apposed to today when you might not only be agreed with by your peers but you may infect them with your delusions. This naturally happens with every subculture and circle of friends. We've grown to only expect the reality we designed to come across our screens instead of the social world as it actually is.

What it Actually is

The state of the social world is Youtube.

Youtube is the one last bastion of diversity on The Internet - nothing compares to it, it serves EVERYONE in some way. The social strands might still be filtered to some degree, but eventually someone sees a Youtube comment from a person that they didn't intend on seeing and every minute of every day someone gets into an argument.

Argument consists of 60% of conversations that take place on Youtube comments. 39% accounts for people trying to prove a point to someone else or somehow show the other up. 1% of conversations are actual conversations that inspire happiness and bring about a learning experience for both people. I can say this with the utmost certainty because I haven't found someone in the real world who doesn't agree with me once they think about it.



In Conclusion...

I'm not here to say that "last night Man turned into a crowd of assholes", we live in a continuously shifting social matrix, we're coming to a point in our history and art where we can't hold up the old social pretenses anymore - we're being asked for more honesty and nakedity. The hurt and disenfranchised amoung us (see my article "Trolls and Evolving Human Consciousness") as well as the stubborn and plain nasty people in our society are the only strangers who seem to communicate lately and they communicate their insecurities and fears.
So I'm motivated to write this and simply observe without casting judgement and ask: What do we want to use the web for? Where do WE take this project? If you want join me in evolving with the challenges of our widening social matrix, consider this story:

One day I watched a Youtube video about a fat man in KFC getting angry screaming "Where's my chicken!" since the staff had misplaced, forgot about, or intentionally halted his order. I saw a comment someone made that I didn't agree with, I replied with the attitude that I don't know this person and I don't know for sure the 300 characters he had were adequate enough to do his whole personality justice. In other words, I didn't cast judgement, I just suggested he may be wrong.
He replied, clarifying what he was trying to say (this time without being a smart-ass), and I thought "Oh. He has a point here". I clarified what I meant, and then he took on board that I had a point also. He then told me about his experience working in a fast food joint, and we politely discussed life, work, primal instincts, the philosophic meaning to food.
After about 5 comments both directions I posted a profile comment to him saying thank you for the first ever civil conversation where I felt I was just talking to a normal person and neither of us were trying to "pwn" the other. He realised this was true and agreed that it was a beautiful experience.
We both went our separate ways with a new insight into how the Internet is actually a portal into the diversity and richness of the world we live in.

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