We Live in Public (and the end of empathy)

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Location: Mahalo HQ, Santa Monica
Date/Time: January, 28th 2009 2:15pm
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I’ve been thinking about empathy and the Internet non-stop for the past week. If you, the jury, will give me some room to operate, I think I’ve got a couple of important, if imperfect, points to share. It might take me some time to get there; two or three thousand words to be exact.

This past week, I camped out at the Sundance Film Festival for the premiere of a documentary film about my friend Josh Harris titled “We Live in Public.” It’s a cautionary tale about the dehumanizing effects of technology, a somber topic that we all need to consider in the age ofFacebook, blogging, linkbaiting, and, sadly, the MySpace and JustinTV suicides.

On Saturday night, I sat between director Ondi Timoner and Josh Harris while the film was given the Grand Jury Prize for Best Documentary. Winning at Sundance is the highest honor in documentary filmmaking according to most–even more so than the Oscar. It was one of the most epic and cathartic moments to which I’ve ever been witness. After ten years of work,Ondi had been given the ultimate recognition and after a lifetime of, well, living, Josh had his story told.

It was heavy.

Anyway, I’m getting ahead of myself… Perhaps we should start at the beginning: Early 2001, New York City.

The Breakdown
Back in the late ’90s, one of my best friends was a guy named Josh Harris. He formed a company called Jupiter Communications which wrote all those crazy research reports in the Web 1.0 days that said Internet advertising, broadband and e-commerce would shoot to the moon like a rocket over the first decade of the Internet. And they were right.

Josh had a front row seat to the Internet Revolution writing those reports, and he made around $80 million when Jupiter went public. He lost it just as quickly when he started experimenting with technology.

One day, he came to my office and couldn’t look me in the eye.

It was one of those horrible, ugly New York City winter days. The ones where it’s not cold enough for the dirty snow to completely melt from the pounding sleet, making the walk to get a cup of coffee feel like theIditarod . Josh rocked back and forth in a chair and repeated a couple of random phrases to me: “The jig’s up, can’t do it, jig’s up, can’t do it–gotta get off the grid.”

I tried to comfort him. I explained that he used to be one of my favorite people to break bread with, that he had inspired me to try and do great things, and that I’d learned more from his outlandish failures than I ever did from my modest successes. However, he had become boring and obsessed with his press clippings. “Did you see Vanity Fair? We’re in the Post tomorrow!,” he would tell me toward the end. I’d ask what the press was for, and the answer placed him directly between Andy and Paris on the unknown-but-famous-anyway spectrum: “For being me!”

Later that slushy day, Josh took a couple of bags and the last of his dwindling fortune to his newly acquired apple farm in upstate New York. He had literally–two beats, please–bought the farm.

The Background
Josh had spent the last couple of months working on two art projects examining what happens when you put yourself under non-stop Internet surveillance.

One was called Quiet and one was called “We Live in Public.” The first, Quiet, was an art project that was famous in New York City’s downtown circles around the turning of the millennium. Josh had a couple dozen folks in a bunker for 30 days living in “pods” (bunks) that included cameras watching their every move. He tried to get me to move into the “hotel,” but I knew it wasn’t a good idea when I saw the people running around naked on psychoactive drugs, firingsubmachine guns. That’s not an exaggeration–that was happening in the basement of this Tribeca building.

You’ll see all this footage if you see the movie. It was madness.

Quiet was shut down by Giuliani’s nightclub task force as a millennial cult 18 months before 9/11–the milestone by which most New Yorkers, including myself, mark our lives. For me, everything in my memory is eitherpre- or post-9/11. Quiet, Silicon Alley Reporter and my adolescence are all pre-9/11. Adulthood, gravitas and the fallout from the undiagnosed PTSD are all post-9/11. (But that’s for another medium, perhaps one with covers as opposed to headers).

In the second experiment, “We Live in Public,” Josh put a couple dozen cameras all over his loft and recorded the inevitable breakdown of his life with the love of his life, Tanya. It was after “We Live in Public” that Josh came to see me, a character witness to his nervous breakdown, before heading to the farm.

People in the chat rooms for “We Live in Public” were vicious to Josh and his then-girlfriend Tanya. They lost their empathy for the people living under video surveillance, and what had started as a fun time playing with technology turned into a nightmare. The audience tortured the subjects in the box–Milgram would have been proud.

It took Josh five years to recover from the “We Live in Public” experiment. I’m wondering how long it will take the rest of us to hit rock bottom and recover.

Godwin’s Law Meets Harris’ Law
Josh’s experiments in 2000, during which he and his cohorts became obsessed with their view counts, parallels today’s blogging, social media and YouTube “arms race.” In his experiment, the technology robbed the subjects–and their audience–of every last ounce of empathy.

Digital communications is a wonderful thing–at least at the start. Everyone participating in digital communities is eventually introduced to Godwin’s Law: At some point, a participant, or more typically his or her thinking, will be compared to the Nazis.  But that’s only part of the breakdown.  Eventually, you see the effect of what I’ll call Harris’ Law: At some point, all humanity in an online community is lost, and the goal becomes to inflict as much psychological suffering as possible on another person.

Harris’ Law took effect last year when Abraham Biggs killed himself in front of a live webcam audience on life-streaming service JustinTV. The audience’s role? They encouraged him to do it.

Harris’ law took effect in October of 2006, when Lori Drew, a grown woman, created a fake alias on MySpace (“Josh Evans”) in order to psychologically torture 14-year-old Megan Meier. Drew started a online love affair with Megan as “Evans” before pulling the rug out and viciously turning on her victim. This “cyber-bullying,” as the press likes to call it, resulted in Megan killing herself.

Harris’ Law took effect in October of last year when Choi Jin-sil killed herself, reportedly over the fallout from Internet rumors. The bullying in Korea has become so intense that you’re now required to use your Social Security Number to sign up for a social network. This lack of anonymity is one of the most enlightened things I’ve heard of from one of the most advanced–if not the most advanced–Internet communities in the world.

Ownership of one’s behavior? Who knew?!?!?

I’m sure some of the wacky Internet contingents will flame me for saying that anonymity is a bad thing, but the fact is that anonymous environments create the environments in which Godwin’s and Harris’ Laws apply. What’s the point of starting these communities if they eventually end in pain and suffering? Anonymity is overrated in my book. (Whistle-blowers are an exception, and last time I checked, anyone can anonymously drop an envelope in a mailbox, so it’s not like the Internet needs to be there for that).

Internet Asperger’s Syndrome (IAS)
I’ve come to recognize a new disorder, the underlying cause of Harris’ Law. This disease affects people when their communication moves to digital, and the emotional cues of face-to-face interaction–including tone, facial expression and the so called “blush response”–are lost (More: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9FxwHfoWdS8 ).

In this syndrome, the afflicted stops seeing the humanity in other people. They view individuals as objects, not individuals. The focus on repetitive behaviors–checking email, blogging, twittering and retiring andys–combines with an inability to feel empathy and connect with people.

Now, I’m not using this new term to make light of Asperger’s Syndrome. Far from it, I jsut can’t deny the fact that the evolution of people’s behavior online eventually parallels Asperger’s. I feel I’m within my rights as pundit to reconstitute the idea of Asperger’s to explain my own experiences and thoughts. Although I’ll understand it if you, as someone affected in some way by Asperger’s, claim your right to flame me for “hijacking” the disease. Such is the life of linguists in the age of sound-bites over debate, and skimming over reading.

If you do choose to flame me, I’d ask that you attempt to throttle back your IAS and see me not as an email-producing object, but rather as a 38-year-old searching for answers at the mid-way point in his life, when his collective experience equals his remaining time to experience life. That’s really who I am–just another kid on verge of being old who spends a lot of time thinking about the half-way mark. Be gentle with me.

Back to the point: In IAS, screen names and avatars shift from representing people to representing characters in a video game. Our 2600’s and 64’s have trained us to pound these characters into submission in order to level up. We look at bloggers, people on Twitter andpodcasters not as individuals, but as challenges–in some cases, “bosses”–that we must crush to make it to the next phase.

The dual nature of Asperger’s, from my understanding, is that it makes the individual focused on very specific behaviors–obsessively so in many cases–while decreasing their capacity for basic empathy and communication. It’s almost as if you trade off intensity in one area for common decency and communications in another area–not that the person has a choice.

Well, trading off people’s feelings for page views and Twitter followers sounds familiar to me.

What’s the Damage (Partner)?
One of the reasons I stopped blogging was because the dozen negative comments under every blog post I wrote started wearing me down. I’d write for an hour and the immediate reward was four people, under 12 different accounts, slamming me. Some were people I had fired, others were mentally unstable folks but, in many cases, they were normal people suffering fromIAS.

As you know, I moved to this email newsletter to get away from the IAS factor on blogs. It worked for the first four months, but last month, someone flamed me, calling me an idiot and my missive “garbage.” It was the first time any one of the 12,000 or so people on the list ever flamed me.

Now, I consider myself a fairly thick-skinned, tough person, but I realized that I had not emailed you in a month, and that it was probably because of that short email. The 12k suffered due to a three sentence flame by just one person, probably suffering fromIAS.

I’ve had a couple of folks introduce themselves to me in the past couple of years and say something to the effect of “Oh, I wrote this horrible thing about you but I didn’t really mean it. I really respect your work.” They are normally very uncomfortable when this happens. Sometimes, they are even shaking and stuttering. I typically pretend I don’t know what they’re talking about and tell them it doesn’t matter–a complete lie. Typically, I know exactly what they said, because you remember when folks say something nasty. I’ve come to the conclusion that all I can do is forgive them and move on.

The switch, from an initial lack of empathy to cowering in shame from their own behavior, is telling.  It proves to me that otherwise normal folks will lose their empathy online, only to regain it the instant they face the “object” (aka real person) of their scorn.

What’s at stake?
We’re all canaries in the coal mines now, like Josh Harris was back in the ’90s. We’re harvesting our lives and putting them online. We’re addicted to gaining followers and friends (or email subscribers, as the case may be), and reading comments we get in return. As we look for validation and our daily 15 minutes of fame, we do so at the cost of our humanity.

Today, we’re destroying each other with words, but teaching ourselves to objectify individuals and to identify with aggressors will result in more than psychological violence. This behavior will find its way into the real world, like it did when Wayne Forrester murdered his wife Emma over a change in herFacebook status, from married to single.

It’s only a matter of time, sadly, until this loss of empathy will hit the real world. We’re training ourselves to destroy other people, and there’s a generation growing up with this in their DNA.  They don’t remember a world when communications were primarily in the real world.

The threats we’ve seen against women online are a warning sign of what’s to come–we’re all going to face this aggressive behavior and we’re all going to withdraw from these communication services.

I’m 100% convinced that the trend in 2010 and forward will be people trying to remove their virtual presence on sites like Flickr, YouTube and Facebook. Already, I’ve noticed people are moving their settings to private–perhaps something they should have done from the start.

What a shame, because there is so much gained from sharing.

Rafe Loses His Empathy
No one is immune to IAS, I’ve learned. Just yesterday, one of my old friends, Rafe Needleman, got suckered into the blogging trap of trying to get page views. He printed a story entitled “How to be the most hated person on the Internet: Five role models.” [Here: http://news.cnet.com/8301-17939_109-10150167-2.html ]

Yes, you guessed it, he included me in the piece. My crime? As he describes it, I’ve “taken to acting like a new-money rock star, publicly buying flashy cars, strutting around the conference he produced with Arrington with his two mascot bulldogs, calling his Twitter followers the ‘Jason Nation,’ and then telling bloggers he’s too good for the medium, opting to write instead to a private e-mail list. His weapons of choice: arrogance and money.”

Wow, thanks, pal!

First off, I bought the Tesla because it’s better for the planet. Oh, heck… Who am I kidding: I bought it because it’s really sexy and fast–and good for the planet. Probably in that order. Guilty as charged! Also, I show it to everyone, Twitter about it constantly and I could care less if people have a problem with the fact that it’s expensive. So what? Who cares? It’s just a car, and it’s drool-worthy because of the technology, not the price tag.

Also, if you’re going to hate on me because Taurus and Fondue are the most lovable dogs in history of dogdom, well, I think that’s kind of low.

Since the time of Rafe writing his piece, I’ve been involved in a very long thread with the other members of the “most hated” list, including Mike Arrington and DaveWiner. Rafe regretted doing the piece. However, I’m not surprised he did it.

Rafe has a goal: To get more traffic for the withering CNET brand. We are just objects to solve this problem. Rafe dehumanized his friends in order to make them objects that get him to the next level.

It’s classic IAS.

We’re Donkey Kong to him. These big, sad gorillas that he needs to take down to get to the next level. It’s all a game, but the hurt feelings can be real. Rafe now has to go to bed for the next couple of nights knowing that he’s taken someone who is his friend–namely, me–and thrown him under the bus. For the next couple of years, folks will reference that I’m “the most hated guy on theinternet” when, in fact, my life is filled with love and joy.

Next time I see Rafe in person, he is going to do the whole nervous, coy “I really didn’t mean it, you know I respect what you’ve done” thing and I’ll say “Don’t worry about it, it doesn’t matter.”

Didn’t you ask for this?
The classic argument when someone “famous” gets beat up is to say “Didn’t you ask for this?” Well, actually, no. The reason I got into blogging was not to be famous or to get attention. It was simply to have an intelligent discussion with people I respected. The people I thought were interesting were debating stuff in the blog format, so I was drawn to it.

Now, the entire blogosphere has collapsed on itself to the point at which a respectable journalist like Rafe is so desperate to get to the top of Techmeme, he has to rip his friends apart. Not to single Rafe out; this is occurring daily. People find the 20 people at the top of the hill and rip them apart, hoping to move up themselves.

Steve Jobs has had his personal life ripped apart by otherwise normal journalists who are obsessed with invading his privacy, under the guise that he should bear his soul to us. It feels to me like these Jobs-obsessed bloggers and so-called journalists won’t be happy until they can just stream Jobs’ next doctor visit.

Oh, the humanity of it. It’s really disgraceful.

Wrapping up
Thanks to the 17 people out of 12,000 who made it this far. I know this has been a rambling email and it could have been constructed better.

In summary, how we treat each other does matter. It matters because, without empathy, our lives are shallow, self-centered and meaningless.

The Internet and technology are turning on us, just like the story in “We Live in Public.”

Right now, I’ve got over ten thousand of you to share my thoughts with, until such time as you decide to crush and beat me down by hitting the respond key to this email and flaming me. If you do that, I’ll have to retreat again, but I’m not sure what’s left except the real world. Are we going to destroy ourselves to the point at which we unplug the Internet? Are we going to have to create private areas for discourse and lose the “Open Web” gestalt?

These are just some ideas I’m putting out there for you to consider. If you like, hit the reply key and share some thoughts with me.

Did I mention, I love you all? Each and every one one of you, including the guy who flamed me last time.

best regards,

Jason McCabe Calacanis

PS1: Mike Arrington was spit on in Germany this week, and had death threats last month. He’s now taking a month off from blogging.

PS2: Some press regarding “We Live in Public”

PS3: Today I started “empathy day” on Twitter. The concept is simple: say something nice to someone and put #empathyday at the end. You can do this on Facebook or your blog if you like as well.

172 thoughts on “We Live in Public (and the end of empathy)

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  2. Hi, Jason,

    I am not going to flame you, but as someone who actually has the serious neurological
    disability of Asperger’s Syndrome, I am going to correct you:

    You said:

    “The dual nature of Asperger’s, from my understanding, is that it makes the individual
    focused on very specific behaviors–obsessively so in many cases–while decreasing their
    capacity for basic empathy and communication.”

    We have huge capacity for empathy, some of us think more than even non-Asperger’s
    (Neurotypicals), judging from the constant misunderstanding and abuse we Aspies often
    encounter at the hands of non-Asperger’s, starting with the bullying nearly all of us
    receive in the school yard.

    The problem is that we do not inherently know how to communicate our experiences and
    how to best interact with others because of the actual “wiring” of our brains.

    So it only appears to ignorant non-Asperger’s that we lack empathy. Once we learn how to
    better communicate, and those without Asperger’s learn more about our disability,
    others learn quite the contrary. Ask my husband. 😀

    And yes, it saddens and hurts me to see you using the term “Asperger’s Syndrome”
    in this manner. My daily life is extremely difficult and exhausting because of something
    with which I was born. If anything, your experience of being misunderstood on the internet
    should be able to help you understand our suffering.

    Since many of us with Asperger’s do not have the natural ability to understand facial expression,
    maybe all of you non-Asperger’s can learn from us how better to communicate on the internet.
    From that point of view, it could be said that those without Asperger’s have a disability! (For
    many of us with Autism Spectrum Disorder, communicating on the internet can be much
    easier and satisfying than face-to-face, in fact.)

    In short, maybe you could ask some of us how we navigate successfully through life without
    detecting the finer points of social interaction.

    Meanwhile, if you have empathy for us who
    suffer with this disability, please find another term. You guys are not Asperger’s. You are
    Just a bunch of Neurotypicals who are disabled on the internet. And we Aspies do not say
    that you all have “Neurotypical Syndrome” because you are unable to function successfully
    on the internet without social cues.

    My husband, who does not have Asperger’s Syndrome, says that labels are a lazy way of
    identifying something that promotes stereotypes and that there is a responsibility
    that comes with using a label.

    Therefore, Jason, I challenge you to seek out those in your own life who have Asperger’s Syndrome
    and other Autistic Spectrum Disorders and get to know us. You will see that Autism is very complex
    and varied among us with many more issues and challenges besides communication.

    Jason, you have no idea how many hours it took me to write this response and how difficult it was
    because of my disability. But we with Asperger’s Syndrome have to stand up and advocate for
    ourselves, despite our very serious and real difficulties communicating.

  3. It’s an interesting post.. Even though I’m subscribed to your newsletter, I’ve been missing
    most of my mail lately, just been feeding myself information through the Twitter stream lately 😉
    But a point that you make, that is most salient, is about the whole creating digital media for the
    sake of popularity, and attention from others.. I’ve got my own thoughts and ideas around this
    which I’ll be blogging about in the next few weeks.. But in essence, the Web has become ever more
    social, and now that we start “meeting” the people we know online, we start to develop and cultivate
    a more extended network of sorts.

    I wouldn’t look to the few examples of people being hurtful, or unkind, sometimes, it’s just better to
    delete the comments from someone who is repeatedly being vindictive, or harmful. Block
    their email address. Don’t let the entire conversation suffer for a few that aren’t engaging with it

    Remember, that this is only technology, and we always retain control, If we give that control away
    and let others be rude and uncivilised to us, it is we that choose to pay attention to it.

    We can always ignore those people who don’t provide constructive criticism, and continue to engage
    those people on a one to one basis, those people who are actually debating the topic, not
    assassinating our characters.

  4. OK. I’m a latecomer. Just read this now. Great posting. Clearly from the heart. As the person who offered her couch to Tanya for the first three months afer moving out of weliveinpublic.com and ctalked her into writing her NY Observer piece to get her side of the story out. I tried to convinceher not to do the Ondi interview since so many people have said negative things about her and I was so worried the documentary would be skewed to make her look bad. She truly loved Josh and was truly heart-broken when he kicked her out of the loft. She genuinely loved him. She lived with him in public because he asked, as her girlfriend, she complied. It was a 24/7 job and she couldn’t get another job at all,so I talked her into asking him for an allowance to compensate for her having to get a paying job where she could’ve earned 2-3X what he gave her. Anyway, the past is past, we all learn from our mistakes. Myself included for perhaps giving bad advice to a friend. Clearly, your posting shows wisdom and heart. Very thoughtful and considerate. Congrats Jason! You have earned the wisdom, experience, and respect gained. You deserve the Tesla, the beautiful wife and any future successes which may and will come your way.

  5. One person who thinks you’re intelligent and thoughtful and that this reflection is long overdue.

  6. I am someone who never got much into online social networking or even cellphones because I have a mental illness that causes me to be unable to balance too much stimulation. I was even horrified by how sel
    f-centered the world was becoming in the late 90’s when everyone was always talking on them and ignoring the world around them. Even at that point the world seemed to be becoming an unbearably lonely and mean place. And it seems to have only gotten more so in the 2000’s. My only suggestion to you would be to just use the Internet for research and simple communications and don’t bother with the rest. It seems to only be for the thickest skinned among us. Let them tear eachother apart. You don’t have to be a part of it.

  7. Excellent post, you make some good points.

    A previous commenter (Aurdey) mentioned other acts of “mob violence”, and this seems to
    be true of humankind throughout history. The internet is just another forum where sheer
    numbers give a sense of anonymity, even when real names are used. Just like the crowds who turned up
    to view a hanging or a public flogging, we feel protected by being part of a crowd.
    Likewise the instigators may be in a tiny minority but, like a riot in a crowd, once a few people start,
    others get sucked in. Of course this does not excuse it, but once again the internet reflects real life.

    Thank you Jason for opening this up for discussion.

  8. Can’t believe I’m one if the 17 ;-). Well said, and sorry
    that it sounds like you have a sad.

  9. Jason, your comments are interesting and well crafted.
    Friends who tear you down to promote themselves, hmmm well good
    riddance. Karma is a b-tch, might take some time, but Rafe
    will end up getting back what he dealt to others.
    I follow you on twitter and wish you/Mahalo every success.

  10. Really enjoyed the piece. Thanks!

    One thing you should remember is that for every one bad comment you receive you likely receive ten times that amount that are positive. Taleb talks about how we place more importance on negatives even when faced with a disproportionate amount of positives.

    I just gave up my internet anonymity and it feels good. I’m now far more responsible about what I do and don’t write. It forces more responsibility for your actions and words which can only e a good thing.

    Your points about stat porn couldn’t have been any more on the money. Well done for articulating it so well!

  11. Jason. Thanks for an interesting read. I think you hit on some intriguing concepts, but I’m not sure you are correct in your diagnosis. I have to agree with Audrey who commented before me that what you are witnessing is very much inline with human nature. More specifically, the loss of inhibition that is resultant of “mob mentality.” Humans are complex social animals, and the human group dynamic is often shockingly different than an individual and small group interaction. I don’t blame you for thinking that people should be more civil. The truth however is that we are not, nor have we ever been.

    It will be interesting to see if we, as a species, can evolve to deal with the pressures of what is sure to come in our near future. Twitter, Facebook, etc. offer a glimpse to what might later become a collective stream of consciousness that ties into all of our lives. Perhaps this is an evolutionary cue for us to evolve our behavior to fit a new social paradigm. Just as it is no longer accepted that we spit in public, or bite one another, we may one day be more respectful of our online peers.

  12. Dear Jason,

    Your observations about people being cruel on the Internet
    are interesting and mostly compassionate.

    However, your comparison of Internet jerks to
    people with Asperger’s is unfair and misleading,
    because few if any people with Asperger’s obsessively
    persecute other people.

    I realize it’s possible you’ve encountered “faux-Aspies”
    who claim to have Asperger’s so they can use it as an
    excuse for being jerks, but that’s not really the point
    of Asperger’s.

    I applaud your concern for human behavior on the Internet,
    but I think you owe the real Aspies some kind of apology
    and a clarification to your non-Aspie readers.

  13. Hey Jason,
    That was a nice post, until you said you loved us all. You
    first get to know a person, then you’ll see if you love them.
    I point it out cause you also seemed to share that IAS you are
    talking about. And, maybe we all do.

    But i got to see that these things you say, we are all
    aware, but we don’t dare say them. Thanks for the post.

  14. Jason,

    Very poignant and sobering thoughts in your post.

    Private and public are some of the considerations I discuss
    in “7Ways to Fill Her Love Bucket.” Every woman (and man) has
    personal wishes as to what they like to be publicized and
    what remains private.

    Living in public with social media and the immediacy of
    broadcast the choice seems to be missing. Why? It is because
    of permission or lack thereof.

    Permission Marketing memorialized in Seth Godin’s book may go
    the way of the dodo bird. The social media medium sidesteps
    the need for permission. Everyone is a paparazzi.

    Digital paparazzi act for many reasons: sensationalism, a
    possible sale, a quip without forethought, banal banter, etc.

    Respecting another is empathy. Respecting individual privacy
    takes understanding, forethought, and compassion. Your intention
    in your posts, tweets, and digital banter are a reflection
    of how you operate in the world. You are your character.

    From my friend Barry Dunlop:

    Watch your thoughts: They become your words.
    Watch your words: They become your actions.
    Watch your actions: They become your habits.
    Watch your habits: They become your character.
    Watch your character: It becomes your destiny.

    Sherrie Rose
    The Love Linguist

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  16. Thank you for writing this. I think it is an extremely well written expose on the perils of internet communication, and why the spoken and written word should never be completely lost. I don’t Facebook or blog myself, except for certain LiveJournal posts, but I’ve seen the effects on my friends and family. It saddens me that so many people out there can be so hateful and petty as to tear down others to simply make themselves feel more important. I sincerely hope that when the trolls finally collapse the blogosphere that the remains will be more viable and more pertient to our real lives.

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  18. Jason, I do not blog. This e-mail was linked to an
    article on Cracked.com. Thank you for writing it.
    And I did read all of it. ^^

    I have been arguing with my friends for years about
    this issue. I’ve heard that anywhere between 30
    and only 10% of communication is non-verbal, which
    is why I’m such a prolific emotocon user…

    If the Internet is to continue in the format it is
    now then there must be a movement to restore its
    humanity. People need to read stories like these.
    They need to know what they say affects real people.

    Unfortunately, I do not have that much hope in
    humanity. I’ve met and conversed with a lot of
    good people. But those same bonds have been
    shredded by a misunderstanding brought about by
    the inherent flaws in text-based communication.
    I’ve lost real life friends because of
    miscommunications in IM chats. It’s tragic.

    So thank you for this article. I intend on sending
    this to all of the people I’ve met online. I want
    them to know how serious the issue is.

    But I won’t let them flame you! ^_^

  19. I have tried to write something witty and poignant, but I can’t seem to.
    Suffice to say that this was a wonderful piece. Thankyou for writing it.

  20. If you are reading this, Mr. Calacinis, I thank you. It’s hard to remain interested in comments after the 130th repetition, and my message is rather long. I completely disagree with your message, but I will try and present my views in a polite and restrained manner. You won’t give me a shred of credibility otherwise. I’m including the excerpt of your post that ticked me off to jog your memory, because the entry’s already a month old.

    “Harris’ Law took effect in October of last year when Choi Jin-sil killed herself, reportedly over the fallout from Internet rumors. The bullying in Korea has become so intense that you’re now required to use your Social Security Number to sign up for a social network. This lack of anonymity is one of the most enlightened things I’ve heard of from one of the most advanced–if not the most advanced–Internet communities in the world.

    Ownership of one’s behavior? Who knew?!?!?

    I’m sure some of the wacky Internet contingents will flame me for saying that anonymity is a bad thing, but the fact is that anonymous environments create the environments in which Godwin’s and Harris’ Laws apply. What’s the point of starting these communities if they eventually end in pain and suffering? Anonymity is overrated in my book.”

    From what I’ve observed, it’s remarkably easy to avoid being emotionally wounded on the Internet. I just need to stay calm and assess the context. More important than that, though, I know how to retain a proper distance between myself and the people I’m conversing with. By experience I’ve learned the barriers necessary to communicate and not get hurt. It’s not too much to expect people to learn this distance because we utilize them all the time in real life. We shuffle the amount due to context – are you talking to a homeless person, or someone in the grocery store? A boss, or your brother? etc. People just need to learn that the internet is just another kind of context, learn the correct limits, and act accordingly.

    Let me explain. When you enter anonymity, the persona you adopt in everyday life crumbles. Many people, such as myself, find this fact liberating. I am not judged by my race, my gender, my nationality, but by my thoughts and attitudes alone. In this way the internet is a meritocracy.

    The people who complain about the savagery of the internet are the ones who feel threatened by the collapse of their persona and hasten to repair it. They post their pictures, their locations, religious affiliations. Instead of embracing the fact that they can’t carry the same identity /everywhere/, they crudely slap one together and present it for all the world to see. They go on to describe their thoughts and feelings, purge their souls, hoping for sympathetic ghosts to materialize from the machine.

    This is a deadly mistake. There are barriers to uphold, and failure to understand them will get you ripped apart – just like in real life. I’ll give you one real example and one hypothetical example.

    Once I was watching a promotion for a new book on Youtube. It was about a pair of gay lovers (or, I don’t know how they’d want me to say, it, “partners”) who wanted to reenact Walden by moving from New York to a rural town in the countryside. The video grated on my nerves.Their conditions seemed a tremendously more comfortable than Henry David Thoreau’s, and I didn’t hesitate to tell them with biting language. I was baffled by the reply.

    “Read the book before you pass judgement. We’re not perfect ,that is what we learned. How do you know what we have weathered? Emotionally and spiratually ?. Finding yourself . Life is not always about being so literal and serious. This is Gary, Wade’s partner writting and you have personally hurt me. Perhaps if you weathered more in (omitted because I understand the internet) you should right your own book, Or is that the issue?

    Why would you get emotionally wounded by a comment on Youtube, of all websites? Does he not understand how chaotic and balls-to-the-wall stupid the comments are on there? Has he never opened Internet Explorer before? Is this the first time he’s sat behind a keyboard? His response betrayed nothing but inexperience and failure to adapt to a new situation, one where traditional barriers shatter but new ones spring to their place.

    Imagine you’re lounging at a bar with some buddies. The more alcohol you sip, the less inhibited you feel, the less limited by social norms you are. The people who get emotionally wounded on Facebook are the ones downing shots of vodka and getting roaring drunk at 7pm. They collapse next to you and proceed to sob out their entire life story, and chronicle every corner of their psyche. It’s difficult to feel sympathy for them, isn’t it? Instead of exercising caution and moderation, they get carried away, take the opportunity to lay every aspect of themselves bare to the world and have the gall to expect bystanders to give a damn. The internet is not some Kleenex dispenser full of sympathy. Nor is it your hugbox.

    Yes, it is nice to collapse barriers once in a while. Relieving, even. But, as with alcohol, moderation is needed, You always need your wits about you. You need to know when to stop. Or, for a different analogy, putting a healthy distance between you and other browsers on the internet is like putting on a hardhat before entering a construction site. You should expect certain dangers before going there, and you should be practical enough to prepare beforehand. It’s common sense and decency. People who don’t understand are probably people who weren’t raised with the internet and don’t fully grasp the communication differences, haven’t had enough time to learn their barriers. There’s a generation gap, I suspect.

    But, I can assure you, the internet is not dangerous and it does not need to be castrated like what happened with Korea. People just need to learn to adapt. I have no fear, despite being a sixteen year old girl, because I never post my picture or address, I never mention where my highschool is located, and, when necessary, I pose as a man and call myself Abe. Because I know my boundaries, I filled out my email address and name with trepidation and resentment. But it seems there’s no other way for my ideas to reach you.

    And, here is what my message would be like if I weren’t restraining myself every step of the way.
    “Fling your bleeding heart elsewhere, you fucking faggot. I can almost hear the tears dripping on your keyboard all the way from here. You don’t belong on the internet if you don’t understand that you need to keep a healthy distance between yourself and every other quivering fat neckbeard surfing along with you. The internet is not your hugbox, or your therapist. People who treat it as such deserve what happens to them.”

  21. As someone with late-diagnosed Asperger’s, I’ve spent about 25 years working to figure out how people are different from objects. However, I’m getting better at it, even though I primarily communicate over the Internet. You make a very interesting point, but I wouldn’t be so worried about the future. People are always learning things.

  22. With anonymity people shrug off mental filters like self restraint and the bar for what’s acceptable is virtually non-existent. When you express yourself or your opinions through this medium any degree of hostile response will be a given. That’s the nature of the beast. So when actual intellectual debate and redeeming conversations do happen on the internet, you can’t take it for granted. View it as a miracle.

    tl;dr the internet is a cruel beast

  23. admittedly I haven’t read your entire piece, just about the first half. But I’m just what you expected–a person with Asperger’s complaining!

    You may not mean any harm but you obviously don’t know anything about Asperger’s and it is kind of rude of you to try to make your observations more interesting by name-dropping a condition you haven’t had much experience with. A person who is an asshole on the Internet is not comparable with a person who has AS, because people with AS are not assholes any more than anyone else is. I’m not unaware that other people are human and I’m not mean to other people; I just have trouble knowing how other people might be feeling, and have trouble knowing the right things to say and do. That doesn’t mean I thoughtlessly insult everyone all the time.

    I do think it is a problem how hateful people can be on the Internet, but please refrain from equating hatefulness with Asperger’s. It might make your post sound a little cooler, but this kind of offhand insulting of people with Asperger’s makes it hard for real AS people to disclose their diagnosis, because other people think we are unstable or vicious.

  24. *I mean, other people assume that Asperger’s means “unstable or vicious,” nott hat real Asperger’s people appear that way.

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