4 Signs You Need to Spend Less Time Online
As someone who works from home selling novelty heroin syringes on Silk Road, I spend a lot of time on the Internet. On the whole, it's pretty great -- I'm exposed to a wide variety of people and information every day, and I help junkies get the Inspector Gadget-themed high they've craved for years. But all good things must be enjoyed in moderation, and I've noticed a few weird attitudes that develop when you spend too much time online. If you find yourself experiencing any of the following, it's time to get some fresh air.
You Begin to Wonder If People You Meet Are Trolls
I have an unhealthy fascination with comment sections. There are some intelligent ones out there, and most Cracked commenters are pretty alright (except BonerLorde420 ... you know what you've done). But as a general rule, they're cesspools of hatred and anger, and browsing them is the closest we can legally come to opening human zoos.
But, as Nietzsche wrote in his junior high years, when you gaze too long into an asshole, the asshole also gazes into you. I don't mean that you start acting like a racist, sexist douchebag, because while I do troll the other Cracked columnists under the name Sore N Bone Me, that's an unrelated hobby. I mean that you stop viewing Internet commenters as a writhing mass of personified rage and start viewing them as presumably functional members of society with jobs and hobbies and loved ones they probably don't want to see butt-raped by a dozen fat dudes with swords (like they keep saying they hope happens to other people).
"And that's why you deserve to get cancerAIDS and drown in a urine flood."
You start making up little stories for them to convince yourself that they're just good people having bad days, because the alternative -- that they have a toxic, sociopathic attitude towards humanity 24/7 and keep it hidden beneath a thin veneer of respectability -- is too depressing. Maybe the guy ranting about how all women are soul-sucking harpies just went through an ugly breakup. Maybe the guy screaming "nuke ISIS ragheads!" lost his entire family and several puppies to terrorist attacks, and also isn't very smart. Maybe the guy calling me a "cocksucking super fag" is optimistically hitting on me the only way he knows how.
But, eventually, you start wondering if the people you come across in real life Meatworld troll the Internet in their spare time. Does the friend of a friend I had a cool conversation about video games with go home and scream rape threats into a beer-spittled microphone? Did the co-worker who said something a little homophobic just have an ignorant slip of the tongue, or does she spend her nights on news sites ranting about how gays are the modern black plague?
"Thou shall not judge! Except in this case, where it's perfectly fine!"
This is not a thought exercise I'd recommend, because there's no way to get an answer. Between sheer statistical probability and the assumption that you know your friends well, you'd like to think the obvious answer is they aren't a troll. But there's always a little nagging doubt, and you can't exactly ask someone, "Hey, are you an uninformed, ignorant, attention whore on the Internet?" without damaging your relationship. The only solution is to spend less time reading comment sections and more time watching cat videos until your brain stops asking such weird questions in the first place.
You Start Making Sweeping Assumptions
One of the most powerful features of the Internet is anonymity. If it wasn't for the Internet, a young white guy like me would never have been able to adopt the personality of a stereotypical, sassy black woman for my writing career.
But listen up, girlfriend, because there's a downside. Now I ain't talking about men that are always sending us pictures of their Johnson like they think they're God's gift to women, because girl, if that's the best God's got for us, I'm becoming a Buddhist. Nuh-uh, I'm referring to the fact that you start making assumptions about other anonymous people, like you think you're better than them just cause you don't work down at the hairdressers no more. And you know what they say about assumptions. Yes, you do.
Ah, my newest batch of cease and desist orders from the NAACP arrived!
When I'm chatting with Dikachu69 about the latest Smash Bros. game I automatically assume he's another young, straight, white dude, because in my mind I'm the quintessential Internet junkie. But for all I know, he might be a black woman in her late-30s who didn't appreciate my little Vaudeville routine, although that's awfully judgmental coming from someone with such a crude name, lady.
My point is that when you're having conversations with people you can't look at, you assume they're like you until they prove otherwise. It's easy to forget that there are in fact multiple races and genders and age groups out there, because if you don't see any middle-aged black women in your day-to-day life, you assume they all have real jobs and mature hobbies that don't involve spending a lot of time on gamer forums. They probably all knit or something.
This messes with your head in little ways. You forget that the knitting, profanity-spewing video game fan is probably going to have a different way of looking at say, events in Ferguson or Tyler Perry's career. You both might completely agree that Perry's movies are terrible, but there's a good chance you arrived at your opinions in different ways because of your differing backgrounds and perspectives on life.
Mine being that I'm so terribly, terribly lonely.
It's also easy to start seeing the Internet as a hive mind that spits out definitive decrees like "Gone Girl was a solid movie despite its flaws" or "The parents of this suicide victim deserve to have gay porn posted on their Facebook page," because you start to confuse the loudest vocal opinion for the opinion of everyone. You have to stop and remind yourself that you aren't the only person who hates trolls, or that it's okay to have no opinion or interest in a movie about marriage because you're planning to die alone and unloved. Constant anonymity can make you forget just how much variety there is in people, and that's a little sad. Speaking of which ...
You Forget That Moderates Exist
Let's say you have friends, and you and your friends are deciding where to go for supper. You're debating between pizza and Chinese because you're all culinary unadventurous, and the majority of you have a preference but would be cool either way. However, one friend loudly declares that he would rather eat shit than pizza because he was molested by a man dressed as a Ninja Turtle as a child, while another refuses to eat Chinese food because his grandmother starved to death during the Cultural Revolution.
In this totally exciting and realistic scenario you'll obviously take note of the two most vocal opinions, but you'll also be aware that your other friends have moderate stances because they'll try to express them before they're shut down by someone yelling about cultural insensitivity or how Uncle Jack always seemed so nice. You're aware that moderates dominate the discussion statistically, if not in terms of sheer volume. But the Internet can completely strip that awareness away.
Take ISIS, since we're already discussing ethnic food. I went to a Fox News article about ISIS, and it took five seconds to find commenters calling for the destruction of Islam.
I know, it's Fox. It's like shooting fish in a barrel, if all the fish were old and terrified of the younger, darker fish that sometimes show up in their barrel playing modern music from the big urban aquarium. You don't expect people who refer to the President as "Obutthole" to offer stirring political discourse. But there's also a small but vocal legion of commenters who hate Fox. Here's someone on caps lock cruise control dropping what I guarantee they called "a truth bomb on the Foxscists."
I'm not really sure what their goal is, aside from hoping that Rupert Murdoch sees their brilliant pieces of rhetoric, realizes that he's been wrong all these years, and turns Fox into a site for environmental news and vegan recipes. Their motives are unimportant -- it's the simple fact that they think it's productive that sticks in your head.
You've all seen an Internet screaming match. The topic could be anything -- gun control, illegal immigration, what size Han Solo's breasts would be if he was a woman -- its timeliness or seriousness doesn't matter, only that the people involved have strong opinions and an emotional connection.
People who don't like what ISIS is doing but don't consider them to be representative of Islam, or who know that 34C is about as big as you want to go on Han before they start hindering his upper body reflexes, aren't as passionate about their opinions, and so they're not going to go out of their way to write angry screeds. That's why Free Republic, a site that routinely features casual calls for genocide, is immensely popular, whereas my WhyCantWeBeFriends.com went under within three months because all of its members were so laid-back they forget to pay their Internet bill.
Plus, the majority of them are just crazy high.
In real life you get exposed to moderate opinions, because conversations are friendlier when other people can look you in the eye. But even though moderates make up a majority of the spectrum on any issue, most don't feel the need to wade into the abyss that is online discourse. When you begin to consider horror the norm you have to constantly remind yourself that countless non-crazies are lurking in the background. Otherwise you start to think that most of the country shares the beliefs of the guy screaming, "Kill Obummer and his monkey friends," and you end up with a view of the world that's as depressing and unrealistic as theirs.
You Start Viewing Local Information as Unimportant
Hey, would you like to know how the latest Nicolas Cage thriller, Left Behind, is doing critically and commercially? The Internet has an ironic love for it, which means I could summarize half a dozen reviews and the opening weekend results. In fact, because the Internet generally loves pop culture, I could probably tell you the reception of every major movie and video game released recently. I can also tell you all about the latest American political scandal, or draw the latest battle lines in Syria, or where to find the newest "Han Solo with breasts" porn site that was created within the last six minutes.
Another marriage saved. Thank you, Internet!
When you get your news from the Internet you tend to only learn about what the Internet thinks is important -- big global affairs, American politics, news of the weird, sports, and pop culture. Local news? Forget it -- unless something in your city exploded, it's probably not interesting enough for the Internet to care about. For that kind of stuff, you have to turn on your TV like a caveman.
So I can confidently brief my friends and family on the current geopolitical situation in the Middle East, yet stare at them blankly when they ask me what I think about the dude who got murdered down the block last week. More often than not, I learn about something the mayor said or some crime that happened downtown by listening to my friends talking about it and then feigning knowledge.
"I as well cannot believe that the mayor robbed a liquor store. Current events, am I right?"
When the Internet (and see how I'm already referring to it as a hive mind again?) talks about a subject, you go and read up on it extensively, because it must be important and you want to look like a not-dumbass. But you don't go out of your way to read about anything the Internet doesn't discuss at length, because how big of a deal could it be if the rest of the world doesn't care?
On some level, you know that's silly, because while someone who lives in North Africa won't care about the new restaurant opening a few blocks away, it doesn't mean that you shouldn't go check it out. But you have to consciously remind yourself to follow local news, even though the delayed opening of a local nursing home isn't trending on social media. Otherwise you could be more well-informed on world events than anyone you know and still come across like an ignoramus. For most people, local news is more important, since they have a tendency to actually go out and interact with the places and people that get reported on.
"You didn't hear that Jim-Bob replaced the diner stools? It was on the news, man."
I'm not saying you should ignore world news, mind you. I'm just saying that it's important to remember your own backyard, or else the municipal government might announce a purge, and you won't have a clue until someone's chain-sawing through your front door.
You can read more from Mark, or spend way too much time with his writing on his website.
For more from Mark, check out The 5 Most Aggressively Crazy Websites on the Internet and The 5 Best Places to Make (Creepy) Friends.