Negativity

It is far too easy to emotionally default to negativity on the Internet. Whether it's fueled by anti-social behavior, a perceived intrusion upon one's curated garden of content and opinion, or some sort of basic personal distaste, we are all too frequently treated to a stinging assault on a person or corporate entity on Twitter and the like.

Thanks to the nature of RSS and Twitter, writers and technologists are increasingly confined to an echo chamber prone to minor spats and petty disagreements. Without much consideration, an intellectual group has the capacity to quickly descend into haphazard derision and misanthropy. In the blink of an eye, products are shunned, individuals hurt, and companies damaged all because, for whatever reason, there is an easy doorway onto poignant negativity online.

Most problematic is the apparent tendency toward immediate judgment. Thanks to the quickening pace of news dispersion, writers and commentators alike are in a permanent and perpetual race against themselves to process and articulate opinions. While many are truly successful at sharing measured and intellectual thoughts in such a manner, there are a distinct few that are keen to simply default to "awful." Lacking any real weighing of a product or company - or knowledge of how to rectify some sort of dire corporate situation - there is a distasteful ability for trendsetters and writers to simply default to derision.

Derision engenders arguments and rifts. Rifts and arguments create polarized camps. Camps gain derogatory names.

The immediate dismissal of a product, company, or person is easy on the Internet. Disappointingly so. Basking in the warming glow of a laptop screen, it's a matter of hitting a few keys and sharing it with the world in a remarkably small amount of time.

Sharing your opinion is a brilliant thing and it is often constructive in a larger discussion, but it is only as valuable as the time you put into considering a topic. Have you seen the latest Android phone and immediately feigned physical disgust because of its software? Have you frequently asked the question, "Why would anyone ever use this?" Have you disallowed the chance for positivity from a 'camp' that you do not perceive as your own?

Such actions are callous.

In life, immediate negativity is an anti-social and unpleasant trait to boast. When out in the real world, you don't walk up to someone, look at their clothes or their phone and deride them for their life choices. Nor should you do it indirectly.

The Internet provides a means for such interactions to occur but without the face-to-face middleman. Without the mellowing and reasonable tenets of pleasant human interaction. You might think that, by now, we would be at a stage in which such responsibility and courtesy is warranted online, but there is plenty of evidence to the contrary. If the Facebook IPO represents the Internet's coming of age, then perhaps it's time we, as a community, took responsibility for the negativity that some occasionally devolve into and others constantly default to.

Negativity often serves a useful purpose but, for the sake of reasonable accountability, simply and repeatedly harping on negative and ignorant tones does little to further beliefs, perspectives, and your any potential for success. If your following online is derived from aggressive discussion and dissent, you might consider taking a moment before you next Tweet or hit publish on your weblog.

Life is not binary, and it is unfair to represent it as such.

Expressing opinion and discerning good from bad is obviously a noble endeavor, but undercutting the potential for good in something based upon deep-seated prejudice and bias is distasteful and concerning. Latching onto one feature or two as a decisive means for the denouncement of a person, product, or company is shortsighted, and the blind dogmatic defense of one company over another is ignorant. To contribute something measuredly great, take each article, each piece of news, each item of opinion, and judge each object on its own. Context is an important thing, but basing opinions solely within the bounds of historical failure or success is dangerous. Hold something at its value as a standalone thing, and you may well surprise yourself with its apparent goodness.

I love the community I find myself in, I have had the true honor of meeting some of the community's greatest proponents in person, and I feel optimistic about what everyone is doing and what services they are providing. But, I say as a word of caution, we must continue to hold ourselves to a high standard - to sustain an air of accountability and reason. The standard we hold ourselves to should be in direct proportion to our standards for others and, if we default to repeated negativity, I daresay there isn't enough introspection going on.

There is plenty to be positive about. We are graced to live in an age of communication, dazzling technology, and heretofore unseen human progression. The mere fact that we can look at a BlackBerry and judge it as we do is a resounding endorsement of the quickening pace of human ingenuity. Take each piece of technology at its true value - at all of the good of its design - rather than merely undercutting and assaulting a feature or two you might perceive as negative. Obviously some technology and products are terrible and deserve criticism, but such criticism should be built upon a foundation of reason.

So next time you're sifting through your RSS feeds and you happen upon the perfect headline to further tread on a brand, person, or company, give it five minutes before you do. Think it through before you share those thoughts. Weigh both sides. Anything else is unfair.

Switching Comments Off

Internet commenting is a mixed bag. Depending on who you ask, comments can either be the most constructive portion of a weblog, or some sort of hellish pit of human emotion. My perspective, both as a reader and a writer, tends to reside somewhere in the middle ground.

With the rise of Twitter, I've begun to doubt the relevance of comments. If people want to get in touch with me regarding my arguments or the site, they can easily reach out in a public, direct manner. In my opinion, that is far more desirable than posting inflammatory comments at the end of an article.

The topic has been widely discussed in recent weeks -- most prominently by Matt Gemmell who, just over a month ago, turned off comments for his weblog. Today, Gemmell has taken the time to reflect on his decision:

In a nutshell, it was definitely the right move. For the first few days I did miss the validation of getting a flurry of comments on each new article, but I quickly realised that I was enjoying the peace and quiet.

Gemmell goes onto explain that in the time since, he has begun to receive "far more thoughtful" messages via email and Twitter.

From my perspective, I can corroborate Gemmell's results. I switched off comments a few weeks ago, and have not looked back. While the daily volume of comments was still relatively small when I turned them off, I have noticed a drastic increase in users reaching out to me using other means to express opinions, ask questions, and to provide feedback.

Considering the site is only two months old, I find far more value in thoughtful comments and insight from my readers than I do in sparse and often aggressive responses to some of my articles. Turning off comments has instigated this process, and I'm thrilled to be hearing from a lot of different people.

Perhaps the only downside I've encountered so far is being kept from the majority of negative comments.

When writing polarizing articles a month ago, I would often receive comments unequivocally asserting my ignorance. Although it's not the most tactful approach, the comments are nevertheless useful, and provide much-needed contextual awareness. Since switching comments off, I have received none of these negative comments.

Of course, this may be because I have yet to annoy people enough that they feel compelled to send their negative thoughts to me. I'll work on that.

The true problem with commenting systems is anonymity and the perceived sense of "security" therein. Individuals feel comfortable voicing their often over-the-top viewpoints because there's no semblance of accountability. Removing that ability, users are forced to interact with you in a public manner on Twitter (or similar), or via email where they must sufficiently justify their arguments. Such options foster an environment in which only intelligent, thoughtful, and constructive feedback can seep through. Blind negativity is stunted and undercut.

Gemmell updated his original article with an email response he sent to a reader. This particular snippet jumped out at me:

Some people will say that comments are what make blogs (or the web as a whole) interesting and edifying and social and so on. That's fine, but it's a bit simplistic - the truth is that most comments don't actually add any value.

Gemmell is right - comments do not tend to add value. There are commenters that are the exception to the rule (I've certainly had a few here), but the vast majority provide basic noise devoid of any useful criticism or opinion.

I value the minimalism and voice of my website. I believe the two are complimentary of each other. I write my perspective, and I value criticism and feedback. Having said that, sheer voracious ignorance and assaults have no place on my site, and I do not foresee their reintroduction any time soon.

My website is a balancing act between content and design. Commenting, whether you like it or not, contributes to this aesthetic experience. Perhaps it's a controlling issue on my part, but I feel confident knowing I have control over all aspects of the site and that my readers have an untainted experience. If sacrificing comments facilitates that experience, saves me time, and filters out aggressive ignorance, then that's certainly a worthwhile endeavor.