Friday, September 21, 2007

The Elephant in the Blog

As I begin to write this, there are 176 comments to my post on Monday, the first 20 or so more or less in response to what I wrote, the other (amazing!) 150-something representing digressions upon digressions that have taken on a life of their own.

Fascinating to watch, although at first a little scary. The vehemence of the messages had the ring of insanity that people I know detected right away. "Crazy shit" one called it.

But then it became interesting to watch, to wonder how soon they would tire of going endlessly in circles round the same non-issues.

What drives people to such obsessions? Who are these people? What do all these messages tell us about them? Why are they not tired of this after four days?

Let's look at the data.

I counted 75 discrete commenters, including 27 Anonymouses. Among these Felicity gets the gold medal for the most comments (44), although several seemed to be continuations of the previous one the minute before and perhaps should have been grouped as one. RNM, whose vehemence and persistence in debating Felicity persuades me must be Rachel herself or a very close surrogate, comes in second (34).

Assuming that the ubiquitous Mr. or Ms. Anonymous is not one person, no one else came close to commenting even 10 times -- Wombat (if all the variations are one person) came close (6), then Alex Fear (5).

I know for a fact that three commenters, plus myself, are American. One is Australian, One French. The rest, by their syntax, their spelling and their references to British arcana, are most likely Brits.

Thirteen commenters I either know or more or less safely assume from their nom d'internet, to be women. Only five are identifiably men -- one by his pejorative reference to women.

Observing the hours comments were posted reveals something else. Overwhelmingly, the comments came in between 4 am U.S. Eastern Standard Time and 6 pm -- that's between 10 am and 12 midnight London time.

There was fairly heavy traffic for what would be 10 am to noon for the Brits and then it picks up again around 4pm to 6pm, British time. Obviously many commented from work -- or are they all unemployed?

Another thing I know from the logs is that the bulk of visitors from Britain came from servers in towns that are from about north of London to somewhere in the Midlands, although there are a few aberrant Ulster folk out there. Clearly, all small town folk who are bored to tears watching the rain fall.

The truly amazing thing reading through these comments is that they are so repetitive, so artless, so concerned with minutiae of little or no transcendence.

No one will be converted to any great new ideal by these comments -- sorry, Alex. Nor will anyone gain an insight worth remembering.

Some writers display flashes of cleverness. I particularly liked some of the nicknames. My personal favorite: "My 9/11 is bigger than your 7/7." A few others were bitingly funny.

On the whole, however, there was a tad too much trite whining and loads of absolutely boring faux legalese. Lighten up, folks!

Importantly, aside from the principals involved (and even then the tiff borders on pointless obsession), these issues have no real impact on the personal lives of the commenters. Certainly not on mine.

Someone blogs about you and you don't like it? Ignore it or blog back. Someone e-mails you and you don't want it? Delete it, filter it out and so on.

People who get riled about these things need to take a deep breath and repeat after me: "This is just a hobby." Breathe in, breathe out. Repeat three times. Feels better, no?

What is it about computers that induces this kind of behavior?

I write pretty much the way I speak. Most of you would not like me and -- surprise! -- I probably would not like you.

But I sense that some of the nonsense posted here by the commenters goes way beyond what they are accustomed to saying to someone on the street. For example, how many commenters would really go around referring to women as "tits" in the presence of women capable of beating them up or, at a minimum, shaming them?

Nonetheless, thank you all for providing a window into cyberobsessions that I never imagined existed.

I'm sure also that American visitors were also enlightened as to the appalling lack of liberties in Britain -- my sympathies. As you rise and I go to sleep, rest assured I will honor your U.S. constitutional right to rant. Let the circus continue.
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