About Discussion Boards and Chat Rooms

From a previous post April 3, 2005

Okay.  What’s been on your mind this morning, the readership asks, me adroitly putting the words into the communal mouth.

In between working on other internet projects, I’ve been thinking about Discussion Boards and Chat Rooms.  What is it about those things?  What’s the appeal to us?  Why do they so frequently erode into acid exchanges between the users?  How do complete strangers come to have such a rancor for one another?  And how to otherwise, probably nice enough people (they have to be… someone would have taught them manners if they behaved that way offline) come to have such nasty streaks when they wear a mask of anonymity?

I’ve seen discussion boards and participated in a few previously.  In those days, a few people were still doing non-spectator things outdoors.  Enough were, at least, to keep sites of that sort in business selling metal detectors, gold pans, books, sluiceboxes, dry-washers and whatnot.  That’s when I first noticed this discussion board spinoff phenomenon I eventually came to think of as the snake pit.

People would come to the boards to learn about prospecting, about a particular lost mine, about some piece of equipment or other. But on any site there’d come a time when a specific group of individuals would just sort of hang out there.  They weren’t there to learn, and they obviously weren’t there to share information.  Mostly, they were just wasting time, disparaging people who asked questions, disparaging the attempts others made to answer.  The snake pit.

These weren’t just trolls.  They were men who knew the subjects the board was created to discuss.  But treasure hunters and prospectors have never been long on the information-sharing business.  So instead, these guys hung around blustering at one another, arguing which had the most skill with a metal detector, which detector brand was best.  Online acquaintances who frequently hated one another and everyone else, but still hung around.

Mid-1998, I became convinced Y2K was an actual threat.  That belief led me to another type of chat room.  A place where people who believed similarly hung around to talk about  TEOTWAWKI (the end of the world as we know it) and exchange information about Y2K preparedness.  At least, that’s how it began.

Before too long we all discovered that, while we each believed Y2K was going to happen, to one degree or another, we had some serious rifts in the other aspects of our lives.  Some were born again Christians who wanted to ask one another and answer one another whether this was going to be the Rapture, and if so, when it would begin, and what it would be like, both for themselves, and for the non-believers who’d be left behind to suffer it out on the ground.

That sort of thing.  That, and just how bad would things get, post-Y2K.  And how much a person should bet that it would happen at all. Attempts at risk analysis, though most of us didn’t know a lot about computers.

From mid-’98 until I departed for my woods-retreat mid-’99, I watched the Y2K chat room with a measure of awe, disgust, concern and wonderment.  I watched those people who came to the chat room to learn become experts after a few visits (the fundamentals of preparedness were, after all, relatively simple).  I watched the competition among the new survival experts when `newbies’ came to the chat room. People who’d just heard about Y2K and wanted to know more.  The poor old newbies found themselves swarmed by all the old-timers who were, themselves, newbies a couple of weeks earlier.  Everyone wanted to demonstrate his knowledge by telling some newbie about it all.

Meanwhile, the rancor, the snapping and snarling, the pro-gun/anti-gun, born-again/non-religious wars raged among those folks who came there first to just learn, who all had the same reason for their original visits.  And, of course, the romances.

The snake pit.

So.  How do strangers who have no reason to give a hoot in hell what one another think come to such a pass?  What is it about discussion boards and chat rooms that draws people so closely into one another that they wish to apply pain, sarcasm, poison?  That they actually allow the poison being spewed by the malignant random stranger to pierce their feelings?

It’s a study.  I’ll swear it is.

Old Jules

4 responses to “About Discussion Boards and Chat Rooms

  1. I’ve think about this a lot Jules. I do not chat but comment and when ever possible stir the pot and if someone is offended tough shit it means you got them to think. There is not going to be any conversation about how obviously fucking stupid you are and I can’t change your mind or you mine. I hate to be like this – but for instance when we invade and occupy another country for the lies of a few the niceness to those who got us there and are still around today just ain’t gonna happen ever!

    What you bring up here is different but similar. I’ve come to the conclusion for reasons unclear that people (on the left anyway) want to show you just how smart they really are and if you are a left leaning individual and you do not agree you then become an enemy very quickly. Seen it happen enough and I have just half an ass left after the last experience from taking the position that what the Romney’s did with their pooch was not cruelty and to just leave it alone as it seems to be the left’s birther issue. No one liked me anymore.

    The POS fishwrapper from the other life had a long drawn out conversation/meetings and such about anonymous commenting and in the end denied it and now the lame thing is even lamer. People become different when they do not have to use their name and that includes me. It may be part human nature.

    I can laugh with the best of them but on the internets everyone is a comedian as well. At times that can get old.

    Please don’t anyone hate me too bad for this.

    • Onefly, thanks for commenting. I’m not sure if Old Jules will be online today to respond personally, but I’m glad you posted. I’ll draw his attention to it if he doesn’t show up here himself (smiling).

  2. I disengage when people become adversarial. There’s enough controversy and confrontation in life without seeking the electronic version from anonymous strangers. My opinion isn’t worth enough to be nasty about.

  3. I frequent a photography site that is so ill-mannered in its discourse it made me want to vomit. Instead, I wrote to Internet Brands and whined about it. It’s better than it was but far from ideal. Without non-stupid moderators, simple discussions fall into the abyss of tangential thinking and angry birds. I have serious questions about photographers who have 15,000+comments. And the same avatar as last year…Simple questions end up in a flame war. Yuck.

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