Wednesday, March 24, 2010

A Little Perspective on the Internet and Blogging

Hi. My name's Jim.

In my heyday as a music critic, I've been yelled at and insulted by total strangers both in person and in print. I've had editors of major magazines with general newsstand circulation bring the hammer down on me in print. I've had record label executives call my house and leave messages telling me what a shithead I am, I've had many more emails from record label personnel telling me how awful I am. I've had angry phone calls and emails from professional musicians daring me to come to their next show so they could do all sorts of unpleasant things to me (the one singer threatening to piss on my head was the most amusing). My crowning achievement in this area was receiving an anonymous death threat. I came home one day and checked the messages on my answering machine and there it was: "You better watch what you write or you're going to get your throat cut."

All because of my writing about albums and bands.

Our little blogging community has had a 1-2 punch of flamewar scandals, and people seem to be demoralized and worn out over it.

At first I didn't understand why, and then I began to suspect that people don't really understand the position they put themselves in when they start a blog.

I think people might find the following primer useful:

1. You Are Not Among Friends
We share a hobby. We play old style D&D. I don't even think any of us even plays it the same way, but there's our common bond. Old D&D.

But I suspect people confuse their online D&D buddies with their real-life buddies. Even worse, maybe they associate their online olde tyme D&D compatriots with the people they played with in their personal golden age of gaming.

No.

We share a hobby. That's it. The people we're actually playing the game with are not the people we're blogging to. Different people. Different relationships. There is no other automatic commonality other than the game. We might be a different age, gender, nationality, religion, sexuality, have radically different values, and we'll never know if all we do is talk about the game.

The people in your real life, they're your friends. All us online people? We don't really know each other.

2. Nobody Cares About You Or Your Feelings
Let's say you are one of the luckiest and most blessed people on Planet Earth and have 1,000 people that love you and are loyal and friendly and deeply care about you. That leaves, in a best case scenario, 6,810,099,000 people in the world (according to US Census estimates) that really don't give a shit.

And let's continue to be charitable and say that only 0.01% of the world's population are assholes. Only one in ten thousand people is really not a great guy. That's still over 680,000 people in the world whose sole joy in life is pissing you off and making your life miserable.

Does anyone believe that only one in ten thousand people are assholes?

This is important to remember because:

3. You Are Making Yourself a Public Figure
A blog isn't your front porch. You don't have privacy. Yes, you can set up a closed blog with only readers that you invite, but that's not why you're starting a blog, is it?

You are making yourself a sub-Z level celebrity when you open up a blog. You ever talk shit about an actor? Politician? Political pundit? Newscaster? Some dumb shit on an incredibly degrading reality TV show?

By starting a blog, you are opening yourself up to such criticism. Inviting it, even, because you're saying "Here I am, here are my thoughts!" and you're broadcasting that to the world.

Even if they don't comment, any number of people are going to click on your blog and think, "What a fuckin' MORON. And so ugly, too!"

And all of this is only a problem because:

4. Blogs Are Very Personal Things
Most of the bloggers in our corner of the web are fairly prolific. They blog hundreds of times a year. The amount of time spent doing that is staggering. I think I'm more aware of how much time my blogging takes than most, because I always update the timestamp so it matches when I hit "Publish Post" and not leave it at where it was when I started typing.

When you spend that much time blogging, which really is an ancillary activity compared to the real hobby of actually gaming (or publishing), no matter how strictly you think you're staying on topic, you're going to reveal a lot about yourself. And most bloggers don't stay on topic that strictly. We talk about our jobs and family and health and everything.

We are exposing ourselves.

#3 and #4 are a bad combination for most people, especially when they forget #1 and #2.

I don't say this to discourage people from blogging. People just need to be prepared and have that armor-plated skin and not act legitimately hurt and surprised when there's controversy and drama on the goddamn internet.

Because it's going to get worse. Much worse. As this old school thing grows, we're going to get a lot more cool people and ideas and material, but we're also going to attract assholes like flies to shit. That's what happens when something gets popular. If you get 1,000,000 devoted fans, you also get 10,000,000 people devoted to tearing you down and telling you how much you suck.

Does this sound awful? Does this sound like something you don't want to deal with? Maybe you should keep your heads down and just play the game, because sticking your head up makes you one of the targets.

Me, I wore that death threat like a badge of honor.

44 comments:

  1. Sooo.... we lost 2 of the founding members of TARGA, caused a shakeup in management, along with an upsurge in the membership, exposure, and those willing to be regional directors for TARGA. Two well known and respected bloggers shut down their sites, to the regret of many. Some blogs and at least one video got a shitload of exposure. Some nice people took a lot of shit, and some shitheads got some new blog fans. I lost a follower on my blog, no longer at the magical "69" number. Many people let their sexual repression freak flag fly, while others admitted to whacking off to the succubus. All in all, not a bad weekend. Let's roll some dice. :)

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  2. Great post, and all true. I would just add, for some further perspective on the matter:

    Civilized men are more discourteous than savages because they know they can be impolite without having their skulls split, as a general thing.

    --Robert E. Howard

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  3. But if I'm published on the internet, it makes me an expert... and if I blog, then I'm published, therefore i'm an expert. Therefore I know all, see all, be all... yadda yadda.

    Shit, I used to walk the streets in the South Bronx at nite. Five days a week. Uphill. (that parts a joke, son) Admittedly, I was armed, still... there is nothing on the 'net that will come close.

    Be like bamboo... bend with the wind, then cane them across the ares cheeks ;)

    Oh, and I whacked to the Succubus... but only on vacation when I couldn't risk bringing the porn stash :)

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  4. I think #2 and #4 vary a bit from person to person. and topic to topic. I've seen blogs that get a lot of total strangers emailing to say thanks, and how much they appreciate the material. Some blogs have a lot of personal info on them, while others are more focused on the topic.

    But I think in general you're giving people some very good advice here. :)

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  5. I'm intrigued. The interesting thing about oblique references to internet controversies is when you have no idea what they're talking about. I'd never heard about TARGA before the first comment here, which helpfully led me to the flame wars.

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  6. Great post. One of the things related to #1 that I notice is that many times people like to take up some issues publicly, either on a blog or a message board, that are more appropriate to a private conversation. People take issue with something, or have a question about a private or sensitive topic, etc. and instead of discussing it with the relavent party, they either raise a public ruckus to blow it out of proportion, or just make some other kind of public comment to drag something out.

    It's very confusing, as if people view forums and blogs as their private living room and, as you say in #1, that everyone is friends so its OK to essentially violate privacy. Weird.

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  7. I could not agree more. This post has leveled up the blog, giving it access to the veritable "detect obvious" spell and the new language skill "Speak: Frankly"

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  8. Many of the blogs I read, despite their 'old school' creed, are just full of useful advice and good stuff for any edition of the game. I much prefer it when people talking about mapping, making characters, handling deities, etc... then those rare occassions when they start to go ranting about politics, their real world religion, etc... It's not that those thing's aren't important, but rather, if you post them on your gaming blog, you're posting them to the wrong source in my opinion.

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  9. Do other people run multiple blogs? I have several with things divided by topic

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  10. Thank God I use the Storytelling system! I've been lurking on the fringes of the so-called OSR-community for a while, and I just have to say that this whole shit-storm that's been raging over at your corner of the internets has been a bit amusing.

    If I've understood this correctly it all started with that video, right? I'd like to tell someone to grow up, I'm just not sure who. It would probably just have been an exercise in futility anyway.

    Eitherwhos, bloody good post.

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  11. I am armored by obscurity.

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  12. Raggi, you better watch which direction you improve armor class in your game or you might get your THROAT CUT

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  13. ...in the realm of Dungeons & Dirtbags. :D

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  14. Great post. I'm pretty new to reading these D&D blogs, but I know just enough about what went down to be extremely but not totally confused.

    In a nice coincidence, right after reading your post, I saw that a friend elsewhere had linked to this (obscenity-laden) Katt Williams routine about haters.

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  15. "Sooo.... we lost 2 of the founding members of TARGA, caused a shakeup in management, along with an upsurge in the membership, exposure, and those willing to be regional directors for TARGA. Two well known and respected bloggers shut down their sites, to the regret of many. Some blogs and at least one video got a shitload of exposure. Some nice people took a lot of shit, and some shitheads got some new blog fans. I lost a follower on my blog, no longer at the magical "69" number. Many people let their sexual repression freak flag fly, while others admitted to whacking off to the succubus. All in all, not a bad weekend."

    Other than the ride downtown, Mrs. Kennedy, how did you like Dallas?

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  16. "Other than the ride downtown, Mrs. Kennedy, how did you like Dallas?"

    I can't wait for next weekend! :)

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  17. Excellent post. "Butthurt over forum post" is one of the worst excuses in the universe for having a bad day.

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  18. Great post.

    Some idiotic comments.

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  19. In 40 years, how little improvement there has been in human behavior. Oh, there have been recreational advancements, but, how little egos/morals/pride/etc have changed. It's always the same ol' story.

    Improve a role-playing system and you may increase participation for awhile. Then something happens to cause a rift. But if everyone focused on what really mattered, we'd gain a thousand fold...and might actually have a few more exciting games to enjoy.

    Some may disappear to regroup, collect themselves, etc. Fine. Come back when you can. If not...well, it's pointless to say 'cause you probably aren't reading this anyway.

    My two cents as another obscure blogger.
    Whoopty-frikkin-doo.

    Ciao!
    Grendelwulf

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  20. inciteful posts and comments . . .
    I will miss the Chicago Wiz,
    but did he really think he could compete with porn?

    “The theoretical understanding of human behavior is only as useful to the life of a man as looking at the table of contents before reading a book; it tells only of the subjects contained therein. The same is true of the moral schooling that furnishes us with sermons, precepts and stories told by those who raise us. We listen in rapt attention; but when we have the opportunity to take advantage of the advice given us, we want to see if things will happen as predicted; we abandon ourselves to them, and find ourselves punished by regret. Our only small compensation is that during such moments we recognize ourselves as wise men and possessors of the right to instruct others. Those whom we indoctrinate do no more or no less than we have done, with the result that the world remains the same, or goes from bad to worse.”
    Giacomo Casanova, 1792
    The Story of my Life

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  21. @Stuart, I have 3 blogs on 3 similar topics, and I avoid politics, etc. as much as possible because it's only downhill from there.

    @Clovis, I'm sure you were only meaning to make a joke, but your post about Chgowiz isn't accurate. Just sayin'.

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  22. Great stuff. I look forward to it getting a lot worse. Also, will you review my band's CD? :)

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  23. "Let's say you are one of the luckiest and most blessed people on Planet Earth and have 1,000 people that love you..."

    "WHAT IS THE MONKEYSPHERE?"
    http://www.cracked.com/article_14990_what-monkeysphere.html

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  24. >>If I've understood this correctly it all started with that video, right?

    The latest ruckus started because someone was offended that an article he wrote wasn't given what he thought was due attention.

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  25. Also, we should add #5:

    English is an extraordinarily difficult language to master, and even native speakers are appallingly bad at it. The things we post that seem to make perfect sense to us mean something completely different to your readers. Half the time, when we flame at each other over the things we write, we aren't reading it the same way.

    A simple solution would be, whenever it seems to us that someone is making an outrageous statement, to politely ask whether our interpretation is what they meant. The truth is, though, that an awful lot of Internet posters could care less what the author meant and find the idea of asking to be demeaning. What they find less demeaning, for some idiotic reason, is to immediately assume that whatever crazy, outrageous interpretation they've just read into a post is absolutely what the poster must have meant, and that the solution is to attack at once, going for the throat.

    In short, mostly we're terrible writers and terrible readers, but we think we're great at both things and so we fail to get confirmation before exploding.

    Which leads us to an important corollary to point #2, which I'll call #6:

    A lot of people have anger-management issues and see other people merely as opportunities to vent their backed up bile. I doubt there are enough therapists in the world to deal with all the pent-up frustration and rage that people pointlessly direct at one another. Most people who attack you don't have any idea who you are and don't care. They just really really need to take a dump and have decided you resemble someone else they hate enough to fling their poo at.

    So here's the point of #6: When such situations arise, as they do daily, you can't solve it by putting energy into it, by arguing over who's to blame or why some jerk's comments prove he's a jerk—that just escalates things—you have to use de-escalation techniques to pull the energy back out of the situation. Yin, not yang, is the only useful response to these random yang explosions. And if your respondents can't stop kicking the wasp nest, then James's recent policy of deleting the offending post so people stop responding to it is a perfectly sensible tactic for putting out the fire.

    The irony is that people argue against basic manners on the theory that they yearn to be free and etiquette is so stifling, but then when the logical consequences of their disregard for courtesy trap them in endless rounds of exhausting, demoralizing, pointless arguments, somehow they never make the connection that being rude and angry to other people all the time never leads to happiness and camaraderie.

    Great post, James.

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  26. The Blog Commandments,
    from the Apocryphal Book of Raggi

    1. You Are Not Among Friends
    2. Nobody Cares About You Or Your Feelings
    3. You Are Making Yourself a Public Figure
    4. Blogs Are Very Personal Things
    5: English is an extraordinarily difficult language to master, and even native speakers are appallingly bad at it.
    6: A lot of people have anger-management issues

    Yessir. I like it.
    This could be bigger than Jesus... ;)

    Ciao!
    Grendelwulf

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  27. James, this is your best and most thought-provoking post. Thank you.

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  28. Jim old friend, there is another factor: We gamers are... how do I put it delicately... statistically skewed to be adolescent in desires and wants... and hence, in desperate need for reward and recognition from peers. Since we reject many traditional Mores, by golly in our hearts, we seek even more recognition from our niche inner circle of dorkdom.

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  29. Og, Gorilla King of Earth, demands more Weird Fantasy Roleplaying!

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  30. I've blogged for over 7 years (on different topics, some of them very controversial and charged topics) and have received a fair share of hate. You pretty much have to deal with it or quit. Too bad that some choose the latter.

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  31. Or to use a chanism:
    The OSR is not your personal army.

    also see The Rules of the Internet (one such example, NSFW on a very NSFW site: http://images.encyclopediadramatica.com/images/3/30/1194679739296.jpg)

    Starting a few threads on 4chan's /tg/ subforum should be enough to disavow anyone of special snowflakedom and butthurt. Faster if they post named with a tripcode & avatar picture instead of Anonymous.

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  32. Good post, not that I give a shit.

    ;)

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  33. I think I'm more aware of how much time my blogging takes than most, because I always update the timestamp so it matches when I hit "Publish Post" and not leave it at where it was when I started typing.

    Dear James:

    Compose your posts in a text editor rather than a web browser. It will save more than just the time it takes to update the timestamp. Trust me on this one thing.

    Best,
    Wally

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  34. I sit at 38 followers and have not had much problems. I thought I would when I switched systems and decided to take a break from more classic gaming. I guess I am not that influential or everyone realizes I am nuts and accepts the eccentricities.

    I missed the controversy but laughed at most of it when I read the older posts. I think it was overreaction on all sides and a cooling off period was needed.

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  35. I have zero followers! It's like shouting into an empty oil-drum.

    And it's hilarious that anyone gets upset about things on the Internet anymore. You really can't take anyone or anything around this joint seriously.

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  36. Someone once tried to head-butt me at a metal show for a negative review I wrote years beforehand...it was like having an eight-year-old trying to start a fight with you, pathetic.

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  37. James - This is eloquent, sensible and a timely reminder there's a ready-made refiner's fire in the Internet, anytime you want to improve.

    @Grendelwulf - Awesome summary, made me laugh.

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  38. "And it's hilarious that anyone gets upset about things on the Internet anymore. You really can't take anyone or anything around this joint seriously."

    Well, true... until it affects your personal life because of a media crapstorm on a slow news day or because people who thought they knew you suddenly judge you by some new side of you they can't quite understand or fear... true....

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  39. James - this is brilliant. I'm actually forwarding this to the editors and community managers at The Escapist. It's the best summary of the state of mind necessary for surviving the internet wars that I've ever seen.

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  40. James,

    Typically I disagree with about 80-90% of what you have to say here. I don't come around and post "you are wrong!" because you are not; we just don't agree.

    But today I am 100% behind what you say here.

    We might a community, but that is not the same a "group of BFFs".

    Who knows. It is posts like this that might get around to your point of view eventually (I doubt it, but hey) and certainly I want you to keep writing what you write and not giving a crap on say what I might think (and by extension, others).

    I missed the ugliest parts of the whole dust up, but put me firmly in the "can we just get back to rolling some damn dice now please?" camp.

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  41. I'm relatively new to blogging, and posting on the blogs of others, but I want to propose a rule #7, though it's kind of a corollary to #3:

    If you ask for feedback, you're going to get it, and you probably wont like most of it.

    All too often I see flamefests develop because someone throws something out for discussion or critique, and whether they were trolling or honestly curious what other people thought, they get miffed at the response, get defensive, and all hell breaks loose.

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  42. Whacking off to the succubus! That's crazy! I would never risk damaging an original Monster Manual!

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