By Lawrence Meyers

Many of us good, hardworking Americans spend our time at our jobs.  The lucky ones, myself included, have the good fortune of having a job that is loads of fun.  That’s my life as an entrepreneur.  On any given day, I evaluate business plans from folks seeking capital for their own dream jobs; work with other passionate folks that my firm has funded, learning about their business as I help grow it; work with an editor on one of my forthcoming books; work with a designer on the cover of another; and if there’s time, refine my own plan for the alternative production and distribution of television content.

It makes for a busy and rewarding day, every day. From moment to moment, though, I confess to having a secret vice.  I take a hot poker and stick it in a cage filled with emaciated kittens.Well, not kittens, actually.  I’m not sure what species they belong to.  Most of them sit around all day in front of their computers. Rather than engage real people in the real world, they project their fears and ideological rants into cyberspace.  They excrete their own particular form of bile from the safety of their living room, knowing they would never get away with what they say in person because they’d be given the pummeling they roundly deserve.

They warble their dissonant arias on internet message boards that have a tiny audience, themselves accounting for 25% or more of the posts there. The echo chamber creates a feedback loop that is audible, chasing away all other posters (regrettably the more intelligent and thoughtful ones).  Their own screeching bounces around in the space between their ears, yet to them, it truly is a glorious and soaring opera. Regrettably, these message boards are delivering the same message to us all.  They are cries for help.  These are sad, unemployed (or underemployed, clearly), unloved misfits of our society.  They feel they have no control over their lives, so they shout out in a virtual community, “Look, here I am! Pay attention to me!” 

But it isn’t a club.  It is a prison.  One created by them and for them.  In a way, it’s masochistic behavior.  They open themselves up to the ridicule of those who drop by the cage occasionally solely to stick in the hot poker. There’s a great book called Mavericks at Work, about some of the great minds behind some of our greatest companies.  They point out that people are on a constant hunt for self-esteem.  The people I speak of don’t have any self-esteem in their lives, so they look to a community to help find it.  Of course, self-esteem must come from within.  But having a community – a real one – to help support one’s psyche is critical.

Now, let’s be clear. I’m not speaking about all message boards.  Not even close.  Some might even think I’m talking about sci-fi-fantasy geekdom.  Not a chance.  Those folks are the best.  They’re passionate about something.  They love every aspect of what they discuss.  Without them, a lot of movies, television, graphic novels, and other entertainment would not exist.  These folks support the passions of those that created the works they gather to discuss.  And being a fan of those genres myself, I get it.I’m talking in this case about this board of writers. 

Writing is a tough slog.  I understand visiting with a group of fellow writers to vent and to discuss any variety of topics.  But this board is mostly populated by those who get poked by me, and deservedly so.  

Here’s a few examples.  There’s a guy, Arthur, who is the 2nd most prolific poster on the board.  He’s kind of a cyberstalker, creeping around the boards to deliver a personal insult.  Clearly unemployed, he’s also without a mate.  But given his demeanor, described by another writer as “the kid you always suspected was a sneak, who came at you sideways or through others, without the courage to address you directly”, why would that surprise anyone?  He’s definitely a masochist.  The manner is which I poke him is by linking to some obscure article that directly contradicts his own ideology.  I don’t bother to read the article, I just post it, waiting for Arthur to waste more of his time composing some incoherent screed that goes on and on and on. Doug is a Global Warming Alarmist who foretells of an environmental Apocalypse in our lifetime, yet seems content to battle it by only recycling cans and bottles.  

His use of logic is akin to what one hears in the fourth grade.  If I said, “The sky is not technically blue”, he would shout with glee, “So you admit the sky is green!”  He is rapidly approaching the dubious mark of 20,000 posts on a single message board.   That’s over a period of about 3 years.  

Think about that number.  20,000 of anything is a lot.  And, yes, he’s certainly underemployed, if not actually on the dole.Ian is the latest to join this club.  He wrote a highly forgettable movie many years ago, sold a pilot for a TV series and promptly vanished from the show’s credits (what does that tell you?).  He fancies himself a Mr. Chips, perhaps because he teaches students somewhere. I hope that’s not the case.  

His use of logic is about as strong as Doug’s.  But he showed his true colors the other day when he sullied a thread about a fellow writer’s frustration at some blatantly racist behavior on the part of a potential employer.  

See, without commenting on this writer’s situation, he posted an insult directed at me.  Just because he felt like it.  Never mind the lack of class and respect this showed to the writer in question.  There were plenty of other places to insult me.  But he chose that thread.  I feel sorry for any students he does teach.   The petty example he sets demonstrates exactly why he’ll never be a Mr. Chips, or anything close.  Perhaps it’s also why he isn’t a writer anymore.

The lesson here is clear: anti-social forums both provide a haven for the anti-social and exacerbate that behavior.  Don’t become a slave to a virtual community.  It’s there like any other community – to visit with on occasion.  The real world requires courage to face sometimes.  But if you have a real community to interact with, there’s a lot less to fear.

Be Sociable, Share!