There were several fun comments to yesterday’s post, and it will take me several days of posts to address things. Let’s start with some “unknown knowns,” things we all know if we are reminded of them but often forget or forget to apply. People go into different discussions wanting different things, and all those different things are present at once on the internet.
For example, some people discuss a problem because they want solutions and some people want empathy. These can be in conflict, particularly when the speaker and listener are opposite ends of that scale. In yesterday’s post, I described people having trouble with a game going to the game forum, where people will probably explain what you are doing wrong rather than providing moral support that it is the game’s fault. They might empathize with the difficulty and the learning curve, but regular players frequenting a game’s discussion board probably know the game well and will have that perspective, versus a game with lots of churn where there will be more new players to sympathize. Kind of like if you go on a discussion board about car repairs and complain about difficulties with car repair, people will provide suggestions on fixing your car. In both cases, they can empathize with your problem, and you will almost certainly find a few people agreeing that you should just throw the whole thing away, but the nature of the board and what would make someone a regular there leads to more solutions than empathy.
There are lots of good places to find empathy. I might read part of a book or watch an episode of a show and think, “This is kind of crap. Is it worth continuing?” And then I will go online and find reviews agreeing that it was kind of crap, and maybe I will actively seek out opinions from folks who read/saw the whole thing and agree that it was all kind of crap and not worth finishing. It can be validating to have your opinions echoed back at you.
But on the internet, more or less every possible opinion will be expressed. By the nature of holding the discussion in a public forum, anyone can participate, and if you are looking for Response A, you will get some mix of A and B. If you respond badly to B, they will respond in kind (and if you don’t, others on the A side may), and the discussion can easily descend into vitriol. It is very unlikely you will get all of one kind of response unless you go somewhere you know to be heavily filtered for that sort of thing.
As a related example, sometimes you want agreement and sometimes you want counterarguments. Maybe you want validation that the show was kind of crap, or maybe you want encouragement to carry on until it gets good. When you complain about your significant other, sometimes you want a friend to cool you down and remind you of the reasons you are together, and sometimes you want a friend to add fuel to the fire about how they don’t deserve you.
When it is you and one other person, in person, that is easy enough to tune. Online, you will get lengthy arguments in either direction or both, without your signals for what sort of response you are seeking. And almost certainly both, because it is an open forum. I presume every advice column has comments along the lines of “you can fix this up,” “you should dump him,” and “he should dump you.”
That last leads to my last point here: sometimes you are the problem. You are just flat out, completely wrong, using some weird assumption that mostly comes from you rather than whatever you are talking about. This can lead to very unsatisfactory responses. And even if you are not in the wrong, people can just show up on the internet and accuse you of being wrong! If you are entering a discussion about whether or not you should leave him, and someone says he should leave you, they are outside the sphere of what you even considered reasonably wrong. You were prepared to argue one way or another but not to defend yourself. Which leads back around to the first point, that someone has managed to interject advice into what you saw as clearly an empathy situation.
But you’re on the internet, having the argument in a public forum, so anyone can wander by and give you opinions and advice that you don’t want. You want opinions and advice, but only certain ones, and it is very wrongheaded for people not to see that.
It is also very wrongheaded for people to complain that you gave them advice when they were just looking for empathy, or that you were sending useless hopes and prayers while they wanted solutions. Can’t they see that they literally asked for it?
It turns out that having discussions with people can be difficult, especially when you can potentially be having discussions with everyone and anyone at once, especially when the people most likely to respond are the ones who most vehemently disagree.
Previously: Stop Agreeing with Me. I am not finding the old post about a tradition against posting “me too,” so most responses will be arguments.