I just had a brilliant conversation with Sam Snyder - extremely smart guy.
We talked about a lot of things, and a few stood out to me - he clued me into the notion that many internet trolls might actually be mentally ill.
It's like, how bad off do you have to be to get satisfaction out of blogs, social news sites, and discussion forums? Pretty bad. As Sam put it, "Bad enough that you can't even get satisfaction out of playing video games."
More interesting, though, is that Sam introduced me to the concept of "emotional contagion" - by getting exposure to others' emotions, you frequently start to feel those emotions too.
So when you deal with people who are hostile and off-balance, it can make you a little more hostile and off-balance yourself. Scary stuff.
Sam put a couple suggestions down on how we might transcend this here - "Fixing Internet Comments" - it's a short piece, and worth a read.
We covered a bunch of other interesting topics - nootropics, building a space elevator, solar power, nuclear power and thorium, lots of stuff. One stood out as really relevant to the crowd here though -
We were talking about High Upside, No Downside tasks, and why don't people do them more? By taking 20 minutes of your day to reach out to someone you really admire, to apply for a job that'd be a stretch with your current credentials, to experiment with a way to promote your business that doesn't cost anything, to outline and write up notes on how you could launch a new product... things like that. Why don't we do them?
Sam identified two things - first, even if the downside is almost zero, the chance of embarrassment or feeling let down can stop a person. Humans are much more loss averse. We're afraid of losing more than we love winning. So even if you have almost nothing to lose and stand to gain a lot, you still likely think about losing that tiny bit and hesitate.
Second, we didn't evolve in the modern environment, and our brains aren't necessarily equipped for big potential gains down the road. If there's a 5 step process that produces really good results at the end of step 5, a lot of times we won't think past step 1.
We talked over some potential solutions, and a big one will be getting yourself to conceptualize and identify all the good things that will happen if you do the right thing, perhaps by tying it into places you've already succeeded in the past, and the feelings that go along with it.
That reminds me of his point about Reference Points, which I write up a while back. By moving from thinking about the downside or struggle to thinking about the upside and victory, we can become more motivated and do more.
All fascinating stuff. Sam's a super smart guy - you can check out his website here - http://samsnyder.com/
Those are very good points. It's a constant struggle for many communities - how do you benefit from the intense interests of pedantic people without giving them so much power as to ruin a community. That's something Wikipedia is currently trying to figure out.
With regard to the interesting article you linked to, it doesn't address the issue that the pool of people you might be drawing the moderators or 'trusted commentators' from is likely the same pool of people that included the trolls in the first place.
Even if you magically manage to skim the best and brightest, growth will ensure an eventual increase in trolling
E.g. assume 51% of all people on Internet are trolls. Now you grow your social site to reach 50% of all population. By pigeon-hole principle you now capture as an absolute minimum 1% of population that are trolls.
Sometimes the trolls change uniforms and become cops instead. A troll with a bobby-hat and police badge is still a troll. Perhaps this is even more appealing to them, since instead of imaginary authority (karma points) they now have actual authority - see also the Wiki Gnomes.
I see it a lot on sites that allow comments on other people's comments. There's:
+ your basic garden variety grammar nazi,
+ the thanks for writing that essay, here's my witty put down that I tossed off to steal all your karma one liner
+ the this post is similar enough to be considered a duplicate and should be locked police from Stackoverflow
Stackoverflow is an awesome concept, however a ridiculously high proportion of questions have got people writing essay on why the question is a bad question (instead of answering the question). It's like, it would have taken me 5 seconds to ignore this, 30 seconds to answer it, or 5 minutes to lecture you on why you're a bad person even for asking it....
Also, perhaps trolling is selective. Not all trolls are trolls 100% of the time, sometimes they're merely contrarians instead :D
Second, we didn’t evolve in the modern environment, and our brains aren’t necessarily equipped for big potential gains down the road. If there’s a 5 step process that produces really good results at the end of step 5, a lot of times we won’t think past step 1.
What do you find is the best way to get past this lack of being able to see long-term goals from short-term micro-steps? Specifically, in my case, I have several (potentially) lucrative projects where I've written up an entire idea on paper, thought about starting the implementation of it for a few weeks, but never actually went anywhere with them months later. I work full-time, so these projects are all on the side - and for me, that's what the biggest problem is. All of my energy is spent at my day job, so that by the time I get to these what could be hugely profitable projects, I'm all out of steam. Any ideas as to what I could do to gain more motivation, aside from leaving my day job?
Could it be that we're all mentally ill (by that definition) sometimes? I bet everyone can remember a time when they "trolled" about something, online and offline.
The reason I say this is because I believe we're not either 100% sane or 100% ill. That's why some smart drugs work by temporarily disabling your stupid parts in your brain and thus making you smarter. They make you smarter by making you less stupid.
I'd be curious to hear your thoughts about nootropics by the way.
First of all I'd just like to say that your blog is awesome. Your posts always seem to be able to deal with a lot of relevant issues in my life and I always look forward to your next post.
I just wanted to know if you were planning to delve further into the field of being a generalist. I myself am an aspiring generalist. In fact the reason I subscribed to your blog was because of your post "What separates a generalist and a dabbler?". The insight that you gave pertaining to shipping was pure gold; ever since then I've set myself more to doing things and get things things done rather than just thinking about things and planning for it (sometimes planning to make plans).
It would be really great if you could post more personal insights that you may have on being a generalist. Your advice on shipping was spot on and I was wondering that you may just be on the right track when dealing with the generalist field.
Many years ago I decided that when I died I would become cryogenically frozen when I died.
Of course, that decision carried no weight - the procedure costs more than one hundred thousand dollars, money which I didn't have to set aside.
A couple months ago I walked into Style's living room. Mystery was there.