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On Reading the Comments

“You wouldn't listen to someone named Bonerman26 in real life. Don't read the comments.” -@AvoidComments

Until it canceled itself in December 2014, one of my favorite one-joke Twitter feeds was called Don't Read Comments. For a few years, it spooled a few dozen comic reminders to do as its name instructed, or to not follow one of the more common and self-destructive impulses for people who read and write on the internet, to not dive into its comments-section sewage system.

“Happiness will never be found in the comments section. None but rage and disquieted souls lurk there, between thought and flame.” -@AvoidComments

I crank out a lot of words and dump them on the internet. Sometimes I do it in hopes of fiduciary reward, mindful that “freelancing” is the new “paidlancing” and that invoicing is the grown-up version of prayer. When my day's work is done, I crank out more words and dump them on the internet for free, for fun.

“If someone has something thoughtful to say, they can write their own article. Comments are too immediate, and rarely contain good thoughts.” -@AvoidComments

Last week, I wrote a fun, poppy, explainer-type piece intended for an online community known for its unhinged and argumentative elements. Note the precise moment that I said, “I'm sure this will be entirely peaceful and productive and cause no bad feelings whatsoever,” and be sure to include that I never said or thought any such thing.

In his disjointed writing primer The Spooky Art, noted exhibitionist and confrontational jerk Norman Mailer compares reading one's own reviews to glimpsing a woman undressing in front of a window, suggesting that one simply has no choice but to look. That notion, figuratively and sometimes literally, is precisely why the internet is such a cesspool.

Of course, I had to read the comments on my piece. Most were mildly supportive, mildly funny, or at least harmless. Then this guy chimed in:

“One of the laziest ways of dealing with more than one person is to start putting people into groups in order to simplify your life. No matter if those people are all individuals with their own thoughts and ideals, as long as you can put a label on them and categorize them in your brain with all of the others there is no need to get to know someone. You can just live with knowing categories.” - 'Elwar'

I immediately sensed three ways I could go with this:

  • Let the fight-or-flight chemicals flow. This guy is attacking me! He is accusing me of laziness and shallowness and probably thinks I'm a hack or worse! I should at least take it personally and perhaps fight back, maybe swatting him down under an alias! Yeah, boss. That's the ticket.
     
  • I can spend the next thirty minutes with a trusted and wonderful guided meditation. By the time it is done, I can almost physically see these bits and bytes blow away in a breeze of digital dust in the wind.
     
  • I could admit that the guy has a point. In a sense, he's absolutely correct, and aware of something that didn't occur to me in the process of writing the article. I did, in fact, paint huge numbers of anonymous souls in broad strokes, without getting to know much about them as individuals. At this point, my ego takes over. Perhaps I should endeavor to become a different sort of internet writer. I could, from this point on, function as an intricate genius who eschews cutesy clickbait approaches and takes great pains to break things down on a molecular level. After a long time and a lot of sweat, this could produce a mind-blowing work like Godel Escher Bach. Then I would know I'm doing something built to last. I will show them yet!


“Nobody on their deathbed ever said, 'I wish I'd spent more time reading internet comments.'” - @AvoidComments

The hardest part of writing that masterpiece will be getting started on it. Perhaps I should get started now. The cat is rolling over on his back, purring and awaiting scratches. And I see through my window that it's a brisk, sunny day.

“It's such a beautiful day. Why would you spoil it by reading comments?” -@AvoidComments

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