Unhelpful criticism

posted Dec 27, 2010, 2:37 PM by Jeremy Poehnert   [ updated Dec 27, 2010, 2:52 PM ]
This past semester I tried to visit the Boston.com website at least once a day for news.  At some point I also started reading the comments people leave on stories.

I've done that in the past, but I made much more of a habit of it than before, and it's been interesting.

I'm constantly struck by how thoughtless, simplistic and unhelpful most of the comments are.

Most of the comments, on almost any article, are similar to one or more of these:

-This is because the Democrats/Republicans are evil/stupid, and anyone that agrees with them is a jerk.

-If this person worked harder/was smarter/wasn't a loser/was more like me they wouldn't have any problems.

-I don't have that problem, so it must not be real/serious

There are easy answers for all life's issues, and I know what they are.

-I love this person, thank goodness there are republicans/democrats/people I agree with who are trying to save America.

-The comment you just made proves you are an idiot

-Etc.

The sad part is I find myself responding to these comments with annoyance or anger, and have an instinctive desire to respond with my own comments along the line of "You're a big poopy head."  Which would only contribute to the negative and unproductive tone of the other comments.

It's not surprising that so many of the comments are so negative and thoughtless.  I've read several things that say that online comments are especially prone to nastiness.  Just in general, as human beings we tend towards thoughtless discourse; it's easier, and doesn't challenge us to learn or grow.

So I try to use the comments as a reminder not to fall into the pattern of thoughtless nastiness.  I try to practice a kind of dialogue-driven reading, where I try to take in the comments and understand what the person is trying to say, how their perspective is different than mine, and what kind of response I could make that would contribute to a meaningful conversation.

It's hard; I find myself getting caught up in the shallowness,and having my own shallow response.

I never actually post comments; I don't think there's much point in anonymous comment sections, but it's a good thinking exercise for me.

Also, I should acknowledge that there are probably lots of people who like the tone of the comments, and think that's what comment sections are for.  It's quite likely/possible that I'm the unusual one for wishing for something deeper.
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