Friday, April 9th, 2010

It (Isn't?) Easy Being Mean

iPAD? YES. LONELY? MAYBE.In the end, I guess it's just so easy, and that's the whole problem.

It certainly was easy this past weekend. Sometime after a breakfast, but before a birthday picnic, I sat in my buddy's apartment as he checked in with Facebook. "Oh, I guess people are getting their iPads today," he said. Sure, I knew that people were waking up early and getting their long-awaited iPads, even camping out. (The only thing I've ever camped out for were Sting tickets, after his first and greatest solo album, so I sort of understand, but actually don't.) Anyway, he shows me a picture of what seems to be a nice enough looking guy, sort of sleepy-headed in a shirtless pose with his iPad and a caption: "Look what came this morning." The inkling was initiated.

The next day was Easter and after breakfast, but before a few hours on the Christopher Street pier and an amazing Italian Easter feast, I was on the computer while my buddy worked on some photography in the other room. That inkling was asserting itself in my head. Guys with iPhones [NSFW] and people generally taking pictures and posting them where everyone can see and the nature of bragging and well, just something about it just rubbed me the wrong way. These people with their iPads. What were they really doing? While it could be interpreted as bragging, there also seemed to be something desperate and lonely at the root of it all. I wanted to expose that root and kill the bragging plant.

Twenty minutes. Found pictures of random folk with an iPad, mostly from Flickr. Copied the image URLs into Tumblr with no explanatory text. Gave it a bleak look with a preset theme. "Lonely People with iPads." Threw a link to Twitter. Watched the followers grow. Watched the links propagate. Put up more pictures. Saw it on Buzzfeed. Like I said, easy.

The easiness is a huge part of this whole "meanness on the Internet" problem though. See, I was trying to emerge. I've done the mean-type blog before. (LOLgay, anybody?) In February I started This Is FYF with a collaborator. We gave ourselves some simple editorial guidelines: Don't use empty adjectives (fabulous, fierce, gorgeous). Don't be shrill or bitchy. Don't be mean. Write about what you love. In some ways the site was a reaction against your typical gay sites that depends on the screaming queen type of writing that turns off many. Beyond establishing ourselves as what we were not, we were trying to create a site from a more confident point of view, or at least one that wasn't constantly screaming for attention.

Things went smoothly, but old habits are easy to fall back upon though. One night while relaxing and reading, television channels were flipped for some background noise. American Idol came on the screen, and there were new (to me) judges. Ellen Degeneres was a known quantity, but the brunette lady judge was not. She was caustic to the contestants. Even though the show isn't really topical to FYF, I threw a post on the site: "Sorry, but I haven't watched American Idol in ages. Who is this garrulous bitch?" Within fifteen minutes I recognized it for what it was: hateful.

It wasn't just in my own site where the nastiness would come out. On this site there was a profile of a young fellow moving from Michigan to Manhattan (like Madonna!) to work for Gawker. Sort of half-reading it, I got to a name I'd seen around and recognized: Rachel Sklar. To my knowledge, I've never met Rachel Sklar, but her name often pops up in stories that, well, annoy me. It's the whole "we're a forefront of the revolution of the Internet and we live in an incestuous bubble" stories that are reported by folks in the same bubble. Typically I know to avoid such stories, but in this instance it just set me off. (And my vitriol often comes out at pretty much anything penned by Gawker's Brian Moylan. If I read another "we gays think this" piece, I might just make a serious lifestyle change.)

The guilt of these acerbic moments is assuaged by others on the Internet that gladly will rally behind an angry statement. Virulence is viral. Lonely people with iPads soon had contributions coming in from other Tumblr users. (Some even sent pictures of children.) And while viral and attention-getting, they do nothing to the subjects except continue the meta-enabling cycle. Think of the things we wouldn't have if our attention was not expent online. There would be fewer Lady Gaga's and more Florence and the Machines!

What to do though? The facility the Internet provides to allow impulsive, negative, lazy thought to come out is unmatched. We have "cyber-bullying" in our schools and advertiser dollars and book deals going to blistering, boisterous bloggers. Just like a lot of things in life, the first step is to take a moment and think before acting. While it is easier to stop by McDonald's for a quick bite, a proper restaurant or even a home-cooked meal is going to yield a greater pleasure. Making quick impulsive buys will satisfy a shopping compulsion, but saving up for something you love will satisfy longer-term. Smoking will calm your nerves temporarily, but maybe taking a regular yoga class will be far better on your system.

So sure, the Internet makes it easy, being mean. Instead of shaking your Internetty fist at all that angers you though, what if you ignored it and discussed things that do work, things that are wonderful, and encouraged others to do the same? It would take more mental work perhaps, thinking through the nature of the things you cherish (or just even like), but the synapses of your brain would be better used and maybe your mood better. In time you might just find that the nicer approach was easier all along.

Rod Townsend is the co-founder of This Is FYF and, yes, also the proprietor of Lonely People with iPads.

64 Comments / Post A Comment

Moff (#28)

Pride. The deadliest of the sins not because it's so magnificently bad-ass, but because it's so common.

Evan Hilbert (#2,724)

That's weird. I used that exact same caption for a photo that I posted on Facebook and they terminated my account. I-ro-ny!

bmichael (#213)

I had a similar thought yesterday after I realized my last several things were basically calling people hatemongering assholes. (Man, isn't Wire's guitar tone, just, so amazing?!)

Miles Klee (#3,657)

i'm a fan

Rod, YOU'RE the one behind the "lonely people with iPads" Tumblr? That's awesome!

You've gotta get one of the sweet blog-to-book deals! (Quick, before the iPad fad drops off the cultural radar!)

Miles Klee (#3,657)

what? wasn't he just saying that that kind of single-serve blog can never really mean anything? that the format is only good for self-sustainment of a really boring type? and seriously, kill me if you ever see me picking up a book copy of an idea that's perfectly at home online. jesus christ do i need to start a tumblr called 'look at this fucking lazy-ass viral tumblr that cycles though the same observation endlessly'?

Slava (#216)

Wow… somebody is seri-ous!!!
Anyway, I think Rod just wrote this whole post to brag about creating an internet meme. Is it bragging? I dunno… just rubs me the wrong way.

Miles: I agree – I was joking about the book deal thing! (But I do think Rod's iPad Tumblr is awesome.)

shostakobitch (#1,692)

There's a hint of n+1 here. And Florence and the Machine really only have that "Dog Days" song.

I do like the message though. Maybe lead by example instead of just trying to encapsulate sentiment? There's always the MAKE blog if you want to see cool stuff. . .

Miles Klee (#3,657)

haha ok

sorry i jumped down your throat there!

cherrispryte (#444)

1) LOLgays was fantastic.

2) Paco from the fiction post needs to read this.

Annie K. (#3,563)

2) I TOLD you so.

doubled277 (#2,783)

Leave Paco ALONE

Multiphasic (#411)

Shut the fuck up. I mean, I love you. Which Internet am I on now? God it's all so confusing.

(that being said, a friend in publishing urged me to start a Tumblr aggregating prom photos [yes, looking at internet prom photos is a thing I used to do for fun] with asshole-ish captions. And I thought, hmm, I could actually plod my way through unemployment by emotionally clobbering teenagers. Yay?)

Moff (#28)

It's weird how a Tumblr saying terrible things about prom photos is more or less OK, but God, devote one to saying sexy things about prom photos and everyone's all up in your business.

Moff: I know, right? Same thing is true about photos of horses and sheep. Go figure!

Multiphasic (#411)

Yes, there is nothing here that doesn't scream "sex".

(See? I'm fucking doing it already!) (Just like they are… ?)

saythatscool (#101)

I thought that Choire had gotten an iPad.

Tyler Coates (#451)

And a haircut.

BadUncle (#153)

And yet, I still don't think it would be his iPad that "came this morning."

Vulpes (#946)

I was going to say something, but it might be kinda mean, and I saw Rod silently shaking his head in judgment at me, so I won't say it.

irishbreakfast (#4,123)

I thought Choire had gotten his tongue stuck to a frozen cookie sheet. Really.

riggssm (#760)

Love to Rod for this.

TroutSavant (#1,990)

Cute hair! And I like the tin ceiling, although it's probably not real and maybe wouldn't look so good close up, but yeah! That'll cover me for the rest of the month, right? Back to the hate…

I'm not mean, I'm mean-spirited.

Fredrick (#268)

Ha, also. I'm pretty much nice to everybody, always, but I'm pretty sure they can see the toll it's taking on my true nature.

shaunlfeltcher (#4,352)

I do my best to keep my online presence to the bright side of sardonic. The result? Almost no one reads a thing I post. I don't think the technology is to blame for a predisposition in current tastes for meanness as entertainment.

kbsmith (#2,688)

I read this, just so you know.(It's possible that I am almost no one.)

I love/hate the "Oh hi, I'm just taking a picture, with my iPhone, of myself and my iPhone reflected off of my iPad" shots. Lightning needs to strike then and there. Collateral damage be damned.

petejayhawk (#1,249)

It's like a faux-highbrow version of Myspace selfpics.

dailyny (#3,326)

Point taken, but found photographs do make for some immediately enriching blogs.

MatthewGallaway (#1,239)

Bravo! This was the perfect antidote to the (needlessly abusive) comments on the fiction piece posted earlier.

sox (#652)

Yes – I thought that was why he wrote this! Like when the school counselor had to come in and have a special talk with the class about being bullies!

Oh no. Did that happen again?

cherrispryte (#444)

Was my insulting Paco part of the abuse? Because I thought he was being unnecessarily mean and wanted to point that out. I don't want to be part of the problem, though!

Say what you will about niceness being Good For You or whatever, but Kara DioGuardi totally had that coming.

Art Yucko (#1,321)

ok… thanks for that (much needed), and thanks for making me revisit this endless, convulsive mess of a thread:
…and now I reeeaaaally need a drink. Have a sunny weekend, people.

Vulpes (#946)

There is a place for bitchiness and acerbity on the Internet. There is a LOT in the world to be bitchy and acerbic about. However, there is a line between bitchy and acerbic and MEAN, and far too many cross that line far too often. (Me, I prefer to be sardonic.)

Not to be blowjoby, but one of the reasons I like The Awl is that, while crazy and often crusty, we're generally a good-hearted bunch. Group hug!

Rod T (#33)

Why would anyone ever not be blowjoby?

Jeff Barea (#4,298)

How about we get you to write up a "Declaration of Norms" for the Internet so we can all know what is mean and what is an inside joke that you just happened upon.

Fredrick (#268)

I will say, at times when I'm being genuinely nice, people tend to assume I'm being, like, post-ironic or something. Basically, if you speak in full sentences, people just assume you're an asshole.

NinetyNine (#98)

Does this mean it's not okay to say mean things on comment threads anymore?

Yes, except for long drawn out discussions between you and Emily.

Tulletilsynet (#333)

It's not okay, but it's probably safe now. And yet it's mean!

Run Rod run!

Sweetie (#519)

Excellent work, but there's not a bit of this fine writing that will prevent me from passing out post-thirteenish EIPAs listening to Blur on my iPad. So.

Country House, sent from my iPad.

Glad I'm not the only one who finds Gawker's Brian Moylan disgusting. His posts at Gawker just make me want to puke….

joeclark (#651)

To respond to the ultimate call to arms of this piece, unremitting good news and sunny dispositions make for dull reading. If I wanted that I'd read non-Dooce Mormon blogs.

I submit that the true antidote is to write honestly and not with an affectation that you must be bitchy, let alone bitch under the guise of being "critical."

ow that hurt (#3,919)

I know what you wrote was thoughtful, and fabulous (whoops! wrong word!).. but all I can remember is the photo of the boy holding the iPad….

photo make me happy

Brian Moylan is a twit. That last one, about "gayborhoods" was so ill-informed, it could only have been written by a 22 year-old.

Vulpes (#946)

I thought it was one of his less-offensive ones, actually. But the man can sure get the pageviews, and that's all him and Denton probably care about.

joeclark (#651)

You understand that all these bitchings about Moylan are examples of the failings discussed in this post?

ow that hurt (#3,919)

I wondered what DoctorDisaster would think.

(But then again, I'm always wondering what DoctorDisaster would think.)

missdelite (#625)

And yet, it feels so good when you let the frustration out. Tiny increments vs. one giant explosion = highly recommended. Resistance is futile and there's no use denying it exists. Embrace your inner O'Reilly!!

Jeff Barea (#4,298)

Fuck that.

You do not get to insert news before what you poseted alreayd.


Jeff Barea (#4,298)

Chill dude. They still think the Internet has a collective memory loss and you cannot tap into the global concienciesness(?) exchange to remind you of what you saw. Say what you want to say. Or just don't say it all. I'm on a quest so I have not time for riddles…

sigerson (#179)

If it doesn't make you money or make you happy, let it go…

Bittersweet (#765)

I like it. Would that I could live it.

Soren (#2,268)

more mea culpas?
sweet baby jesus

indeed (viginia), it would be a better world if we weren't such a teeming crowd of bitches …
but c'mon man
do we really need so much arthur dimmesdale public self-flagellation?

just carry your own sin (and let's not get all footprints in the sand about this)

martine h (#4,385)

the title of this post (makes?) sense.

Craig Brownson (#4,257)

After several days, I still come back to this post just to look at the boy in the picture. I could make him less lonely.

Aatom (#74)

I fully support this message of positivity and New Niceness. This is a well-written, thoughtful, illuminating piece with surprises, insights and genuine thoughtfulness. Unlike anything that terrible hack Moylan has ever writte…oops. I did it again. (Big fan of This is FYF, btw, does it stand for "This is for you, faggot"?)

Aatom (#74)

It is thoughtful AND has genuine thoughtfulness. Just to put a fine point on it.

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