Geek As Citizen: Your Children Are Ugly And Stupid

Atomic Bomb Test

(Going to expand GAC a bit to go beyond the abstract and the society-spanning here. I think it’ll be quite welcome).

Once among my many readings, someone said that you should treat every response to a blog or a website as a post of its own, part of your own body of writing or personal brand. I wish I could find where I read that, both because I’d like to quote it directly, and because if I somehow hallucinated it that was a pretty profound hallucination and I want to take credit.

That being said, wherever I read this (or whatever state I was in when I deluded myself) it really affected me. I think a few of our regulars here can recall how some of my blog posting and my commenting changed over the year, and that post was a big part of it. I’ve tried, and worked harder over time, to make sure if I say something it’s useful – and of course reflects well on me.

Any writer – professional or amateur, aspiring or arrived, knows that the words we craft are important. Words are part of being human, and they have an effect on others and affect us as we write them. We can become meander and crueler and make others the same, or we can practice wisdom and share it.

As we all communicate, what we write and say and post is important.  We’re all writers and speakers and so forth. The words we make are our children, really.

However a quick review of many of our linguistic offspring will make us realize a lot of our children are an unpleasant and ignorant lot.

Evil Thread: Army of Dumbness

In the last year you probably heard of Popular Science shut down online comments, noting that it could skew perception of stories. I myself felt mixed feelings on this, of course; I love comments and interaction, and dialogue.

Yet, since that incident, I began thinking about this more and more. It’s frankly not hard to find comment threads degenerating into toxic commentary, non-sentences like “Epic Fail,” and so on. It’s almost refreshing to see a good old “Ron Paul 2012” or something and you feel nostalgic in that at least someone isn’t calling someone else an asshat.

I came to realize that for some sites, posts, and so on comments were probably not appropriate for the intention of said site. Certainly I don’t think of science as a place where random comments about how one has had intercourse with another person’s combat-boot wearing mother as appropriate. There are, in short, different forms of dialogue appropriate for different people, temperaments, and sites.

Still, this stuck with me as well. Over time, as I thought about the value of comments I began to see how things could go downhill in supposedly civil conversations on sites I liked. I began wondering just what people thought they were achieving.

Of course they weren’t focused on achieving anything but catharsis.  It was just ranting and yelling into the void all too often.


The aforementioned advice about writing comments as actual writing is sort of the antithesis of catharsis-posts. It’s about being thoughtful, about thinking of what you’re doing, about your personal brand. It’s a deeper expression that’s not just rage, or anger, or whatever spawned the last weird post that accuses the President of practicing Witchcraft with the remains of Neil Armstrong.**

After observing posting and comments online, good and bad, for the last few months, I’m reiterating my support for the statement I discussed at the start; we should treat our public internet writing as real writing, that does something, that connects, and that doesn’t make us look like raging loons (or at least we’re well-written and interesting raging loons). We should in short seek to communicate.

Venting has it’s place, but it’s not a very big one.

Really Communicating

In the end, I think in commenting or not on sites, blogs, whatever is a case of good communicating. It’s establishing a way to talk to people, imparting information, building your brand – and setting the stage for actually talking. Yes, you may deal with ignorant comments, bizarre racism, and of course random postings of “Rand Paul 2014″*** But at least you don’t have to descend to that level – and it’s not like you’ll get much done anyway.

It’s also about how we function. As XKCD notes, someone being wrong on the internet is hard to get worked up on, since so many people are often wrong****. It’s not worth getting worked up for, not worth getting upset, unless of course there are practical reasons and we can do practical things about them.

It comes down to what are we trying to achieve by writing. If it’s only (or always) catharsis, then it’s better to take a run, get drunk, have sex, or play video games (preferably not all at once, you only have two hands). If it’s more, well . . . then that’s writing.

Otherwise it’s just shouting through our fingers.


Over the last few months I’ve tried a few things to help me.  Some notes and ideas.

  1. One thing I experimented with between myself and Serdar was writing on posts I liked. That was excellent for my writing and communication, and something I really should do more on with friend’s blogs. Perhaps you’ll want to try this forming of dialogue.
  2. Read the comments sections of your favorite websites – really read them. How much of it is actually useful?
  3. The next time you see someone post something stupid that you agree with, look at times you’ve seen people post with equal stupidity but disagreeing with you. It’ll really help develop awareness of how fast dialogue can degenerate.
  4. Do treat each post, anonymous or not, as a real piece of writing and part of your personal brand. What do you really want to do, what is useful, and how would you react if people traced it back to you.
  5. Contemplate different ways to have dialogue. There’s internet comments, twitter, blog exchanges, podcast debates, etc. Which ways fit your goals best? I think at times we’ve become too obsessed with internet comments . . . says the guy who did a post on them.

Now I should note I’m not against short comments or anything. Sometimes they’re socially useful, saying thanks or acknowledging someone – in their words, polite and a part of communication. It’s just when you get going . . .

. . . make sure it’s worth it.

Less Ugly Minervas.

– Steven Savage


* This would be a good band name.
** I assume this is not an actual rumor. I wish I could be 100% confident that it wasn’t.
*** You know it’s coming.
**** Including your humble author at times. At times.