Archive - Jul 7, 2005

Don't Flame Me For This... You Assholes

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Memo to nerds: BE BETTER NERDS.

It's that time again. Time to explore the rich social milieu of my fellow nerds. As always, if you're new to the series, make sure you've read the Manifesto before you yell. If you're new to the series, we've already covered filking, role-playing, and fanboyism.

And today, we take up a topic that has such a rich history, and is so near and dear to the hearts of nerds everywhere, that it astonishes me you motherfuckers still can't get it right. I'm talking, of course, about ARGUING WITH STRANGERS ON THE INTERNET.

It is said, by wise men, that nerds arguing is second only to porn as the reason the Internet exists. Yet half the nerds on the Internet argue like nobody's ever tried it before, and the other half are stuck in a pre-broadband, VAX-terminal paradigm that no longer exists.

People get confused, you see, because on the Internet, an argument isn't really an argument. The purpose of an argument is to present your case in such a way that the other person acknowledges your point of view, or perhaps even comes around to your side. On the Internet, this is of course impossible. So if you actively engage and argue with someone in the hopes of "winning", you're wasting your time. And worse, you're wasting mine.

Arguing on the Internet, you see, is PERFORMANCE ART. And as such, it has a completely different set of rules and goals, and unless you're keeping those in mind, you'll just be annoying and tired. The goal of any performance is to win over the audience. Your erstwhile "opponent" is nothing more than a prop, a bit of scenery for you to play against. This means that while it's important to be right, it's more important to be entertainingly right. Because no matter how hard you try, you will never change anyone's mind, and you will never make anyone feel bad. So the least you can do is not bore the shit out of everyone else who's reading by making lame penis insults.

Don't lose your temper. It's a performance. And while there is a place in performance for passion, we all, every one of us, knows what it looks like when you cross that line and start caring way too much about whatever stupid issue you're arguing. Learn where that line is. Observe it in others, find it in yourself, then stay the FUCK on one side of it, for all our sakes. I'm not saying it isn't funny to watch nerds completely lose their shit on the Internet - it's one of life's great joys. But nobody ever won an Internet argument by losing their temper over Voyager. They won by making the other poor bastard lose HIS temper over Voyager.

Remember that whatever incredibly brilliant rhetorical tactic you think you've invented, we've seen it. Selective quoting, the "you care about this so much more than I do" gambit, the not-going-to-dignify-that-with-a-response response, it's all old hat. Like teenagers who think they've invented sex, though, you keep thinking you're going to shock your opponent into submission with your brilliance. And it never happens, because you're the only one who's surprised "I know you are but what am I" has been tried before.

Of course, the old hands at Internet arguing have problems of their own. Mostly the fact that they all seem to be stuck in Usenet circa 1999, with their "trolling" and their "flame wars" and their Godwinning every time someone types any word that starts with "Na". It's so fucking tedious.

The Internet is no longer a private little nerd club. Everyone's using it now. And since everyone's using it now, we really don't need cute little words for things we already have words for in the real world. Just because you insulted someone by typing doesn't mean you get a whole new verb for it. You're not flaming, you're INSULTING. You're not trolling, you're BEING A DICK. Internet discussions don't stop being useful once someone brings up Hitler, they were NEVER USEFUL IN THE FIRST PLACE.

Anyone who types "don't feed the trolls" needs to become the intersecting set of boot and ass. It's such an automatic, kneejerk response that completely fails to take into account the changing Internet social dynamic over the past half-dozen years. It's like listening to Dear Abby giving you advice on setting up iPod playlists. "Maybe you should just listen to the songs in order, like God and Victrola intended." Plus, the last thing I need to read on the Internet is half a dozen people simultaneously telling everyone not to say anything. That'll show 'em.

So remember. When it comes time for you to argue on the Internet (and if I know my audience, it's inevitable), remember what I've told you today. We can't make the Internet less contentious, so we might as well make it more fun to read. BE A BETTER NERD.