Sunday, January 3, 2016

Pointless Activities


Sometimes when I notice that a certain NY Times articles has, say, 647 comments after one day, I wonder what the point of that is. I suppose just to sound off, since conversation in those circumstances seems impossible.

1 comment:

G. Verloren said...

People like to share their opinions - they always have. It's just quicker and easier today to share your opinion in a comment online than it is to share it with family, friends, or coworkers.

People have also always liked to validate their opinions by comparing them to those of others. Before the internet, a person would read a newspaper or listen to a radio or television broadcast, and the only people they had to discuss it with were others in the room.

So if they were around you might ask your family member of friend for their opinion, and maybe occasionally you might ask an acquaintance or even a complete stranger their thoughts on for really notable topics ("Hey buddy, did you see the paper? The Israelis declared war!"), but if no one suitable was around to talk to, you typically just kept your opinion to yourself. Maybe later you remembered the story and had a conversation about it, but maybe you just forget and it never came up again.

All that's different today is speed, scale, and anonymity.

A person can read a story and comment while it's fresh in their mind, taking emphemeral thought and giving it permanence. Others can find their posted comment and read it whenever is convenient for them, and then respond. And these comments are all kept together in the same place, emminently accessible by anyone who cares to read and join in on the conversation.

Whereas with newspapers it was impossible for all the disparate readers of a given story to communicate with each other, a comment system collects all the disparate discussions that would have played out independant of each other and puts them all in a single discrete virtual space. Instead of 100 people engaging in 2 or 3 person discussions spawned by a story, you get 200 or 330 people engaging in a single joint discussion. (Although, technically, that last sentence isn't exactly accurate, as comments sections still develop independent threads of conversation.)

Also, since virtual anonymity makes people more willing to converse with strangers, the number of participants gets driven even further up. The negative side effect is it also drives people to be less reserved with their opinions, and to say things that they might otherwise not for fear of souring interpersonal relations. It makes discussion a bit less civil, and makes people a bit more stubborn in their viewpoints, because they feel no compulsion to hedge their views for the sake of social harmony.