Posted by: markfender | October 29, 2014

Outsider Culture

This isn’t about Gamergate. Not really.

girls-on-their-phoneInstead, it’s about culture as a whole and how something like Gamergate can propagate. The internet has brought us a lot of cool things that have radically changed how society functions (Like this blog!). It’s made it easier to find like minded people and engage in our previously socially misfit activities. We can find communities for our weird interests and feel somewhat less weird about them. That’s all good. But it’s also brought about some negative things:

1. We can engage with our chosen communities whenever we want. We don’t have to engage with people who don’t share our worldview. Even in public, we can bury our heads in our cellphones and continue to be entertained by those with similar outlooks as ourselves. We can fail to practice in-person social skills.

Now, I’m as guilty as anyone else. I work from home. I never actually see other people. I leave the house once a week to buy groceries and that’s the extent of my interaction with the public at large. I can safely stay in my nerd bubble all the time. But there’s lots of other people who go out in public a lot more than me, but have the same relationship with the public as I do. They can avoid conversation with others waiting in the same lines by staring at their cellphones. We’ve managed to interact more readily with self-selected communities than anyone else.

2. Because we’ve self selected those we’ll interact with, we’re far more liable to interact with them. We still have the human need for interaction. And so, we just end up talking to other people who are also talking about the same things. And the primary way we have to get our opinions across in such environments is to just be louder.

I’m sure we’ve all experienced the racist extended family member that shows up at family gatherings – the person that says something that no one else agrees with. But no one says anything. It could be social embarrassment or some sense of propriety that keeps us silent, but I’m sure there’s been an instance when we’ve kept silent about something that violated our worldview. That’s normal.

But, in our online communities, we don’t have to silent. The stigma is much less with speaking out against someone else. It may even be encouraged. Hell, it may even be encouraged to do so in the loudest, most reprehensible way possible. And it just creates a loud, echo chamber.

To me, our current culture is all about being the outsider. We avoid public social instances while loudly talking to our self-selected online communities. We distance ourselves in person but engage more fully online. We’re louder and more aggressive online, perhaps because we’re not receiving in-person social conditioning.

I’m not necessarily saying this is bad. It’s just different. Culture changes all the time and the people who complain about it are often those too old to adequately adjust to the new culture. But it does raise some flags. If we pay attention, our culture will shift again and make some adjustments. If we don’t want to devolve into a culture of online lynch mobs, we may have to adjust our volume.

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