Friday, September 16, 2016

The Disapproval of Strangers

From the early years of life we encounter detractors of all kinds. Sometimes we learn to just roll with the criticism, other times it seems impossible not to take it as gospel. It can be as personal as hell, but there’s still an element to it which is bearable, because it’s a genuine exchange. Face to face, the person insulting and the person being insulted are potentially on level pegging. The insulter runs the risk of direct physical repercussions. At some level they’re actually genuinely invested in the exchange, even if all they’ve done is call you names.
With the explosion of social media over the past ten to twelve years, though, one of the most noticeable effects is a plethora of new people to hate on you. And plenty who love on you as well, but this blog is about the detractors so let’s save the lovers for laterz.
Probably my biggest bugbear with the communication of social media is the evil twin version of my favorite part. Its immediacy and vitality. The fact you can have a real-time conversation with someone in another country is still exciting to me, even after ten years of doing it. Firstly through email, now more generally through Facebook.
But because of that same immediacy, misinterpretations seem to abound far more easily. I made a post on Facebook about that very thing late last month and am cannibalizing it for this blog, in fact.
My feeling is that many forms of social media offer us a “disconnected connection”. We interact with the pictures and words of people we, in all likelihood, will never see in person. Often not even on video. Just static pictures and quick stabs of text. 
On many occasions, you’re probably dealing with someone you consider a friend, but even so, conversations are often limited to nothing but the words. No vocal tone, and no body language. Mistakes can come much more easily, but at least with a friend there’s usually the benefit of the doubt. They might think you’ve said something terrible about their mother, but they’ll wait for you to explain or they’ll politely enquire.
In the hurly-burly of general social media, such as commenting on a Facebook post, you open yourself up to all kinds of people. Unlike your friends, and even unlike your childhood detractors, these strangers have absolutely nothing invested in the exchange. They can crap on your comment with no repercussions beyond what they choose. They can drop their “gold” and never return to the thread.
And so often, our beautiful English language becomes a type of Rorschach test, where folks look at your words and find a butterfly. Or a serial killer wearing a corset.
In later life those of us who go on to work in creative fields tend to unwittingly court detractors from far and wide as a direct effect of us putting so much of ourselves out there. Not necessarily our personal lives, but every piece we create in any field bears part of our souls, or some such fancy-pants malarkey. It’s inevitable that someone hating on my story is really hating on the precious wonder which is me.
Touching on part of Giselle’s blog, the way I see all this relating to writers and writing is through reviews. Fly-by one-stars are not uncommon these days, and there isn’t really any ground I can stand on to say any review is or is not warranted. For myself, I struggle to think of a genuine (i.e. non-scammy) book I’ve ever seen which would truly deserve only one star, but others feel differently and that is, of course, their right.
What does bother me about it, though, is again the lack of investment. Where a book critic is paid by a publication to accurately review a story, they have something to lose by being untruthful or juvenile or just plain wrong. And that is, their job. That’s obviously not true for our keyboard warriors out there.
But what I’ve come to realize is how easy it can be to simply put aside the distraction of detraction. Whether it’s someone’s utterly bizarre comment on Facebook which shows they completely misunderstood your meaning, or a rant-infused review of your book which makes you doubt they even saw it, let alone read it, there’s one piece of Willsin’s Wisdom which gets me through.


The only power in a stranger’s disapproval, is that which we give it.

6 comments:

  1. "The only power in a stranger’s disapproval, is that which we give it."

    So wise, Master Willsin :)
    And I totally agree.

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  2. Many thanks, Grass-smoker.

    I mean hopper...

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  3. The relative anonymity of social media encourages extreme expressions of emotion, both positive and negative. People will say things on FB that they'd never consider saying to you in person. One reason, I think, is that snarkiness, even downright cruelty, can win you applause online. A really nasty comment, especially if it has even a whiff of cleverness about it, can win you more fans than a kind remark.

    It's really the public aspect of these conversations that encourages the negativity. After all, if you send someone a nasty PM, nobody's going to cheer you on.

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  4. "On many occasions, you’re probably dealing with someone you consider a friend, but even so, conversations are often limited to nothing but the words. No vocal tone, and no body language."

    DX- And thus misconception is born.

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  5. Whenever I complained to my parents about something someone said to me, my mother would say, "Consider the source." Anyone can say anything on-line.

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  6. "At some level they’re actually genuinely invested in the exchange, even if all they’ve done is call you names."

    I think this is a key point. I do think it's dealing with milder cases of detractors, rather than the attack mobs that can get going on the Internet. Even then, where I'd argue that it's not so simple to shrug things off, it seems true that the detractor is heavily invested. See, for example, Lindy West's story about her confrontation with a particularly cruel troll, which I believe appeared on NPR (and is also described in her book, Shrill, which I talked about last time.)

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