Here’s an Internet culture test: how long after someone posts a comment about a particular TV show will someone else respond with “I don’t even own a TV“? It happens more often than you’d think — on the Ars Technica openforum it happened often enough that it evolved into a meme/joke — someone would ask for advice on fixing their Toyota and someone would jokingly say “I don’t even own a car.” How should I cut my hair? “I don’t even have hair!” And so on.
This is just one symptom of something you see all over the place. Start a discussion about what version of Windows to buy, and you’ll get people telling you to install Linux (that link was the second google hit for “which version of windows to buy”). They could well be right, but that’s not what you came to talk about, is it?
The problem is that at first, these people seem cool. They even attract followers, because people enjoy feeling like they know someone who is counter-culture, or “in the know.” But in the end, they’re a net drain on the conversation. They haunt your cafeteria lunch tables, your twitter stream, and your Internet forums. They’re trolls who don’t even realize they’re trolling.
Don’t be that guy. Don’t give in to the easy targets.
You only have so many hours in your day. Why spend those hours tearing someone down when you could spend them building someone up instead? Don’t waste your time telling someone their idea is stupid — find someone with a good idea and tell them it’s good. Write a thank-you note, not a blame-them note.
It’s hard sometimes to resist the urge, but you’ll feel better in the end if you do. And this isn’t just about being a better person — it’s about building a reputation as an enabler, a creator, a contributor. Because especially in this tough economy, grizzled malcontents are a dime a dozen. Enthusiastic enablers are a bit more scarce.
(webcomic courtesy of and hosted by xkcd.com, and used in compliance with Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 2.5 License.)