Most people don’t even read the blog they’re responding to.
That’s one of the comments that came up during my interview yesterday on WNYC’s Brian Lehrer show. I spoke with Amy Eddings (sitting in for Brian Lehrer) about my recent post for Harvard Business Review on how to stop apologizing for your online life.
Not surprisingly, some of the comments that came in on the show’s site were delighted. Others echoed the concern of the caller who bemoaned the web’s propensity for inflammatory exchange in place of real dialogue. And I’ll admit that I’m a bit more sympathetic than usual after the past couple of weeks, in which I’ve contended with the predictable sprinkling of dismissive criticism along with the overwhelmingly constructive response to my HBR post.
But I realize that our tendency to focus on the inflammatory parts of the web are an extension of our human preoccupation with risk avoidance. Anything that feels like a threat — for example, a hostile response to something we’ve written online — gets magnified. Anything that feels friendly occupies a far smaller part of our consciousness.
No wonder that so many Internet skeptics or newbies get put off by the hostility of online conversation: human beings are programmed to notice threats. But this is yet another case of our online experience being shaped by where we put our attention: focus on the hostile, thoughtless, knee-jerk responses your blog post or tweet gets, and you’ll experience the web as a hostile place. Focus on the tweets that thank you for sharing your thoughts, or the blog post that riffs on your own latest idea, and you’ll experience the web as a community of warmth and collaboration.
I’m not suggesting that you turn a blind eye to real threats online or pretend the trolls of the web don’t exist. But it’s like your mom used to tell you about ignoring the sibling or friend who was teasing you: ignore them, and they’ll go away.
Don’t give your very precious attention to the trolls who — as the caller said — aren’t even reading what they are responding to. Give your attention to people who are ready to engage constructively. It’s a better investment of your mindshare and time, and it makes for a way better experience online.
I talk about my own experiences as a thin-skinned blogger, as well as other reflections on my life online, in the full interview. You can listen to it here: