Essays on Technology and Culture

Don’t You Have Anything Better to Do?

This is a follow-up, of sorts, to my post on knowing when you’re succeeding. Instead of going out to those who wonder if they’re on the right track, this one is for the ones who feel the need to take other people down. It’s not aimed at anyone in particular, just at the general mass of people who bring the hate on the Internets. And, to those people, I have a question. “Don’t you have anything better to do?”

Much has been written on the psychology of trolls, even by me. I want to put that aside for a bit. Here’s the thing: all the time you invest into the whole enterprise of trolling, attacking, and insulting—every piece of negativity that you put out—whether aimed at a specific target or otherwise is time better spent creating your own thing. So, why aren’t you doing that?

As someone who’s done both, believe me, I’ll be the first to admit that it’s easier—a lot easier—to tear down rather than build up. It’s easy, and it’s fun. The frustrated reactions of an increasingly flustered victim in their attempts to defend their work, themselves, and any potential victims of collateral damage make someone feel good. Powerful, even. It’s a goddamned rush. It’s endorphins and hormones, and the thrill of it all that keeps you coming back for more. Kind of like pornography, really. It stimulates the same pleasure pathways in your brain as sex, but has a much weaker payoff. And it decreases the more you do it.

Still, some of us are simply wired to take the easy payoff. The Stanford Marshmallow Experiment is a good example of this. The experiment is simple. The researcher offers a marshmallow to a child, with the caveat that if the child can resist eating the marshmallow in the time it takes for the researcher to leave and come back. If the child can, they get _two_ marshmallows. Those children that can hold out, according to some follow-up research, go on to be more succesful as adults than those who can’t. [1]

By contrast, actually making your own thing is hard. Very hard. It’s full of false starts, detours, dead-ends, and often will end in failure. The payoff, however, is immeasurable. There’s nothing quite like finishing something, stepping back, and saying, “Hey! I made that!” [2] You become protective of what you’ve made, which is what the sort of people who attack creatives feed on.

However, this is shouting into the void. If you’re the sort of person who likes to tear down what others spend their time building up, no mere rambling essay on a blog will convert you. The only thing that will, is when time and repetition take their toll, and the thrill goes out of the whole damn business. That’s when you’ll look for an out—though it’s far better to start now.

  1. Other studies show the original experiment to indicate a child’s ability to choose when to wait things out, but there’s a rhetorical point I’m making with this.  ↩

  2. Of course, if you are a creative type, that will be followed by “Though, I really should have done that differently… and that part’s no good at all…”  ↩