punkwalrus (punkwalrus) wrote,
punkwalrus
punkwalrus

Some thoughts on online communities

Over the past few days, I have gotten some IMs or in-person comments from friends about the whole "Sara A" thing, and gotten a few interesting things to say about it. Some of them were pretty funny.

One of the funnier comments joked I had been, "Voted off the island," referring to the show "Survivor." I am not sure if that's true, since no one else asked me to leave, and I have no quarrel with any of them. Sara and I came to a "let's just end this here" type of thing where I asked her if she thought I should leave, and she said I should probably leave. True, only one person from the board has sent me anything, which is viewable in the comments section, even though I don't really know who its from. I feel sad, but probably this is because most people want to "keep their hands out of the crazy" and not get involved. That probably wise on their end. I respect that, because I might have done the same.

Then there was some pathetic comment from someone from the BBS-That-Shall-Not-Be-Named; so called so it won't show up in a search engine, and the sysop gets all whiny that I am saying bad things about him. Check the link this person left. I was kind of hoping they'd grown out of this by now, but no. Sadly, they are still at it. I visited the board the other day, and saw that it was still pretty much the same people, saying the same thing, like diner regulars. Makes for a dry BBS, but it keeps them happy.

I don't want to compare these two events, because they were totally different. Sara A wanted to think I was saying bad things about her and her board, so she saw them in my blog entries. But after we agreed we should stay away from each other, I don't think I'll ever hear from her again. She didn't seem vindictive or mean, just a bit... scary. The BBS-That-Shall-Not-Be-Named was totally different. These people were vindictive, hateful, catty people who really wanted to screw me up. They sent letters pretending to be other people, either to me or my friends. I exposed them, got some in trouble, and it just kept escalating until the sysop said, "ENOUGH!" Sara A. will probably forget about me in a few weeks, and probably so will the rest of the board. While that's sad, it's far more acceptable than worrying about if they are going to e-mail bomb me or my pals or something. I know they are pretty mature, and I wish all of them the best (including Sara) in their future endeavors.

I had four friends, Dawn, Velvet, Rogue, and Panku, all tell me, "I have stopped posting to boards, stopped participating in chats, and stopped with the online social life because of such events." Rogue called her experiences "soul-sucking," and Velvet had her issue with the sysop-turned-stalker about ten years ago. Panku had that issue where she ended up getting a lawyer to sue a university because of libel and defamation (ex-college friend-turned-professor who used school resources to launch a very brutal and racially-motivated smear campaign). Dawn just hates the cattiness, but she was burned on the fetish circuit a few years back, too. Other friends just leaned a sympathetic ear, and reassured me I don't suck, and I'm not the crazy one. For my friends, I am grateful. I have helped them a lot with their problems, and so they were there for me. They beat an online community hands down. Matt W. thinks I make them up, and probably thinks I am making them up right now, which makes me feel a little safer in an odd way, because I know I have support and security he shall never know.

I am on other boards and e-mail lists, of course. I love them, I really do, but most of them are not sounding boards for my ongoing general human studies. Most other boards are all technical, computer, sci-fi, or anime related. Like on Sara's board, I could ask advice for myself or a friend of mine who had a complicated problem, and get some answers I thought were fairly insightful, and them pass them along. If I posted a question about "Why do so many people divorce?" on SCIFI-DL, for instance, I'd probably dig up painful memories and possibly inadvertently start a flame war out of the fuel of insecure childhoods. I don't think there's ANY place ask such a question on Ars Technica. Sara's board was the ONLY board I thought I could do this, so the loss of that board is pretty significant to my ongoing learning process.

I did see some turbulence on that board, and while flame wars outside the Politics Forum were rare, when they started a "members only" area, I saw some issues about "Who's Popular?" spring up, which alarmed me somewhat. I also saw signs of sysop burnout. But they were all minor, and I thought they would pass. I have seen such things come and go on many boards and e-mail lists still thriving. Now I guess I won't know until years from now.

I have always wanted to write some sort of "Laws and Syndromes of Online Communities," but I feared doing so would expose some people who have probably gotten over their problems nowadays and don't want to be reminded of the total asshats they were when they were 21. The "Pedestal Syndrome," and "The BBS Life Cycle," are all drawn from personal observations.

Because of all this, I doubt I will ever get involved in any "online community" again. After Sara A and The BBS-That-Shall-Not-Be-Named, I just don't want to go through the ups and downs of flakiness, flame wars, and eventual mind games that result from these types of places. I have enough real-time friends to last me for the rest of my life, plenty of parties and conventions to attend, and even more new friends to find. Sure, I'll still get some of that nonsense from them, but I have found the people are much more cordial in person than they are behind the dark screen of their monitor.

This entry was originally posted at http://www.punkwalrus.com/blog/archives/00000194.html
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