Monday, November 2, 2009

Getting over fear of digital rejection

CNN Tech has an interesting article about the fear of digital rejection, with people reacting strongly to seemingly trivial acts, like being defriended by somebody on Facebook. I personally once got extremely annoyed about having been kicked out of a pickup group; silly, because I knew I was the third healer they kicked out, and they never realized the "we can't seem to find a good healer" might not have been the actual problem, but hurting nevertheless.

And of course the fear of digital rejection is something that bloggers have to live with. You post this absolutely brilliant idea, and get 20 comments on how it'll never work, and that's just the polite ones. Quite often your qualification to discuss the subject is put into question, for all sorts of strange reasons. Gothie sent me a post by some science blogger who was very annoyed for having been rejected on another science site just because he didn't give his real name. While that digital rejection certainly hurt him, the reason for the rejection can point us in the right direction how to get over the fear of digital rejection: We need to realize that we are not our digital personae.

My passport doesn't say "Tobold", technically "Tobold" doesn't exist. There is me, a flesh and blood real human, with a real life, who chose to create the "Tobold" persona for my writing about MMO games and other subjects. The decision to use an online persona and hiding my real name has consequences on the amount of trust other people put into "Tobold". Somebody using his real name on the internet for MMO blogging (Raph Koster, Dr. Richard Bartle) or being known both under a pseudonym PLUS his real name (Scott "Lum the Mad" Jennings, Brian "Psychochild" Green) automatically evokes more trust. In the other direction, somebody commenting on my blog as "Anonymous", is less trusted than somebody always using the same pseudonym. Trust is simply based on an impression of knowing somebody. I know him well, I trust him. No, he is a stranger, I don't trust him.

On the internet most of this "knowing" each other is an illusion. You don't know me, we never met, and you wouldn't recognize my face if you saw me (I admit, that photo ID in the upper right corner of the blog is fake too :) ). You might trust me because you think you know me, because you read my blog for a long time, and thus know some of my beliefs and preferences. But my evil "I am Gevlon" joke this year was a perfect demonstration on how easily that trust is shattered. In a perfect world the validity of any argument I make in a blog post does not depend on who I am. But because people's brains process information based on how trusted the source of the information is, suddenly the illusion of knowing me matters a lot.

Once you apply a reality check to your online relations, you'll realize that you don't know many of your online friends all that well. At best you'll have an accurate picture of some aspect of somebody, like if you read all my blog, you'd get a pretty good idea how I think about MMORPGs. At worst the hot avatar you were cybering turns out to be a fat, middle-aged guy.

As we don't really know each other if we only meet online, the digital rejection is also never more than partial, and often based on partial or even incorrect information. People jump to conclusions, often wrong ones, and then react on that false conclusion with rejection. I can easily see that when I moderate comments: I regularly get negative comments based on the commenters conclusion that I'm either a fanboi or hater of this or that game, when in fact I'm neither, I see good and bad in every game. If somebody doesn't know me, and obviously doesn't understand what I'm saying, why should I feel disappointed about his digital rejection of me? In fact people threatening to "unsubscribe" from my blog always make me chuckle.

But I admit that this isn't always that easy. The sting of rejection is felt accutely by most people, even if on closer inspection the relationship that was rejected was far from being a close one. Only the most anti-social among us are immune, or at least pretend to be so. Probably our brains are hardwired for social interactions which are very different from the online social interactions we experience nowadays. Rejection by your Neanderthal tribe was a big thing, and could affect your survival. Being defriended by a friend of a friend on Facebook isn't. We just need to adjust to the new reality.

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