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(Disclaimer: The opin­ions expressed in this arti­cle are the author’s own and do not nec­es­sar­i­ly rep­re­sent those of the staff and/or any con­trib­u­tors to this site.)

Can you imag­ine being so ego­cen­tric you can’t enter­tain the pos­si­bil­i­ty you’re wrong? I sure as hell can’t. I still strug­gle with self-doubt and moments of sec­ond guess­ing myself, and it’s only in the past year I’ve had the con­fi­dence to try and tame my fears and put some of my writ­ing out there. Sometimes what I write is writ­ten and re-written a dozen times, tak­en apart and put back togeth­er again to ensure the argu­ment being made isn’t fal­la­cious or biased. Even in my more infor­mal moments such as this series of semi-rants, I still feel that nag­ging sense of fal­li­bil­i­ty; the thought that at any moment some­one could barge in, and in one fell swoop prove all my argu­ments worth­less because of some over­sight or mis­judge­ment.

This is a healthy fear so long as it doesn’t crip­ple you; I know some of my fel­low con­trib­u­tors who’ve had great insights but talked them­selves out of putting them on the page because of that same creep­ing self-doubt. Life is about bal­ance, both online and offline, and strik­ing that bal­ance is what helps us be ground­ed and func­tion­al human beings.

But I’m not here to talk about my neu­roses; I talked last pre­vi­ous­ly about how social media can leave us feel­ing iso­lat­ed and alone if we let it, but what hap­pens when the pen­du­lum swings the oth­er way?

shout ego side 1We have more oppor­tu­ni­ties than ever to curate what we do and don’t see online. Be it through who we friend on Facebook, who we fol­low on Twitter, what media we read online, or what infor­ma­tion we inten­tion­al­ly block out. In many ways it ampli­fies what we think about our­selves, or our feel­ings at the given moment. If you feel lone­ly, it’s easy to seek things out that make you feel even more alone. If you think you’re the absolute poodle’s nip­ples, and that you’re God’s gift to real­i­ty and every­thing in it, then its easy to con­struct an online world that fits your delu­sion.

That ampli­fi­ca­tion of feel­ings can turn into a feed­back loop, a screech­ing mon­ster of ego­cen­trism that if left unchecked will con­tin­ue to get loud­er. This is part­ly the source of what have been dubbed “cry bul­lies,” peo­ple who attack oth­ers then weep and wail when they’re told to stop.

To quote David Carr, a media cor­re­spon­dent at the New York Times David Carr, “…the always-on data stream is hyp­notic, giv­ing us the illu­sion of omni­science.” He made this com­ment in ref­er­ence to journalist’s utter fail­ure to see the direc­tion the wind was blow­ing in a 2014 Congressional race. Online media hap­pens to be some of the peo­ple guilti­est of this assump­tion of omni­science and they feed the hordes of low-information cru­saders with exact­ly what they want to hear. The writer and the audi­ence are com­plic­it in this dance and they engage in mutu­al bias rein­force­ment, even­tu­al­ly reach­ing the con­clu­sion that they were always right all along, and that noth­ing in their world­view had to change.

Two nig­gling prob­lems remain in this seem­ing­ly per­fect arrange­ment: oppos­ing points of view and those will­ing to voice them. The inter­net has become great at invent­ing shriek­ing nar­cis­sists. Instead of try­ing to break down the walls of unre­al­i­ty, organ­i­sa­tions and busi­ness have instead elect­ed to rein­force them. This is why we see the war waged on the com­ments sec­tion on many web­sites.

It’s “too sex­ist” or its “too trig­ger­ing” are just weak excus­es. To me, the real rea­son is that the writer’s ego can’t take even being mild­ly dis­agreed with. Their world­view is so frag­ile it will shat­ter if exposed to dis­sent. Someone out of touch with real­i­ty is utter­ly use­less in many capac­i­ties, and they are going to find con­flict wherever they turn.

People who dis­sent online are increas­ing­ly being tar­get­ing by smear cam­paigns, and E-celebs like Wil “Shut up, Wesley” Wheaton have long cam­paigned for real names and faces to be to be shown online in the cru­sade to tar­get and shame those unde­sir­ables who dare chal­lenge his frag­ile ego.

I write under my real name so let me say this. Wil Wheaton is a joke, a hang­er on too inept for a TV or movie career who sub­sists on geek cred­i­bil­i­ty from his one rel­e­vant moment over two decades ago. He doesn’t real­ize this because he’s sur­round­ed him­self with syco­phants and yes men who tell him he isn’t almost uni­ver­sal­ly reviled. Like many oth­ers with frag­ile egos, Wil is a proud user of the a Blockbot, and this helps rein­force his echo-chamber online.

Blockbots and their sup­port­ers have been court­ed and ten­ta­tive­ly endorsed by every­one from Google, to Twitter, to the IGDA, and even the United Nations. They rep­re­sent the next step in ego pro­tec­tion in an effort to remove any chance their absolute infal­li­bil­i­ty will be ques­tioned. Rather than being a pris­on cell for “trolls,” they serve as a blind­fold, a pair of gog­gles that dis­tort the online world and dis­play a pic­ture com­plete­ly out of line with real­i­ty. I’m remind­ed of a trail­er for Team Fortress 2 where the Pyro sees the hor­ri­ble immo­la­tion of oth­ers as a bright fan­ta­sy world made up of rain­bows and uni­corns.

The same is true for com­ments sec­tions online; if you over mod­er­ate them or sim­ply turn them off all togeth­er you get a false sense of your own infal­li­bil­i­ty. The deep­er you get into your ego illu­sion the less equipped to deal with real­i­ty you become and are less able to rec­ti­fy mis­takes. As we proud­ly state, we keep our com­ments open for pre­cise­ly that rea­son; we are capa­ble of being wrong. We get peo­ple point­ing out a small spelling or gram­mar errors all the time, which is free edit­ing for which we are grate­ful for even if a lit­tle embar­rassed when it hap­pens. That’s just a mild exam­ple, but if we fucked up fac­tu­al­ly I would want to know about it and fix it as quick­ly as pos­si­ble.

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Some shout into the void and hear noth­ing but their own voice echo­ing back at them. They mis­take it for the voice of the entire inter­net and are unable to pull them­selves away from a destruc­tive track. This is my main prob­lem with Tumblr and why I find “Translating Tumblr” such a fas­ci­nat­ing, but some­times dif­fi­cult read. There are entire com­mu­ni­ties like shoplifters, oth­erk­in, and peo­ple with eat­ing dis­or­ders on all points on the spec­trum. We begin see how the ego feed­back loop could lit­er­al­ly kill some­one in the case of an anorex­ic being told they are at a healthy weight. Here a “safe space” can be a death sen­tence. Tumblr at its worst is an island of delu­sion where peo­ple with all kinds of issues can go to seek the oppo­site of help. Twitter with its cen­sor­ship and recent endorse­ment of Blockbots is fast becom­ing that too.

During the ear­ly Enlightenment, mankind began to real­ize they weren’t — as had been pre­sumed before — at the cen­tre of the uni­verse. The Earth, and every­thing on it, were not as remark­able as had been first assumed. But a greater truth was dis­cov­ered.

That the majesty of cre­ation was far more var­ied than we had imag­ined, and the uni­verse is bound­less space and poten­tial. If the Enlightenment had hap­pened on Twitter, the­se peo­ple would have sim­ply blocked Galileo for his unpop­u­lar and uncom­fort­able opin­ion and made fun of him behind that block. Heliocentrism would have been regard­ed as “too trig­ger­ing” for the minds of those con­vinced they were always right. “Heresy” has mor­phed in “Hate Speech,” but the igno­rance that kept peo­ple away from the truth about the won­ders of the uni­verse remains as stub­born as ever.

Most human beings also come to a real­iza­tion in their life that they are not the most impor­tant per­son on the plan­et. To devel­op as a well-adjusted and ami­able human being (read: not a com­plete cunt) you need a few well-placed whacks over the head with the real­i­ty stick now and then. Sometimes people’s mis­con­cep­tions need to be shat­tered for them to grow, some­times real­i­ty just has to kick the shit out of you for you to learn some­thing. That can’t hap­pen if you treat the inter­net like your own per­son­al fief­dom, or a nice safe padded cell.

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People dis­like change by nature; it makes them uncom­fort­able and fear­ful, but what many mis­take for harass­ment and hate speech is just them com­ing into con­tact with the real world and not being able to han­dle it. What is meant by “the right to be com­fort­able” is in fact the right to be infan­tilized. If babies had access to Twitter, their moth­ers tak­ing their dum­my — a paci­fier if you’re a dirty colo­nial — away would be decried as an act of bru­tal injus­tice inflict­ed on a help­less minor­i­ty. #BringBackOurDummies would be trend­ing world­wide, and all those say­ing “may­be that’s part of grow­ing up” would be banned.

The “right to be com­fort­able” is the right to sti­fle oth­er peo­ple, and not have to feel bad about it. It’s the right not to devel­op as a human being and real­ize that may­be, just may­be, admit­ting you are wrong from time to time won’t cause you to spon­ta­neous­ly com­bust.

Adults have no right to be com­fort­able. We all hold some shit­ty opin­ions; the most impor­tant thing is being able to tell each oth­er that. No one wants to hang around with some unpleas­ant ego mon­ster. The only per­son you will ever ful­ly agree with is your­self then — and even that’s not guar­an­teed. If some­one con­tin­ues on that path then that’s who they’ll end up with. Themselves.

An inter­net of peo­ple who’ve blocked away any­thing but their own voice, shout­ing end­less­ly into the void, con­vinced of the right­eous­ness of the sound of their own voice. And I think that’s a pret­ty bleak vision for the online future.

We’re all ass­holes, but the lesser ass­holes at least know that. SweeneyOpinionOpinion,Shouting into the Void(Disclaimer: The opin­ions expressed in this arti­cle are the author’s own and do not nec­es­sar­i­ly rep­re­sent those of the staff and/or any con­trib­u­tors to this site.) Can you imag­ine being so ego­cen­tric you can’t enter­tain the pos­si­bil­i­ty you’re wrong? I sure as hell can’t. I still strug­gle with self-doubt…
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John Sweeney
John Sweeney is a ter­ri­bly British man with a back­ground in engi­neer­ing. He writes long-form edi­to­ri­al con­tent with analy­sis of gam­ing, games media and inter­net cul­ture. He also does the occa­sion­al video game ret­ro­spec­tive with a week­ly column about Magic the Gathering thrown in for good mea­sure. He also does most of our inter­views for some rea­son, we have no idea why. A staunch sup­port­er of free speech and con­sumer rights; skep­ti­cal of agen­da dri­ven media and sus­pi­cious of unac­cou­table author­i­ty but always hope­ful for change.