Monday, May 11, 2009

Why so nice? More thoughts on thin skins and social media decorum

Since my last post, I've been poking around for more thinking and insight into why social media exchanges seem so conflict averse, and I haven't found very much.

There are a couple miss manners guides to good behavior like this basic and matter-of-fact post from 06 about how to not get freaked out by flamers and trolls. But not very much analysis or theorizing about why bloggers often respond to critics by challenging their ethics ("stop spreading negative energy," or "being evil," etc) or their manners ("pedantic" "too serious") or utility ("it's much more useful to...")

But there does seem to be a think-positive self-image thing going around. As I was making my rounds through people's bios on all kinds of social media sites from Blogs to Twitter to Linkedin, I noticed that a lot of people described themselves as "positive," and often in really assertive ways, like "irrepressible optimist" and "super-positive thinker." And not just life coaches, who are are obviously in the business of being positive.

I was reminded of research I did about a half-dozen years ago for a candy bar brand. I was interested in seeing what teens and young adults thought of as attractive personality and character traits. So I went to the various dating sites, which were more new and popular among young people then, and checked out a bunch of profiles.

What I saw was it was important for young people looking for dates to say they had really diverse interests and tastes. There were a lot of statements like "I enjoy the opera at Lincoln center as much a seat in the bleachers. "Ready to raise a glass of champagne or a Pabst Blue Ribbon." or "Everything from Mozart to Mos Def." You get the idea. You don't say these things about yourself on a dating site unless you think they are going to be appealing to your peers. (As was, as an aside, using the work "geek" or "nerd" to communicate your unembarrassed passion for a subject, e.g., "I'm a total "star trek nerd" or "gardening geek"

So maybe this is a sign, at least among the social media users, that being upbeat is just the way to be.


Beecham said...

Am really enjoying your blog! :)

You maybe right about the value placed on diversity. (Are you saying that diversity of interests is related to trying to seem positive? ie not judgmental?)

I wonder whether on a dating site a whole other dynamic is going on--one of strategy (of course, maybe bloggers are strategizing to maximize their readership, too . . .). When you write a dating profile, you aren't necessarily describing yourself as best and as most appealingly as you can. That would mean you have faith that people are good at knowing what/who they want and would click on you. I think many online daters want to present themselves with an open a profile as possible, one that doesn't lead people to exclude them: this allows them to retain the power to chose and whittle down the group. You want as many people to respond. Anyway, this is all just to say that profiles are pretty complicated pieces of writing, and not just a pretty straight-forward descriptions of what daters value or think other people value.

But this is off-topic! (did you read article on exclamation points as positive?) and totally not meant to be spreading negative critical energy . . . :-)

sk said...

I like your theory on strategic inclusiveness a lot. Much smarter and probable than my naive "put your best foot forward" theory. And might also go some way to explaining super-positivity on social media.

More people like to hang out with Tony Robbins than cranks like me, and since accumulation or quantity of friends/followers is one of the goals of many people here, it would follow you should adopt the style that is likely to draw the biggest crowd.

Thanks for sharing!!!! (No, I didn't read an article on the relationship between punctuation and self-image; but both glad and self-conscious now that you pointed it out. I almost never use exclamation points in other contexts. Weird!!!).

Beecham said...

Stuart Jeffries in the Guardian discusses exclamation points in emails, as possible attempts to signal friendliness:
Then he asks, "When, though, did friendliness become the arbiter of orthographic etiquette?" which is, I think, related to your question!

Beecham said...

Ok, this throws a wrench into the effect of positive comments. As an aside in this article, a psychologist asks, "Why do people tell psychologists they’d cross the street to avoid someone who had given them a compliment the previous day?" Huh?! Wonder what the costs of all this niceness is; maybe it's a short-sighted strategy.

Paul Soldera said...

Or, in the general scheme of things, those active on SM sites are a self selecting population of overt optimists!

I generally don't enjoy facebook or twitter as I can't be assed (excuse my French) of keeping up with the all the positive sentiment.

Interesting post. As always :)

sk said...

Thanks Paul. I thought it was just me. Something about reading the running stream of positive slogans does make me feel like my head is encased in plastic.

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