Confessions of a Troll: A short essay about why I'm quitting the Internet.
They say you know you’re an alcoholic when you try to go a week without drinking just to prove you can. When I caught myself doing the same thing with the Internet, I knew it was time to quit. I should clarify that, when I’m talking about quitting the Internet, I don’t mean I’m going stop using G-mail, NYTimes, or Amazon - the sites for people who use the Internet. I’m talking about message boards, forums, and any site with a community focus - the sites for Internet users.
It’s easy and maybe a little trite to the draw a comparison between Internet use and addiction. I lived with an alcoholic for 12 years, and I’ve seen first hand that it’s a debilitating disease. This isn’t that, but like alcohol, unhealthy use of the Internet has had a number of adverse effects on my life.
I’m paraphrasing here, but I remember reading about some philosopher who said, “The biggest challenge we face as individuals is to realize that other people are the protagonists in their own stories and not just supporting characters in ours.” I try to be mindful of this and act in an according manner, but I find it almost impossible to do online.
The reason I find it so difficult is because I feel what happens on the Internet has no connection to real-life. When I connect to an online community it’s like I’m an actor playing a better (or worse) version of myself, and I usually think that other people are doing the same. Whenever I read about some kid who just overdosed on Benadryl and Listerine or some guy who pulled the perfect prank on his co-workers by sneaking dog shit into their PC towers I’m always suspicious that it’s just some second semester sociology student conducting an incredibly contrived social experiment. What’s the incentive to keep honest when you get to be your own biographer and everyone has to take you at your word? That’s the Internet to me - just a bunch of nobodies playing pretend.
I don’t think it’s healthy to interact with people this way, and I do way too much of it. I know how arrogant, self-serving, and insecure it all sounds (and you could argue that I embody those characteristics), but from the first time I joined a forum I never missed a chance to try and prove I was smarter than somebody else. I used to troll for sport, but now I don’t even enjoy it. The other day I spent an hour arguing with some guy over the definition of ‘illegal’. I should have stopped when he tried to tell me that the dictionary was subjective, but I didn’t. I’m not a morose person, but I can list the things that make me truly happy on one hand and having a moronic argument with a faceless cretin isn’t one of them. After one of these e-arguments, I always come away angry and frustrated and I carry it over into my real life, the one where I interact with real humans and try to do the things that make me happy.
I could go on, but this is already so long that most people won’t read it. I guess I’ll just end this by saying that I know there’s a lot of goodness and generosity out there on the net, and I don’t mean to disparage any of it, but it might be good if we all took a minute to look at how we’re using the internet and what it really brings into our lives. Are the connections that you’re making online actually meaningful and/or honest? Does spending time online really make you happy? I’m not trying to say one way or the other, but for me at least, the Internet really is like alcohol - it’s possible to have a healthy relationship with it, but I’d probably be better off if I used it less.
(P.S. I’m curious to see what, if any, response this will get. I’ll check back on this post for the next few hours, and then begin closing my accounts. So long and thanks for all the gifs!)
TL;DR – Maybe don’t be a troll, or whatever.