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These Rectangles are Amplifiers

August 24th, 2010 by Jeff Simmermon

Eddie Van Halen Solo Antics 1982

Originally uploaded by Taylor Player

A few weeks ago, I got myself into a little pissing contest in the comments section of this here blog.

Here’s most of what I said:

I’d encourage you to take a long look at your own life. Whatever chain of decisions you’ve made in your life has led you to this very moment, a moment of your making.

So at some point along the way you decided something, perhaps subconsciously, that resulted in you sitting in a room in front of a computer, leaving a nasty little hateful notes on other people’s expressions of joy and passion.

That’s the kind of person that you have become.

It’s totally normal to have lonely moments where you feel unloved — it’s part of the human experience. The next time you feel lonely and unloved, just try to remember that you deserve it. The person you’ve decided to be when nobody else is looking is a total cunt.

There’s an inherent irony in using the Internet to write a nasty note in public to chastise someone for writing nasty notes in public. I’m aware of that now. But in the moment, I just couldn’t help myself. It’s something about the human condition that just disgusts me, casually revealing such hateful awful stuff when we don’t think anyone else is looking. You’d think that children would grow out of pointing the finger and howling at somebody that’s different than themselves, but they don’t. They just hide it better.

During the great coffee debacle of 2008, a man emailed me directly — at my personal e-mail address — to inform me that if there were any justice in the world, I would be raped to death in prison. Or by a goat, if they were maybe allowed into the prison yard.

All that over a cup of coffee and a couple of jerks whanging on their keyboards.

I work in online PR for a large but not necessarily beloved cable company and ISP. A little while ago, my company was involved in a few scuffles that inspired a lot of people to fire up their computers and write a lot of nasty notes, many of them naming me personally. For three months or so, when you went to Google my name, Google would auto-complete the request and ask “did you mean to type ‘Jeff Simmermon douchebag?’”

When you’re on the receiving end of a huge influx of Internet attention, it really messes with your head. Watching your traffic soar is one of the most addictive feelings in the world, and some little part of you always thinks “YES. Finally, people recognize how brilliant I am.” The positive comments and e-mails can bolster that feeling.

But the haters – the passive-aggressive goatfuckers that sit there and send you nasty notes — those guys can ruin your whole day. One really nasty one just gets in your head and twists like a botfly burrowing in your skull.

That’s not to say that all Internet communication is bad, either. I mean, there’s something in me that keeps me doing this anyway. When I had emergency surgery for cancer last year, I was able to find a supportive community online that I really couldn’t find in real life. It was so nice to read comforting, inspiring messages from complete strangers — just little “attaboys” from out there in the universe somewhere.

We spend our lives moving from one glowing rectangle to another — from waking up and checking our phones to sitting in front of a laptop all day and watching television at night. We think of them as entertainment machines, little boxes that make our brains squirt endorphins when we see something we like.

We’re wrong about that. These rectangles aren’t entertainment machines. These rectangles are powerful amplifiers for the human condition. Greed, rage, love, insecurity and hope all shoot through these things and out of the screen at the speed of light and the feelings usually hit WAY harder than we mean them to. A casual comment can cripple someone or fill them with a false hope or a wonderful, warming sense of peace.

Internet communication has turned us into toddlers with real, functioning lightsabers waving them around the playground. We can save each other from bullies and cut each other’s arms off just to watch the pretty sparks — all in the same stroke.

Like Vonnegut said: “We are what we pretend to be, so we must be careful what we pretend to be.”

Next time you fire up your rectangular emotional amplifier, make sure you fuel it with the right stuff. Try and pour as much humor, empathy and understanding into that thing and blast it at someone that needs it. You’ll make the world a better place without leaving your chair.

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