Internet of Dreams

history and future, material and immaterial, real and imaginary, fiction and non: what does it matter when it's all internet?...
archive. about. by joanne mcneil (@jomc)

May 17, 2013 at 6:30am
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After 666 comments, a friend of mine was kicked off Metafilter. That was ten years ago. He told me his old screennames over drinks a while back, and I spent the rest of the evening reading the archived posts. As "Settle" and later, "Kettleblack" he was often “cryptic and awkward,” as one commenter complained. But there was something honest about his writing as well, (which, of course, I say with all the biases of an AFK friend.) I can see where what he was trying to express wasn’t quite what was being said. The frustrations of college and crushing loneliness  compiled into posts that were illegible and diffused. However warm and welcoming an online community may be, it is still words on a screen. What do you write when words to express yourself fall short but the desire to be heard is still strong? 

He would put a duck emoticon — o< — at the end of his sarcastic posts, in a way to brand himself, but it also seemed to reveal the person and the representation were not the same. Toward the end, the posts became more inflammatory and designed for reactions. Metafilter just wasn’t the place for it. I talked with him about the experience over gchat the other evening:

[update: as TeaKettle, he has added more to a MetaTalk thread on our conversation]

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How did it begin? Did you have any real sense of the identities of the other people on Metafilter?

my first posts were actually pretty civilized.

I gathered a sense of who the colorful people were, but I got the impression that the people who were most interesting AFK were not the most amusing people on there.

What do you mean by that— like the wittiest people clearly put a lot of time into their answers?

No, like there was a group of people who used the site for earnest discussion because they were having their emotional needs met by reality, and then the rest of us.

I think I confused this earnest discussion for sadness on some level because a lot of my first posts were childish attempts to bring some levity into the family.

To get reactions from people? Or just to put yourself in the discussion on your own terms?

I think when I realized I wasn’t getting the results I wanted I began to just look for reactions

It evolved into a game of course where I was pitting an increasingly imaginary version of myself against a lot of other characters and then a bunch of innocent librarians and programmers.

How soon did things change?

Like a week

My first post was basically a document of my netstalking of some netstalking someone ELSE had done who I was netstalking

So since the people I was stalking was stalking someone, I stalked them, and that was my first post, a series of usenet prank artifacts.

http://www.metafilter.com/15500/Just-who-is-Dean-Stark

The kind of old microcelebrity that inspired multiple usenet group subdomains…

that was the joke, they made a million subdomains for this guy, thinking the whole world would see

And now it’s all blended into an area of the internet barely anyone knows about any more

One of the guys in on these antics is now a pretty prominent business techno-blogger.

Yeah

I was inspired by Jerkcity, which is a still-running webcomic

Which I had been reading since 1999 or so, a long long time.

It centered around these incredibly close online friendships, it was basically chat logs between these guys, I wanted something like that.

That post is just a bunch of odd reactions. And partly because it’s about usenet in 2002

Precisely, and you can see how poorly I read that situation. In retrospect it is absurd to think that anybody but me could have even passing interest in that.

I didn’t really read metafilter then, did people put themselves in their posts the way you did? like here: http://www.metafilter.com/activity/13755/posts/mefi/ with all the small font asides you added

Sometimes, I definitely liked stretching the limits of the allowable html.

I think especially Kettleblack had some extremely creative formatting.

and this one http://www.metafilter.com/15997/Trolling

Oh how meta, good find

It reminds me of an all-caps piece I wrote on poemranker entitled “HOW TO BE FUNNY”

Remind me again what were you doing on Poemranker?

Well that was interesting in that the mischief makers were really given a great forum to practice their art, and I do mean art

And the captive audience was of course hysterical to bait

I actually became online-buddies with some guys at the comp-sci program at Cambridge who were writing these really rude limericks

And also this actor in LA, who I met once.

We all had different trolling styles - mine was mostly about abusing the format

I once turned an image of a man groping another man’s genitals into an enormous piece of ascii art

I would also do these poems where I would copy and paste nonsense so it would take 5 minutes to scroll through and then at the end say “THANK YOU I AM COMMITTED TO EXCELLENCE

Poemeranker, as we called it, was not very well moderated

Could you see how many people were reading?

yes, and it gave me great pleasure. Some of the outraged comments were delightful.

"I’m speechless. I’m sorry, and I have no wish whatsoever to spark a

race war, but as a Brit this typifies what I hate about Yanks. Where is

your style? This is an absolute horror of a piece. 0, and for the first

time ever if I could give minus points I would. The worst piece of shit

I’ve ever read on this site. I can’t believe a poem has been posted

going through the alphabet for inspiration. Not only that, but your

verses are completely and utterly uninspiring. The final line beggars

belief, and your use of caps throughout and the various references to

homosexuality suggest that you are a child pretending to be an adult.

Awful. ”

that one still makes me laugh

amazing

"Does it all have to be in capitals? I feel like I’m being shouted at.

Quite like the poem though.”

were most of the people there sincere?

"I was kind of into this until the stupid faggot fuck face stanza. It

took me right out of the poem and I couldn’t finish it. “\

Some were, some were in on it, some were in between

i’m trying to figure out what made trolling that site fun. or at least not boring

There were just enough serious teenagers to make us feel like we were being rude at church

also it was competitive - me and this guy Dark Angel would one up each other with AIDS limericks

The funniest part of this is that whenever I got into a serious relationship with someone AFK, or IRL as I call it now

I would feel this urge to show them my AIDS poemes.

The emotions surrounding this activity have come into clearer focus as time moves on

i think i just found those poems

oh no I thought I deleted them

Dark Angel didn’t

metafilter was much more troll resistant

what do you mean?

Well it was a more cohesive community, those people knew each other in many cases

And these people often had more wholesome uses for the site

Ranging from ordinary procrastination to thought provoking discussion

and other things adults do which I never understood

It was ahead of its time. It is still pretty unique in how diverse and large yet homey it is.

Again this is what attracted me to it as opposed to, I don’t know, Fark I guess.

It seems like you mostly liked the people on metafilter

I have never disliked someone on the internet

I have done obnoxious things to some people

I never really recognized them as real people

Which had ugly consequences

And being about ten years younger than most of the people on the site had to be part of it

Yes, I wanted to be the baby

Middle child and all that

You have to understand my social circumstances at the time were very very bad

i imagine the most frustrating times would be when you wouldnt get some kind of response —like http://www.metafilter.com/15967/Really-Good-Haiku-in-English

"agreed settle- the appreciation of the minimalist beauty is where the enlightenment lies, wackybritt."

Those were certainly not my favorites. I liked stirring controversy, where some people would take my side and others would be disgusted

I think on a very deep level boys want to make girls scream in horror

So, the duck emoticon….

Yeah

That arose out of people wanting more clarity vis my motivations for saying idiotic things

Since I valued their attention, I wanted to keep them on board so I made that concession to their understanding

http://www.metafilter.com/16157/Are-Your-Posts-Perchance-Too-MealyMouthed-And-Polite#256128

that is the post in question

What’s funny is, it imagines people will remember that comment

Yeah, although to metafilter’s credit at least some people would

You’ll note someone right down from there called up some old comment of mine

a comment about my body and amphetamine use

lots of teenage issues being aired

Oh that’s right. And that kind of deep reading is probably what kept you on the site then, right?

Oh absolutely

a little goes a long way

I mean I was at a point in my life where I would go months without having any sort of personal interaction with anyone

None of those people knew how important that was to me

Well they knew insofar as they could deduce from how annoying I was being

yeah, people generally were so much more invested in conversations online then. it makes sense. so they would remember your interests, habits…even in a negative way. 

now the o< makes more sense

After I got banned, I returned with a name that rhymed with my old one, like some sort of demonic posession

Anyway I did a post about something interesting, and deep in the comments I dropped a o<

and someone picked up on it

Which I am sure gave me quite a thrill

http://www.metafilter.com/22192/Confessions-of-a-SF-Pimp

how did you get kicked off the first time?

good question

I was being consistently annoying

I think people were complaining

also I threatened to show up to a meetup and beat people up or something

ahh, that’s crossing the line

Yes, any time your bad behavior leaks out of the internet it is a big mistake. It only took a few such incidents to make me realize that.

All told it wasn’t that bad, kids nowadays outdo me by miles, but it was very bad

I mean I can keep the idiotic behavior a secret but I have trouble living that down

were you in touch with the people behind the site as yourself ever?

I never contacted people on the site

I certainly would have kept it secret

what happened when you were banned? you couldn’t login again? or did you get some kind of message?

No, I just couldn’t log in

although when you had threads deleted the mods would enter in funny reasons

so what we see in the archive is that which *wasn’t* deleted

http://metatalk.metafilter.com/2918/Whyd-you-delete-my-post

Yes

Not too many were deleted, the moderation was very lax back then

and KettleBlack was kicked off the site too?

Yes

did you try again after that?

No

they started charging $ for membership

possibly as a reaction to people like me

Although I think I was the most obnoxious person there at the time

How do you feel about this experience in retrospect?

I would say I’m lucky

The internet has gotten a lot better at forming places for people to not grow up

People like me are so common that they’ve formed their own communities

Which is unfortunate because what I really needed was to grow up a bit

ongoing process of course

But I am lucky to have not had people who liked me for who I was when I was truly awful

so there was just enough interpersonal connectivity then? it still had to be hard

Yeah

It was enough to keep me being a bastard but not so much that it sucked me in

I sort of went from one place to another

Eventually I became less destructive

But the number of truly horrible people online has only increased

you think these people are horrible or just working things out?

I don’t think anyone is intrinsically bad

I think there are a lot of teenage boys without a future

The problem with this behavior is that it escalates

no one act is ever enough because none of them address the underlying vacuum in their life, of course I am projecting quite a bit  

if the point is to get a reaction that doesn’t stop

exactly

So if the internet is big enough, and there are enough earnest women running websites about their rabbits, there is an unlimited number of people to move to tears

do you fall into these habits anymore?

No, my vice is still wanting to make people laugh

Same thing really but a lot less innocuous

I am a big hit on the /r/hiphopheads subreddit, but not active elsewhere

I did some pretty hilarious couplets about the lil wayne hospitalization

LEAN WAS A POPULAR DRINK, STILL IS

GOT ME DYIN HARD, BRUCE WILLIS

I am proud of that one

it’s got to be strange to think of the metafilter archive as a document of your history at that time

It’s horrible because I can’t delete it

But yeah

The text is so worthless but it really did occupy my time

I would have been better off not having it as an outlet

Well I might have just killed myself, but I like to think I would have done something constructive

It’s dangerous having a meaningless outlet for your energy

you don’t think of it in retrospect as just testing things out?

It didn’t feel like I was taking much of a risk at the time

You can turn off the internet

it was just reaching out to anybody in general?

Yeah absolutely

The fact they talked like a family is what attracted me

It seemed like a place I could have value

right because even the weird one in the family has a place at the table

yes

It’s funny I always thought I would find a place

everyone around me did

maybe it wasn’t the right table then

No

But I have pushed away many plates to extend this metaphor further

virtual relationships are easier

Some of the most overwhelming experiences I have involved nothing more than realizing that whatever weight my consciousness had others had too in equal measure. Online relationships keep me from feeling that.

online relationship feels out of balance?

they feel safer in the sense, I can turn them off, I can have a flexible notion of myself

When you hate who you were in 2001 because you have documentation of your behavior

the idea that you are a certain person is sort of distasteful

I would rather reinvent myself with every person I meet

But in person that is harder, no backspace key on my shitty posture

that’s going to be a problem for every kid from now on

Yah

It will be different when it is normal

I didn’t grow up sending pictures of my dick to girls, I don’t get the kids 

there’s nothing name or image-wise to connect you. it’s really only you that knows it is there

Yeah, it’s funny, as I said, I consider it a very intimate thing to show people that stuff

mostly my poems and old livejournal

but you want these people to see it though? for the same reason confessing anything to someone close it hard, right?

Thats an excellent point you bring up

There’s sort of a pit in my heart and the only efficient way to show someone is to point them at the jokes it made

A relationship that doesn’t see that side of me isn’t real

that you need to be accepted to feel authentically cared for, but then it’s so hard to believe that everyone has these kinds of dark spots

Well, i think mine is a bit darker

More tempestuous, and certainly more poems about homosexuality

I’m not online friends with people anymore, I gchat with family and people I know now. How boring.

not a lot of avenues in nowadays

No, but I’ve gotten used to that kind of life

I realize I was on an odd path the whole time but it seems clearer now

you had the internet as a witness. to acknowledge you were a person somewhere in the world

Yes but it also showed me the value of loneliness

As much as it sort of sustained me it also trained me to be fine with being on my own

Ironically this has worked out well for me, and I consider it a tremendous gift that I have which other people lack



Notes

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