Something weird happened today: I got trolled on Twitter.
This isn’t weird in the grand scheme of things: any time you’ve got an appliance with a network connection on one end and a keyboard on the other, you’re going to get a stream of data from jerks. It’s all part of John Gabriel’s Greater Internet Fuckwad Theory, and I shouldn’t be weirded out by it. But I am, simply because I am one tiny, tiny person in vast ocean of information, and whenever someone pinpoints me to tell me off, it feels weird.
This is what happened. Today, I posted a link to an article in today’s LA Times about how The Edge from U2 wants to build a compound of mansions in the Santa Monica Mountains. The California Coastal Commission voted his development down, as they rightly should have. I added the following commentary. It wasn’t original, I’m sure, but what the hell. David Evans can take a little criticism.
I went about my day, watching the kid play at the park, when my phone chirped. I’d gotten a reply on Twitter, and it was a bit rude.
Now, I know the first rule of trolls is Don’t Feed The Damn Things, but I am an idiot. I fired off a few pithy replies, including a link to the mighty Bill Bailey, wherein he demonstrated what I was talking about in the first place. I got no reply from the above troll, and I blocked him, as is proper internet etiquette.
But as the afternoon went on, the weirdness of it all came back to me. How in God’s name did this person find me? I went on the troll’s feed and saw a lot of the same behavior as demonstrated toward me: someone tweets something negative about U2 or its personnel, and the troll replies with vitriol and poor punctuation.
And then I remembered the Thing With Gillian Anderson.
A few years ago, Anne and I were at the movies, and Gillian Anderson sat down in front of us. I thought this was cool, and tweeted as much (and I have no idea how to dredge that tweet up from the archives). Just a little LA moment, where you see a famous person and record it, the way a birdwatcher writes down when they finally see a Bachman’s Warbler.
The problem with this is, in the age of instant data at everyone’s fingertips, if you post your sighting online, everyone and his mother will know about it. I got three or four replies from complete strangers asking where she was, what movie was it, could you take a picture and send it to me?
I freaked out, because I had no idea these people had found my tweet. Twitter was so new that I hadn’t glommed onto the idea of keyword search tools. It just hadn’t occurred to me that a legion of X-philes weren’t about to let go of the the objects of their affection, and that they had to know if anyone, anywhere had posted something about the cast. I never replied to these replies, partly out of respect for Ms. Anderson’s privacy, partly for the same reason birders probably don’t share their favorite spots (if everyone knew where to see a Bachman’s Warbler, they’d all show up at once and scare the bird away), but mostly because I didn’t want to deal with a bunch of fans showing up at the theater and creating a scene.
Now, I know the likelihood of a scene was slim, so there was something else going on. Then I looked at my phone and realized: they could get to me. They’d know where I was, and I was out with my wife, and I was freaked out because a bunch of freaky X Files obsessives were going to stampede us until they got their piece of the celebrity. Even if that meant carving a piece out of me. Yes, it was irrational as hell, but my picture was on my Twitter feed, and the fans could see me and put two and two together.
Which leads me to my new friend. Here is someone who is so dedicated to U2 that he has keyword searches running just to find people on Twitter to talk with them about his favorite band. Or, if not talk to them, insult and threaten them if they disagree with his opinion. Who does that?
Geeks. Geeks like me.
There was a time when I blew a healthy amount of my paycheck on comic books. For a while, it was anything by Frank Miller. Then Neil Gaiman. Then Alan Moore. Then Warren Ellis. My weekly pull list at the Comic Bookie and Hi-De-Ho were physical keyword searches: if anything by my favorite artists or writers was for sale, it would be waiting for me to consume, and I would fight to the death anyone who said anything negative about these Great And Mighty Artists (fortunately, that never happened, because my friends were all nerdy about the same comics. But I would have thrown down, man). I read these books, loved them, collected them, because they were entertaining and thought-provoking, but also because they filled the hole. I was working too much in shitty jobs I hated but couldn’t quit (another post for another time), and that meant I didn’t have enough time to see my friends or chase girls. I did, however, have enough time to grab my bag of comics every week and spent a happy morning escaping.
I’m geeky about my kid now. I document everything she does, I talk about her all the time when I’m around other people, and I would pound the ever-loving crap out of anyone who gave her the stinkeye. In our society, that’s not called being a geek. It’s called being a parent.
But there is an important difference in between my obsession with my daughter and Kevin Keenan’s obsessions with U2 and the Flyers: I have a stake in what my daughter does, and she has a stake in what I do. If I quit on her, it’s going to affect her life, just like if she ever quit on me. If U2 stopped touring or the Flyers traded out their entire lineup, would it really change Mr. Keenan’s life? I’m sure he’d be sad for a bit, but I doubt it would be a long-term problem, just like it wouldn’t be a long-term problem for the band or the team he if he stopped buying tickets. Someone else would take his place.
I can appreciate caring about something big and outside yourself. I loved getting lost in my geeky obsessions, loved connecting with other people who shared them. But, man, those things never love you back, no matter how much they say so from the stage. And bothering other people just to prove your love for your favorite band or team or whatever will not bring you closer together. I can say this with certainty: the objects of your affection do not care about you. Hell, The Edge has already proven he doesn’t care about what other people think by wanting to build a monstrosity on the ridge at Sweetwater. You think he really cares if you’re trolling Twitter, picking fights with anyone who insults his guitar playing?
This will have to be my moment when I become old and say, “I don’t get this thing.” I don’t get the point of having keyword searches to suck every minute detail of one’s obsessions out of the internet. I don’t get the point of bothering complete strangers who do absolutely nothing to affect one’s daily life (note: The Edge’s development will affect anyone who loves the ridgelines of the California coast, even if it’s just for the aesthetics). And I don’t understand the point of loving something that won’t love you back.
Someone out there wants to love you, Mr. Keenan, and I think you want to love them back. I hope you find them.
And The Edge would still be nothing without pedal effects.