The Comfort and Exhaustion of Online Spaces – A Dichotomy in Five Part Harmony

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Hello and welcome again to another edition of Lisa Has an Opinion on Things. This post is going to be a bit full of rambles because I’m afraid I don’t have a much of a thesis statement nor a conclusion because apparently I’ve forgotten how to write essays since I’ve been out of school.

As some of you might have noticed I like to talk about books a lot. Despite using the internet since the 90’s I’d never gotten involved in any book forums or fandoms although I was involved in other online communities for various anime fandoms since the late 90’s and early 2000’s. Through various things we grouped together (linked up angelfire or geocities sites and later livejournal). There were spaces where we could communicate with each other and talk about the things we loved–mailing lists, chat rooms, instant messenger. And things were great! There’s nothing like finding your people, a place where you can belong and be yourself. The internet back then, vast though it was, somehow felt much smaller and, sometimes even cozy compared to today. Not only is the internet bigger, but there is more access and there’s more people, folks who’ve grown up with the internet as a way of life.

Maybe it’s just my rose-colored glasses talking but the biggest controversial issues we ever had from the mailing list days was ‘PLEASE STOP REPLYING WITH ONE SENTENCE REPLIES TO EVERY EMAIL AND MAKE AN AGGREGATE REPLY, WE’RE GETTING TOO MANY EMAILS A DAY UGH’ which sometimes might result in a brief argument about why people chose to get single emails versus a bulk newsletter email blah blah blah. Just like now, I spent a lot of time online in those days, even though in the early days we only had dial up. But even with the time sink it was still so much different then it is today. Slower feeling (not just because of the dial up). Any kind of news, big or small, moves at the speed of lightning these days.

I think it’s safe to say that social media has been a game changer for the internet and how we interact with one another. It’s connected people more than ever and also driven us farther apart. Everyone has opinions on things and feels the need to get them out there (I realize the irony here) whether anyone wants to hear them or not. Social media has both served to highlight the best and worst of humanity. And it’s within these spaces that we exist today. It seems like every day something comes up that everyone has to get their feelings out on and then reactions to those feelings and then reactions to those reactions and it spreads like wildfire, so fast. Fast because sometimes people aren’t even aware of the original context and are commenting on a single tweet getting their hot-take out there without any idea what the initial comment or discussion was about in the first place. (It’s at this point that I’d recommend reading So You’ve Been Publicly Shamed by Jon Ronson as his books are not only told in a great narrative that keeps you interested, but the topic of internet mobs is fascinating and may make you examine your own online behavior). But also fast because these are issues people care about, are passionate about, and sometimes directly affect them.

Back when I first joined reddit, seven years ago now, I’ll admit I used to argue with people, far more than I’m happy with and maybe in the early days I engaged in some behavior that I’m not so proud of today. Was I ‘fighting the good fight’? Yeah, I mean, I thought so. Did I change anyone’s opinions with my arguing? Probably not. Did I have some thoughtful and engaging discussions? Sometimes. But often these kinds of ‘discussions’ would just lead to frustration on my end. At first I was all about it but after a while it just gets….exhausting. And now the discussions are less and there’s just more one-line opinion drops and people get so nasty. They feel they have the right to be nasty and I don’t know why. Why are people the way they are? I fear we’ll never know. But this idea of exhaustion, I’ve seen it cropping up over and over again from authors I follow to some of my online friends–you can only take dealing with so much hatred, so many people determined to erase you or your friends from history, so many people shitting on the things you love, before it overwhelms you.

I have found a group of folks that I love to spend my days with online these days, carefully cultivated over time, but I’m ever increasingly tired of the internet in general. I spend a lot less time on the forums as it seems like every day there’s a topic that brings out the trolls. And topics spread around book twitter really fast, but at least they’re easy enough to scroll past. It’s not that I don’t care about these things, I’m just tired. And I want to talk about books and characters and have fun with things. The thing is, as great as they are, a lot of days communities can really suck the fun out of things. And here’s where I state my privilege–I don’t have a lot of stakes in most topics floating around. I can turn things off and ignore certain topics if I choose because they don’t affect me. But it hurts me to see things that hurt my friends. And to see them even more exhausted and tired of having to deal with defending of their right to even exist, as sometimes happens. And then understanding why they choose to opt out of some online spaces, even if they’re spaces you used to love hanging out with them in and it also kind of makes you sad to see them go.

I don’t know what my point in all this is except I wish for more fun and happiness in my online communities. It’s there! But you I feel like one also has to wade through a bunch of bullshit to find it these days. The world we live in isn’t perfect by any means and some days it feels like there’s little I can do about that–sometimes everything feels very nihilistic. I’m increasingly escaping the cacophony by burying my head in a book and I’m not sure that’s the best approach to dealing with this is by, well, not dealing with it.

What can we do as part of an online community? I don’t know. Find your people. Love them. Be kind. Be positive. When you have to take a break, take a break. Don’t let the internet sap all your energy. Remember we’re all human (except for me, I’m actually three cats in a trench coat). Talk about things that bring you joy. Talk about things that frustrate you too. Be yourself. Be genuine. Because even though online communities feel pretty crap these days, I’ve still found my people and I think these spaces are worth having. And if you want to talk about books, I’m here, ready and willing to chat.

How do you deal with the exhaustion that comes with being involved in online communities these days? Or is being exhausted just a me thing? How do we make our spaces more welcoming and fun to participate in? Leave a note in the comments, I’d love to discuss.

34 thoughts on “The Comfort and Exhaustion of Online Spaces – A Dichotomy in Five Part Harmony

  1. Susy's Cozy World says:

    Oh my, this was such an interesting post! And I really found myself in your words. Sometimes I take long breaks from the community and all things internet related, because the mix between the real life and the persistent negativity online is sometimes too much for me. So sometimes it is necessary, to me, taking the distances, even if I miss talking books’ things…

    • waytoofantasy says:

      Thank you! Yeah, there’s just…so much negativity. I just want happiness sometimes and maybe that’s a bit naive of me these days but I’m also always dealing with my own depression and the onslaught of negativity just exacerbates things sometimes. Taking a break is definitely needed now and then.

  2. nen & jen says:

    I completely agree that sometimes the more negative side of the internet can be exhausting. Despite you claiming this to be a ‘ramble’ it really resonated with me and described so many of the same feelings that I’ve experienced at times. Great post Lisa!

  3. Mir says:

    Very interesting. Social media has given a voice to a lot of people but some sees the power of hiding behind a screen. It’s so easy to be nasty and negative on social media and I wish more would go with the principal that if you wouldn’t say it to a person’s face then don’t say it at all. I stay as far away from drama on there. I’m not on all platforms but Twitter seems to be the one where there is new drama every week in the book community. I mostly hang out in Facebook groups and have built a little community of book lovers there with some friends I met online.

    • waytoofantasy says:

      I see a lot of drama on twitter but I also don’t go into the replies that much because that’s where all the nasty trolls are. Seeing that stuff makes me feel really sad about…humans lol. I feel the same way, if you wouldn’t say something to someone’s face then don’t do it online. I think any group can be good if you fill it with good folks. Once it’s public things get out of control pretty fast.

  4. Tammy says:

    Great discussion, Lisa. I admit I’m more of a social media lurker than a participant. It’s my introvert nature, I guess. But some of the things I see on Twitter are shocking. I feel like there are combative people who spend all their free time looking for fights. And I guess Twitter is a good place to find other people who are easy to stir up. As for reddit, I’ve never used it, and from what I’ve heard it’s one of the more toxic places to hang out.

    • waytoofantasy says:

      I’m a weird introvert extrovert lol. Online I’m very extroverted but in person totally an introvert in every way. Twitter can be a trash fire just as much as reddit but at least on Twitter you can choose who to follow and what kinds of things to avoid in your timeline, reddit isn’t like that. I love my reddit community (r/fantasy) but it’s increasingly tough to moderate and I admit I haven’t been a super active moderator lately in part because it seems like people post things they know will be controversial and it stirs up trolls and there are just so many nasty people, you get rid of one and ten more appear it’s like a hydra and feels never ending sometimes and it takes it’s toll having to see that side of humanity, even if you’re one of the people mopping things up so that others have a nice place to hang out.

  5. sophrilreads says:

    Some of the drama that I have seen lately just seems petty and I find it draining. I have to wonder if it’s seen as publicity to them because good or bad you now know their name. Is it so bad to just want a place to be able to talk to people and just enjoy the conversation. Sorry I’m rambling.

    • waytoofantasy says:

      Don’t apologize! I feel the same way. Some people have legit grievance and that’s fine. And then there are people that just like to attach themselves to drama and keep stirring things up. Then there are people who stir shit up for the sake of stirring it up just because they want attention and that’s annoying too. The internet is a wild place.

  6. Realms of My Mind says:

    Thanks for taking the time to write this Lisa, it’s very thoughtful! One of my bigger frustrations with the Twitter space lately is the way that sometimes we take one tweet one person says and then spend a full 24 hours debating it. I’m just…can we look at that person’s opinion, go “that’s nice” and move on with our lives? Some of these “incidents” aren’t even a thing until we make it one. Yes, there are totally times to call out a person. But I get exhausted watching one statement under 240 characters be dissected for hours after I stopped caring. Could we go back to gushing about books now?

    • waytoofantasy says:

      Oh I feel ya, it’s not even just 24 hours anymore, I’ve seen the latest debate rage for 3 days, and it was such a…idk…non-thing. Like…just let it go, everything that can possibly be said about it has been said! Yes, most of the time I just want to gush about books. That’s why I’m here! Lol. 🙂

  7. Mogsy @ BiblioSanctum says:

    How do I deal with the exhaustion that comes with being involved in online communities? I stay away from them, haha! Well, a few years ago, it was a conscious choice, but nowadays it’s more of a necessity because of work. Because I work from home online I just have to switch off all social media or else it will be a temptation/distraction. But yeah, I hear ya. I’ve noticed a shift since the 2016 election, like people I used to follow who aren’t political at all are now spewing vitriol and retweeting news and snark almost daily and it’s like ugh, I came here for a break from real life, not to be hit in the face with more of it. And maybe it’s related to that overall atmosphere of frustration, but people are definitely nastier now on the internet than ever before. Lots of trolls and folks just venting their anger, I suspect. And I’m sure some just enjoy the attention, or take some perverse satisfaction from crapping over everyone with their misery and dragging them down simply because they can. It’s shitty, but when I see that stuff online, I try remind myself that 99% of these people probably wouldn’t behave the same way in real life or say the things they do if they were face to face with the person, it’s just the anonymity of the internet bringing out the worst in them, and folks are generally still civil deep down 🙂

    • waytoofantasy says:

      I’d like to believe that too but then Facebook lol. I don’t go on there much anymore, got too much to see people who were family and friends spewing so much hatred and disregard for their fellow humans. At a low point before I stopped browsing so much I ended up unfriending one of my cousins because she basically told people who believed something different than her to go die and I was like ‘really fucking nice byyyyeee’ and haven’t talked to her or my aunt since. So like even though they are nice in person, and have always been great to me, they honestly have a lot of hate in their hearts and I didn’t want to be around that anymore. Social media can either be really fake or show the truth of people. :/
      But yeah, I think it’s best to not get caught up in it. Stepping away from Facebook helped a lot.

  8. @lynnsbooks says:

    Great discussion post. To be honest, I’m an ostrich (maybe in a trench coat too). I stick my head in the sand and/or run for the hills. Not very helpful I realise but I think I’m kind of introverted and I can’t face the thought of having some sort of huge argument on twitter and being trolled. Sometimes I read what’s going on and I just think ‘please stop, this won’t end well’. But even saying something like that would probably incur some sort of backlash. Basically, I don’t want the negativity, I would overthink everything and it would prey on my mind so I make a conscious decision to not become involved. I stick with my blogger friends and simply chat about books which is my comfort zone and makes me happy.
    Lynn 😀

  9. maddalena@spaceandsorcery says:

    Reading your thoughtful post made me realize that having little time to spend online might be more of a blessing than a curse: what little space I can devote to my online interests is mostly spent on the blogosphere, and more precisely in the book-lovers “realms”, which means I only meet nice people – because being a book-lover makes one automatically nice 😉
    The expansion of fast-social-media (IMHO the internet equivalent of fast food) brought to the surface the worst of humanity, as you correctly pointed out, because it’s easy to throw a rock in the pond and then to observe the ripples from the anonymous safety of a computer screen. Distancing oneself from the more toxic environments is probably the best option: if people could avoid being drawn into those pointless, acidic discussions, there would progressively be less fuel to feed the fires, and maybe – just maybe – the air could become a little fresher…
    Here’s to hope 😌

    • waytoofantasy says:

      Yeah it’s a lot easier to avoid drama if you stick to blogs and also your circle of peeps.
      The fast food analogy is on point!
      I wish people would resist being pulled in more but I think it’s just one aspect of human nature, unfortunately. But maybe! You never know.

  10. Zezee says:

    “escaping the cacophony by burying my head in a book” << yea, I def do that sometimes although my interactions social media sites aren't much. I use Facebook and that's the one I avoid sometimes because the things people post sometimes are filled with too much negativity so I turn away from it.
    I avoid Twitter. I only post my blog posts or links to articles there and that's about it. I can't keep up with the chatter there and don't want to.
    Instagram is the platform I prefer but that's because I've carved a cocoon of photos of books and National Geographic excursions and animals there.

    • waytoofantasy says:

      Yeah I have cut waaaaay back on Facebook, there’s just too much negativity and it’s easier to just cut back then getting angry and unfriending everyone that irritates me in fit of rage lol. I’m friends with a lot of good peeps on twitter but there’s still endless drama. I do my best to avoid it or not get caught up in it too much. For whatever reason I’ve never gotten super into insta! I don’t know why. I used to be into tumblr several years ago but the drama there was super crazy so I split and haven’t looked back lol.

  11. Sarah says:

    Interesting discussion topic!! I’m actually mostly a silent observer in many of those things (that gal with the popcorn over there). I found my tribe in blogging and on GoodReads. I have a Facebook and an Instagram but I’m not using them so much anymore. I find Facebook to be one of the most depressing places. My friends all seem to have “pity me” posts all the time and I sort of can’t take it. We all have bad stuff happening sometimes. What differs is how we choose to handle it. You can either take to FB to complain about it or you can get up and do something. FB is what exhausts me, and therefore I just avoid it. I realize that’s a little different from what you are referring to though.

    Twitter is so disorganized I usually can’t find those terrible hateful conversations even if I was looking for them (which I’m not). I mostly search a hashtag or like friends posts.

    So- I don’t know how to answer this other than to tell you to avoid it and only go to the places you already know to be “good”.

    • waytoofantasy says:

      Don’t get me wrong, I love some good popcorn, but things lately feel more…negative and depressing and people just dumping on each other and it’s not fun. I’m with you on the Facebook thing! Yes the ‘pity me’ thing or when you see the true colors of your friends and family based on what they’re posting–I’d rather remain in ignorance sometimes I think. I had to unfriend one of my aunts because she’s a racist and I just wasn’t going to deal with that on my timeline. I’ve been avoiding FB for the most part, just check in once in a while.

  12. dianthaa says:

    Reddit was a shitshow at the beginning of the year. I completely agree that it felt like people were just doing it on purpose. I’m very introverted so rarely get into discussions, but I still felt the exhaustion. And I see myself engaging less and less cause whatever I want to say I anxiously wonder, who will come out to argue with me about it?

    • waytoofantasy says:

      It’s just not worth arguing. Although I do encourage people to hit that report button if they feel like people are being assess, some of use mods don’t sit on threads so seeing reported comments in the queue is a huge head’s up for us. It’s really tough though, I mean just knowing that those kinds of people are out there saying such horrible things and not thinking twice it makes you wonder about humanity sometimes, at least I do… :/

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