Pessimism on the internet: Response to The Bean @

A friend of mine, who blogs at Bean' Alive, wrote a post the other day about pessimism and conformity on the internet. She asked for feedback, so I decided to offer some.  And I'm cross-posting it here. Here's an excerpt, so this makes a little bit of sense, but I really recommend going to the site and reading the original post:

Having recently entered the internet culture of Tumblr, Twitter, Facebook, etc., I have noticed that a lot of posts and are pessimistic and accepting of procrastination, sluggishness and low self-esteem.


However, I do think [...] It’s perpetuating the cycle of negativity.

The cycle of negativity is something I did not realize existed until I was pulled out of it myself. I find internet culture does not help stay out of the cycle of negativity if you are not constantly aware of the potential effects of what you’re consuming may have on you.


Yes. I do think the internet has developed to the point where it has an overall mass consciousness involving morale. That morale must be cared for and used to help the world, not to spread negativity and acceptance of the constant negativity.

And, my response:


I disagree.

Well, I don't doubt your experience that there's a lot of pessimism in the social networks you participate in. Cultures and cycles of pessimism definitely exist, and you're right that they're dangerous and destructive.

The point I mainly disagree with is that the culture of the internet, overall, is pessimistic. Insofar as the internet has a culture and a morale (I think you can make the case, but I don't think it's very relevant to this discussion -- a point I will return to) I feel that its most defining morale trait is a sort of techno-utopianism, or at least absentminded revolution. (Mike Rugnetta made something like this point in his talk at this year's XOXO festival, here:

Pessimism strikes me as fundamentally inconsistent with the major functions of the internet: connection, learning, speaking out, and so on.

I think what's more relevant here, though, are the internet's subcultures, and that's where I think you'll find a lot of pessimism. The atmosphere you find on tumblr, twitter, facebook, etc. have more to do with the people you choose to connect with than the overall atmosphere of the website. You said yourself that you've got experience with a cycle of negativity -- it makes sense, then, that the communities you most immediately have access to tend to reinforce that kind of attitude.

So, there's good news and bad news.

The good news is really good: there are communities out there that have basically none of this pessimism floating around in them! And, since the internet is all about connectivity, you can totally access them! It's not necessarily easy, because communities aren't the sort of thing you can just pull off a shelf, but there are positive influences to surround yourself with on the internet.

It's also kinda good news that there's no great pessimism overhanging the whole of the internet. (If you believe me, which you may not.)

On the other hand, that's kinda bad news, too, because it means that pessimism isn't one big problem that, with a sufficient burst of effort, can be vanquished off the internet forever. It's pockets of behaviors in small groups all over the place: the same, difficult problem, over and over and over and over and over. If your goal was to save the internet, it can make you feel pretty pessimistic.