Adonis Diaries

Posts Tagged ‘Jon Ronson

Out of control? Online shaming spirals

Misused or confused privilege of freedom of expressions?

“Living in America puts us in a bit of a bubble when it comes to what is going on in the Third World. I was making of fun of that bubble.”

Are the ideologues winning on social platforms?

In the early days of Twitter, it was like a place of radical de-shaming.

People would admit shameful secrets about themselves, and other people would say, “Oh my God, I’m exactly the same.”

Voiceless people realized that they had a voice, and it was powerful and eloquent.

If a newspaper ran some racist or homophobic column, we realized we could do something about it. We could get them.

We could hit them with a weapon that we understood but they didn’t — a social media shaming.

Advertisers would withdraw their advertising. When powerful people misused their privilege, we were going to get them.

This was like the democratization of justice. Hierarchies were being leveled out. We were going to do things better.

Patsy Z and TEDxSKE shared a link.

1:01 Soon after that, a disgraced pop science writer called Jonah Lehrer he’d been caught plagiarizing and faking quotes, and he was drenched in shame and regret, he told me. And he had the opportunity to publicly apologize at a foundation lunch.

This was going to be the most important speech of his life. Maybe it would win him some salvation. He knew before he arrived that the foundation was going to be live-streaming his event, but what he didn’t know until he turned up, was that they’d erected a giant screen Twitter feed right next to his head. (Laughter) Another one in a monitor screen in his eye line.

I don’t think the foundation did this because they were monstrous. I think they were clueless: I think this was a unique moment when the beautiful naivety of Twitter was hitting the increasingly horrific reality.

And here were some of the Tweets that were cascading into his eye line, as he was trying to apologize:

 “Jonah Lehrer, boring us into forgiving him.” (Laughter)

And, “Jonah Lehrer has not proven that he is capable of feeling shame.”

That one must have been written by the best psychiatrist ever, to know that about such a tiny figure behind a lectern.

And, “Jonah Lehrer is just a frigging sociopath.”

That last word is a very human thing to do, to dehumanize the people we hurt.

It’s because we want to destroy people but not feel bad about it.

Imagine if this was an actual court, and the accused was in the dark, begging for another chance, and the jury was yelling out, “Bored! Sociopath!”

You know, when we watch courtroom dramas, we tend to identify with the kind-hearted defense attorney, but give us the power, and we become like hanging judges.

Power shifts fast.

We were getting Jonah because he was perceived to have misused his privilege, but Jonah was on the floor then, and we were still kicking, and congratulating ourselves for punching up.

And it began to feel weird and empty when there wasn’t a powerful person who had misused their privilege that we could get.

A day without a shaming began to feel like a day picking fingernails and treading water.

Let me tell you a story.

It’s about a woman called Justine Sacco.

She was a PR woman from New York with 170 Twitter followers, and she’d Tweet little acerbic jokes to them, like this one on a plane from New York to London: [Weird German Dude: You’re in first class. It’s 2014. Get some deodorant.”

-Inner monologue as inhale BO. Thank god for pharmaceuticals.]

So Justine chuckled to herself, and pressed send, and got no replies, and felt that sad feeling that we all feel when the Internet doesn’t congratulate us for being funny. (Laughter)

Black silence when the Internet doesn’t talk back.

And then she got to Heathrow, and she had a little time to spare before her final leg, so she thought up another funny little acerbic joke:

[Going to Africa. Hope I don’t get AIDS. Just kidding. I’m white!]

And she chuckled to herself, pressed send, got on the plane, got no replies, turned off her phone, fell asleep, woke up 11 hours later, turned on her phone while the plane was taxiing on the runway, and straightaway there was a message from somebody that she hadn’t spoken to since high school, that said, “I am so sorry to see what’s happening to you.”

And then another message from a best friend, “You need to call me right now. You are the worldwide number one trending topic on Twitter.” (Laughter)

What had happened is that one of her 170 followers had sent the Tweet to a Gawker journalist, and he retweeted it to his 15,000 followers: [And now, a funny holiday joke from IAC’s PR boss] And then it was like a bolt of lightning.

A few weeks later, I talked to the Gawker journalist. I emailed him and asked him how it felt, and he said, “It felt delicious.” And then he said, “But I’m sure she’s fine.”

But she wasn’t fine, because while she slept, Twitter took control of her life and dismantled it piece by piece.

First there were the philanthropists: [If @JustineSacco’s unfortunate words … bother you, join me in supporting @CARE’s work in Africa.] [In light of … disgusting, racist tweet, I’m donating to @care today]

Then came the beyond horrified: [… no words for that horribly disgusting racist as fuck tweet from Justine Sacco. I am beyond horrified.]

Was anybody on Twitter that night? A few of you.

Did Justine’s joke overwhelm your Twitter feed the way it did mine? It did mine, and I thought what everybody thought that night, which was, “Wow, somebody’s screwed! Somebody’s life is about to get terrible!”

And I sat up in my bed, and I put the pillow behind my head, and then I thought, I’m not entirely sure that joke was intended to be racist.

Maybe instead of gleefully flaunting her privilege, she was mocking the gleeful flaunting of privilege.

There’s a comedy tradition of this, like South Park or Colbert or Randy Newman.

Maybe Justine Sacco’s crime was not being as good at it as Randy Newman. In fact, when I met Justine a couple of weeks later in a bar, she was just crushed, and I asked her to explain the joke, and she said, “Living in America puts us in a bit of a bubble when it comes to what is going on in the Third World. I was making of fun of that bubble.”

You know, another woman on Twitter that night, a New Statesman writer Helen Lewis, she reviewed my book on public shaming and wrote that she Tweeted that night, “I’m not sure that her joke was intended to be racist,” and she said straightaway she got a fury of Tweets saying, “Well, you’re just a privileged bitch, too.” And so to her shame, she wrote, she shut up and watched as Justine’s life got torn apart.

6:56 It started to get darker: [Everyone go report this cunt @JustineSacco] Then came the calls for her to be fired. [Good luck with the job hunt in the new year. #GettingFired] Thousands of people around the world decided it was their duty to get her fired. [@JustineSacco last tweet of your career. #SorryNotSorry Corporations got involved, hoping to sell their products on the back of Justine’s annihilation: [Next time you plan to tweet something stupid before you take off, make sure you are getting on a @Gogo flight!] (Laughter)

A lot of companies were making good money that night.

You know, Justine’s name was normally Googled 40 times a month. That month, between December the 20th and the end of December, her name was Googled 1,220,000 times.

And one Internet economist told me that that meant that Google made somewhere between 120,000 dollars and 468,000 dollars from Justine’s annihilation, whereas those of us doing the actual shaming — we got nothing. (Laughter) We were like unpaid shaming interns for Google. (Laughter)

And then came the trolls: [I’m actually kind of hoping Justine Sacco gets aids? lol] Somebody else on that wrote, Somebody HIV-positive should rape this bitch and then we’ll find out if her skin color protects her from AIDS.”

And that person got a free pass.

Nobody went after that person. We were all so excited about destroying Justine, and our shaming brains are so simple-minded, that we couldn’t also handle destroying somebody who was inappropriately destroying Justine.

Justine was really uniting a lot of disparate groups that night, from philanthropists to “rape the bitch.” [@JustineSacco I hope you get fired! You demented bitch… Just let the world know you’re planning to ride bare back while in Africa.]

Women always have it worse than men.

When a man gets shamed, it’s, “I’m going to get you fired.” When a woman gets shamed, it’s, “I’m going to get you fired and raped and cut out your uterus.”

And then Justine’s employers got involved: [IAC on @JustineSacco tweet: This is an outrageous, offensive comment. Employee in question currently unreachable on an intl flight.] And that’s when the anger turned to excitement: [All I want for Christmas is to see @JustineSacco’s face when her plane lands and she checks her inbox/voicemail. #fired] [Oh man, @justinesacco is going to have the most painful phone-turning-on moment ever when her plane lands.]

[We are about to watch this @JustineSacco bitch get fired. In REAL time. Before she even KNOWS she’s getting fired.] What we had was a delightful narrative arc. We knew something that Justine didn’t. Can you think of anything less judicial than this?

Justine was asleep on a plane and unable to explain herself, and her inability was a huge part of the hilarity. On Twitter that night, we were like toddlers crawling towards a gun. Somebody worked out exactly which plane she was on, so they linked to a flight tracker website. [British Airways Flight 43 On-time – arrives in 1 hour 34 minutes]

A hashtag began trending worldwide: # hasJustineLandedYet? [It is kinda wild to see someone self-destruct without them even being aware of it. #hasJustineLandedYet] [Seriously. I just want to go home to go to bed, but everyone at the bar is SO into #HasJustineLandedYet. Can’t look away. Can’t leave.] [#HasJustineLandedYet may be the best thing to happen to my Friday night.]

[Is no one in Cape Town going to the airport to tweet her arrival? Come on, twitter! I’d like pictures] And guess what? Yes there was. [@JustineSacco HAS in fact landed at Cape Town international. And if you want to know what it looks like to discover that you’ve just been torn to shreds because of a misconstrued liberal joke, not by trolls, but by nice people like us, this is what it looks like: [… She’s decided to wear sunnies as a disguise.]

So why did we do it? I think some people were genuinely upset, but I think for other people, it’s because Twitter is basically a mutual approval machine.

We surround ourselves with people who feel the same way we do, and we approve each other, and that’s a really good feeling. And if somebody gets in the way, we screen them out. And do you know what that’s the opposite of? It’s the opposite of democracy.

We wanted to show that we cared about people dying of AIDS in Africa. Our desire to be seen to be compassionate is what led us to commit this profoundly un-compassionate act. As Meghan O’Gieblyn wrote in the Boston Review, “This isn’t social justice. It’s a cathartic alternative.”

For the past three years, I’ve been going around the world meeting people like Justine Sacco — and believe me, there’s a lot of people like Justine Sacco. There’s more every day. And we want to think they’re fine, but they’re not fine. The people I met were mangled.

They talked to me about depression, and anxiety and insomnia and suicidal thoughts. One woman I talked to, who also told a joke that landed badly, she stayed home for a year and a half. Before that, she worked with adults with learning difficulties, and was apparently really good at her job.

11:54 Justine was fired, of course, because social media demanded it. But it was worse than that. She was losing herself. She was waking up in the middle of the night, forgetting who she was. She was got because she was perceived to have misused her privilege. And of course, that’s a much better thing to get people for than the things we used to get people for, like having children out of wedlock.

But the phrase “misuse of privilege” is becoming a free pass to tear apart pretty much anybody we choose to. It’s becoming a devalued term, and it’s making us lose our capacity for empathy and for distinguishing between serious and unserious transgressions.

Justine had 170 Twitter followers, and so to make it work, she had to be fictionalized. Word got around that she was the daughter the mining billionaire Desmond Sacco. [Let us not be fooled by #JustineSacco her father is a SA mining billionaire. She’s not sorry. And neither is her father.] I thought that was true about Justine, until I met her at a bar, and I asked her about her billionaire father, and she said, “My father sells carpets.”

I think back on the early days of Twitter, when people would admit shameful secrets about themselves, and other people would say, “Oh my God, I’m exactly the same.” These days, the hunt is on for people’s shameful secrets. You can lead a good, ethical life, but some bad phraseology in a Tweet can overwhelm it all, become a clue to your secret inner evil.

Maybe there’s two types of people in the world: those people who favor humans over ideology, and those people who favor ideology over humans.

I favor humans over ideology, but right now, the ideologues are winning, and they’re creating a stage for constant artificial high dramas where everybody’s either a magnificent hero or a sickening villain, even though we know that’s not true about our fellow humans.

What’s true is that we are clever and stupid; what’s true is that we’re grey areas. The great thing about social media was how it gave a voice to voiceless people, but we’re now creating a surveillance society, where the smartest way to survive is to go back to being voiceless.

Let’s not do that.

Bruno Giussani Don’t go away. What strikes me about Justine’s story is also the fact that if you Google her name today, this story covers the first 100 pages of Google results — there is nothing else about her.

In your book, you mention another story of another victim who actually got taken on by a reputation management firm, and by creating blogs and posting nice, innocuous stories about her love for cats and holidays and stuff, managed to get the story off the first couple pages of Google results, but it didn’t last long. A couple of weeks later, they started creeping back up to the top result. Is this a totally lost battle?

Jon Ronson:  I think the very best thing we can do, if you see a kind of unfair or an ambiguous shaming, is to speak up, because I think the worst thing that happened to Justine was that nobody supported her — like, everyone was against her, and that is profoundly traumatizing, to be told by tens of thousands of people that you need to get out.

But if a shaming happens and there’s a babble of voices, like in a democracy, where people are discussing it, I think that’s much less damaging. So I think that’s the way forward, but it’s hard, because if you do stand up for somebody, it’s incredibly unpleasant.

15:34 BG: So let’s talk about your experience, because you stood up by writing this book. By the way, it’s mandatory reading for everybody, okay? You stood up because the book actually puts the spotlight on shamers. And I assume you didn’t only have friendly reactions on Twitter.

15:48 JR: It didn’t go down that well with some people. (Laughter) I mean, you don’t want to just concentrate — because lots of people understood, and were really nice about the book.

But yeah, for 30 years I’ve been writing stories about abuses of power, and when I say the powerful people over there in the military, or in the pharmaceutical industry, everybody applauds me. As soon as I say, “We are the powerful people abusing our power now,” I get people saying, “Well you must be a racist too.”

BG: So the other night — yesterday — we were at dinner, and there were two discussions going on. On one side you were talking with people around the table — and that was a nice, constructive discussion. On the other, every time you turned to your phone, there is this deluge of insults.

JR: Yeah. This happened last night. We had like a TED dinner last night. We were chatting and it was lovely and nice, and I decided to check Twitter. Somebody said, “You are a white supremacist.” And then I went back and had a nice conversation with somebody, and then I went back to Twitter, somebody said my very existence made the world a worse place.

My friend Adam Curtis says that maybe the Internet is like a John Carpenter movie from the 1980s, when eventually everyone will start screaming at each other and shooting each other, and then eventually everybody would flee to somewhere safer, and I’m starting to think of that as a really nice option.

Out of control? Online shaming spirals

In the early days of Twitter, it was like a place of radical de-shaming.

People would admit shameful secrets about themselves, and other people would say, “Oh my God, I’m exactly the same.” Voiceless people realized that they had a voice, and it was powerful and eloquent.

If a newspaper ran some racist or homophobic column, we realized we could do something about it. We could get them.

We could hit them with a weapon that we understood but they didn’t — a social media shaming.

Advertisers would withdraw their advertising. When powerful people misused their privilege, we were going to get them.

This was like the democratization of justice. Hierarchies were being leveled out. We were going to do things better.

Patsy Z and TEDxSKE shared a link.
Twitter gives a voice to the voiceless, a way to speak up and hit back at perceived injustice.
But sometimes, says Jon Ronson, things go too far.
In a jaw-dropping story of how one un-funny tweet ruined a woman’s life and career, Ronson shows…
ted.com|By Jon Ronson

1:01 Soon after that, a disgraced pop science writer called Jonah Lehrer he’d been caught plagiarizing and faking quotes, and he was drenched in shame and regret, he told me. And he had the opportunity to publicly apologize at a foundation lunch.

This was going to be the most important speech of his life. Maybe it would win him some salvation. He knew before he arrived that the foundation was going to be live-streaming his event, but what he didn’t know until he turned up, was that they’d erected a giant screen Twitter feed right next to his head. (Laughter) Another one in a monitor screen in his eye line.

I don’t think the foundation did this because they were monstrous. I think they were clueless: I think this was a unique moment when the beautiful naivety of Twitter was hitting the increasingly horrific reality.

And here were some of the Tweets that were cascading into his eye line, as he was trying to apologize:

 “Jonah Lehrer, boring us into forgiving him.” (Laughter)

And, “Jonah Lehrer has not proven that he is capable of feeling shame.”

That one must have been written by the best psychiatrist ever, to know that about such a tiny figure behind a lectern.

And, “Jonah Lehrer is just a frigging sociopath.”

That last word is a very human thing to do, to dehumanize the people we hurt.

It’s because we want to destroy people but not feel bad about it.

Imagine if this was an actual court, and the accused was in the dark, begging for another chance, and the jury was yelling out, “Bored! Sociopath!”

You know, when we watch courtroom dramas, we tend to identify with the kind-hearted defense attorney, but give us the power, and we become like hanging judges.

Power shifts fast.

We were getting Jonah because he was perceived to have misused his privilege, but Jonah was on the floor then, and we were still kicking, and congratulating ourselves for punching up.

And it began to feel weird and empty when there wasn’t a powerful person who had misused their privilege that we could get. A day without a shaming began to feel like a day picking fingernails and treading water.

Let me tell you a story.

It’s about a woman called Justine Sacco.

She was a PR woman from New York with 170 Twitter followers, and she’d Tweet little acerbic jokes to them, like this one on a plane from New York to London: [Weird German Dude: You’re in first class. It’s 2014. Get some deodorant.”

-Inner monologue as inhale BO. Thank god for pharmaceuticals.]

So Justine chuckled to herself, and pressed send, and got no replies, and felt that sad feeling that we all feel when the Internet doesn’t congratulate us for being funny. (Laughter)

Black silence when the Internet doesn’t talk back. And then she got to Heathrow, and she had a little time to spare before her final leg, so she thought up another funny little acerbic joke:

[Going to Africa. Hope I don’t get AIDS. Just kidding. I’m white!]

And she chuckled to herself, pressed send, got on the plane, got no replies, turned off her phone, fell asleep, woke up 11 hours later, turned on her phone while the plane was taxiing on the runway, and straightaway there was a message from somebody that she hadn’t spoken to since high school, that said, “I am so sorry to see what’s happening to you.”

And then another message from a best friend, “You need to call me right now. You are the worldwide number one trending topic on Twitter.” (Laughter)

What had happened is that one of her 170 followers had sent the Tweet to a Gawker journalist, and he retweeted it to his 15,000 followers: [And now, a funny holiday joke from IAC’s PR boss] And then it was like a bolt of lightning.

A few weeks later, I talked to the Gawker journalist. I emailed him and asked him how it felt, and he said, “It felt delicious.” And then he said, “But I’m sure she’s fine.”

But she wasn’t fine, because while she slept, Twitter took control of her life and dismantled it piece by piece.

First there were the philanthropists: [If @JustineSacco’s unfortunate words … bother you, join me in supporting @CARE’s work in Africa.] [In light of … disgusting, racist tweet, I’m donating to @care today]

Then came the beyond horrified: [… no words for that horribly disgusting racist as fuck tweet from Justine Sacco. I am beyond horrified.]

Was anybody on Twitter that night? A few of you.

Did Justine’s joke overwhelm your Twitter feed the way it did mine? It did mine, and I thought what everybody thought that night, which was, “Wow, somebody’s screwed! Somebody’s life is about to get terrible!”

And I sat up in my bed, and I put the pillow behind my head, and then I thought, I’m not entirely sure that joke was intended to be racist.

Maybe instead of gleefully flaunting her privilege, she was mocking the gleeful flaunting of privilege. There’s a comedy tradition of this, like South Park or Colbert or Randy Newman.

Maybe Justine Sacco’s crime was not being as good at it as Randy Newman. In fact, when I met Justine a couple of weeks later in a bar, she was just crushed, and I asked her to explain the joke, and she said, “Living in America puts us in a bit of a bubble when it comes to what is going on in the Third World. I was making of fun of that bubble.”

You know, another woman on Twitter that night, a New Statesman writer Helen Lewis, she reviewed my book on public shaming and wrote that she Tweeted that night, “I’m not sure that her joke was intended to be racist,” and she said straightaway she got a fury of Tweets saying, “Well, you’re just a privileged bitch, too.” And so to her shame, she wrote, she shut up and watched as Justine’s life got torn apart.

6:56 It started to get darker: [Everyone go report this cunt @JustineSacco]

Then came the calls for her to be fired.

[Good luck with the job hunt in the new year. #GettingFired] Thousands of people around the world decided it was their duty to get her fired. [@JustineSacco last tweet of your career. #SorryNotSorry Corporations got involved, hoping to sell their products on the back of Justine’s annihilation: [Next time you plan to tweet something stupid before you take off, make sure you are getting on a @Gogo flight!] (Laughter)

A lot of companies were making good money that night. You know, Justine’s name was normally Googled 40 times a month. That month, between December the 20th and the end of December, her name was Googled 1,220,000 times.

And one Internet economist told me that that meant that Google made somewhere between 120,000 dollars and 468,000 dollars from Justine’s annihilation, whereas those of us doing the actual shaming — we got nothing. We were like unpaid shaming interns for Google. (Laughter)

And then came the trolls: [I’m actually kind of hoping Justine Sacco gets aids? lol] Somebody else on that wrote, “Somebody HIV-positive should rape this bitch and then we’ll find out if her skin color protects her from AIDS.”

And that person got a free pass. Nobody went after that person.

We were all so excited about destroying Justine, and our shaming brains are so simple-minded, that we couldn’t also handle destroying somebody who was inappropriately destroying Justine. Justine was really uniting a lot of disparate groups that night, from philanthropists to “rape the bitch.” [@JustineSacco I hope you get fired! You demented bitch… Just let the world know you’re planning to ride bare back while in Africa.]

Women always have it worse than men.

When a man gets shamed, it’s, “I’m going to get you fired.” When a woman gets shamed, it’s, “I’m going to get you fired and raped and cut out your uterus.”

9:00 And then Justine’s employers got involved: [IAC on @JustineSacco tweet: This is an outrageous, offensive comment. Employee in question currently unreachable on an intl flight.] And that’s when the anger turned to excitement: [All I want for Christmas is to see @JustineSacco’s face when her plane lands and she checks her inbox/voicemail. #fired] [Oh man, @justinesacco is going to have the most painful phone-turning-on moment ever when her plane lands.] [We are about to watch this @JustineSacco bitch get fired.

In REAL time. Before she even KNOWS she’s getting fired.] What we had was a delightful narrative arc.

We knew something that Justine didn’t. Can you think of anything less judicial than this? Justine was asleep on a plane and unable to explain herself, and her inability was a huge part of the hilarity.

On Twitter that night, we were like toddlers crawling towards a gun. Somebody worked out exactly which plane she was on, so they linked to a flight tracker website. [British Airways Flight 43 On-time – arrives in 1 hour 34 minutes] A hashtag began trending worldwide: # hasJustineLandedYet? [It is kinda wild to see someone self-destruct without them even being aware of it. #hasJustineLandedYet]

[Seriously. I just want to go home to go to bed, but everyone at the bar is SO into #HasJustineLandedYet. Can’t look away. Can’t leave.] [#HasJustineLandedYet may be the best thing to happen to my Friday night.]

[Is no one in Cape Town going to the airport to tweet her arrival? Come on, twitter! I’d like pictures] And guess what? Yes there was. [@JustineSacco HAS in fact landed at Cape Town international. And if you want to know what it looks like to discover that you’ve just been torn to shreds because of a misconstrued liberal joke, not by trolls, but by nice people like us, this is what it looks like: [… She’s decided to wear sunnies as a disguise.]

So why did we do it?

I think some people were genuinely upset, but I think for other people, it’s because Twitter is basically a mutual approval machine. We surround ourselves with people who feel the same way we do, and we approve each other, and that’s a really good feeling. And if somebody gets in the way, we screen them out.

And do you know what that’s the opposite of? It’s the opposite of democracy.

We wanted to show that we cared about people dying of AIDS in Africa. Our desire to be seen to be compassionate is what led us to commit this profoundly un-compassionate act.

As Meghan O’Gieblyn wrote in the Boston Review, “This isn’t social justice. It’s a cathartic alternative.”

For the past 3 years, I’ve been going around the world meeting people like Justine Sacco — and believe me, there’s a lot of people like Justine Sacco. There’s more every day.

And we want to think they’re fine, but they’re not fine. The people I met were mangled. They talked to me about depression, and anxiety and insomnia and suicidal thoughts.

One woman I talked to, who also told a joke that landed badly, she stayed home for a year and a half. Before that, she worked with adults with learning difficulties, and was apparently really good at her job.

Justine was fired, of course, because social media demanded it. But it was worse than that. She was losing herself. She was waking up in the middle of the night, forgetting who she was. She was got because she was perceived to have misused her privilege.

And of course, that’s a much better thing to get people for than the things we used to get people for, like having children out of wedlock. But the phrase “misuse of privilege” is becoming a free pass to tear apart pretty much anybody we choose to. It’s becoming a devalued term, and it’s making us lose our capacity for empathy and for distinguishing between serious and unserious transgressions.

Justine had 170 Twitter followers, and so to make it work, she had to be fictionalized. Word got around that she was the daughter the mining billionaire Desmond Sacco. [Let us not be fooled by #JustineSacco her father is a SA mining billionaire. She’s not sorry. And neither is her father.] I thought that was true about Justine, until I met her at a bar, and I asked her about her billionaire father, and she said, “My father sells carpets.”

12:58 And I think back on the early days of Twitter, when people would admit shameful secrets about themselves, and other people would say, “Oh my God, I’m exactly the same.”

These days, the hunt is on for people’s shameful secrets. You can lead a good, ethical life, but some bad phraseology in a Tweet can overwhelm it all, become a clue to your secret inner evil.

Maybe there’s two types of people in the world:

those people who favor humans over ideology, and those people who favor ideology over humans.

I favor humans over ideology, but right now, the ideologues are winning, and they’re creating a stage for constant artificial high dramas where everybody’s either a magnificent hero or a sickening villain, even though we know that’s not true about our fellow humans.

What’s true is that we are clever and stupid; what’s true is that we’re grey areas.

The great thing about social media was how it gave a voice to voiceless people, but we’re now creating a surveillance society, where the smartest way to survive is to go back to being voiceless.

Bruno Giussani: Don’t go away. What strikes me about Justine’s story is also the fact that if you Google her name today, this story covers the first 100 pages of Google results there is nothing else about her.

In your book, you mention another story of another victim who actually got taken on by a reputation management firm, and by creating blogs and posting nice, innocuous stories about her love for cats and holidays and stuff, managed to get the story off the first couple pages of Google results, but it didn’t last long. A couple of weeks later, they started creeping back up to the top result. Is this a totally lost battle?

Jon Ronson: You know, I think the very best thing we can do, if you see a kind of unfair or an ambiguous shaming, is to speak up, because I think the worst thing that happened to Justine was that nobody supported her — like, everyone was against her, and that is profoundly traumatizing, to be told by tens of thousands of people that you need to get out.

But if a shaming happens and there’s a babble of voices, like in a democracy, where people are discussing it, I think that’s much less damaging. So I think that’s the way forward, but it’s hard, because if you do stand up for somebody, it’s incredibly unpleasant.

BG: So let’s talk about your experience, because you stood up by writing this book. By the way, it’s mandatory reading for everybody, okay? You stood up because the book actually puts the spotlight on shamers. And I assume you didn’t only have friendly reactions on Twitter.

JR: It didn’t go down that well with some people. (Laughter) I mean, you don’t want to just concentrate — because lots of people understood, and were really nice about the book.

But yeah, for 30 years I’ve been writing stories about abuses of power, and when I say the powerful people over there in the military, or in the pharmaceutical industry, everybody applauds me. As soon as I say, “We are the powerful people abusing our power now,” I get people saying, “Well you must be a racist too.”

BG: So the other night — yesterday — we were at dinner, and there were two discussions going on. On one side you were talking with people around the table — and that was a nice, constructive discussion. On the other, every time you turned to your phone, there is this deluge of insults.

 JR: Yeah. This happened last night. We had like a TED dinner last night. We were chatting and it was lovely and nice, and I decided to check Twitter. Somebody said, “You are a white supremacist.”

And then I went back and had a nice conversation with somebody, and then I went back to Twitter, somebody said my very existence made the world a worse place.

My friend Adam Curtis says that maybe the Internet is like a John Carpenter movie from the 1980s, when eventually everyone will start screaming at each other and shooting each other, and then eventually everybody would flee to somewhere safer, and I’m starting to think of that as a really nice option.

Vulnerability, shame, guilt, regret, introvert…All in one session of discussion

I attended the weekly TEDxSKE salon in Awkar (Lebanon) and Patsy showed 3 TED speakers on various topics such as vulnerability, shame, gilt, regret, introvert, extrovert, ambivert or “neutralvert”, memoriless conditions…and I was very outspoken.

Topic One: On Regret

Is there many kinds of regrets?  Are the difference in magnitude or there are qualitative types of regrets?

The woman speaker started with a personal type of regret

At the age of 29, she decided to have a tattoo, a compass design on her upper left arm, on the premise that she already knew her north direction (what she waned in life…). After the tattoo session she broke down and started weeping and she could not sleep the night recollecting the event and going through the 3 phases of denial, recognizing that the tattoo could no longer be removed, and wondering what went wrong with her for this late decision…

Question: Do you think this kind of regret is a good way to start a long talk on regret?

Do you think if we listened to a mother who lost a child at a very young age, and she regrets her kid that the talk could be very different? Or the talk will be mostly of the feeling of shame that she was not at the level of expectation of the community for a mature mother?

Do you think that if you had a passion as a kid, and you started working on this passion and you failed, that this regret would set the stage for a different talk on regret? Anyway, is any of our passions not a recollection of passions we had as kids? Could we acquire a passion as adult if the source was not from our childhood memory?

So often you hear this statement: “I regret that I never had a passion in life...” Does this saying has any value? How can you regret something you never felt? Or maybe you knew a certain passion but felt it would sound shameful that other know about it, and much less to act on the passion?

I regret that no a single member of my family, or extended family was a public artists. I don’t remember anyone singing or daring to sing in public, or dance, or act in a play, or play the clown, or play music, or discuss freely in any topic…

Not a single member projected this daring sensation: “I dared. I am daring. I dare you to try…”  Is it possible in such condition that I could have ever learned to be sociable and feel endowed with this entitlement of negotiating with “authority figures”? I tried my best, and I failed, and I am ready to try again under appropriate cultural circumstances…

I tended during the talk not to believe that the speaker was serious or the talk is going to be of any value…

Topic Two: On Shame and vulnerability

What’s the difference between shame and guilt?  Is it the difference between “I am a mistake” and “I did make a mistake”?

Brené Brown studied vulnerability, courage, authenticity, and shame. Shame is an unspoken epidemic, the secret behind many forms of broken behavior.  Brown explored what can happen when people confront their shame head-on.

A man approached Brown and asked her: “How come I constantly feel vulnerable in front of my wife, and not thinking that I am a good enough provider?”  Brown replied: “My Ph.D. research focused on women. I have no answer for you…”  And I wonder: “If the research was not interested in the various interactions between genders, the research must be a boring and monotonous descriptive study:  The real and rich story is based on interactions...”

Actually, the main thing I retained from this exciting talk is the question of the man.  The rest seems vague and not that memorable. Still, Brown is a great talker and she managed the feat of how to make a riveting speech on “How often the terms vulnerability, guilt, and shame could be repeated to cover a 15-minute speech…?

Topic three: On Introvert and Extrovert

During the session, we were handed out a sheet of 29 questions with True or False answers, which was supposed to discriminate among the Introverts, the Extroverts, and the Ambivert.  For example, if you answered True on 16 questions and over you are an introvert, if over 16 falses you are an extorvert, otherwise you are an ambivert.

I liked the questionnaire, though Q27 didn’t make sense:”I don’t think of acquaintances as close friends“.  Is this question makes sense to you?

Or Q 7: “I tend to notice details many people don’t see”. Are designers, particularly artistic designers supposed to be invariable extroverts or introverts?

In my view, an ambivert or neutralvert is a very confused person, an intelligent person who never had the courage to invest enough time to reflect on “who he is”, his limitations, capabilities, passions, emotions…

I can completely comprehend an introvert: this is a very normal person. 

I cannot fathom how an extrovert can be or behave: He must be a nutcase at the very end of the tail, a person whom a brain surgeons in the 30’s would have lobotomized

Susan Cain talked of introvert people and how she managed to spend her girl scout summer camp…I let Jon Ronson’s The Psychopath Test tell part of my impression:

“When you’re at a party, do you suddenly feel the desperate urge to escape somewhere quiet such as a toilet cubicle and just sit there? Until I read Susan Cain’s book Quiet, I thought it was just me. I’d see other partygoers grow increasingly effervescent as the night wore on and wonder why I felt so compelled to go home.

I put it down to perhaps there not being enough iron in my diet. But it’s not just me. It’s a trait shared by introverts the world over. We feel this way because our brains are sensitive to overstimulation. I am genuinely astonished by this news.

In fact, I read much of Susan Cain’s book shaking my head in wonder and thinking: “So that’s why I’m like that! It’s because I’m an introvert! Now it’s fine for me to turn down party invitations. I never have to go to another party again!

Cain is an introvert.

Susan wrote: “It has always been private occasions that make me feel connected to the joys and sorrows of the world, often in the form of communication with writers and musicians I’ll never meet in person”.  She argues the current (western world) excessively and misguidedly respects extroverts: We make them our bosses and our political leaders. We foolishly admire their self-help books, such as How to Win Friends and Influence People.

Before the industrial revolution American self-help books extolled character. Nowadays it’s all about personality.

We introverts attempt to emulate extroverts, and the stress of not being “true to ourselves” can make us physically and mentally ill. One introvert that Cain knew spent so much of his adult life trying to adhere to the extrovert ideal he ended up catching double pneumonia. This would have been avoided if he’d spent time recharging his batteries in toilet cubicles, and so on.

At the Harvard Business School, socializing is “an extreme sport”. Extroverts are more likely to get book deals and art exhibitions than their introverted counterparts. Cain had to persuade a publisher she could conquer her stage fright and promote herself at book festivals before they agreed to take her on.

In America, extroverted parents have been known to send their introverted children to psychiatrists to have their introversion kids “treated” out of them. We think extroverts are great because they’re charismatic and chatty and self-assured, but in fact they’re comparatively narcissistic and unthoughtful and we’re committing a grave error structuring our society around their garrulous blah.

Most egregiously, we form our workplaces around the extrovert ideal.

I like Cain’s nightmare descriptions of open-plan offices where group brainstorming sessions descend on the startled introvert like flash-storms. Group-think favors the dominant extrovert. The loudest, most socially confident and quickest on their feet win the day, whereas the contemplative and quietly well-informed tend not to get a word in. School classrooms are increasingly designed to reflect this flawed environment.

Children sit in pods facing each other and are rewarded for being outgoing rather than original. “You Can’t Ask a Teacher for Help, Unless Everyone in Your Group Has the Same Question” read a sign in one New York classroom she visited. All this even though Gandhi and Rosa Parks and Steve Wozniak and JK Rowling and Eleanor Roosevelt have described themselves as introverts, at their best when solitary.

I finished Quiet a month ago and I can’t get it out of my head. It is in many ways an important book – so persuasive and timely and heartfelt it should inevitably effect change in schools and offices.

It’s also a genius idea to write a book that tells introverts – a vast proportion of the reading public – how awesome and undervalued we are.

I’m thrilled to discover that some of the personality traits I had found shameful are actually indicators that I’m amazing. It’s a Female Eunuch for anxious nerds. I’m not surprised it shot straight to the top of the New York Times bestsellers list.

Cain says introverts are “especially empatic”. We think in an “unusually complex fashion”. We prefer discussing “values and morality” to small talk about the weather. We “desire peace”. We’re “modest”. The introvert child is an “orchid – who wilts easily”, is prone to “depression, anxiety and shyness, but under the right conditions can grow strong and magnificent”.

When I get to this part I think: Yes! We are like orchids! With good parenting we can become “exceedingly kind, conscientious and successful at the things that matter to us”.

Then I feel embarrassed that I derived pleasure from being compared to an orchid and I realise that sometimes Cain succumbs to the kind of narcissistic rhetoric she eschews in extroverts.

Still, Cain’s suggestions on how to redress the balance and make the world a bit more introvert-friendly are charmingly cautious. She argues that the way forward is to create offices that have open-plan bits for the extroverts and nooks and crannies where the quiet people can be quiet. A bit like the Pixar offices.

In this, Cain reminds me of the similarly measured Jonathan Safran Foer, whose anti-meat lectures climax in a suggestion that we should try if possible to eat one or two vegetarian meals a week. Give me this kind of considered good sense over showy radical polemics any day.

But sometimes Cain’s brilliant ideas aren’t written quite so brilliantly. Her book can be a bit of a slog, not always a page turner. I wish she’d spent a bit more time adventuring and a bit less time analyzing and philosophizing and citing vast armies of psychologists.

I love feeling Cain’s pain when she journeys out of her comfort zone to “life coaching” conventions. But those adventures vanish as the book wears on, and it starts to drag on a little, especially during the many chapters about how brain scans seem to demonstrate neurological differences between extroverts and introverts.

I don’t know why popular psychology books feel so compelled these days to cite endless fMRI studies. As any neurologist will tell you, we still have very little idea about why certain bits of our brains light up under various circumstances.

And there’s a bigger nagging thought I couldn’t shake throughout the book. It began during the preface, in which Cain prints an “Are You an Introvert?” checklist. She lists 20 statements.

The more we answer “true” the more introverted we are: “I often let calls go through to voice mail. I do my best work on my own. I don’t enjoy multitasking. I seem to care less than my peers about wealth, fame and status …” At the bottom of the quiz she mentions: “If you found yourself with a roughly equal number of true and false answers, then you may be an ambivert – yes, there really is such a word.”

I do the test.

I answer “true” to exactly half the questions. Even though I’m in many ways a textbook introvert (my crushing need for “restorative niches” such as toilet cubicles is eerie) I’m actually an ambivert. I do the test on my wife. She answers true to exactly half the questions too. We’re both ambiverts. Then I do the test on my son. I don’t get to the end because to every question – “I prefer one-on-one conversations to group activities. I enjoy solitude …” – he replies: “Sometimes. It depends.” So he’s also an ambivert.

In the Ronson household we’re 100% ambivert. We ambiverts don’t get another mention in the book. Even for a writer like Cain, who is mostly admirably unafraid of grey areas, we ambiverts are too grey.

Cain’s thesis – built on the assumption that almost everyone in the world can be squeezed into one of two boxes – may topple if it turns out that loads of us are essentially ambiverts. I suspect there are a lot of ambiverts out there.” End of quote


adonis49

adonis49

adonis49

October 2020
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