June is the 12 year anniversary of when I created an account on metafiler (MeFi), a far-reaching influential and popular community site that collects links from the around the web. I’ve never found a better axiom that describes how I feel about the site than Jason Kottke’s entire profile text: “I hate Metafilter. I love Metafilter..”
Now comes the reflections of a MeFi troll who was excommunicated from the site 10 years ago. Fair warning: the link to his interview is laden with inside references, far too many to expound on here. The salient points of the story are of a troubled young person looking for validation from adults by acting out in public who was reigned in by being booted off the island. The interview reveals a wiser adult, with some perspective, recognizing the idea of consequences and other grown-up stuff.
Towards the end of the interview comes a particularly interesting exchange:
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.
MeFi, then as now, is not the place for random, unintelligible ramblings. Unfortunately, then as now, it does tolerate a high level of aggressive alpha-dominant behavior that you have to be willing to tolerate in order to have a conversation. If you are not prepared to discuss any topic with a “what the fuck were you thinking when you said that?” tone then MeFi will drive you batty.
Twelve years ago I was coming from a different place than today. Angrier, unhappy and acting out in ways I am embarrassed about looking back. MeFi, then as now, is a place where angry, insecure alpha people, smart and informed as they may be, are super popular and encouraged. In fact, the tone is so prevalent that willful hostility in their discussion style is regularly rationalized out of existence.
In the case of the young troll, MeFi served as a lesson in reformation. Unfortunately, in my case, MeFi is an enabler of behavior in me that I now see as awful – mean-spirited, purposely disrespectful, borne of a child’s insecurity.
In poker, the hardest hand to fold is the middling one because it’s promising but very risky; in relationships the hardest one to break-off is when you have a lot (but not enough) compatibility; in communities, the hardest one to walk away from is the one where you’ve learned invaluable lessons along the way, but ultimately stunts your personal growth.
So long MeFi.