Tobold's Blog
Tuesday, November 03, 2009
Getting over fear of digital rejection

CNN Tech has an interesting article about the fear of digital rejection, with people reacting strongly to seemingly trivial acts, like being defriended by somebody on Facebook. I personally once got extremely annoyed about having been kicked out of a pickup group; silly, because I knew I was the third healer they kicked out, and they never realized the "we can't seem to find a good healer" might not have been the actual problem, but hurting nevertheless.

And of course the fear of digital rejection is something that bloggers have to live with. You post this absolutely brilliant idea, and get 20 comments on how it'll never work, and that's just the polite ones. Quite often your qualification to discuss the subject is put into question, for all sorts of strange reasons. Gothie sent me a post by some science blogger who was very annoyed for having been rejected on another science site just because he didn't give his real name. While that digital rejection certainly hurt him, the reason for the rejection can point us in the right direction how to get over the fear of digital rejection: We need to realize that we are not our digital personae.

My passport doesn't say "Tobold", technically "Tobold" doesn't exist. There is me, a flesh and blood real human, with a real life, who chose to create the "Tobold" persona for my writing about MMO games and other subjects. The decision to use an online persona and hiding my real name has consequences on the amount of trust other people put into "Tobold". Somebody using his real name on the internet for MMO blogging (Raph Koster, Dr. Richard Bartle) or being known both under a pseudonym PLUS his real name (Scott "Lum the Mad" Jennings, Brian "Psychochild" Green) automatically evokes more trust. In the other direction, somebody commenting on my blog as "Anonymous", is less trusted than somebody always using the same pseudonym. Trust is simply based on an impression of knowing somebody. I know him well, I trust him. No, he is a stranger, I don't trust him.

On the internet most of this "knowing" each other is an illusion. You don't know me, we never met, and you wouldn't recognize my face if you saw me (I admit, that photo ID in the upper right corner of the blog is fake too :) ). You might trust me because you think you know me, because you read my blog for a long time, and thus know some of my beliefs and preferences. But my evil "I am Gevlon" joke this year was a perfect demonstration on how easily that trust is shattered. In a perfect world the validity of any argument I make in a blog post does not depend on who I am. But because people's brains process information based on how trusted the source of the information is, suddenly the illusion of knowing me matters a lot.

Once you apply a reality check to your online relations, you'll realize that you don't know many of your online friends all that well. At best you'll have an accurate picture of some aspect of somebody, like if you read all my blog, you'd get a pretty good idea how I think about MMORPGs. At worst the hot avatar you were cybering turns out to be a fat, middle-aged guy.

As we don't really know each other if we only meet online, the digital rejection is also never more than partial, and often based on partial or even incorrect information. People jump to conclusions, often wrong ones, and then react on that false conclusion with rejection. I can easily see that when I moderate comments: I regularly get negative comments based on the commenters conclusion that I'm either a fanboi or hater of this or that game, when in fact I'm neither, I see good and bad in every game. If somebody doesn't know me, and obviously doesn't understand what I'm saying, why should I feel disappointed about his digital rejection of me? In fact people threatening to "unsubscribe" from my blog always make me chuckle.

But I admit that this isn't always that easy. The sting of rejection is felt accutely by most people, even if on closer inspection the relationship that was rejected was far from being a close one. Only the most anti-social among us are immune, or at least pretend to be so. Probably our brains are hardwired for social interactions which are very different from the online social interactions we experience nowadays. Rejection by your Neanderthal tribe was a big thing, and could affect your survival. Being defriended by a friend of a friend on Facebook isn't. We just need to adjust to the new reality.
A big part of me is my thoughts. I put my real thoughts into internet relations aswell that is why it hurts when I get rejected.

I do not know you but I would still read your blog if you wrote them anonymous. Trust is not the reason i read your blog. You only have the value of your words.

You can get to know a part of someone over the internet but people tend to change themselves to what they want or need when they are online.

There are levels of rejection and getting kiked from a pug should not hurt too much but getting kicked from a guild you were with for 2 years should.
I think you don't quite have it there, Tobold. Everyone has a different impression when it comes to separating themselves and their internet persona. Some are hyper-close to it, have no problem giving their real name or any details about their life, and some find that a HORRIBLE thought and choose to remain nearly completely anonymous. Most of us fall into the bell-curve middle.

Saying "you need to step back and not take it so personally" is something that...well, someone like you would say, as you fall more towards the latter than the former. But I don't think it is necessarily the "right" response. It's the same thing trolls tend to use an excuse for their behavior. It's also a reason used to excuse otherwise normal people to behave poorly. In fact, I would say that this issue is probably the number one source of grief. The people who wear less anonymity take things more seriously for obvious reasons than those with more and so there is a tension between them.
This reminds me of Marty McFly's character flaw in the Back to the Future trilogy: He's constantly goaded into doing stupid things by Biff & his gang by calling him "chicken". But at the end of the trilogy he finally realizes how he's being manipulated and allows himself to ignore their opinion. And because this happens in movieland, karma hits instantly and he avoids the accident that would have cost him his future.
As I've mentioned before, I use a pseudonym because my given name is rather common. There are a lot of other "Brian Green"s out there, and even quite a few in game development. My MobyGames profile used to list games from about 3 different people as far as I could tell.

I think the duality is useful. As I wrote in a blog post about duality, it's useful to separate out the two sides of my life. Anyone who calls me "Psychochild" offline probably only knows me from online. Anyone who calls me "Brian" online may just be trying to get on my good side unless I've chatted with them a lot before. As some people who have met me in person know, "Psychochild" doesn't act the same online as "Brian" does offline. (I'm much less of an asshole.)

It's well-known by a lot of us Internet old-timers that there seems to be a false closeness engendered by being online. I think part of it is that it's easier to get to the meat of the matter, and it's easier to pour your heart out to someone when you have the network to separate you.

At any rate, I suspect the fear of digital rejection is similar to the issue with PKers back in the bad old days. Some people feel like their character, so if someone kills their character they feel it as a personal attack. Others don't, so they don't see killing someone else as a bad thing, just part of the game.
I disagree with your premise. Rejection IS rejection, period.

Whether it's online or offline, any event can be seen as utterly trivial by one person and deeply significant to another. How many times have you seen a fleeting comment or silence pass in the flurry of conversation over a few beers in the pub,and find out a week later that something you barely noticed has led to two of your friends no longer speaking to each other?

I don't see that being online changes anything, apart from widening the opportunity to suffer the experience.
>Somebody using his real name on the internet for MMO blogging (Raph Koster, Dr. Richard Bartle) ... automatically evokes more trust

They also automatically evoke more flames, more ridicule, more mockery, more opprobrium, ...

How many times have you seen a fleeting comment or silence pass in the flurry of conversation over a few beers in the pub,and find out a week later that something you barely noticed has led to two of your friends no longer speaking to each other?
Less often than the "Sorry about what I said while drunk, I didn't mean to be so blunt" morning-after apology. But that's because people who say that still want to maintain amicable relations for one reason or another. Online, it's much less costly to burn the proverbial bridges. Even if the emotional "investment" in the relationship was the same, it's much easier to vanish into the crowd. That in turn leads to the GIFT theory and mob mentality, which is crystallized in the Anonymous motto: "Nobody's as cruel as all of us."
I think your case tobold is a bit more "unique" as you're in fact publishing a blog that has a wide audience.

In my personal case I've known people online that went on to become real world friends and I still call him by their online handles.

For me online and real world are just two sides of the same coin, you can't really know someone until you see both, and even then you'll only ever know what the person allows to show :).

So wile rejection is still partial it's still personal and as such just as hurtful.
If you posted anonymously, we'd still know your address and over time we would still learn "This is a place with good writing."

I developed a few friends through the forums and eventually played with them for a year or so. We exchanged some RL information and kept in touch outside WoW for a while even after they quit. But even then, they faded away and there's no house to knock on or friend of a friend who I Know would still be in contact.

A different pair of friends I've known longer but I don't recall asking their names. They're just avatars who I have some vague idea of having something called "real life."
Facebook is different, imo, because normally if someone "rejects" you on Facebook, it's a real person you know in a face to face, flesh and blood capacity. In most cases, someone defriending you on Facebook is just a passive aggressive way of dealing with a real life friendship.

Which is, as I've harped on before, why I hate Facebook. It's a very finely tuned manipulation tool.
I think another piece of the puzzle of online rejection being painful is that (however unconsciously) we have "crafted" that persona - either to be very close to ourselves or specifically seperate from ourselves. Either way, rejection of that artifice "hurts" just as an artist takes criticism (or really, any non-intended reaction) of his/her work quite deeply.
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