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Ask HN: Why are people in real life so different?
188 points by samh748 4 months ago | hide | past | favorite | 246 comments
Aside from the trolling and otherwise immature behaviour we see in certain online communities (usually ones with a lot of very young people), I've actually observed that people in real life seem so much more complacent and uncritical compared to people online.

Maybe there's a sample bias because of the online communities I visit (like HN) and the real world that I live in, but in general, I've observed that people in real life seem overly concerned about keeping things "harmonious", with all the small-talk, the lack of real listening, talking past each other, not voicing differing perspectives, etc. They also seem to lack patience in various things, whether that's discussing or examining something (can't think of examples right now), and would rather "go back to their own lives". In contrast people online seem so much more generous.

I'm guessing this is partially because "being on the internet" naturally filters people. But what else is there? What's your experience with people online vs in real life? Why do you think this is the case?

On social media, thousands see your post but only a few react. They're the ones that found your post much more interesting than the average person who saw it.

In real life, only a few people hear what you say but they feel socially obligated to react in some way. So you get bland, polite reactions. They're the people that, if they'd seen your post on social media, wouldn't have replied at all.

In a nutshell: on social media, you broadcast to a huge potential audience, and your actual audience chooses you. In real life, your ideas only get to a small number of people who may not have chosen to listen to you. The interest levels of these two audiences are naturally very different.

> On social media, thousands see your post

That's either wildly optimistic, or most people spend a lot more time building up their online persona than I do.

How many do you think read this reply? At least that many, I'd wager.

that is actually an interesting question. it would be nice to see some statistics of how many people viewed the discussions, like the number of comments and upvotes.

maybe dang could give us an idea about the average number of views related to number of comments and votes.

is it 10 to one? 100 to 1? is it a similar factor for most stories? actually, i don't think it's linear because higher upvoted stories have a higher likelihood of being read because some of us use tools to only see stories with a high vote threshold

Perhaps related - The 1% Rule: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/1%25_rule?wprov=sfla1

> In Internet culture, the 1% rule is a general rule of thumb pertaining to participation in an internet community, stating that only 1% of the users of a website add content, while the other 99% of the participants only lurk.

It would be nice if this could be quantified...given such a distribution is readily determinable and given websites already collect so much data anyway.

It can be, and is - but generally consider trade secrets and not disclosed.

I feel like that would bias things, but it would be interesting to see once a thread “dies.” It’d even be easy to do just parsing access logs and adding a number in a db. That’d help handle the scale, assuming we are seeing mostly-cached pages here.

i actually wondered about the effect it would have.

good idea to only do it after discussion is closed.

TikTok, Reddit, Hacker News. These are all social media where your posts has a good chance of being seen by thousands of people.

Facebook and Instagram, not so much unless one does exactly like you say, building a following.

I don't know what TikTok is but Reddit and Hacker News are not "social media", they are just discussion forums.

Not all online communities are social media. The key feature of social media is that you chose WHO to follow instead of WHAT to follow. That's the part that makes it "social", because you create a graph of social connections as a fundamental part of being a user of the site. This is, not incidentally, what makes social media extremely attractive to advertisers.

It’s gonna depend on your definition of social media.

For me Reddit, HN and TikTok are all social media.

And I think https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Social_media supports my view at least in part, of these sites as such:

> Social media are interactive digital channels that facilitate the creation and sharing of information, ideas, interests, and other forms of expression through virtual communities and networks.


> Social media are interactive Web 2.0 Internet-based applications.

Yes I think so.

> User-generated content—such as text posts or comments, digital photos or videos, and data generated through all online interactions—is the lifeblood of social media.

Definitely true of all three.

> Users create service-specific profiles for the website or app that are designed and maintained by the social media organization.


> Social media helps the development of online social networks by connecting a user's profile with those of other individuals or groups.

Also true IMO.

But how would you know? Typically you don't see the number of views, you only see the replies.

You can see the impression count on Twitter, and typically it's much, much greater than the number of replies or other interactions.

I'm a small persona, but for me the order of magnitude is wrong but the sentiment is correct I think. Generally the times I notice I get feedback, it's may be when I get seen by >100 people generally by interacting with popular posts vs. my "mutuals" who are just dozens if that at a time, and it's usually crickets or <5 likes for spicy things. It's definitely selection bias for outspoken / opinionated people who care about a topic.

This is actually an excellent point, a self-evident one which I hadn't really considered before.

There is a vast chasm of difference between online micro-communities (eg, I'm a regular in a couple Twitch channels with 10-20 viewers) and the average large subreddit, and this is one key reason why.

For in-person discussions, we should probably factor in the nature and depth of the relationship.

For example, if I'm just chatting with someone at the park, I don't expect them to welcome a serious critique of views they espouse.

But if I've known that person for a long time, and we're invested in each other, then I'm more likely to challenge or at least discuss touchy matters.

Internet discussions, depending on the forum, tend to be somewhere in the middle. Being in a particular forum signals that people want to discuss certain topics. And anonymity allows a certain boldness, but it also means greater risk of being misunderstood or being treated uncharitably.

There's also the fact that when you're online there's a zero risk of being punched in the face when you say something the other person is likely to find unpleasant.

It's dehumanization. We use that word in a bad way most of the time but in the case of online discussions, it's quite normal. Like I know that you're a real person and you know that I am a real person; however, when were talking online that fact can get ignored by our brains.

It goes from "I'm talking to a person" to "I'm responding to brabel". In a physical conversation it's impossible to achieve the same level of "dehumanization" because you're staring at the person.

That's my Sunday couch quarterback explanation.

>"I'm responding to brabel"

More like you are responding to a graffiti he has left on this website. Just like people draw (often stupid) messages on the walls of public toilets.

But you’re discussing topics and sometimes bringing data or links to resources that are impossible in real life. Oral language conveys an extremely poor density of actual information, compared to a book for example - that’s why politicians win using oral language.

Reading online is like reading in a book: You can learn a lot, on topics where you’d need to travel 1000km to find the first expert.

Unfortunately, writing online isn’t made with the same dedication as writing a book: We don’t spend time collecting proof and links and quotes and performing regressions and meta-analysis before presenting our results. But HN rules entice people to do that, and people doing it was the strength of HN until ~2010.

If that’s what one calls depersonification, I’d argue that an engineering book is very depersonated too, and it’s its strength. No emotions, just raw information all the time.

Also in real conversation it's unlikely that one just adds a quick comment and leaves.

Online you may also be communicating with GPT3

It seems like a lot of internet internet comments think physical violence is a near unthinkable action to respond to non physical violence with and a lot of others think most people are a couple sentence exchange away from getting punched in the face.

I think with a few sentences it is often going to be possible to convince someone to punch you in the face.

I know a few people who can easily be pushed to violence but, speaking personally and for most people I know, there's no words for which I would punch someone.

I was going to say it's mostly about the threat of physical violence (or lack thereof.)

Equal parts "non-zero threat of physical escalation" and "empathy triggered by proximity to another human."

It's hard to stare into someone else's eyes and feel... nothing.

It's pretty easy to look at text on the screen and forget the person on the other end is like you.

it is lack (or significantly lower risk) of pretty much any threat. In real life people with different opinions are punished in many ways, not just physical (is anything i'd say the pure physical punishment is frequently not the main concern). Being anonymous online (or hard to reach in some other way, like say residing abroad) allows at least some freedom of speech.

The idea that there are folks who believe that people with differing opinions should be punished that I find disturbing.

i would not go that far. just the risk of putting you into a grumpy mood is deterrent enough. who wants to sit next to a grumpy person for the rest of dinner for example?

I’d argue even more than physical violence, irl you risk making yourself a total pariah a lot more.

but online the relationship has the reverse effect.

if i know someone in person, or at least have developed a deeper online relationship (through remote collaboration for example) i am going to treat time like i would in person, whereas if i don't know them as i don't know you it becomes much easier to say "you are wrong!" because i don't have to fear your negative reaction. as you say here, anonymity allows for a certain boldness

i occasionally find my self starting a comment on hn with "that's wrong" but once i write the actual explanation i realize that i can make my point without that aggressive lead, so i remove it. and then i go over the text and see where i can reduce the boldness without weakening my argument, for example by prefacing statements with i feel or i believe or i understand instead of stating them as absolutes or indisputable facts.

but this is usually a second editing step that i have to consciously think about. though maybe after doing it often enough, it can become a habit or second nature to my writing

The difference is danger. The internet, when you are safe and sound in your home saying what ever shit you want with close to zero chance of getting punched in the face for it. Talking to someone on the street is different, you mouth off and there is a high chance you will get beaten, thus we are more polite.

This is 2 dogs interacting but my thoughts are that it is similiar. In this metaphore the internet is the gate.


i don't know where you live, and maybe the wild west was like that, but in the rest of the civilized world, physical violence is rather frowned upon, so the risk for it to happen unexpectedly is really quite low, unless i am talking to someone who is already unhinged. otherwise we would have to have had a serious argument that escalated to a shouting match before physical violence becomes even remotely a risk factor.

as they like to say in china: don't start a fight, if you loose you go to the hospital, if you win, you go to prison

as i stated nearby, just the risk of changing your mood because i disagree with you, as this comment might do, is deterrent enough to have me try to make my point in a more friendly way.

this comment is intentionally snarky, because i feel the idea of physical violence as a risk just doesn't fit into my understanding of the world.

> i feel the idea of physical violence as a risk just doesn't fit into my understanding of the world.

If you don't purposely act as a rude and offensive person in real life you probably wouldn't encounter violence. If you are the type of person who levels insults and slurs, argues about religion or politics, or makes accusations of misconduct, you may encounter violence. As a rule, "upper class" people have codes of politeness and don't do these things, but it's not necessarily so for others.

that is a weird perspective, if i may say so. i don't think rudeness has anything to do with class. there are plenty of polite and friendly people as well as rude people everywhere.

The “and“ is important. Rudeness alone is rarely enough to provoke violence. Perceptions of what is acceptable vary quite a bit across class and culture as well.

sorry, lazy typing, i really meant both as you said it. and i still disagree. yes, there are differences, culturally and maybe even class wise, but not in a way that they can be generalized, at least not until you get to a very local focus.

As a very logical person who developed social intelligence much later in life. One very surprising thing I noticed, unthinkable to my younger self, is that many people only engage with people they are interested in.

If upon initial judgement and they find you not interesting, they basically tune you out, and won't attempt to find out what interesting things you have to say.

> If upon initial judgement and they find you not interesting, they basically tune you out, and won't attempt to find out what interesting things you have to say.

if they find you not interesting then why would they hang around? They've already made the decision. To them, you'll have nothing interesting to say ever.

> if they find you not interesting then why would they hang around?

I currently have the issue of appearing interesting, but not actually being so in reality. It’s shocking how many people approach me these fast, but for the most party anything will fall apart outside highly casual acquaintances.

On the other side, you only need to be really interesting once, or at most a few times. After they judge you attention-worthy you can basically stay quiet and they will drive the conversation for you, speaking as if there's no tomorrow.

I addressed this a few years ago in a blog post (submitted to HN today: https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=31413840)

>Asymmetric communication is wonderful – it’s how we learn of ancient peoples, news stories from around the world, etc. But it has a major drawback, too.

>Because asymmetric communication takes less effort on the part of the communicator, they can refuse to engage with their audience in a focused fashion. Indeed, that is the benefit of being able to write: being able to reach an audience without having to focus on them while you are talking.

HN is a strongly self-selected group of people, with rules against bad-faith arguments. But you can find groups like that in real life too.

The special thing about online is that when an obscure topic comes up, someone from the 0.0001% of people with deep knowledge of that subject can chime in. That dynamic basically never happens IRL, because you need a million eyeballs.

Like, outside of NASA, where would you encounter such a cluster of people with specific knowledge as in https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=31136285 ?

> HN is a strongly self-selected group of people, with rules against bad-faith arguments

I'd love to see those rules enforced someday. There are plenty of examples of such arguments to be found here.

Please downvote or flag them.

I’ll try, but there’s no way if the core argument expresses a sentiment a large enough portion of the thread participants agree with.

I think there’s very little traditional trolling on HN (you likely won’t hardly ever see it without showdead on). The problem is when you open a thread that blatantly off topic (but it’s ok because nowadays we play really loose with submission guidelines, and use more general guidelines to invalidate more specific ones)

The problem is these make it onto the front page, and it’s just disingenuous flamewarring all the way down. You’ll never beat that.

I meant for real, Dan - like bring down the ban hammer more forcefully. Let's get serious about cleaning up this place.

I think dang is already doing an inhuman amount of work. He's easily the most active and most thoughtful moderator I've ever seen. He's a machine. Hard to imagine how things can be better than it's now unless we overhaul then entire moderation model and make it more distributed, like Slashdot (not saying that Slashdot specifically is better; it isn't) .

Dang needs to hire some of the old moderators of TeamLiquid's forum heh, that'd be interesting to see

You seem to be assuming that we don't enforce HN's rules. We do enforce the rules, but only on the posts we see. We don't see every post—there are too many.

You, or anyone, can help by flagging posts that break the site guidelines, and in egregious cases by emailing hn@ycombinator.com.

Flagging goes both ways. There's a flagged post in this account's short history where I pushed back on a transphobic comment. Now various comments up from mine and down another branch are all flagged. Transphobic and anti-transphobic comments are all flagged to oblivion.

Probably the hope is that there are more nice people than not-nice people so on the whole the not-nice comments will disappear. From that one experience though it looks like it's at least as much about who's fastest to flag.

For sure flagging goes both ways on political/ideological flamewars. How could it be otherwise? That's not what HN is for.

The thing to do with egregious comments is not to feed them by replying, but to flag them (and in particularly bad cases, to email hn@ycombinator.com to make sure we see it).


Do you maintain metrics on the ratio of flagged posts or comments to those you take action on? Or categorize why such posts are flagged/removed?

I've only ever heard you say "trust us, we do this," but I can speak from experience that I have personally flagged some posts and comments that end up remaining anyway.

This is, of course, your site and you can moderate it as you please, but the quality of participation has been falling (IMO -- yes, I'm familiar with the guidelines saying not to complain about it) and it's been turning off participants who otherwise would have very wise, informed, and useful things to say.

For example, a distinguished engineer who did a lot of seminal work in performance benchmarking while at Sun and later wrote Linux's original source control system is gone now, dissuaded by the emotional and nonsensical conversations he was getting into here. IMO his opinions and insight are at the 99th percentile of in terms value here, and this site is far worse off for the absence of people like him.

Anyway, I don't want to get into a big debate here; just wanted to give my two cents.

Flagging doesn't just alert the moderators. It can also directly kill comments. Your one flag won't do it (of course), but the idea is that you're not the only one flagging. So it's worth doing (carefully!) even if you don't believe the mods are going to follow up.

I fear that a reply like this can come across as dismissive, but you have to understand that people have been saying that the quality of HN has been falling ever since HN started 15 years ago. There's a strong bias (if not several biases combining) to feel like it's always getting worse. Since people are saying this all the time, it's hard to give much weight to a bare statement along those lines. Positive generalizations aren't that different, btw. The main thing I've learned is that everybody overgeneralizes. Most likely we're hard-wired for it.

Because of that, specific examples actually carry more weight. The case you're describing sounds like someone it is really bad for HN to lose. But I'd need to see links.

Internet forums are super weird and there are limits to what one can do about it. I wish it weren't so. The way that large online group dynamics interact with individual psychology is bizarre, and often leaves people feeling wounded and aghast (I've tried writing about this a few times, e.g. https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=23308098 or - using a somewhat melodramatic metaphor - https://hn.algolia.com/?dateRange=all&page=0&prefix=false&so...).

It's easy to imagine that the admins should just "get serious about cleaning up this place", until you realize that different users have completely contradictory images of what that would involve, most of which aren't well-defined enough to be doable in the first place. And that's not even the hard problem! The hard problem is that what people experience is the product of a small number of external datapoints and a large number of internal ones.

p.s. I don't think we have a guideline against saying that HN's quality is dropping?

> people have been saying that the quality of HN has been falling ever since HN started 15 years ago

I agree with them. I’ve been sticking with it for these 15 years, but I’m sure you’re aware of a certain site that does a pretty good job characterizing how the comments on many of the most popular stories have devolved.

> Internet forums are super weird and there are limits to what one can do about it. I wish it weren't so.

Respectfully, this is a cop-out. This is your site. You can do anything you want to make it fit your vision, from making it members-only, to making every post subject to review. I’m not trying to tell you how to run your business or anything, but to throw your hands up in the air and say (paraphrasing), “Internet forums are hard, what can you do” strikes me as forfeiting responsibility.

> different users have completely contradictory images of what that would involve,

It doesn’t matter what users think. This isn’t a democracy. This site belongs to you and its owners. How it’s run, what the rules are, and who can be a member are choices you exclusively get to make. You are responsible for its tone and character. Don’t burden the members with this responsibility without giving them the direct ability to enforce it.

> Respectfully, this is a cop-out. This is your site. You can do anything you want to make it fit your vision, from making it members-only, to making every post subject to review. I’m not trying to tell you how to run your business or anything, but to throw your hands up in the air and say (paraphrasing), “Internet forums are hard, what can you do” strikes me as forfeiting responsibility.

I would argue that the way HN is at the moment is the best fit for the vision of the people who own/run it.

The fact that everyone is "sticking" with it for over 15 years seems to suggest that whatever dang and the team are doing is "still" working.

> You can do anything you want to make it fit your vision

That is definitely not true. Sure we could make arbitrary changes, many of which could easily kill the site. But the set of changes that can be made to make HN better fit its vision is far from obvious.

> I’m sure you’re aware of a certain site that does a pretty good job characterizing how the comments on many of the most popular stories have devolved

No, what site is that?

I don’t know that the changes would “kill the site” but I think it depends on how popular you want it to continue to be. Both public fora and exclusive clubs coexist in this world. I doubt one can have a truly open forum that has the decorum/behavioral norms and intellectual rigor of an exclusive club, though.

I'm somewhat surprised you're not familiar with n-gate!

>dissuaded by the emotional and nonsensical conversations he was getting into here

If they were conversations, then he must have been contributing to the emotion and nonsense, otherwise he could have just ignored it.

I don't know who your engineer is, but in some professional forums, I have seen prima donnas leave in a huff because they just couldn't stand to be challenged and couldn't refrain from going off-topic by discussing the personality of the other person(s).

> If they were conversations, then he must have been contributing to the emotion and nonsense, otherwise he could have just ignored it.

This is the precisely the kind of crap I'm talking about that brings HN down, where commenters just assert facts with no information whatsoever.

The only fact asserted here is that conversation involves more than one party.

It's a bit of a balancing act. If you're too ban-happy you'll get an echo chamber (some would say that HN already is one) and if anything goes the trolls drive out serious participants. I think it's remarkable that the discussion here is as good as it is, compared to e.g. reddit or other forums.

There has to be a little room for jokes and sarcasm and "devil's advocacy," as that's part of how real people talk about things.

Exactly. The only people you should really be banning in an online community are repeat offenders who understand the rules and continue to disobey them in a way egregious enough to be harmful to the community.

That's a far smaller set than "people who post bad / stupid / annoying things."

It depends on your goal. If you want to make a community in which you minimize the number of people who post bad, stupid, or annoying things, you would run it differently than one where you welcome that sort of conversation.

Agressivenes in moderation (hah) can be counterproductive. Also, everyone has a bad day once in a while.

I very rarely see a bad faith argument gain any traction and not get immediately shot down here. Not to say it doesn't happen, but IME it's more common that a bad faith argument gets called out and flagged than it is that the bad faith argument gets support and stands.

Other peoples' intent is fundamentally unknowable. Labeling someone's speech as "bad-faith" is repackaging an individual's subjective dislike of certain arguments into a justification for denying everyone else the ability to evaluate that argument and make their own individual judgement.

First of all, we have to make reasonable inferences of intent all the time. Being able to do so lies at the heart of criminal law (see mens rea). We'll never be able to probe into the subjective heart of someone, but we do our best based on available evidence and tolerate the errors, while always trying to converge closer to objective truth.

There are plenty of interesting things to talk about in this world. Not all comments are worth publishing or reading; some are deemed more valuable than others. Editorial discretion is one of the distinguishing characteristics of different discussion fora. Just like you could read a different newspaper if you disagreed with the editorial bent of one, a great thing about the Internet is that you can always start your own forum if you disagree with the editorial choices of an existing forum owner. And the startup costs are a whole lot lower, too.

Which, if there is enough consensus, is generally pretty accurate and saves everyone a whole lot of brain processing. Only so many things can be evaluated and judged a day per person.

The only bad faith argument I've ever seen on HN is calling any argument you disagree with and can't refute a "bad-faith argument".

Keep in mind, many times people making bad faith arguments don’t even realize it.

I think that demonstrates that the meaning of "bad-faith" is, well, in bad faith. A correct definition of "bad faith" makes it a question of the speaker's state of mind. Not only can the speaker always judge this for himself, but he is the only one who can judge it.

The only way a speaker could fail to realize his argument is in bad faith is if that is a question not of his own state of mind but of the listener's opinion.

You clearly haven’t been reading then.

People don't feel guilt online, generally, because they either forget the person they are talking to is a vulnerable human, or they just imagine them as someone deserving of their vitriol.

However, as soon as they are sat in front of someone and are picking up on the visual clues in facial expressions and body language which make it clear that what they are saying is actually affecting a real person with feelings, almost everyone has a profound sense of empathy or guilt.

I agree with that assessment. Which means it should come as no surprise to anyone, if people are harsher online to people they literally do not know. It's not nice, but the alternative is also not very pleasant, which is real life and the constant misuse of status and lack of anonymity. Although it kind of creeped up to the internet as well.

In other words, our mirror neurons and empathy aren't made for online communication. On the Internet, we're all psychopaths.

> On the Internet, we're all psychopaths.

That might be the best one-line summary of the problems with social media I've ever seen.

Except that it's not. The concept most people don't fully understand here is that of worldview.

On the internet, people often are honest, and say what they really think. This reflects their (often divergent) beliefs about the world.

Again, in the context of meta-discussions like this, most people do not know what a belief is. For example, it does not mean only religious belief. It does not mean "a false idea that someone else has". Beliefs are actually foundational concepts and viewpoints in everyone's brain.

And the most core beliefs are generally reductionist regardless of who you are. Think about looking off into the distance. You can't have an infinite concept of what's out there so it all fades to a point.

A big part of the problem in many of these online conflicts is that the opposing parties are effectively occupying different realities. But even more difficult is that each is 100% certain theirs is the correct version. And even more difficult is the fact that as I said, they don't understand this concept of worldview or realize that no worldview is perfectly accurate. Actually most don't understand the difference between a worldview, a normal viewpoint, and a true fact about the universe.

Even more difficult is the fact that worldviews are closely linked to group identity. So much of the behavior is raw tribalism (trying to protect/promote your own group subconsciously) attached to worldviews, but the people think they are just defending true facts about the world.

They still have a point though. I have had some friends, co-workers or acquaintances who from time to time express what there are to me very outlandish opinions, but most of the time I just let them slide or jokingly counter them because I know, that in the great scheme of things it does not matter very much. Had the same opinions being expressed by some faceless person in social media I would have reacted very differently. I dont think of myself as especially different from the average user and the experience using social media reinforces that point.

Nearly. In Internet debates we're all sociopaths. People can be very empathetic online, but not when they're disagreeing about fundamental values.

But let's not pretend this is exclusively an online phenomenon. One-to-one debates can be civilised in person. But as soon as you get more than a handful of people involved there's a real possibility of violence - even if it's only ridicule and condescension.

The odds of physical violence scale quickly as the numbers increase.

> In Internet debates we're all sociopaths. People can be very empathetic online

Psychopaths can be empathetic. I had a nice discussion with a self-professed psychopath here on HN and that was my take away. Instead of feeling bad in the gut like you would if you were to insult a stranger face to face, a psychopath would learn that some actions are not OK even if it's hard to imagine the impact they're having.

Same with Internet discussions. I'll try not to be an arsehole online, but it's much harder to connect with a person through text, whereas in person I loathe the feeling of making somebody feel bad. It's a visceral emotion that's completely absent when chatting through text.

Would this apply to remote work culture?

Yes, in my experience. But the difference is somewhat diminished because even though you (mostly) don't see the people in person, you do get the benefits of a long term relationship. E.g., you get a better sense of what's safe to discuss candidly with each person, and in some cases you're invested in each other's welfare.

Yeah, I can see that. What I usually used to do when working remotely is to try to at least meet each coworkers once. Ideally, once a month to have lunch if they’re not too far away.

But, I feel like the in-person advantages far outweigh anything remote work has to offer. It’s so much better to build relationships with real physically close humans. It’s the best part of being alive I feel. Obviously YMMV, but we should acknowledge that hiding facial expressions with masks or behind internet tubes is not ideal and has major subsconcious implications for communication between humans.

One of the reasons why I love visiting Asian cities like Hanoi and Jakarta is that people are less allergic to being close to each other. Complete opposite of Sweden and some parts of US.

It could, but you don’t get a paycheck from online forums. Remembering that someone is paying you will sometimes work to curb excessive misbehavior.

The main reason is that almost all content online comes from people who are mentally ill. Commenting or creating anything online is really weird. Normal people don't do this, so you're interacting with a very different group of people on your computer than in real life.

> people in real life seem so much more complacent and uncritical compared to people online

This is just to avoid conflict. I'm sure they feel the same way internally

>The main reason is that almost all content online comes from people who are mentally ill.

I wasn’t brave enough to say this, but since you have, I want to agree. Gaming, Discord, forums, etc - filled to the brink with mentally ill individuals.

I'm glad you and the one above you said it. My addiction to discord scares me more than anything - because everyone else on there is extremely mentally ill... So why am I drawn there?

Oh no!

what "mentally ill" means in this context? like literally?

Suffering a distortion of perspective. From focus, trauma, drugs, obsession...

There’s a huge difference between having a distorted world view because of ignorance or knowledge or whatever and being clinically diagnosed with a mental illness. For example, someone that seems very self involved, a trait of immaturity and youth, isn’t the same as someone with narcissistic personality disorder as defined here: https://www.nyu.edu/gsas/dept/philo/courses/materials/Narc.P...

Never discount the power of long, intense, sustained focus to wreck your perspective.

"commenting or creating anything online is really weird"

You are commenting right now here on HN. Are you ok ? ;)


> mentally ill

What does that mean? We're all 'mentally ill' to some degree, in some situations, etc.

> almost all content online comes from people who are mentally ill

Wow! But I agree: Almost all content online comes from people, and all people are 'mentally ill' - or just normal.

This seems deeply correct. Do you have an idea why it seems half the people on Reddit and twitter are trans?


We have a word for people who live life read-only, consuming their surroundings - NPCs. Not sure who's really mentally ill in this situation.

To paraphrase the climax of the movie War Games, "In some games, an NPC is the only winning character".

The simple answer: online lacks all the visual and aural feedback mechanisms that are automatic in face-to-face interaction. That radically changes how people act.

All the social norms that have 100,000 years of biological and sociological development that are kept in-check by visual feedback from others around us are taken away online.

This also applies to things like sales - face-to-face direct sales is far more efficient and effective than doing the same by phone or online. You can close deals far higher $$ amounts face-to-face because people can "read" each other. Online works just fine for simple, low $, low risk transaction - that's Amazon's sweet spot, for instance.

I've been in high tech sales for 30 years - with early experience at HP selling test equipment with average selling price (ASP) of $20K-$1M. I'm still in that general market. The sales training you get at Fortune 20 companies addresses most of this difference both directly and indirectly. The latter in includes noticing how direct sales works and what can be sold that way vs. what can not with telephone and online sales (the risk level of $1M piece of equipment even for the largest corporations absolutely requires a lengthy face-to-face process).

face-to-face for most things but not all. I'm routinely on the phone with project presentations that involved multi-million dollar licensing agreements and then another 2 or 3x that for an implementation team. Not once have I ever done one in real life. Ironically, in a past life I did go onsite to pitch a project in front of a board. It was for a grand total of about $75k.

One thing that I have to admit, and this is a bit weird, but on deals that big by the time "orals" or the main presentation happens the decision is 90% already made in favor of one of the bidders. That kind of back room selling/negotiation i'm not a part of and may very well be face to face all the time.

That backroom selling/negotiation is where a lot of where the face to face matters. The presentation is a matter of due diligence and final reassurance more than anything else.

Any big lessons learned throughout this time? Or books / practices you would suggest? I'm trying to sell some cheap software to primarily people in one industry (ecommerce) would you suggest getting in a video call being the most effective strategy?

I do recall being at a dinner back in the '80s, where someone starting going on about how evil a MUG player was because he killed so many personae (particularly his own) and what he'd do if he ever met said person in RL.

At which point, someone else said "That's him sitting over there" pointing to a player on the opposite side of the table. Next thing it was "Wow, really pleased to meet you!".

It was a lasting lesson to me about what people say online and how they actually behave in RL (and taught me to ignore people saying they would firebomb my house if they didn't get their points back).

Unfortunately there are unstable people who get really confused between RL and what goes on in their head; the media have a field day with them.

Uncritical of what? I avoid talking about religion and politics with everyone (family, co-workers, acquaintance) for obvious reasons.

Ignoring those hot button issues, I still need to be careful not to be critical of people.

- At work I've had a co-worker nearly get fired for telling another she "doesn't know what she's talking about". He got "written up" but ended up finding a better job a short time later.

- At work I need to avoid certain words that might be viewed as a "micro aggression".

- I need to avoid offending certain family members or they'll start yelling or storm out. Some family members get super offended if you make any kind of suggestion on how they can fix a given problem.

- Around strangers I need to avoid anything that might piss someone off and have them retaliate with force. I once honked at a car for not moving during an advance green and he followed me for miles. (The guy was flashing his lights and flipping me off the whole time).

(Edit: Added line break for lists)

— Some family members get super offended if you make any kind of suggestion on how they can fix a given problem.

Some members of the species aren’t really looking for a fix when they are complaining about something but just need to vent. Life is much simpler if you simply nod and say “oh, that’s horrible”.

>Life is much simpler if you simply nod and say “oh, that’s horrible”.

that's one way to simplify things, but I'm glad that altruistic individuals who actually want to lift a finger to help still exist; albeit rare.

Yeah, that's the lesson I learned a long time ago. A lot of people interpret advice as criticism and some family members react badly to (what they consider to be) criticism.

> Some family members get super offended if you make any kind of suggestion on how they can fix a given problem

Unsolicited advice is generally offensive. If they wanted your advice on how to fix their problems they would ask you. If they don't and you go ahead anyway then you imply that you are superior to them and just come off as obnoxious.

>Unsolicited advice is generally offensive. If they wanted your advice on how to fix their problems they would ask you.

It is not generally offensive to offer a suggestion about how to solve a problem, what's offensive is abusing people time by rehearsing the same complaints over and over again while ignoring any kind of solution. If they whine constantly about a problem but never seek any way to solve it, it is just attention-seeking behavior.

>If they don't and you go ahead anyway then you imply that you are superior to them and just come off as obnoxious.

No. It implies that the person has already had the problem and solved it successfully or they have the knowledge to solve it successfully or they are trying to brainstorm what they would do.

I've generally found the interpretation you espouse to be looked upon quite favorably among engineers, and quite disliked among the general population. FYI.

Yes, although I think the set of professions that attracts fans of problem-solving is a bit larger than just engineers. I suspect many academic types (doctors, scientists, etc.) and many in construction fields (tradespeople, architects, etc.) tend to appreciate impromptu brainstorming as much as engineers. While this set doesn't constitute a majority of the general population, one might often find themselves in situations where it's a local majority more often than not, leading to a biased worldview.

There is a big difference between impromptu brainstorming on the job and turning every conversation about it into said brainstorming.

I know a lot of construction workers and lawyers (for some reason), and while lawyers like a good argument (and backstabbing) off client time, neither of the groups likes problem solving or doing the professional version outside of being paid for it. Well, except for some (usually broke) newbies anyway.

I wasn't even thinking about on the job, just the situation when someone at a party/gathering mentions a problem they're facing (personal or professional) and the recipients of this information can either limit their response to commiseration or let it expand into solving the problem. While appreciation for the latter isn't universal, I think it goes well beyond engineers.

After all it's the perception that counts.

From my experience the perception is usually rather negative. I think the reason for this is it's hard to impossible to have the full context which can include effort spent already on something as well as actual need and other information that is just not available to the other person.

I didn't want to make my post too log with details but one particular family member has a pretty over the top reaction. They'll start yelling and threaten to leave. I learned to never say things like, "you should" or "have you tried" to them. I'm good at not setting them off but my dad often has to stop my mom from giving advice or else this person will freak out.

The thing is in the online world you are at places where people expect to discuss. On top you simply don't see the people who don't discuss or comment and just spectate.

If you go to a debate club in real life you will be able to debate just as well, because everybody who is there is there to debate. Ot would be weird for someone to be there if they did not.

If you talk to some random person at work it is very likely that they just want to get shit done with as little hassle as possible. This usually does not involve debating about things endlessly.

I love a good debate. I grew up with debates in comment sections and I am of the type that you can mud-wrestle with until you realize I enjoy the thing. Yet even I don't always want to debate. Sometimes I prefer to eat my food in silence, or not talk to the guy sitting next to me on the subway.

I like debate when I am in the mood for debate. This is often, but not always and not anywhere.

It's impossible to convince most people of even the most obvious truths. The wisest path is to fake agreement, keep your thoughts for yourself and move away ASAP.

Online it seems you can get away with more honest talk without consequences. Or at least it used to. Now it's getting more like offline.

> It's impossible to convince most people of even the most obvious truths.

You should maybe ask yourself why you need to convince them.

> The wisest path is to fake agreement, keep your thoughts for yourself and move away ASAP.

That's not wise, that's dishonest to the other person and to yourself. The last part (avoiding the other person) is obviously a completely valid option, but only one of several.

That's not wise, that's dishonest to the other person and to yourself.

Yeah, you're probably right.

For some, agreement is submission and defeat, which cannot be tolerated. So word games happen.

Word games are a big thing here, in the land of words, disconnected from reality. We can argue literally anything. Black is white, up is down, desirable is undesirable, disease is health.

Thus we get a lot of bullshit.

Science is one great shovel for clearing that away.

Science is also subject to word games.

Befriending someone makes it easier to convince them of something.

Not sure why you think I want to convince anybody. The original poster asked why people seems so conformist IRL, as oppossed to online. I just explained that most people learned that being Don Quixote is dangerous.

Sure. My point is that you can do it but it takes time; social etiquette is not just a formality.

In my case, I'm able to express my opinions better while writing than talking. I had vocal and speech defects in childhood that made me a hesitant talker. Though they improved over the years, the mental inhibitions have persisted.

Another (more recent) reason for my multiple personae is that I hold some unwelcome views about politics, society, religion etc. They can result in actual physical harm or state intimidation where I live.

So not only do I have different personae in real life and virtual, but I have multiple virtual personae too for different interest areas. The anonymous ones are where I'm most open and honest.

- I think people are more likely to be polite in person (perhaps it is more obvious that retaliation might happen or perhaps it is just being socialised to different norms).

- In person, I think people are more likely to ‘fill the space’ in small groups and so the average thing that is said is low-entropy and polite whereas online (at least here) there is more of an attitude of only contributing when you have something to say and I think on average it is easier to have something to say that is critical than positive (and often there may be many unique seeming criticisms and fewer positive things even if the latter should carry more weight). In large groups where it is more likely that critical opinions may exist, I think people are just less likely to speak up in the real world.

- there may be more criticism online but that doesn’t mean the feedback is good online or in the real world. I think it’s very hard to tell apart the useful (ie good) feedback from the useless.

Loud minorities. You only notice the bad parts.

Hiding behind a pseudonym/anonymity allows people to hold back less.

You probably don't talk much to teens/children irl. You do online.

Less / no social repercussions to being a cunt.

People who are bitter and angry and troll on forums may not go outside much irl, so you don't meet them.

If you are outside the US, you get to experience the exported political polarization from the US which you may not have where you live.

>People who are bitter and angry and troll on forums may not go outside much irl, so you don't meet them.

I believe this is myth, was it even proved?

I've seen it being repeated for at least decade yet it always felt like "one quick, somewhat logically sounding explanation" but is it even real?

The people I know who go out a lot IRL tend to not be bitter and angry where I can see them anyway. But I've never seen any actual data.

I guess to gather it one would need access to a randomized subset of the populations browsing histories and forum posts. Maybe the NSA can help? (/s)

>where I can see them anyway

What does it mean - facebook/tiktok?

What if you just aren't aware of other sites/apps (discord, reddit, etc) that they do use?

Only one way to find out I imagine - tap it all! (Hence the /s)

It wouldn’t surprise me to find out a non trivial percentage of folks are flaming trolls online to work out anger or whatever they can’t IRL.

#1 skin in the game.

In person interactions can have greater immediate consequences than online actions. If someone is in your social group, you might see them again and have to deal with the consequences of actions/behavior. Positive impressions can reward you in the future.

#2 Reputation and anonymity

You can't easily reboot your IRL identity and reputation, but usually can on forums like HN

> skin in the game

Literally. If people acted IRL the way they do online, there'd be a major uptick in face punches.

Which means the internet is the better place to be for any person. The problem is usually if one side is not anonymous, then it's different, otherwise anything is fair game in regards to discussions I think, but maybe you find a good counter example.

I mostly mean things that don't have sides: like stalking behavior, death threats, flagrant proud racism, harassing victims of tragedy, etc.

Not necessarily although there are advantages. While generally taboo, physical violence does have positive effects on Curbing some Behavior

Yeah, however that is not what happens if you just let that behavior described above slide. Punching someone because they said something to you is usually wrong especially if they don't even know each other (so it can't be personal, really).

I've definitely been in a number of situations where what passes for craft and hateful online speech what get someone severely beaten oh, and I don't think that's necessarily A Bad Thing. It's not a solution to the greater problems of society, but a punch to the face or the threat thereof it certainly keeps people from verbally assaulting people in real life.

Of course there are problems with people acting as adjudge and dishing out physical punishment, but that doesn't mean that Justice isn't served in some instances

I disagree that physical violence is justified for any anonymous conversation however hateful it might be. If it is not anonymous then there are things like slander where things get more blurry, however I am not a strong proponent of vigilante justice, so I would not call it just either.

Because people don’t want physical violence and - tbh - have you ever been in a heated discussion before? Sometimes it does result in physical violence.

There’s also an aspect to online discussion where there’s a naturally slower cadence. Things can escalate very quickly offline because you’re physically there and engaged. You’re incentivized to not escalate it cause pain/damage. People escalate very quickly for no reason all the time. I’ve experienced the result of this first hand plenty - again, people are horrible at managing their emotions. Most people are not really any smarter than a three year old when it comes to managing their emotions - they just put up a big barrier to make it seem like they’re better at it. When violence is a subtext - like a dog that might bite you - you’re cautious about your approach and try to build trust before you do shit that could get you bit. Online - people face no repercussions and will escalate because no consequences.

Tbh - if there were consequences then people wouldn’t say shit as much. Some people here will point out FB/Twitter comments but I really want you to think about that - are there really any significant consequences except for celebs? For most people - their shit isn’t read and no one is going to read what they said in the past. If you change that dynamic - people will change their behavior online. If it becomes clear how many times Jim said the n-word negatively towards some folks online - he’d be socially outcasted and a loner for life. But most people just don’t know… thus Jim does not suffer and does whatever he pleases without issue.

I’ve seen this in forums with many real names attached. If you’re not going to see or be affected by someone - you just don’t give af because why should you? Being nice to your common man that you don’t know? What am I, a good person? No! Also - niceness isn’t rewarded on the Internet very often due to the prolific amount of trolls living in BFE with nothing better to do. (Know many of these people. People forget how boring most of the US is. We don’t all live in major cities with great attractions)

An online environment can tolerate a bit more conflict than in person. There's actually more time and opportunity to really talk, you can go find a group of people with X interest readily in a way you can't do in person and it's somewhat safer to be opinionated and yadda.

In person, it's hard to arrange, say, a local amateur astronomer group and have meetings once a week or once a month with telescopes someplace dark. Online, you can talk about astronomy with others who are interested and share links, tips, trade anecdotes, etc. any time of the day or night.

It's a completely different social environment and this significantly impacts how people interact, thus it impacts individual behavior either in real terms or perceived terms.

I think you'd be surprised. Try asking questions that are deeper and you'll get deeper conversations. I hate small-talk, and every conversation in real life tends to be deeper than one online. I find more people online simply wanting to point out how wrong the other person is. Hell, I do it too.

I think the most interesting comparison I've had is knowing of someone's reddit username and how they acted in real life. They were significantly different. The person in real life was kind, thoughtful, patient. Their reddit account however was filled with hate, know it all, and eager to argue.

I think the old saying of an individual is a different person at work/home/play may also extend to online too.

You have been intensely socialized to behave like a robot in person. To wear a mask and not do anything that stands out.

People expect this, so doing anything "off script" around other people makes them EXTREMELY uncomfortable. If they are strangers, they usually "filter you out", pretend they don't notice, and create distance. If they are associated with you, they will immediately begin pressuring you to stop in increasingly less subtle ways.

Everything about our social interactions is completely scripted. We are choosing between pre-approved scripts that we learned movies and shows. In our public behavior, we are literally just executing software that has been uploaded to our brains.

You mostly don't notice this because that's all you've ever known. However, if you deliberately force yourself outside the script YOU WILL NOTICE, and you will notice very, very intensely.

As a consequence, most of the "interesting" people that you meet in real life are hiding, taking on the same exterior behaviors as everyone else.

To quote a great pugilist who recently laid his hands on someone outside of the ring (and not for the first time), I think the answer is really simple:

"Social media made y'all way too comfortable with disrespecting people and not getting punched in the face for it."

A similar quote I love from Conan the Cimmerian: "Civilized men are more discourteous than savages because they know they can be impolite without having their skulls split, as a general thing."

HN is only a positive place if you agree (and see things the same way as) the current tide of active users. The good thing about HN is that they usually come and go.

IMO, seeking "harmony" sounds like a logical reaction to the toxic political activism we've experienced across the spectrum in the past decade. I find myself doing this too; why would I want to expend the emotional labor to convince people of things that matter to me? It doesn't benefit me in any way, and cathartic things like shaming aren't really healthy.

Be a good person, support the current thing.

One factor is the time of day. When I meet people I'm usually busy with work, my thoughts or trying to achieve something else than a good discussion. When I'm online I'm alone, often in the evening, I have plenty of time and space in my head to get interested in arguments, viewpoints, and the experiences of random people I don't know.

I can also use my time effectively online: thanks to the asynchronous element of internet discussions I can find topics and arguments as I please and I can also withdraw from a discussion if I see the thread is going in a direction that won't be interesting. When talking with someone it's much harder. Thus, IRL, good discussions tend to happen with good friends who I can trust to not waste my time, and during specifically allotted time slots when I'm meeting them, and we both also have to be in the mood for a serious conversation.

Online, you only see people with strong opinions, that actively decide to take part in the discussion. You don’t see the people silently scrolling by the comments. In real life (in Most Social situations), people are physically near and feel obliged to talk to others, even if they don’t really want to.

I think many things but I'd say speed of conversation is a big one. On the internet, I think we give people more time to respond than in person. An email, a few days. A HN post, a few minutes to hours. A text message, a few minutes to a few hours. In person? Often a few seconds at most. (Maybe on phone or video call as well)

I think the immediacy can make it scarier for many of us to respond.

Introduce different scenarios to get unpredictable results from people whom you may easily have prejudged as mature, critical, or patient (to use some of your own words) such as:

road rage

committee membership

sports parenting

online activity

> What's your experience with people online vs in real life?

I've seen my fair share of 'Keyboard Warriors'[0] over the years. For some reason people feel more empowered once there's a keyboard there, because hey, computers are cool, let's ride that wave.

[0] https://www.urbandictionary.com/define.php?term=Keyboard%20W...

It’s not just keyboards. People feel empowered to behave more aggressively when they are in anonymous (or perceived-to-be anonymous) situations. You see it in driving, people behave very differently behind the wheel, and their aggressiveness goes up when they’re alone in the car vs being observed by people they know.

In the limit I think this probably comes down to primate dynamics regarding in vs out-groups.

You think people feel empowered because computers are cool? I think it's more likely because of the (pseudo-)anonymity. When people are unafraid of the consequences, as there would be if you acted like a jerk in person, they're more likely to be nasty. A similar phenomenon can be observed on the road - people feel safe in their cars - hence "road rage".

I don't understand why comments so far are talking about people online being inconsiderate. I'm talking about the opposite. Was my post unclear?

If not unclear then by far unrepresentative of the internet as a whole. People on the internet are way more likely to be garbage variety drive by haters that seem to cling to mildly controversial topics like it's their sole outlet for aggression.

The only reason that civility could be retained is when there's strong representational or economic incentives to do so.

If you're on Facebook? (Wouldn't know since I've been off their stuff for years), one irrationally bad comment could have a lasting stain on your future representation. People defriend/mute you, and though it may not mean anything to you, it's definitely a negative incentive for a lot of people who attribute much too much emphasis of a snap decision a peer did out of boredom/indifference.

Secondly, economics. If you're a person accumulating weath as a function of influencer/content creator in all its many forms, you're usually a "nice" or an ass-hole persona. If you're the nice person attracting an audience around optimism, showing up to dump drama on your people will start to polarize your communities. Think of the notable people on the internet and think of those that skirt the line. There probably aren't many you can point to that are equal parts positive/pot stir.

It's the same root cause, I think: offline, you have much more context, plus intonation and body language, which lead to the expectation that you will be better understood. Online, it's hard to forget this is absent if you are not careful. The results can go either way.

Your post was clear, however I think most people disagree with your observation.

Maybe you preceive things differently than others...

I’ve found that a lot of people cannot handle reality. They’ve cultivated this bubble of positivity around them. Anything that would pierce that bubble, however minor, is met with extreme anxiety and in some cases violent behavior. This isn’t universal but very common among millennials and Gen Z.

I've found this to be very common among all generations, particularly boomers/greatest generation. Everyone has ingrained beliefs and nobody likes when those are contradicted, particularly in public and with factual points that can be hard to rebuff, at least on the spot.

There are so many things I have to be careful not to say to my parents and older relatives lest they burst a blood vessel, as well as my senior neighbors and coworkers. My peers, however, are used to hearing all sorts of things and are usually happy to discuss or debate any topic without taking things personally or as an insult to their heritage or tradition.

I think that there are always going to be generational differences, and that it isn't helpful to blame generations. Instead, we should all work to identify and solve issues rather than point to the "others" and say they are at fault.

Many reasons

- I've observed that people in real life seem overly concerned about keeping things "harmonious"

In real life, leaving is not just closing a browser tab. When you are stuck with people, you try not to make it a bad time for you and the others.

- They also seem to lack patience in various things

Same reason, it is harder to ignore people in real life

- In contrast people online seem so much more generous

People online are often in front of a larger audience, your post can be seen by dozens of people, and you want to project a positive image. Also, online, you only show what you want to show, maybe you just took the seat from an old lady on the bus, but no one is there to see it.

Online, people are different, I am different, you are different. It is simply a too different situation for people to be the same.

Most people are often busy, and tired, work, cook, clean, tidy, pension, legal stuff, health stuff, car stuff, children, pay mortgage, pay bills, family, friends, personal activities, problems... Life is complicated and bureaucratic, so not everyone has time to "examine serious things"

Then there are channels to discuss things

Your family will prefer to hear about job, children, partner, dreams, personal activities, achievements... and not about if invading Ukraine, Syria, Iraq... was a smart decision

But there are meetups, for example, where people want to discuss certain subjects, and are prepared to, I wouldn't want to discuss programming with most of my friends

> But what else is there? What's your experience with people online vs in real life? Why do you think this is the case?

People are different everywhere, work, home, family gatherings, alone, with friends, partner...

And online is the same, from real life, and on different websites

Being pseudo anonymous also help you to talk about something that otherwise you would only discuss with a person privately, or not at all, about yourself, or generally controversial

I might not share political stuff on Facebook, to avoid alienate friends that will get annoyed without context or proper discussion, a connection that was made to share mostly personal stuff, not politics. But I can go 'all in' on Reddit or Twitter or other proper channel to discuss those subjects, since I don't care about each person personal feelings and emotions since I don't know them, and either way I am just trying to get specific point across, weather I am right or wrong

If you tell your boss all your personal opinions you will probably be fired soon, or your work might be judged on personal grounds rather than professional, possibly creating a discriminatory environment

In conclusion, everyone disagrees about most things, so avoiding conflict is necessary for a healthy life. You should discuss things with people that want to hear from you about it, are prepared to handle it and give you something in return

The experience of communicating online is a very impersonal one: I type what I want to say in a square box and off it goes. I can’t hurt the feelings of my audience if I can’t even comprehend who that audience will be.

There’s also the anonymity aspect in some venues, which further removes behavioral barriers. If I can’t be blamed/identified in real life then the consequences of my online speech are null and there’s no incentive to not troll or “talk my real feelings out”.

Basically we all have a “dark” side: opinions, prejudices, and ideas that are deeply repressed by our need to conform in society. Online there’s no need to conform to anything.

People in the real world want to form personal connections; geeks think communication is about information exchange, but that's not it (usually). We are social animals, we need each other, we all greatly desire human connection.

People in the real world aren't exchanging information or socially entertaining themselves in whatever way we do online - what are we doing online? It's not about personal connections in any real sense. It's not about exchanging information - it's mostly infotainment.

What are we doing? Is there anything comparable in humanity pre-Internet?

I know some people who are absolutely harmless in person but absolute a*holes online. You often have to picture them to understand the animosity online. And this is not just in 1-1 situation, it can be in large community posts.

If you met them in person, you realise they're physically completely harmless, you could even classify them as 'weak'. This visual / physical context is everything that is lost in online communications. One perceives someone as a threat using a vector of things: online, we lose most of that frame of reference.

One overlooked element is that, online, people lack of empathy and understanding for their audience. Part of communicating effectively is your ability to see yourself through the shoes of your audience. Online, this is lost since you can't picture your audience, so you have to act like it's the lowest denominator; and explain yourself really clearly and politely in order to pass a clear message (being well understood).

Most people, especially younger people I find, completely lack the social skills of writing online to strangers. Not only they're unable to picture their audience or put themselves in the eyes of the reader, but they seem to not give a flying rat about it in the first place, leading to two very different persona: in-person, shy, quiet, reserved, and online, loud, insensitive, inconsiderate belligerent idiot.

I agree with you that a given person typically has a different personality online vs. offline.

However, I disagree with you that people are more "kumbya" in person than online.

My experience has been people are much more aggressive and mean in person. People are constantly shit-talking, passing undue judgment, road raging complete strangers. It's absolutely terrifying.

Online, I still feel there is ugliness, but I tend to find people will put together clear and reasonable arguments. Especially in communities like this one.

People who comment or make content online represent a very small minority - maybe a few percentage depending on the platform. That is decidedly not a representative sample.

I think there are two opposing differences.

For bravery and boldness:

Online, you can dip out of a conversation any time you want, so you can make bold claims and back out of defending them when you start losing. You can also sneak away, quickly look things up, refine your argument and return with everyone else having no idea that you started off talking complete bullshit. In real life, to do that you have to actually call an Uber. Whatever conversational mess you got unto, you have to sit in.

For aggression:

I think people are generally nicer online (although our perceptions of that are skewed by very stupid twitter replypersons), when they are posting in a community they want to continue to post on (and are reasonably bright.) In real life they are also nice when speaking to strangers or mild acquaintances. In both cases it is because all people know of you is what you're saying, so you don't want to scare them off. For friends and loved ones, however, you can argue abstractions much more aggressively because they know that you love them and that the subject is irrelevant to that.

So online people are bolder because they have escape hatches, but less aggressive because they want to impress. Offline people are more timid because they have to stand by what they say, but more aggressive with people they have real relationships with because they can rely on those to put that aggression into context.

At parties with people who aren't close, you get the worst of both worlds. People afraid to be bold and people afraid to offend. [edit: that's what alcohol is for, though.]

> Online, you can dip out of a conversation any time you want, so you can make bold claims and back out of defending them when you start losing.

Or you can walk away from a conversation where you have aggrivated the other person, or when the other person turns out to be a raving lunatic. Not everyone is dead set on proving themselves right or avoiding the insecurity of being wrong.

It is not easy to see the humanity of someone over the internet. In real life, we realize that 'others' are just like us and that the differences are minuscule.

Being anonymous make it easier for people to express their "true self", and there's more empathy when you actually see people you're talking with.

While this is sometimes true, I like to think the nastier elements are an emergent side effect of the medium, and not some "true self". Maybe it's an aspect that's suppressed in polite society, but not the whole personality.

I might be naive.

You're anonymous on the streets in a big city too, but people don't become their "true selves" just because of that. On the other hand, swathes of the internet are not anonymous, and that doesn't stop immaturity.

I'm not convinced by this argument.

> become their "true selves" just because of that.

Yeah, because of the danger of a physical altercation, that potential drawback is taken away while interacting online

What's the drawback of making some alt accounts/sockpuppet accounts and going harass someone you dislike? Getting an Ip ban at most I'd gather rather than getting your nose broken by a punch from someone on the street

There is little to no credible deterrence in online discussions

I'd go even farther: what's the drawback of not making some alt accounts and still doing the harassment? There will be no physical altercation. And indeed, this is what happens. Alts are used to evade bans.

Anonymity clearly is not the cause.

In real life you see a real human's body language and can see if you are upsetting them by being critical, which may make you uncomfortable and cause you to hold back.

On the Internet I can bash anyone on any topic without obvious indicators that there is a real human being on the other end of the conversation that I may be hurting.

Also this community tends to attract contrarians who believe they know better that the majority of people on many topics, for better or worse.

Text is such a low-bandwidth human-to-human interaction format, compared with f2f.

I find, for example, that folks sometimes 'read into' what I write -- something that I, in fact, did not write -- in order to bolster their own arguments. This is a form of attacking the Straw Man, and I think the low-bandwidth text format is the reason for this sort of projection.

Firstly, online communities are usually less comparable to all of your IRL social surroundings, and more comparable to special-interest conferences, festivals, or other places where many somewhat more like-minded people with a shared context meet. There's definitely a lot of self-selection going on here.

Secondly, I believe there's a flipside to many of the things that can go wrong when interacting online. Maybe if you read something without knowing the other person, and without having a ten-year history with them, and you can re-read and take time to ponder your answer, it also allows you to be more thoughtful and not let all the baggage people have with each other in the way?

In the real world, there is always a low level threat of violence that keeps people in check. People get bolder as the threat of violence approaches zero.

In the civilized world, men will not be so quick to argue fiercely with other men as the probability of a violent outcome is higher. Contrast with women, who will often verbally assault without limit, simply because they enjoy the benefits of the fact that it is not as socially acceptable for a man to pound their face in, and because other women are not as likely to resort to violence.

It is ironic that the threat of violence is necessary to keep society peaceful and civilized in a scalable way.

I don't see it as particularly ironic. It's more recognizing that violence is fundamentally part of being alive. We can look to nature and history for plentiful examples. Violence, human or otherwise, can't ever be eliminated, so the only alternative is to harness it. Various civilizations have been more or less successful at this. Without the threat of violence, the law itself is nothing more than a set of polite suggestions.

In real life you fear offending people you already know. For example I personally hate [insert company here] for multiple reasons, but I'm not going to express that in person in front of a friend or acquaintance I know who works there because it's likely irrelevant to the context under which I made a connection with that person.

There are routinely two groups of people I can speak total truth to, and those are (a) total strangers, and (b) very close friends. Online forums fall in the former category, as do random people who chat me up on trains that I know I will never see again.

Anything in-between requires some tiptoeing here and there.

I think overly confrontational people gets isolated sooner or later. There are certain times and places to talk more serious or pungent themes… like parties or sharing a beers or whatever, but not every single time you meet.

To answer this scientifically, you would need to observe the same sample of people both offline and online. If you compare conversations with people you work with or chose to socialize with to conversations between random strangers on the internet, you have a pretty clear difference between your experimental and control groups.

People communicating in person to tend to be more likely to avoid conflict and insults. (I think this is because it's easier to walk away from an online conversation, while you're stuck with someone in physical space). But in my experience, a jerk is a jerk. Online or offline.

Real time vs taking the time to think and form an argument perhaps has an effect?

My wife tells me that I'm exactly the same, on the Internet, as I am in real life.

Maybe not such a good thing, as not everybody loves me, around these parts...

But the good news is, I piss off just as many people IRL, as I do, here.

I think there’s significant sampling bias at play.

When you’re talking with someone in person, it’s probably because of some relationship you have to them (neighbors, friends, school or work relationships).

Online interactions are much more self-selecting, meaning I’d expect people in those conversations to be more passionate about the topic(s).

If someone is disinterested in a topic in real life, you get an obvious signal of their disinterest. If someone is disinterested online, they dematerialize and are replaced by an online NPC who is, on average, quite a bit more interested than the typical person.

I think one point being overlooked is that often it's harder to have deeper/more critical conversation irl without preparation since you don't really have much time between thinking and speaking, so it's easier to just go with the flow. On the other hand, in online discussion, it's possible to take time to think before speaking.

So irl I will often realize hours after a conversation that I would have disagreed with something, at which point responding likely doesn't make sense, whereas responding a few hours later is pretty normal online.

I think it's because of an ill-perception about what online forums are. They are not meant to be like real life, they are places for debate. When people debate they take stances that don't necessarily match their beliefs, and that's normal. Every online conversation is derailed because people let their emotions take over instead of remaining detached and treating it as a game. And while people can disagree impolitely, once they stand up from the table they are not going to kill each other.

I suspect that to some degree people in real life are filtering or constraining their behavior and speech. Facades of one type or another are presented to others. Being excluded from the “group” is something humans have long evolved mechanisms to avoid.

Online these limitations often fall away resulting in displays of ugliness (and occasionally vulnerability) that are the real person behind the facade, unconstrained with the need to form a relationship with some internet being or group.

The people in my real life are not like you describe and they're much more intelligent than most HN goers. I use HN and other sources for volume on-demand, not quality. i.e. I get a higher quality of discussion out of my friends, but I can't drop-in to one of those 3 minutes before my next meeting (or, like now, while I'm waiting for my parents in the Whole Foods parking lot).

This is actually my biggest reason why I like cities: friends like these are all close by.

Anonymity allows you to be freed from your inhibitions. If statements in real life were made as callously then people might fear for their employment, housing situation, family issue, schools, etc., being impacted in some manners. Those enforce boundaries that your inhibitions generally restrain you from breaking. As you get older then you are less restrained due to lack of boundaries. 2 cents.

Topics of conversation are usually different in real life. They are mundane and rarely controversial.

Online conversation topics frequently lead to heated opinions.

It isn't about the threat of physical violence, I think it has to do with replying to a broader sense that exists out there while in person you first have to build up that sense with the person you're talking to and this takes more effort and time and so necessitates different behaviours. Text is imo the main factor, if we switch to audio people behave more like in real life.

I've found exactly the opposite of your hypothesis - pretty much everyone I interact with online is (withing some small margin of error) identical in person

The difference, I've seen (and personally undergo) online vs IRL is that I have time to source and reword statements that aren't inherent in "real-time" voice communication

In an online discussion it's easy for me to voice my opinion, and deal with the consequences. People are idiots, but I don't need to let it affect me online.

If I voice my opinion in real life, and I'm with the wrong person, the situation can go South really quickly. So I shut up and be non-political IRL.

PS: I'm saying this as a progressive leftist, as well.

It's because the disincentives aren't the same. This is a stupid question, but I'd never say that to your face :)

HN is the only community in the world where you will receive positive reinforcement for being disagreeable and contrarian. That's partly because we have a high diversity here, and a norm again downvoting to express disagreement - which means there will almost always be someone around to upvote a well-researched comment.

fear / insecurities makes people different imo. not sure which environment is the one with more or less because the workings are quite complex. people irl can behave crappy due to insecurities, but lack of fear or reprecussions makes people act mean online. insecurities might make people want to look bigger online too while they might make people more timid (not in all cases?) offline.

i know people who are generally grumpy and mean irl who are really happy and friendly on their online time, and vice versa. dont think its one way or the other, as people process emotions and stuff differently. there might be generalizations you can make or feel you observe, but imo they break down into these contradictions when looking at unique individuals. perhaps a psychologist has a better answer...

There is a real world consequence if people in person act like how they act online. Anonymity makes people act like monkeys since there is no consequence. There are still people who use their real names online and act like morons but they are a minority and have low IQ.

While it is easier to be mean online, it is also easier to be nice. On the internet I like to be very lighthearted and optimistic, and I find that many people IRL do not appreciate this. Also, you can be nice to other people by helping them do something, building something, whatever, and then you can dispose of an identity easily if you get emotionally attached to it. IRL if I did one thing or another, it would make me anxious to feel obligated to keep up a reputation whose surface area just keeps growing excessively (in terms of the number of words/actions), people may rely on you or expect you to act in a particular way. With anonymity you can mitigate this.

signals. When communicating in real life i'm inundated by other signals... body language, perceived status, intelligents, gender etc.

Online, I'm arguing/conversing/telling jokes with text. there is very little other signal getting in the way. also a large degree of online conversation happens with the voice in my head. My output comes from essentially arguing with myself.

My witt it's mostly sarcy, with heavy play on words. Because thats whats its like inside my head.

My arguing a point will be transactional and I try to be logical but my love of Monty Python influences my out put fairly heavily.

etc etc. its about signal to noise, but not just for the amount of signal, but how the noise changes the pitch and perceived value of the signal.

I think there's definitely self-selection, the anonymity effect, and the fact that when people say things online they're usually in a safe place and have time to ruminate.

Mostly you just need to catch certain people at the right time to have those kinds of discussions.

When I post to HN, I'm not talking, not chatting. I'm posting. Creating a constructed statement to add to a focused discussion. If we chatted, I'm sure it would be a substantially different experience. Also, IRL, I'm not a Capitalist.

This is a great framing: the thing we call "talking" online isn't really the same thing we do when we talk to our friends (or random strangers). It's a lot closer to writing a position piece, except almost nobody writes those for fun (and yet we all love to argue on the Internet!).

They don't trust you enough to tell you what they really think. Here on HN you get a downvote. IRL, the "downvoter" may get really vindictive, and if you aren't out of his reach, socially and physically, expect some real repercussions.

Comments on HN or Reddit or many other sites with voting tend to be critical. If you agree, you’d upvote. Commenting “this” or “so true” isn’t useful, and doesn’t happen as much as people going “this is totally wrong”. Just selection bias.

> people in real life seem overly concerned about keeping things "harmonious"

“Overly” concerned… most people I’ve met that think harmonious social interactions are unnecessary ended up actually just being assholes, jerks, or weirdos.

I call bias and filtering on your side.

Online, people behave far more awful than IRL. Probably you filter this by labeling it as trolling or immature, or by selection. People IRL are more focused on "harmonizing", because there is usually a more direct consequence for bad behavior. In the worst case, it's souring your relationship with people you need to live with, which most people simply don't want. But this is not a bad thing, because being too critical can be very toxic and harmful. IRL people are more focused on stability than letting the world burn, because they don't need to experience the consequences. This on the other side has the strange effect of hyperfocused attention and opinions. People are more limited to their own filter-bubble, being very uncritical of their own bubble, but hypercritical of everything outside.

People in real life socialize for various reasons. For company, for dating, for connections, for future invitations. Deep discussions are not really conducive to any of those goals, especially in mixed company.

IRL you are in real physical danger of being physically attacked for offending someone's sensibilities. It's no wonder that people prefer to err on the side of caution if nothing else is at stake.

Anonymity often brings out the worst in some people.

In the middle of that mud we can also find honest feedback, often unfiltered and not-sugar coated.

IRL people are often too overly concerned about too many things that don't matter.

Because the internet is async, people have time to think and/or choose to be on communities to discuss issues. "Real people" actually have other things to do when you try to engage them.

In real life you have to work with what you've got and act friendly with everyone. On the internet, I can let my real self go and find people I actually like and see a future with.

Do you actually feel that there is more "real listening" happening online?

On line anonymity allows every one to act like that one dad on the sideline of his kids game cursing out the refs.

As kids, we learn and mirror behavior of our parents. Over internet we don't see our parents' behavior, so we start mirroring whatever the average behavior is used.

> "I've actually observed that people in real life seem so much more complacent and uncritical compared to people online."

Well, "Most of What You Read on the Internet is Written by Insane People" - https://old.reddit.com/r/slatestarcodex/comments/9rvroo/most... The more polite summmary at the end is: "If you consume any content on the Internet, you're mostly consuming content created by people who for some reason spend most of their time and energy creating content on the Internet. And those people clearly differ from the general population in important ways."

I read somewhere that “give people a mask and they would reveal their true self” and seems to answer my most of the questions when I find some online forum very toxic.

In real life, there are things we are told not to talk about in polite company - money, religion and politics. Besides that, “over sharing” makes people uncomfortable.

The internet in a channel into peoples' unconsciousness. That's why they talk this way.

Like talking to somebody who's talking in sleep.

Reading/browsing is a kind of trance.

I think dishonesty is a lot easier to detect online, so manipulative behaviour gets crowd-regulated quicker. Which, IMO, is good. Hacker News does it too.

the incentives are different online vs. irl.

very few folks are comfortable being the [nerd, asshole, dweeb, etc] in real life. being labeled as not nice, will exclude you from social activity.

when people go out, they just want to relax and being critical is hard work, plus many of them know they are bad, so they shy away from it.

online your words is all you have, so you have to rep yourself harder to stand out.

in the real world, your looks can get you far in both directions.

Most people are familiar with the internet dialogue as you described and don’t want to get into arguments with highly opinionated people…

The way I see it: You are different people on different media. The environment and participants might also change you like day an night.

> Maybe there's a sample bias because of the online communities I visit (like HN)

Boy, are you in for a surprise. HN is often an echo chamber.

“Social media made y'all way too comfortable with disrespecting people and not getting punched in the face for it,” Mike Tyson.

The "punch" here is metaphorical and could be any stakes that the person would be at risk of losing: social etc.

Cultures differ.

There are some cultures where direct communication and quickly exposing conflict is normal. It seems to me that they consider it impolite to waste people's time by hiding conflict. I have personally experienced this from German and Dutch people, and I believe it's also the norm in Scandinavian and Icelandic countries.

If you're experiencing a huge skew between places like Hacker News and "real life", I guess you might live in North America.

However, this isn't to say that indirect communication is useless. North America is odd because there's a tradition of valuing democratic free speech even when it's upsetting. But personal manners have become increasingly indirect - to preserve harmony, to avoid premature judgment of differing experiences, to preserve pride, to provide space for enthusiasm. These aren't always bad things either.

So, I would say, for North America in 2022, harmonious small talk isn't exactly useless - it's how you slowly gain the credibility to say more substantial things. An Oklahoman educator I follow online, who has remarkable success engaging right-wing and rural Americans to discuss science, said "Nobody cares that you know until they know that you care". This might be especially true for the North American mode.

Because we are not yet invented an ability to punch people in the face over standard TCP/IP.

Hypermotion Transfer Protocol?

It's not quite true in my observation. Many RL people are much more aggressive. Many are less.

I think people portray themselves differently in different contexts. Everyone is a caricature, but which side they emphasize depends on who's watching. Someone might be a skirt chaser among college friends, a board game freak on Instagram, and a virtue signaler on LinkedIn. It's still the same person, with the same opinions.

The other side of the coin is algorithms. I like chess memes and basically the internet will highlight all of my friends who are into chess memes. When I'm angry at anti-vaxxers, suddenly everyone else is. Whenever I complain about the drop in KFC quality, I find that everyone I know is just furious about KFC.

It's why I stopped using FB and Twitter; it's basically a warped mirror. Plus the algorithms encourage being a caricature. It's the PewDiePie effect - the difference between a gamer and a millionaire celebrity gamer is that the celebrity is always hyperactive and screaming at stuff. There's also a kind of tribal effect in play.

In my day we used to ask why people are so different online than in real life...

it's not strange at all. We are different when we are in different environments.

It is obviously online is different from offline. Usually, online brings our inner character out.

If you learn Buddhist, this is very easy to understand.

See this: https://knowyourmeme.com/memes/greater-internet-fuckwad-theo...

> The Greater Internet Fuckwad Theory (GIFT) is a postulate which asserts that normal, well-adjusted people may display psychopathic or antisocial behaviors when given both anonymity and a captive audience on the Internet

Also there is spell-check and programs that correct your grammar, so people seem well read and articulate but it's things like Grammarly that are making them seem 'Highbrow'.

Worth noting that most communication is done asynchronously meaning people have loads of time to articulate their feelings and post perfect replies, whereas in real life we have a short real-time window to articulate our thoughts.

Man in real life I might get punched. Better behave myself.

You can't get punched in the mouth on the internet.

"The nail that sticks up gets hammered down".

It's obvious. IRL, you could be beaten up.

Opening my mouth takes more effort than typing.


People are the same. I believe the confusion here is thinking that the things we type and the things we say and act in person have the same meanings, both internally and socially.

Long discussion goes here, but human language is a socially-contextual performance art which has roots in the creation and teaching of the construction of tools. Vagueness, non-verbal messaging, social signaling, and all of the other aspects of language are built in order to transfer that tool knowledge with the minimum amount of effort. To be even further reductionist, you don't have to make that spear out of the exact same rock I used as long as you get a point on the end of a sufficiently long stick. Language's inability to be precise and have millions of shades of meaning based on other things besides words is a feature, not a bug. It's an evolutionary survival trait, probably needed by any sentient creatures.

Contrast that to what we're doing now on HN: typing messages back and forth. That is not the use of human language, at least not as we understand it today. Printed text is not language. Symbolic representation of sounds has a singular, yet fundamentally different goal: the unambiguous transfer of knowledge. The closer that knowledge that we want to transfer is to the human experience, the worse printed text works for that purpose. This is why fiction can be a 12-part novel while a chemistry formula might take up one page.

So when we see text messages flying back-and-forth, it engages a different part of our brain. Continuing my simplification, when we view and interact with text, we're really looking to play some advanced video game where the correct text and replies "proves" an exact version of the world that others might not share. This is why so many online arguments end up end semantic wordplay games. It's not that people are petty, it's that we're trying to take that hominid brain system and bolt it into a logical, mathematical framework. Tech folks commonly say something like "If a implies b, and b implies c, then a implies c" Unless you use a set theory definition of a,b, and c, this can be shown to fail rather easily. [1]

tl;dr, when I type the word "dog", think of a dog, and have a conversation with my grandmother about her dog, although we want to think of the word as being the exact same thing in all three contexts, it is not. It just appears that way. That's why you think people are acting so differently. They're not. It's just different things are going on in different social/physical contexts without our realizing it.

1. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Syllogism#Syllogistic_fallacie...

It may just depend on where you live. From what ive noticed, most people have a clique and stick to it. If youre not part of their group, then you will probably never have a clue they exist. whereas online, the line between cliques are scewed, so it bleeds through.

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