Never read the comments.

I’ve been using the internet since 1997, during an era which many historians have come to refer to as “a long-ass time ago”. Back then, the internet was a dirty, dreadful affair, where the mere act of connecting to the internet was a monumental investment of time and money. Webpages with a mere fraction of the coding of modern-day sites look minutes to load¹, and downloading anything larger than 20 MB was a full-day commitment, during which you could neither send nor receive phone calls. These were the days before Facebook, before YouTube, before Google, before the internet as we know it existed. In those days, interaction between creators and users was a wholly different experience; provided the writer left an email address, you could take the time to open up your email client, type out a letter, send it off, and hope that the dreaded MAILER DAEMON didn’t fire it back at you the next day because Oops! Turns out that person’s email address has been inactive for months. The closest analogue to the modern comments section was a thing called a Guestbook, but generally you’d only ever find these on some one’s personal page, and usually there’d only be one of them, hidden away somewhere on a completely separate part of the site as a whole. Some places had forums (then called message boards), and having your own dedicated message board was considered a big deal (though then, as now, most people just bought a vBulletin board and called it a day). Generally speaking, giving feedback, leaving comments, and interacting with creators necessitated a (relatively) significant investment on the part of the reader.

Then came the mid ’00s, as bands became broad, ons became always, and fis became wi, the internet began to take on a whole new form. Gradually, it became commonplace for all content on the internet – significant or otherwise – to leave space for comments from readers. Whether it’s a thoughtful essay on the distress of privileged classes who feel they are harmed by social change or a six-second video of a guy farting, everything and anything seems to warrant a comment section for the consuming masses. Every day, millions of people post that they just had a cheeseburger and fries for lunch on Facebook and hundreds of millions of people leave comments enumerating their thoughts and opinions on the nature of cheeseburgers and french fries. Creator-user interaction is a low-to-no effort undertaking these days, making it child’s play for any person of any walk of life to make their opinions known.

And with the advent of the ubiquitous comments section, comes a new piece of conventional wisdom: Never Read The Comments.

I see this sentence uttered most often when some one is sharing a link to a usually uplifting story about how Country Y no longer wants to kill all the gays, Municipality Z is sanctioning its first interracial marriage, or University X has overturned the expulsion of a transgender student for using the ‘wrong’ bathroom or some such. Often, these things that I hold to be “good news” are controversially so, and boy howdy are the commenters ready and willing to remind me of that fact. The people who offer me this warning are aware that any warm, fuzzy feelings I might get from the story in question are sure to be nullified as soon as I read the comments and am instantly reminded that Oh Yeah, I still live in a Kyriarchy.

The wisdom of Never Read The Comments extends beyond social justice matters, of course; any time a woman of any age uploads a video of herself in any capacity, one can be certain that a significant portion of the comments will be devoted solely to the debate of how physically attractive she is. Regardless of where a person falls on the matrix of physical appearance, reading an argument like that can be emotionally draining experience. Once an online persona gains Internet Celebrity status, suddenly every single thing they do or produce simultaneously gains and costs them legions of fans, and debates about when people and things ‘jumped the shark’ are so commonplace that I’m honestly surprised I haven’t run into a debate over when Happy Days jumped the shark². The magnitude of mundanity that people are willing to devote hours of thought and effort into debating is truly wondrous to behold, and sifting through all that nonsense is a taxing, thankless chore. And even when well-written, thoughtful comments provoke meaningful dialogue and engaging debate, one needn’t look far to find the much more plentiful white noise of “lol”s and “da fuq”s. Comment sections are, by and large, the garbage repositories of the internet.

And I fucking love them.

I don’t mean that in an ironic fashion. I genuinely love sifting through comment sections, and any time some one warns me not to read the comments, the probability of my reading the associated article skyrockets, simply because I crave those meaty, delicious comment sections that are sure to be even more tantalizing then the article to which they’re attached. I enjoy comment sections for the same reason I enjoy people-watching in public places, reading blogs and journal comics, and following people on Twitter: I love glimpsing into the everyday lives of other people.

As some one who has spent the entirety of her scholarly career in Arts and Humanities courses, it should come as a surprise to no one that I love people. My favourite kinds of games are ones that emphasize interpersonal interaction over competition. One of my secret guilty pleasures is coming up with rich, intricate backstories for bit parts in movies and TV shows, and many people are aware that every character I create for The Sims or Rock Band has contextually meaningful reasons for being in the situations I put them in. So, for me, the comments that people leave represent a glimpse into the lives of people when they are unrehearsed, unedited, just reacting to news and content off-the-cuff, as it were. Even if I don’t agree with the comments, as is often the case, I strongly believe in the value of being reminded that there are many people whose instinctive reactions to things are starkly in contrast to my own, even if such recollection may upset or even anger me. It’s healthy, because it allows me the opportunity to consider viewpoints aside from my own, and to analyze my reasons for disagreeing with them. Contrary to popular belief, I am fully open to having my mind changed, as I firmly believe that every conclusion needs to be questioned and tested, constantly, in order for progress to happen.

Furthermore, I also find a lot of enjoyment in considering the way content creators engage with their comments. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve run into a blog of some kind whose comments are universally in agreement with the author, and then find, to my complete lack of surprise, that the author prescreens comments to silence voices of dissent (I have, in the past, submitted comments to such authors calling them cowards for refusing to engage or even acknowledge opposing viewpoints. For some reason, those comments never get approved). Just the other day, I was linked to this charming blog of a world-weary 23-year-old straight white male who had a strict policy of never allowing self-described liberals and feminists to comment, because he was tired of the progressive indoctrination he was forced to endure in the educational system. This, in between naming feminism as a cultural disease, declaring women with tattoos to be of lower social value because it increases their perceived sluttiness, and endorsing that young adults get married as soon as possible because men have uncontrollable sex drives and extra-marital sex is sinful. His post about tattooed women earned him some infamy in certain feminist circles, which he initially took as affirmation of how right he was, and bragged about accordingly. I expect this sense of validation was short-lived, however, because as of writing, his blog has been made invite-only, presumably to ensure the sexual purity of his readers. You can try plugging that URL into the Internet Wayback Machine and seeing if any of his wisdom has been preserved for the ages if you’re really curious.

On the other side of that, we find Feminist Frequency‘s Anita Sarkeesian, whose proposed Women vs. Tropes video series generated so much ire and and backlash from male gamers that she was invited to give a TEDTalk on the incident. When the first Women vs. Tropes video appeared, she wisely chose to disable comments, likely out of consideration for her viewers who are genuinely interested in women’s depiction in video games who may not appreciate being inundated with threats of rape and violence directed at Sarkeesian³.

As for me, if this blog ever takes off and I become an online Content Creator of Significance, then pretty soon I might start getting comments on my posts that aren’t trying to recruit me for multi-level marketing (i.e. pyramid) schemes. And then, who knows? I can’t honestly say with any certainty that I won’t resort to measures of restriction or outright disablement of comments. I don’t see myself making this blog invitation only for the simple reason that unless I go into business with this blog (which will never happen), there’s no reason to prevent anyone from visiting it that makes sense to me. I’m not going to completely discount the possibility, but I wouldn’t bet money on it.

Now if you’ll excuse me, I’m going to go dumpster-diving in some more comment sections.

~Joselyn

¹: I am aware that ‘minutes’ may not sound like a particularly long amount of time, but to put it in perspective, next time you click on a link, don’t look at your screen again for two full minutes. Time yourself. Then you’ll understand.
²: It was when Ralph and Potsie lost the Fonz’ dog.
³: You may think that I’m promoting a double-standard here, painting one writer who was attacked for their controversial views on gender and responded accordingly as a craven fool and another as a sympathetic figure, and you’d be absolutely correct; the difference is that one of these people endorses equal representation of genders in the media and the other believes that men are basically no better than wolves and modern women destroy love.

Hello, internet! My name’s Joselyn! I exist!

I’ve had this WordPress account sitting idly for longer than I care to admit. My original idea for this blog wasn’t a very good one, and as such, I lacked any kind of motivation to actually write things and post them. So it was that this blog, in its previous incarnation, sat around patiently waiting for its creator to actually develop any kind of content for it. Luckily, pages on the internet are not sentient, feeling things, and as such this blog had an unlimited about of patience for me to get up off my ass and sit my ass down and post.

So, here I am. Writing things. And then posting them for people to see. I’m even going to post about this post on my Facebook and Twitter, so there exists some remote possibility that this might actually get read at some point! And what better way to kick off this blog than a totally self-indulgent post about my personal history?

I’m Joselyn Palmer. I’m an undergrad student at the University of Lethbridge in Alberta, Canada, pursing a B.A. in Psychology with a minor in Women and Gender Studies. I’m also the current president of the University’s PRIDE club, and active volunteer for the on-campus LGBTQ and Women’s Centres. My goal is to pursue a career in clinical psychology, with a specialization in feminist and queer counseling.

Before settling on this path of study, I cycled through a number of dreams and goals; as a child who really liked playing on her parents’ computer, I wanted to be a software developer when I was 8. At 14 I got it in my head that engineering was in my future at some point. Then, when I was 16, I wrote some fanfiction for an animated series I liked that got extremely positive reviews, so then the idea came about that I should be a writer. Of course, being a good little capitalist and very aware of fiscal responsibility, I knew that unless I got extremely lucky, making a livable career off of just writing was unlikely, so I decided I’d become a high school English teacher to supplement my writing career. So began my first attempt at college, at the local community college, where in my first year, a well-meaning education professor told me that he believed I had a tremendous amount of unresolved anger issues, that he believed would be a hindrance to my future career in teaching.

He wasn’t wrong, but that’s a topic for another day.

Then in my second year, I had an epiphany: I’d spent most of my time as a high school student eagerly anticipating the days when I wouldn’t have to go to high school anymore, and here I was, working towards a career that would have me spend every year in high school for the rest of my working life. Around this time, I got the idea of starting my own news empire, the News Broadcasting Syndicate, based on the idea of having a news source without the common editorializing, partisan bickering, and celebrity culture that infests modern news. And thus, I decided to switch programs to pursue journalism. The only trouble was that the college had sent me a letter politely informing me that they would not be considering me for re-admission in the fall and that I should wait a year before re-applying. Turns out, when you become disillusioned with your career prospects in your chosen program of study, the smart thing to do is withdraw from your courses as soon as possible, not to simply stop doing coursework, attending lectures, and writing exams altogether. Imagine my surprise!

So the journalism idea was put on hold while I worked full time to earn some money and consider my options. And let me tell you, it is incredible how quickly one year turns into five when you’re working full-time retail. Somewhere along the way, Journalism school turned into Law school in my head, and by the time I finally re-applied to school in 2010, my intention was to be a lawyer. By now, I had become moderately socially conscious, and so my field of choice was going to be civil rights. Then, right around the time I moved to Lethbridge, I reached the conclusion that I didn’t have the killer instinct necessary to be an effective lawyer, so I finally decided that clinical psychology was my true calling.

But I still like to write. So I’m still going to keep this blog. And I’ll use it to post about things that aren’t my personal history soon. I promise.

Thank you all for indulging me! This is going to be a lot of fun!
~Joselyn

Oh, and about the URL: I’m also a practicing Zen Buddhist, and I find that it informs many aspects of my life, including my participation in social justice advocacy.