Unbeknownst to most people outside the tech world, there were already very rudimentary iterations of social media as early as the 1970s. There were no likes, no content-curating algorithms. Just comments. And sometimes comments could get nasty—often over nothing important. People would try to one-up each other, make another look stupid, ruin someone’s reputation. It happened enough that it became part of the network’s culture.
The author was part of it, and had to come to terms with the fact that he teetered between total jerk and “fake-nice.” When someone said something that insinuated he was ignorant, the inner troll started coming out of its cave, setting out to destroy his accuser. He had to walk away because it became too toxic and he didn’t like what it stirred up in him.
It was the same cycle in the early 1990s when the author’s friends created an online social space called the Well, and then again with another program called Second Life some years later. Positive comments would elicit silly, fleeting satisfaction, and the negative comments—the effects of which are more easily activated and longer lasting—would activate a base-level rage that could readily escalate as the exchanges continued. The author had to quit.
In our own time, decades later, this dynamic has changed very little. We (hopefully) want to be genuinely kind, but on BUMMER platforms (“Behaviors of Users Modified, and Made into an Empire for Rent”) people vacillate frequently between savage, snarky jabs and a syrupy, artificial, diplomatic tone.
Part of the problem is that BUMMER platforms encourage a “pack” mindset rather than a “lone wolf” mindset. We each need to operate like lone wolves, not in the sense that we isolate, but in the sense that we don’t simply follow what others are doing. With packs come rivalries, both within packs and between packs, as people jockey for higher standing. Unfortunately, being a jerk is a strong currency that helps you move up the pecking order. It is no coincidence that pack leaders on BUMMER platforms are alpha jerks. It’s a structure that harms business and politics, but, paradoxically, each person acting as an autonomous individual and not waiting for signals from the herd is the most effective way for a society to function well.
BUMMER platforms are created to be addictive, and BUMMER addicts show all the signs to varying degrees—including changes in personality. Among the most common changes are:
-growing anxiety, nervousness
-becoming overly preoccupied with events and encounters that no one else considers significant
-arrogance, with a penchant for hyperbole, often as a smokescreen for insecurity
-the growth of a mythology, with self as hero at the center of the drama
-seeking out not just the dopamine hit (“likes” and other positive feedback), but the suffering that precedes the hit (anger over an incendiary comment, negative feedback on one’s post)
The BUMMER addict is quick to take offense, and may be, at least in part, seeking out an opportunity to be offended and start a fight. Aggression is also common among addicts, and we see this in social media. Responding to offense is compulsive. Victimize or be the victim. While it might be difficult to identify or be honest about these qualities in yourself, you’ve definitely seen it in others—especially in those you don’t get along with.
Donald Trump is a perfectly sobering example of how an addiction to a BUMMER platform changes a person. Twitter is his drug of choice. The author has met Trump several times over the past decades, but has noticed a definite shift in his disposition, one that became most pronounced when he hopped on Twitter. He was always a shrewd, hard-driving New York businessman, but he’s become very quick to take offense. He teases so-called snowflakes, but his own skin has never been so thin, nor has he ever seemed so eager to find an argument. He is among the most powerful in the world, but his BUMMER addiction is more powerful than he is.
It is important to remember that the world can’t be divided between trolls and non-trolls. Everyone has an “inner troll.” Even if you’re not a BUMMER addict, you’re probably becoming shades meaner the longer you stay on social media. If you feel your inner troll coming out and staying out, stay away from situations that bring it out (this holds true not just for social media, but relationships and work, too). Go to where you are kindest. If you have a hard time staying civil on social media, you are not a quitter but a winner for bowing out.