People think trolls are other people: He/she is a troll, you are a feisty opponent, while I merely have strong opinions. And it’s true that some people do turn into trolls full-time, presumably while growing hair out of their ears and developing a head-under-shoulders look (or is that gonks?)
But really, we’re all just one “submit” button away from being a troll. I’m writing this meta-narrative because I was just about to write a long aggressive dismissal of a column someone had written about the “death of e-mail”. What stopped me was the following:
- It’s about the “death of e-mail” . E-mail and opinions on spam are just huge magnets for inevitable trollish arguments. Not because some people are trolls, but because the discussion is frequently heated, and definitively unbounded.
- It’s a column. Columns are supposed to elicit responses: it’s their fitness function: if a column gets a lot of responses, editors think they’re working. (I’ve never been very good at this part of columnating, to be honest. I tend to go more for the ooh-wee-ooh Criswell Predicts peer into the future. You want comments? Get a blog.)
- I have profound psychological damage from discussing e-mail and spam. After pursuing it as an intense topic of research for a year or so, I can rant for hours about it to you — even though you have done nothing to harm me. Yet. You may well do so after the fifth hour. Going after someone who says very mildly the wrong thing about e-mail (or any other topic, for that matter) is the way that those who have suffered for their knowledge take it out on those who have not.
So I just hit <delete> on my entire flame. I tell you this, because I think more people do that than you’d think. I want you to know that when you next do it, and feel that weird emptyness from having denied yourself the troll-id pleasure of going nuclear on somebody’s arse-delivered opinions, the ghosts of a billion other flames are cheering you and welcoming your flame to the blissfully quiet troll afterlife. Some things are better left unsaid.
Of course, that never stops about three hundred other people with exactly the same opinion spooging all over the Internets immediately after you. But your ascetism has been noted.