Sunday, July 18, 2004

On Trolls

I never met a real troll before the internet era, though I read about them in many fairy tales. They are large lumbering creatures, looking like boulders from a distance, and quite deficient in intelligence. They eat humans by the bucketful and one of the obvious hero-tests is to outwit a troll. Why this would make you a hero I never quite understood as the trolls are dumber than a plank of wood. Maybe the tests increase in severity as one goes on: beginning with successful looping of the shoelaces and ending with trying to actually live with the princess for a lifetime? If so, the troll-test must be placed somewhere early in the curriculum.

The nice thing about troll-fighting is that all you need to do to kill them is to trick them into staying outside when the sun shines in the morning. The first rays of sun turn them into large boulders. You can verify this theory by checking how many large boulders there are!

The internet trolls are a different breed altogether. They don't even derive from the same root as the mythical trolls; their root is in the verb 'to troll' or 'to trawl'. Quite boring, really, but the internet trolls are sometimes very amusing. True, they never eat humans, but they sure give it a good try. "Die, miserable smear of shit!" is what quite a few of them type on their keyboards. Strictly speaking, all one needs to do to be given the name of a troll is to try to interfere with conversations in chatrooms or on boards or on comments threads of blogs, attempts to hex people into dying are not necessary. But they seem too tempting for those who feel very frightening and powerful at their little keyboards.

The ubiquity of trolls on the internet has made me a little bit more sceptical about the human race. It shouldn't be that hard to hold on to the usual verbal civilities, should it? That this doesn't happen very much makes me wonder about the future of an unregulated communal space. I predict empty chatrooms with the odd troll patrolling for any future victims, or perhaps chatrooms for nothing but barroom brawls. Anyone not willing to nuke it out will be ignored.

My familiarity is largely with wingnut and misogynistic trolls, and many of these serve the admirable purpose of reminding people who sit on the fence about the evil nature of some ideologies (as well as the stupidity of some of their upholders). Still, trolls do interfere with conversations and debates, and even if they don't eat humans outright, they certainly suck away some of the space and energy that could be used for better things.

What do these trolls look like, I sometimes wonder? I imagine very neat haircuts or lacquered hairdos and eyes with a fanatic glaze, perhaps fanged teeth and some type of chronical constipation. I imagine someone who doesn't have very much power in reality, someone who has a petrified ball of hatred in the pit of his or her stomach, someone who would like to be someone altogether different. Then I start to feel sorry for the poor trolls and must smack myself to get back some clarity.