Thursday, February 17, 2005

On the Psychology of the Chatrooms

I'm not a great user of the chatrooms because I'm a shy goddess. But they are interesting to visit once in a while and visiting them teaches all sorts of things about human psychology. For example, we seem to have an immense need to build gangs or groups of same-thinking individuals and then these gangs tend to oppose other gangs. This happens even in the chatrooms for the elderly! Another interesting thing is the way a chatroom responds to someone who is just plainly nasty: some oppose the person vigorously but many flatter him or her, perhaps in the hope to stay hidden from the nasty's little mean eyes.

Then there are good psychological things, too. Like the real community support that can crop up in chat rooms and the real friendships. But I tend to be more interested in the deviant and unpleasant behavior (must go and meditate on this), and one of those is the periodic explosion that happens in many chatrooms. Something is said, often something quite minor and unimportant, and suddenly open warfare erupts, things are thrown helter-skelter and at the end of the episode metaphorical dead bodies are heaped everywhere and half of the participants have stormed off in a huff. What is this all about?

I'm not sure, but I think it has something to do with our inability to avoid those we detest on the internet. In real life we tend not to invite these people to our fireside and if we meet them in the office or the street we tend to ignore them. But in a chatroom we may not be able to do this (though some systems allow you to ignore others' comments). Hence the people who grate on us keep on grating until one day it's all too much and boom!

The nice thing about blogs is that all this is less likely to happen. It's easy to avoid a blogger you hate, and it's easy to ban a commenter a blogger doesn't like.

Many other things about internet communication are psychologically fascinating, too. The absence of voices and faces, for example. Would we actually listen to the people we now do if we could hear and see them? Do we put imaginary faces on the writing styles? And if we do, how off are we in our guesses? And does it matter?