After my disagreement with parts of The Wirecutter’s headphone review, we had a heated conversation on Twitter. To many readers, it was a juicy fight. To the actual humans on both ends, it was a terrible, regrettable mess that ruined us for days, and I’m extremely sorry that it happened.
I had a long, pleasant phone conversation today with Jacqui Cheng, The Wirecutter’s editor-in-chief. In short, we both admitted to shortcomings and poor decisions, we both accepted each other’s grievances, and we’re both going to improve and communicate better.
It seems ridiculous that reviewing a bunch of headphones would bring this degree of controversy, but that wasn’t really the cause. I often speak and write with arrogance, absolutes, and generalizations that I don’t intend, and often don’t even realize I’ve done unless someone points it out. It’s probably the biggest flaw in my writing and personality, and while I’ve been trying to write (and think) with more qualifiers, fewer absolutes, and more consideration and inclusion of other viewpoints, I still have a long way to go.
Furthermore, my common move of retweeting outrageous comments to me on Twitter has more severe side effects than I usually consider. I’ve been doing that mostly as a coping mechanism to mask negativity with humor, but it’s also vengeful, and only amplifies and extends the negativity further as my followers inevitably fight back and spread the storm further. No amount of possible humor or defense is worth fanning the flames that much and causing so much additional negativity, so I won’t be doing that anymore. (If you catch me relapsing on this, please tell me.)
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As a sidenote, the barrage of negativity, guilt, and self-doubt over this in the last few days affected me strongly, and I took some time away from Twitter. It was remarkably effective at helping me restore my mind to a peaceful state, and I highly recommend trying it.
Much of the stress I felt during this is from the amount of access to me that I grant to the public. A few months ago, Howard Stern pulled back from Twitter for this reason, after being flamed ruthlessly whenever he said anything, and raised a great question on his show: Why do we give people such access to us? Why do we read what every random asshole says two seconds after we post anything?
We allow people access to us 24/7. We’re always in public, constantly checking an anonymous comment box, trying to explain ourselves to everyone, and trying to win unwinnable arguments with strangers who don’t matter in our lives at all.
Schoolchildren face a related issue. When we were kids, almost nobody was on the internet. No matter how bad you had it in school, socially, you could go home every afternoon and have a break from it for the rest of the day. Today, everyone’s on social networks and nobody ever gets a break. Kids can get harassed in school all day, go home, and continue to get harassed by the same people online all night.
The same problem affects adults. If you have an online persona and a smartphone, there is no break unless you exercise a degree of self-control that almost nobody can. Information is addictive, especially when you know that people are talking about you and you’re not seeing it.
The best you can do is stop feeding the flames and stop paying attention.
If you’re having a rough day on social media, try taking a break. A big break. Delete the Twitter app or bury it in an obscure folder. Don’t check it for 24 hours. Go longer if you can. The difference is bigger than you might assume. It’s eye-opening.
And listen to a bunch of Phish. That helps, too.
In whichever headphones you like.