The Web Monkey Speaks: Everyone Loves an A-Hole

Vernon takes on the trolls

A few days ago Fox Racing Shox announced that they’ll soon release a new plus-size suspension fork that will make sweet, springy love with all the 27+ wheels soon to hit the market in earnest. It took all of about two nanoseconds for the electric shit to hit the message board fan.

If you haven’t heard about the whole plus-size thing and are wondering why people are going ballistic, here’s a quick primer. Plus-size tires measure about three inches wide and are mounted to either 27.5 or 29er wheels. Oh, and the new plus-size tires will likely result in the widespread adoption of new rear axle and front axle standards.

WebMonkeyNegative

If I just bored you there with that last sentence, let me put it this way—the wheels, forks and frame you currently own might be “outdated” in the very, very near future.

Feces, meet fan. Fan, meet feces.

The fierce debates that immediately spilled onto cycling forums weren’t surprising at all. I was struck, however, by this one fact: the more negative the comment, the more scathing and inflammatory the criticism, the more kudos it received by other forum members. By contrast, the forum users who tried to weigh the pros and cons of the situation or who were polite to others got no love on the forums.

It’s a trend I’ve noticed for a while now: if you want to get respect for your opinions on the Internet, it truly pays to be a dick.

Cash

HATE HAS ITS REWARDS
Look, I’m not saying people shouldn’t feel like throttling someone whenever they hear about a new standard. The constant parade of new wheel-size, bottom bracket and axle standards would strain the patience of a saint. What I find unsettling is both the sheer volume of nastiness on message forums and social media, and the fact that the loudest, most intolerant and outright douchiest of posters tend to be the most popular and respected.

People say things on Facebook, Twitter and in message forums that they’d never, ever say in real life. Safe in the comfort of their cubicle or basement, the trolls deliver e-beatdowns to anyone who disagrees with their opinions about Lance Armstrong, ball-bearing durability or the bitchen’ness of the latest video clip. Posters are quick to point out that every magazine editor is a whore, every bike company is solely motivated by a desire to screw us out of our paychecks, and everyone who disagrees with any of the above is a newbie who doesn’t know a rearward axle path from a high-speed rebound damper.

THE HALF-EMPTY CUP IS ALWAYS FULL
This, of course, isn’t a phenomenon unique to the bike industry or, for that matter, to the Internet. Countless studies have shown that people tend to give greater credence to negative reviews and associate consistently critical reviewers with higher degrees of intelligence and credibility. In less egg-headed terms, if you want to seem smart and sophisticated, always be sure to be the most vicious person in the room.

The general principle here is what social scientists refer to as the “negativity bias”. In short, humans are hot-wired to notice and value negative feelings and experiences more heavily than positive ones. Bad days are easily remembered, while good ones are often forgotten. Tell a joke to a group of six people and five of them laugh, odds are that what you’ll recall is the one person who frowned at the punch line. Ask a therapist about all the people who have reclined on their couch over the years—chances are their clients remember the myriad ways their mother and father screwed the parenting pooch, but have a harder time calling up the things mom and dad did right.

Sometimes, of course, there's a real benefit to seeing the negative side of things...Napoleon, for instance, could have benefitted from a bit less optimism when he rolled into Russia that summer, confident he'd win big and be back in Paris by Christmas.
Sometimes, of course, there’s a real benefit to seeing the negative side of things…Napoleon, for instance, could have benefitted from a bit less optimism when he rolled into Russia that summer, confident he’d win big and be back in Paris by Christmas.

Perhaps it all goes back to evolution. The monkey that survived was the monkey that saw the lion and immediately thought, “I hate lions. I’m up this tree and outta here.” While the monkey that was clawed out of the gene pool was the cheerful one that thought, “Hey, maybe this lion just wants to play tag! I hope we’ll become friends.”

Focusing on the negative can be a great survival instinct. Napoleon was an optimist when he and his Grande Armée rolled into Moscow during the summer of 1812, confident that he could take Russia nice and quick. A few months later, seventy percent of his soldiers were dead or captured because Napoleon’s overconfidence meant that none of the French even bothered to pack a good winter coat when they marched off to Mother Russia.

All of General Custer’s Crow scouts told him that he’d be crazy if he charged into that massive camp of Sioux, Cheyenne and Arapahoe down by the Little Bighorn River. But Custer was famous for seeing the cup half full in any situation. His response? “Hurrah boys, we’ve got them! We’ll finish them up and then go home to our station.” Those also happened to be Custer’s last words.

THAT FINE LINE BETWEEN CLEVER AND STUPID
In short, being critical has its uses. There’s no denying that. And I’m not suggesting that we should go up-voting every post, agreeing to everything everyone says or tacitly accepting the reviews and stories we read online.

Be critical. Think for yourself. After all, that’s the beauty of owning a pair of opposable thumbs and a big brain. But while you’re being critical, remember, there are always two sides to every coin. The trend you don’t understand today, the rider whose opinion you find yourself at odds with—you can disagree with them without SHOUTING IN ALL CAPS!!!, calling their mother names or proclaiming yourself the end-all-be-all in Internet-based wisdom.

In short, go ahead and have your say. Just don’t be a jackass while you’re doing it. Sure, you’ll get a lot of “likes” on Facebook for busting out the bile, but in the real world, nobody likes a dick.