Friday, June 27, 2008

ICRR -- Internet Correction Response Reflex

Chris V asks,

Is there a term for the almost visceral response some people (mostly me, but I think a lot of others feel the same)have to things they strongly disagree with? I don't mean 'find distasteful' so much as I'm thinking of the comment threads on some blogs, or on youtube. The angry back and forth and the endlessly repeated arguments with no backing, and for what? What is it that compels us to correct something/someone we believe to be WRONG when it won't change anything, least of all their mind?
I don't know if there is one, but there darn sure should be. I'd propose ICRR -- Internet Correction Response Reflex.

There seem to be two flavors of what is happening here. One is serious. For example, when I was conducting oral history interviews with surviving members and family of the Berlin and Vienna groups of Logical Empiricists who fled Germany after Hitler purged the universities in 1933, I noticed something odd. This was a year or so after 9/11 and the political situation was in that very weird, very scary place where any criticism of the government was widely treated as unpatriotic bordering on treasonous. When the tape recorder was off, these older people who had escaped Nazi Germany or Austria after the Anschluss would always engage me on political issues. Not necessarily to spur me to action of some sort, but just to make sure that people were talking and that objections were being voiced. It was eerie at the time because it was never with the passion that I got from such conversations with people my age or younger, and it came after a couple hours of heavy conversation swirling around the real Nazis. But there was this impulse that some objection had to be lodged for the sake of something larger, because they knew what happened when people didn't object early enough and they were legitimately concerned.

But then there is the less grave version, best set out in this cartoon from xkcd. It is an odd thing. It does not involve the sense of importance of the case above, you generally know that no one's mind will be changed, but you MUST make that comment. It was one of the rules of blogging that I learned early on -- people only comment if they think you are wrong. If they read and agree, they'll just think, "hey, well said," and move on. but if they think you were sloppy, missed the point, or completely missed the boat, then man the comments come in. And then, of course, those who thought you were right feel compelled to defend you and respond to these errant responses. Next thing you know, folks are having fun.

It is a strange reflex. I'm not sure if it is more likely to occur on-line. If so, I'm not sure if the facelessness encourages it or what but I agree with Chris that it is a phenomenon widespread enough to deserve a catchy name.