Blog by Sumana Harihareswara, Changeset founder

15 Sep 2005, 15:57 p.m.

Table Talk

Hi, reader. I wrote this in 2005 and it's now more than five years old. So it may be very out of date; the world, and I, have changed a lot since I wrote it! I'm keeping this up for historical archive purposes, but the me of today may 100% disagree with what I said then. I rarely edit posts after publishing them, but if I do, I usually leave a note in italics to mark the edit and the reason. If this post is particularly offensive or breaches someone's privacy, please contact me.

I have to monitor bits of Salon's forum, Table Talk, to see whether people are stupidly complaining about Salon Premium there instead of, say, emailing for help. There are forums where people aren't stupid. In the "Families Who Think" section, the best is the Word Soundbite Of The Day thread, where people share cute things their kids have said.

In "Work Life" we see "True Tales of the Office" and stories of odd coworkers. And in "Private Life" we see the awesome thread of "Misinformation, mistakes and bizarre misunderstandings".

Unfortunately, any given forum online will eventually, probably, suck. And this is true of Table Talk as well. One thread used to be fine in its stated mission of discussing the Fox TV show "House" but then descended into Television-Without-Pity-esque sniping over the female characters on the show. The thread on "Arrested Development" is headed in that direction.

And then there are jerks who comment on Cary Tennis's advice column. Some of them are nice, but the jerks ruin it, as usual. They almost universally castigate the advice-requester for being imperfect and weak, for not constantly self-flagellating in penance for her crimes (but if she does, what a martyr-wannabe!), for not "Setting Boundaries", whatever. Nope, there aren't real people behind these letters, not at all! They just exist for my amusement, like novels! Fiction, really!

Every once in a while the letter-writer will actually post within the forum. Then sometimes the jerks soften their tune, but of course there will be some intolerant ass who doesn't, just to show the letter-writer how wrong he is, how stupid and selfish and racist and intolerant -- you dare to exist?! to think you deserve my approval?

The letter-writer usually isn't seeking approval. She acknowledges that she has a problem and is seeking help for it. But the jerks ignore the admirable metacognition and help-seeking behavior, and harp on the problem as indicative of moral weakness.

Lots of comments sections all around the Internet fall into the abyss. They fall faster if they are free, if reputations don't persist, if there's no moderator. But people pay to join TT, and there's moderation that stops people from libeling each other, and people's pseudonyms and reputations persist. And the people who run it care, and have clueful FAQs and community standards. And still the stupidity roams. It's everywhere.