Thursday, January 12, 2006

Where did all the aggression go?

In many online groups, it's not at all uncommon for people to get a little nasty with each other. Thanks to the online disinhibition effect, some people will argue, criticize, berate, and insult others without much provocation. If the conversation lasts long enough, including discussions where people initially try to be supportive and respectful, tempers get tested and flames begin. Even purely "intellectual" discussions often are peppered with oppostional comments and unwarranted disagreeableness.

That doesn't seem to be the case in flickr, the online photo-sharing community. At least from what I have observed so far. When people comment on each other's pictures, the feedback is almost always positive and supportive. Pithy and generic - like "Wow"... "Great shot!"... "Nice colors" - but always positive.

Why? There might be several reasons. Displaying photos can be quite revealing of oneself. People, especially those with artistic aspirations, are taking a chance by presenting their work. A "do unto others" philosophy may have developed in flickr as an expression of that vulnerability and need to protect oneself.

Flickrites also might be less interested in verbal communication compared to other online groups. It's all about the images. People may find it easier to offer a pithy positive comment, than to be critical and then perhaps drawn into a verbal debate. To get people to look at and respond to your images, you have to comment on other's photos and generate contacts. Many comments, many contacts. The most efficient way to do that is to visit as many photostreams as possible and be as friendly as possible.

Some of the more serious photographers are not exactly happy with this uniformly positive and seemingly superficial atmosphere. They want analysis, critique, and debate. They want honesty. Because I tend to offer more feedback on photos than the typical terse comments, I was invited to join the newly formed "Pessimists" group. Their members are asked to be supportive when responding to images, but to always offer constructive criticism. The underlying mission is to make Flickr a slightly less sugar-coated environment.

No doubt I 'm overlooking other such groups within flickr. For example, there is the deleteme group, which claims to be "cruel... not cool." Such groups might be the collecting ground for the community's negativity.

Freud claimed that humans are intrinsically aggressive. It's one of the two basic drives that make us tick. We can control or over-ride it, but it's got to go somewhere.