No Bullies. No Drama. Only Comedies on TV

The comments territory under any YouTube video is an unlighted playground with shards of glass for sliding boards and a ball-pit full of barbed wire. There is no “thumbs-down” or dislike button available on Facebook, for obvious reasons. Comments are certainly allowed, and often the prevailing rhetorical mode is insult and injury.

Twitter may as well be one big dislike button sometimes. Not in my experience so far, except for two or three times. Each one of these is etched in my co-dependent memory, however.

When I started publishing on WordPress a year an a half ago, I wondered: What will it be like to have my work exposed to a comments section?

In the 1990s, when I wrote for a weekly newspaper, I rarely learned which articles or columns were actually read.

I covered school sports, which has a couple of rules: Cram in the names of every participant on the field and even every bench sitter, without mentioning the bench. (Unless the bench was locally made and recently delivered to the school, in which case it was a good idea to include the names of the lumberyard and the furniture maker along with a quote about its fine bench-y comfort from someone sitting on it.) When both schools are local, simultaneously downplay and up-play the final score. Describe good performances from both sides. Cram in a few more names: the coaches, the refs, some of those in attendance.

A compliment from a reader of one of those articles was a thank you from a parent purchasing an extra copy to send to the grandparents—if I ran into the parent at the grocery store while they were at that moment purchasing that extra copy.

I also had a humor column (guess its name) and I once wrote something controversial in it. Now, this was done out of an idiotic frustration that I felt from my perceived lack of feedback. “How do I know what people think?” I said to no one out loud, and so I put on my explorer costume and ventured forth without leaving my desk to find out. If I had said it out loud, my editor probably would have dissuaded me from the attempt.

My column was on page 4, and on page 3 was a weekly column written by an elderly man who had spent a lifetime in newspapers, local newspapers; his entire four-decade-long career had been spent in the same county we were covering. It is possible that he had written something about every single building in the county, their predecessors and replacements, and a few articles about the best of our open fields.

Not one piece of mail had come into the newspaper office about my column, even when I had requested feedback from readers, but there was a letter every single week about the old man’s column. “He should retire already” or “May he never quit” were the only two themes, but one of these two letters arrived every week.

(He passed away about 15 years ago, and the newspaper, which I had by then left, continued to run his columns as a weekly “Best of …” tribute; I am certain the paper still received the “He should retire” and “May he never quit” letters for years.)

But I was the target of no such letters and I envied the old man his passionate readership. The one time that I wrote something controversial, controversy followed: Our music columnist used his own weekly space to rebut my column and publicly declare that not only had he not ever read me but he was going to continue to not read me, which seemed to me to be a neat trick. He did not send a letter to the editor; instead he wasted his own column inches to disagree with me. I told him, in person, in my job as assistant editor, that we still needed his music review that week and we would run the complaint in the letters section, which needed a letter as we had received not even one that week. (Not even one of the letters regarding the old columnist.) He insisted on using his space to not review music in that issue, though.

That was the 1990s and the effort one makes in writing a letter, placing it in an envelope, investing in a stamp, placing it on the envelope, and mailing it to the correct address is a Herculean one when it is compared to the ease with which someone can type an unpleasant comment on a video or article. For some reason, every computer comes with a keyboard. Online, everyone is a potential Banksy.

That has not been my experience with The Gad About Town, not yet anyway. I have been thinking about this a lot recently. When someone clicks “like” on a piece, their real face appears or an image they choose to represent their image appears, which, for me anyway, builds a sense of community. It is like running into the same faces at the water cooler every morning. Also, on my site and a lot of the ones I read, the comments are praise and encouragement; there are a lot of “do more of this” type of comments and not many (or any) “don’t do that again” comments. And no graffiti.

It occurs to me that we are all volunteers here and each one of us is getting paid $0.00 per century to share our thoughts. There is no reason to do anything other than encourage one another; when I need an ego-crushing tear-down, I suppose I can request that on Twitter and there will be volunteers, because quite a few unprofessional critics make themselves available every hour of every day there.

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A portion of this appeared in October in “Message in a Bottle.”

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  1. livingonchi · May 5, 2015

    Oh goody. I’ve tried like a million times to warm up to Twitter, but have never been successful. I’m glad I’m not missing a whole lot. Actually, right now I don’t do anything but WordPress. I love this post!

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Martha Kennedy · May 5, 2015

    WP is an “If you can’t say something nice don’t say anything” place. I figure the people who read my posts and don’t “like” have said their say. I know when I read something and don’t actually like it I just go away. Twitter is just a place that my stuff goes for the people who access it there. I only go there intentionally when I’m following a local fire and need immediate updates because maybe the fire is too close. I don’t even know my log on info. I just have it because I’m a famous writer (what????).

    Liked by 2 people

    • Mark Aldrich · May 6, 2015

      It really seems to be that. Polite and encouraging; silent otherwise.

      I have become busy on Twitter, but I do not know to what end. The ratio seems to be 1000 views sometimes results in one real-life click on an article.

      Famous schmamous. You are a great writer. Terrific dialogue writer.


      • Martha Kennedy · May 6, 2015

        Thank you — that’s kind of strange, too, since I really hate conversations. The people in my 3D life that I like best are the ones I go out and do things with and/or engage in verbal play. Real meaningful discussion loses me quickly, but as a friend pointed out, I have a petty narrow sphere of interest.

        Liked by 1 person

  3. Julie · May 5, 2015

    I had a critical gnat buzzing around my posts. Instead of continuing to swat at him, I blacklisted his comments. Now they go straight to spam. Thank God for the spam folder – it’s like flypaper for the occassional WordPress pest.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. loisajay · May 5, 2015

    Sorry, Mark, but WP told me never to discuss my salary… 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

  5. ifollowislands · May 6, 2015

    I never saw the point in commenting on YouTube videos! Some people must have too much time on their hands judging by the quality of comments… Twitter, well. It’s a good idea but I’m struggling to keep up. I like to follow people that are really interesting but most of them end up just clogging my feed retweeting what feels like 10 posts per minute. Travel bloggers especially are notorious for that. So, in the end I go back to people’s blog and take a more bite-sized chunk 🙂 Oh, and I quit Facebook 2 months ago because I couldn’t deal with the stupidity, endless meme shares and “brag-booking” anymore.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Mark Aldrich · May 6, 2015

      Even though I never leave my room (or so it seems), I have a lot of travel writers and bloggers on my various feeds. I’m vicarious to vicariousness! I re-Tweet but I usually add my own 2 cents just to track the trail of the Tweet. (That is too good to not use as a title at some point in the future, and you will be credited with inspiring it.) Thank you for always writing the opposite of a YouTube comment-Mark


  6. mj6969 · May 6, 2015

    Well, another interesting piece, well written and thoughtful.

    I quit FB years ago – before all the crazy hype and all really overloaded and became the “norm.” As for twitter – well, I tried that, twice – but I never quite got the hang of the hashtags – and frankly, what could I possibly have to say, so often, that anyone would consider worthy of noticing? Nothing really.

    As for “followers” – well, I blogged way back when Blogger was the keynote platform – then eventually switched to WP. At one point, on one variation of one of my blogs, I had over 200 followers – so the stats declared – and I thought – “how did that happen?” But, being the ever “smart” person that I am, I closed that site and have moved on.

    Stats, comments, followers, likes – ratings – all means of providing critical information – if it *is* critical to what you’re working on or doing – but, for me, a small fish in the ocean, I just tell myself to be pleased if one person, other than myself, shows up – whether they just “like” or actually comment on something I’ve written, well, comments are priceless – especially if they are encouraging, or, in my case, on my creative writing blog – critical feedback.

    Personally – I don’t always have time to comment – sometimes I don’t know what to say, and in other moments, like this, I perhaps, take advantage of the space, by replying – and sharing my thoughts – in the end – for me – what counts the most is this: “Thank you.”

    Thank you for sharing your thoughts and ideas – and allowing us the opportunity to reply, in fashion, hopefully positive and agreeable. And if thoughts or opinions were to differ, hopefully they would be presented in an honest and constructive fashion.

    So, after this long reply, “Thank you Mark. And I hope you have a wonderful day. 🙂 “

    Liked by 1 person

    • Mark Aldrich · May 6, 2015

      The Gad was on Blogger two years ago. If a similar community exists on that platform, I was unaware of it or naive enough to not look for it, but the WP community made itself known to me within days of starting to publish here. Comments are priceless and yours is thought-provoking; thank you for it–Mark.

      Liked by 1 person

      • mj6969 · May 6, 2015

        You’re welcome 😀

        Years ago I blogged on Blogger – but lately, what I know of friends who blog on WP and there – there are serious issues with Blogger’s comments platform – even if you use their site. They make it difficult to comment – so I certainly don’t think that helps at all. Generally, WP seems to be a pretty “friendly” place – so, happy writing!

        Liked by 1 person

  7. alotfromlydia · May 8, 2015

    I also feel like I know the other bloggers here personally, and I am amazed that there are people who read what I write. My Twitter following however is in the single digits. I also do not understand Pinterest, though I’ve tried. I am fairly certain that my inept social media skills have had an effect of my numbers, but at least l can say I tried. Great article!


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