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Standing out, kicking ass, & ruining lives

August 11, 2010

Seth Godin

The other day, Leah at The Whore of All the Earth posted a TED talk from Seth Godin on standing out. While Seth wasn’t talking about anything particular to blogging, Leah summarized and synthesized the talk with her own ideas about how people can stand out in blogging.

I liked Seth’s presentation, and I liked Leah’s thoughts afterward, so I tweeted about it, making sure to reference both Seth’s and Leah’s twitter accounts.

standing out

This is like, my best example of responsible tweeting ever.

But then, when I was making sure that everything was correct…I (dis)covered that @whoreoftheearth did not exist.

So I wanted to know…what happened?

When I asked, Leah informed me that she had given up on twitter, because she found it “unbearably inane.” Ouch.

I’ve since then seen another cool video (a bit longer though) and another person who has given up not only on twitter, but on life in the limelight itself.

Today, I watched a video of Kathy Sierra. This one is about 55 minutes long, but it’s still something you should watch when you have the time. If you absolutely cannot, here’s the gist: when companies advertise and even develop product manuals, they shouldn’t be striving to show how their company kicks ass. They shouldn’t be striving to show how their brand kicks ass, how their products kick ass, or even how their services kick ass.

Everything they do should be geared to helping the customer — you — kick ass.

Nikon can engage someone by showing them how they can be a better photographer — and when people begin to realize they can be awesome, they will then want a camera. Now, sure, sure, the principles of photography are the same for a Nikon as they are for a Canon, but when people are inspired, they associate in lumps. When someone has a powerfully emotional moment, they may often remember the music that was playing, or the smells of the area. This music and these smells may not have anything to do with the moment, but that is the power of association.

In the same way, someone will associate their newfound passion for photography with whomever helped them (dis)till it — Nikon, in this case.

(I’m not really doing a great job here to summarize, so really, you should go watch the video. :3.)

After I saw the video, I wanted to do my normal routine…follow Kathy, tweet out the video with proper attribution, and have great fun all around.

A quick google search showed that Kathy abandoned twitter…and although she spoke with a few more words on why, it was basically for the same reason that Leah quit: Twitter is unbearably inane…and it doesn’t help people kick ass.

But when I found her site, I found that it too was abandoned. And the last post was Kathy’s musing on possibly (dis)appearing completely. I saw several hints of why she would leave…hints of death threats and harassment. But the story was always obscured, just out of (dis)play.

So I tried to do more research, and I was surprise to find an article that I had read two years ago about internet trolling. Back then, it wasn’t that serious to me. I had heard of the “an hero” meme and didn’t think of the pain it has caused. I was desensitized to it, and many of the other stories were too (dis)tant from me for me to empathize.

But as I read this article again today, and read the profile of people who ruin the lives of people like Kathy Sierra, my bones chilled. This section does not do justice:

Over a candlelit dinner of tuna sashimi, Weev asked if I would attribute his comments to Memphis Two, the handle he used to troll Kathy Sierra, a blogger. Inspired by her touchy response to online commenters, Weev said he “dropped docs” on Sierra, posting a fabricated narrative of her career alongside her real Social Security number and address. This was part of a larger trolling campaign against Sierra, one that culminated in death threats. Weev says he has access to hundreds of thousands of Social Security numbers. About a month later, he sent me mine.

What did Memphis Two say in larger part about his efforts? Read this.

The title of today’s article features three actions in parallel structure, but clearly, one of these does not fit. In context, “standing out” and “kicking ass” are descriptors of activities that are designed to uplift people. But “ruining lives” does not uplift anyone. It is designed out of complete malice — all for the schadenfreude and sadism of it — to destroy and (dis)mantle a person’s psyche in whatever ways possible.

What I wonder is…what drives people to this? The New York Times article describes the motivations of one of the trolls and life ruiners as stemming from his childhood molestation by family members. But I’m unsure if such horrific past experiences justify or rationalize the continuation of horrific experiences in the future, or if this case can serve as paradigm for why there are so many who take such a path.

All I can say is that I am truly in a kind of awe — a negative awe — at the depths of some people’s heartlessness. I know I can’t just say, “People are scum,” because at the same time there are life ruiners, there are also people helping others to stand up, stand out, and kick ass at whatever goals they have in life. But I truly feel for those in the latter who become (dis)illusioned by those in the former.

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