February 29, 2008

Hermitosis is Dead! Long Live Hermitosis!

I'd like to post a few words here, because I've been getting some pretty weird emails in the last 24 hours.

I've been a MetaFilter member for several years now, and it has changed my life. When I first started reading it, the site was closed to new members, but as soon as it opened its doors, I paid my $5 without a second thought and timidly, judiciously-- often naively-- began to contribute. Early on, AskMetaFilter gave me the encouragement I needed to find the family of a man whose death I witnessed and share the little information I had about his passing. It also provided me with the best recipes, the best travel ideas, the best in eye-opening discussions and sources of online--and offline-- entertainment. Not to mention a whole stack of new real-life friends. Hiding behind my username (uh, hermitosis) I have been mean, stupid, and immature on many occasions, but I've also tried to be helpful, entertaining, and friendly as much as possible. In my world, MetaFilter is the internet.

Recently a blogger named 90dayjane set up a blog to chronicle the last 90 days of her life, which would presumably end in suicide. When the blog appeared on MetaFilter, everyone was quick to speculate that it was fake, and regardless of whether that was the case, that it was a crass attention-grab. My own glib response was: "If 500 people favorite this comment, I'll disable my account." I tried to pick the lowest number I thought would be completely unattainable, so I wouldn't have to make good on it-- no comment on the site had ever even cracked 450. Immediately after posting, however, I realized that by even pretending to play the same game as 90dayjane, I was subject to the same laws that govern internet behavior. Since it would take just a single click of the mouse to participate, people would be more than happy to push me toward the edge, whether or not they thought I was joking. Upon posting THE COMMENT, I made a deal with myself that I would indeed keep my word if the improbable occurred. It's more than we could expect from 90dayjane, after all.

My comment was a MetaFilter-esque parody of attention-whoring; "favorites" are the site's bookmarking system, but members frequently complain that people grub for them and that it has degraded the site's discussions. Most active members fondly keep tabs on how often their wittier or more memorable comments have been favorited, which is something people own up to a lot more willingly at MetaFilter meetups than they do on the site. It's not much of a contest though-- no matter how many you have, someone else always has more. Favorites are a meaningless form of currency, they are cookies you munch in secret that have no calories. Initially people probably favorited my comment because they thought it was funny, or they got my point, or to jokingly add to my tally. Some surely participated because they'd actually prefer not to have me around.

Sure enough, 90dayjane did not kill herself, revealing her blog to be an "art project" that was never meant to be seen by so many people (which is why she posted it publicly on the internet?). By then 500 favorites was looking more attainable than I'd reckoned, and I figured if it was going to be happen, I'd rather it be sooner than later. Thus, I continued to mention THE COMMENT here and there, and didn't mind when other people did either-- even when they had a completely backwards idea of my intentions. There seemed to be some real interest built up in whether or not I would make good on my word, so links to THE COMMENT kept popping up apropos to nothing in hopes of hastening my death. Yesterday, at long last, the curtain came down.

It was a fun little game to participate in, but it really grew out of control and a lot of people ended up taking it altogether the wrong way. I'm really surprised at how many people seemed irritated with me, or considered ME to be the attention-whore, when my point from the beginning was about how trivial and stupid such people are, and how others denounce them yet still stampede to heap lulz, shame, and concern (read: attention) onto them. I couldn't help but feel that MetaFilter's moderators were annoyed by the whole thing as well, which bums me out because I hadn't foreseen that, and I really admire all three of them for reasons personal and professional. But I don't feel my conduct was out of character for the site, and I've elected to regret nothing.

By the end of it all, I got the impression that the reality of my persona on the site, hermitosis, was something I had even less control over than I'd thought. "Hermitosis" is actually important to a handful of people, some of whom I don't even know; to an incredibly vast number of others (even some that I have actually met), that name and the person behind it are worth little or nothing. That's really the way the internet is supposed to work, I think.

In the last 24 hours, nearly a hundred people have withdrawn their favorites from THE COMMENT, either out of guilt or to deny me the attention they believe I sought. Weirdly, almost exactly as many people have added to the tally, so it still hovers around 500. The eulogy thread that sprang up after I disabled my account was a hiccuping hoe-down of hermitosis clones, snarks, and laments, and while I thought it was hilariously surreal, it also made me sad because I didn't know how I fit in the picture anymore. When you've contributed thousands of comments to a site, suddenly having no voice is a chilly and strange feeling.

I'm not under the illusion that this whole matter is a big deal to anyone, so I decided not to overthink the matter. I bought a new account right away: [NOT HERMITOSIS-IST]. Rather than come up with some new fancy name, I figured I should make it easy for old friends to find me if they want to. I don't know if I'll ever wind up trying to re-open the old profile. This isn't exactly a fresh start, but it's not exactly the same name or the same person that it used to be. And it also deconstructs any lingering attachment I may have had to the favorites system. THE COMMENT may not be as insightful or as useful as any of the others that have garnered hundreds of favorites, but for now it's by far the most favorited comment the site has ever seen. That such a place be held by a comment playing on the use of favorites to begin with is perhaps very appropriate.

Despite popular belief, that's about all the self-rumination I have time for these days. (My lack of updates here will back that up; AMC is really keeping me hopping!) So back to work, everyone-- the internet isn't going to write itself!


GJ said...

I was eager to see how you were going to weasel your way out of it when the favorites hit 500. Actually disabling your account was "pee-in-your-pants" funny, though.

Glad to know your super-secret new identity, though.

I'm totally going to "favorite" every single comment you ever make, ever.

Anonymous said...

Us writers have to stick together. We all know what happens when writers run amok with no editors! :) Good to see you somewhere else...