Don’t read the comments.

I couldn’t sleep last night. Insomnia used to plague me, and has abated in the last six months or so, but last night whatever magic that has been keeping me asleep wore off. For several hours I was wide awake. Couldn’t get comfortable. Ravenous but unwilling to get up and eat a snack. 

In moments like these, I am ashamed to say (but not so ashamed that I’ll refrain from saying it): I scroll Twitter. Yes, this is a horrifying choice, as I am reminded whenever I confess to Ian. I don’t scroll Twitter much, if at all, during the day. But somehow, in that bizarre alternate reality that is the dead middle of the night, it’s often what my brain and fingers long for me to do. 

Now, another confession. One of the things that fires all my greedy little brain receptors is reading the comments. This is ill-advised at the best of times. Humanity is great, but people can be terrible. And people are at their most terrible in the internet-comment setting, simultaneously cruel and moronic. They think they know so much and none of them make any g-d sense.

So why am I compelled to read what they have to say? What am I looking for? 

Reality, I guess, ironically. I want to know what I’m really in for as an Earth-dweller. What are my neighbors thinking? What are the social norms? Where are all the deviants?

But also, stimulation. Proof that some people are dumb. Proof I’m right. 


A brief detour through some vintage Psychopomp content: remember the Enneagram? If not, it’s a personality typing system (sort of) that I find fascinating and very useful. I’ve learned a lot about myself by seeing what the Enneagram reflects back at me, so now I’m quicker to notice some of my deeply entrenched habits as they rear up. This can be annoying. But it’s also an early-warning system when I start to do the Same Old Shit (SOS)®. 

All that to say: on the Enneagram I’m a type 9 with a 1 wing. The “1 wing” means I have a lot of characteristics of a Type 1, which is the “idealist” or the “perfectionist” type. Type 1s are fiercely critical of injustice in the world, but also fiercely critical of their own perceived flaws and everyone else’s too.

My 1 wing is getting quite a workout from this whole COVID situation. (And I’m not the only one). I’ve turned into a raging perfectionist about my behavior, but also about literally everyone else’s in the world. No matter what anyone else is doing, it’s wrong—just as what I’m doing is wrong in everyone else’s eyes. How can this be? Because no one knows what the hell they’re doing. No one has lived through a global pandemic before. The stakes couldn’t be higher for everyone to follow the rules properly, but we’re not really sure what the rules are. Is it 6 feet or 2 meters? And anyway, why is the safe distance slightly different in Europe? What about following distance? Passing distance? What minimum tightness of weave is acceptable for a cloth face covering? Who should cross the street first? Is it a total dick move to walk two or three abreast in two-way foot traffic? (YES)

I get a little charge out of muttering “give way” to people who pass me too closely, in my opinion, on the sidewalk or trail. (I mutter only because, as some of you know, I am literally physically incapable of yelling). And don’t even get me started on all the people I see wearing masks around their chins or on top of their heads. WHAT ARE YOU DOING PLEASE YOU MUST STOP. If this goes on for much longer I might start becoming That Person who actually lectures total strangers on how to wear their masks, and pleads with them for God’s sake not to pull the mask down to rub their noses, holy mackerel.

Anyway. Phew. Time for a sip of water. I’m getting a little peaky.

That’s better.

You see, there is some small part of me that must get a kick out of being wronged, because when I’m wronged I’m right.

So here’s me with my warning system blaring that I’m getting extremely judgy, and for what good? All I can control is myself. I can flatten myself against a fence or a wall to create six feet of distance between me and the next walker, but I can’t reach into that person’s brain and motivate them to do the same for me. I can wear my own face mask, but I can’t make everyone else do the same. I can pull it up over my nose (and eyes, almost, in some cases—for surely that is even safer?), even if others are wearing theirs around their knees or whatever. As I’m only able to control myself, I’d be better off, calmer, more at ease, and just as safe learning not to fume at strangers’ unwillingness to follow my set of rules. Especially when, inevitably, I’m failing some of theirs as well.


So what does this all have to do with reading the comments?

I’m never more aware of being a social creature as I am when I realize that I’m more interested in knowing what the others think of an article or tweet I read than I am in knowing what I think about it. My desperation to know that the tribe agrees with me, or my sicker desperation to locate those who are terribly wrong, is just the tremendously strong human impulse to create community, coming out in a really bizarre way.

I’m just a human who wants to know that the group is going to be okay. I want the group to stay healthy. I want to correct those who are risking the group’s health. But also, I want to know that I am the member of the group who is doing the best at it.

The Internet is a hypnotic tool for socialization, which must be what I’m seeking when I feel really lonely and bizarre on the ice floe that is my bed in the darkest hours. So I seek to join the group, even if the group is just a bunch of fragmented thoughts from a bunch of strangers all over the world.

And then I seek those who are wrong in the group.

I do not recommend this as a treatment for insomnia.

In short:

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One thought on “Don’t read the comments.

  1. Pingback: Why shaming your enemies is a lost cause | PsychoPomp

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