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The New Rituals of Manhood: When Technology Obsessed Opinions Turn To Hatred

This is a guest post written by Imei Hsu, RN, MAC, LMHC.

For Apple iPhone 4OS fans, it’s Christmas in late June.

Millions of iPhone users will be picking up a pre-ordered phone or skipping happily to their doors when the delivery person arrives Wednesday June 23 and Thursday June 24, whilst newly recruited buyers will wrap their hands around their first iPhone.

As the “n00b of Social Media” and an observer to the cult-like following of the new iPhone 4OS, I’ll make my first light-hearted predictions: 1) AT&T will likely suffer a day’s disaster on their network from the surge of new users, 2) You won’t find many lines at Apple stores for the iPhone, as savvy customers have been alerted to how they can obtain iPhones without long lines, and 3) Android fanboys will continue to downplay the new iPhone 4OS’s features while punishing users and reviewers of Android products if they do not sing the praises of their beloved OS and features to the right tune.

As a psychotherapist, I lay on the table this statement: by opening my mouth and sharing my opinion, I know that some people might make it their personal mission statement to vomit something lewd, judgmental, or demeaning simply because they don’t agree with my opinion. This, in fact, is what has been happening on the Internet in such forums as Facebook updates and Youtube comments found on the pages of technology bloggers and reviewers.

If you take a few minutes to scan through the comments on Chris Pirillo’s video impressions on the HTC EVO 4G, as well as his impressions on the iOS 4 update as recorded from the HTC Evo, and finally the 12 things to love about the HTC EVO 4G, it doesn’t take a geek to notice a shift in the comments away from questions or descriptions about the products themselves. Without warning, comments contained character assumptions and assassinations, name calling, and unsubstantiated comparisons to just about anything in the universe.

Here’s a few “tame” examples (the worst were removed), in italics, below:

What a HATER…….remove the iphone from your colon….everyone loves this phone except you…no one is that stupid like (mr. likes dressing up his gay dogs) makes them out to be

I imagine your entire LIFE is too complicated and SUCKS.

This is what happens when you have Apple fanboy-ism invading on anything other than Apple. Apple could make a Tonka-like toy with one button and moo’s every time that button is pressed and these fanboys will say it’s better than absolutely anything on the market.

He didn’t point out any flaws. His whole purpose was to try and make the phone look stupid (it doesn’t SAY to swipe downward .. so the phone is dumb!). Actually.. he’s dumb. “Is WiFi on??” Well, idiot… try READING THE MANUAL! Does the phone have to provide moron tips on every screen to make this guy happy? For someone ‘reviewing’ smart phones he’s an idiot.

I can’t help but be fascinated by this phenomenon. What exactly are we seeing here? Humor me as I share with you my personal theory about why these tech-obsessed commenters have moved from opinion into hate statements against another person’s character and intelligence.

While society used to have rites of passage for young boys to prove their manhood, today’s kids have little left to them than the ability to pay for their tux and tails at a senior ball and an adult’s talk on how to use a condom to prevent a pregnancy and the spread of STD’s. If you click on the handles/names of the commenters, you’ll find that the majority of the “haters” are under the age of 25. Spelling and grammatical errors tip off readers when commenters age ranges are more likely 12 – 15 years old. If you’re a 12 – 15 year old boy (who likely isn’t even paying for the phone or the computer he uses), what would be one way to let people know you are a force to contend with?

Social scientists have an answer for that: Bare your teeth. Growl. Do what you can to get attention. These actions were all parts of rites of passages for young boys to prove that they belong to the world of men. They are no longer their mother’s boys. And these rites of passage are all but lost in the modern world of technology. Or are they?

Elizabeth Landau recently posted an interesting study about men’s health issues on Dr. Gupta’s blog for CNN. com. In her article, she cites a British study about men’s voices as an accurate predictor of the physical size of men and their ability to fight.

I’m wondering if social media platforms such as Facebook, MySpace, Twitter, and Youtube are being adopted by teens and young men as an urban rite of passage. Without a spear to catch a fish or kill a giraffe for food, boys may be turning to the Internet to hunt for proof of their ability to “take on” the giants. They have access to technology writers, big companies, and celebrities in ways they didn’t have just five years ago. And what better way to quickly demonstrate the fight within them than to defend and use the tools they have to take their giants down?

If my theory is correct, what we’re seeing in the commentary thread is a fight against shame (i.e. Am i worthy? Am I tough?) fronted by a defense of one’s most beloved tools (an OS, a laptop, a smart phone, a software program, a platform). The tools are what allows these voices to be heard for their growls and grunts, and these must be defended at all costs. If and when the tools become obsolete or shown to be inferior, might the user also feel a sense of inferiority and shame? Does this explain the over-response we’re seeing in the commentary threads?

The fight becomes about the sword, not the samurai.

When there is nothing left to be done, the commenter moves onto character assassination mode. Get ready for some of the most boring use of expletives you have ever seen. [BTW, in my private practice, I remind clients that they should feel free to swear, but only if they do so in an interesting way]. Be prepared for a host of subjective and unsubstantiated comments, especially about your appearance, IQ, the way you sound, their projections and speculations about your sexual orientation or practices, or the level of happiness you may or may not be experiencing.

All in all, Social Media users should be prepared for less mature users to project their mother and father issues on you. They want validation for their tools, which they can then attribute to their own sense of character and self-esteem. Yes people, we’re seeing a correlation between online gaming and real life at its best: he who has the best tools gets the girl, has the charmed life, and wins the crowd. [Yuck.] It’s just not true. You still need to be a decent person. And for now, you still have to know how to write [there could be a day when writing becomes obsolete. But I digress.]

Rather than taking it personally, I would encourage readers to look beyond the commentary. Someone only defends something when he feels threatened. The threat could simply be a fight to belong. And ironically, the young samurai inside the armor may be trying to sock you in the arm to see if you will accept him. Don’t scrub comments that do not cross the boundaries of vulgarity and disrespect; allow these young samurai to learn from the community as well as the greater society about the reality of action and reaction.

Soon enough, they all learn what the rest of us know all too well: whatever gets said on Youtube, Facebook, and Twitter ends up on Google forever. And ever. Amen.

B. Imei Hsu is a nurse psychotherapist, professional dance artist and instructor, and occasional guest blogger for Lockergnome. She continues to write about her 365-1/4 days as “the n00b of Social Media.” She owns an Android phone, a MacBook, and iPad, and a low-tech Siamese cat. And no, she did not pre-order an iPhone OS4.

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When she’s not scrubbing her websites for foul language, she’s frolicking in the sun in Seattle, WA.