How And Why I Make Snap Judgments About People Online And In Real Life
I am a big fan of snap judgments.
I used to fight the little feelings I would get about people, and try not to let bad first impressions turn into generalized bad opinions of people. Because sometimes you’ll be talking to someone, and there will be just some small gesture or something that you don’t like, and then you’ll think, “Yeah, this person totally sucks,” but you won’t know why. And you will want to fight that instinctive response, because you will tell yourself you’re not being fair, or whatever — that your impression is based upon superficial things that should not matter. And it probably is, to some degree, so you fight it and give the person a chance. And then time passes, and eventually it’s fifteen years later and the person has cheated on his or her husband, or embezzled money, or gone through all of the diaries you left behind when you went to college.
Snap judgments make us uncomfortable because we don’t understand how they work. And because they happen so fast, without relying upon logic. But they end up being correct more often than most of us realize or want to believe: look at the work of Gavin DeBecker or read Malcom Gladwell’s Blink if you’re unsure about this. There must be some kind of instinct involved in making snap judgments that we just cannot quantify, because otherwise it just doesn’t make any sense how eerily accurate they end up being so often.
For example, the gym. The gym is a really good place to make snap judgments of people. Like the time when the guy next to me on the elliptical trainer was making too much noise and pissing me off for some reason, and I decided I didn’t like him. Then, the TV he’s watching somehow got switched away from the channel he was watching (Fox News) and he said, “WHAT THE FUCK IS THIS?!” And I realized, yeah, there’s a legitimate reason (or fifteen) for me not to like this guy. Now you might argue that somewhere in my peripheral vision I had picked up on the guy watching Fox News, and this factored into my snap judgment of him. And if it did, that makes sense, but my conscious brain did not register it. So it seems like there’s a bunch of information flying around all over the place, all the time, and our brain records it in some fashion, and all of this is factoring into that snap judgment. Which means, basically, that a snap judgment is way more thought-out, in a way, than a logical conclusion you’ve taken months to prepare.
Which is why, for example, I was able to trust the instinct that the woman sitting next to me in spinning class yesterday is having an affair with the instructor. But more on that later.
The problem with online relationships is that you cannot use your power of snap judgments. Something in the medium compromises them, and signals get twisted. When I first met friends from the online world in real life, there would often be a period where I felt disconnected, like my brain had to reboot so that it could adjust its impression of a person to fit with the real human who was standing in front of me. Most people are similar to their online identities, but there are a whole different set of skills/ideas on display in the online world. Certain personality traits can be emphasized, and other things downplayed. There’s a whole host of other decisions/priorities that you introduce when you’re online, so things get more complicated much more quickly when you try to mix the two. Ever meet somebody whose blog you love? And then in real life you’re like, “huh?” Or, the opposite–meet somebody whose blog you don’t like, but you really like the person you meet in real life? Yeah. That’s what I’m talking about. The traditional means of snap judgments don’t work, because whatever instincts they use are not being exploited over the internet.
As a result, I’ve had to improvise. So here are the ways I try to use the power of snap judgments online.
- I judge people who make a habit of not returning email. I don’t care how popular your blog is. If it’s an actual email, a personal email, from a reader, I have a hard time believing you don’t have time to return it. Seth Godin returns all of his emails, for goodness sakes. Who do you think you are?;
- I judge bloggers who never, ever, comment on other people’s blogs. Even if it’s very infrequent, it’s still worlds better than never doing it;
- I judge people whose Twitter follower-to-following ratio is heavily unbalanced. To retain some mystery, I will not reveal the specifics of how I determine “unbalanced”;
- I judge people who appoint themselves to police or to act as an authority figure over a community of bloggers (or businesspeople, message board participants or whatever). I suspect their motives, and believe that if I met them in real life, I would find them to be arrogant and condescending;
- I judge people who use summary feeds, even though I know there are legitimate reasons to prefer one as a blogger. Because as a reader of blogs, I hate them. So if you use one, I either hate you or are fighting a very strong urge to hate you;
- I judge people who consistently find themselves issuing instructions about how things in the blogosphere should be or how we as bloggers should act. In fact, I hate myself right now for doing just that; and
- I judge people who try to rickroll people on Twitter stream because, honestly, what the fuck is that about?
How about you, internet? How do you judge people? What behaviors do you hate online?