How And Why I Make Snap Judgments About People Online And In Real Life

by anna on September 23, 2009

Photo by Digital Focus Design at deviantART

Photo by Digital Focus Design at deviantART

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.

  1. 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?;
  2. 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;

  3. 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”;
  4. 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;
  5. 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;
  6. 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
  7. 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?

{ 50 comments }

Deborah September 23, 2009 at 9:04 am

Oh my goodness, you are my new best friend in my head.

So true so true so true! I love everything you said. Let me add:

1. I judge people who twitter ridiculous stuff. I get to judge what that ridiculous stuff is.

2. I judge people who judge me as trivial. I’m deep as hell. And we know how deep that is. Actually, I’ve always said I am as deep as I am shallow.

3. I judge all drivers other than me. I am always right.

4. I judge people that are dumbasses in everyday life. You know, the elevator dumbasses, the escalator dumbasses, the don’t-walk-on-the-right in the skyways (mpls baby) dumbasses; pretty much everyone out there that bugs me.

I am actually not nearly as cranky as I am sounding! Love you girl. You are better than hot soup.

anna September 23, 2009 at 9:40 am

Thanks Deborah. I do end up judging people a lot on what they tweet. I’m sure they do the same back to me, so it probably evens out.

Christine September 23, 2009 at 9:27 am

I judge people on their grammar.

I judge people who are judgemental about others who post “cute” stuff online.

I judge people on their feet. The feet don’t need to be beautifully manicured. I just can’t get past public crustiness.

I favorably judge people who have composed sentences I can relate to such as, “So if you use one, I either hate you or are fighting a very strong urge to hate you.”

anna September 23, 2009 at 9:41 am

LOL. I judge people for consistently being bad spellers, even though I know there are very smart people who misspell things. I just am so interested in details, I cannot stand it when people let that slide.

CharmingBitch September 23, 2009 at 9:35 am

I have never understood the complaint of, ”they (ubiquitous as always) never comment on other blogs”; how is that judged, exactly? They never comment on blogs you read ergo they ”never comment”? Is it a if you didn’t see it, it didn’t happen kind of thing?

Just curious as I have seen this complaint leveled more than once and given the literally millions of blogs available, it seems an odd observation.

anna September 23, 2009 at 9:43 am

You make a good point: it’s entirely possible that people are commenting on blogs I don’t read. I guess my feeling is that if you’re a member of a “community” of bloggers, and you are commenting on blogs, I will probably have noticed it at least once within that community. If not, then you might be commenting on blogs outside of the community, which is still kind of like not participating. But I do allow for your perspective — it’s entirely possible that someone could be a commenter and I just have missed the blogs they comment on.

Kerry September 23, 2009 at 11:27 am

I made a career of making snap judgments of people, so I’m way over feeling bad about it.

I have pretty much the same list as you do (especially the summary feeds). I’d have to add:

1. People who only type in lowercase. The caps-lock abusers don’t bother me, but the shift-key-avoiders make me batshit crazy. I pretty much assume you’re an idiot if you do this. Maybe that makes me an asshole, but I’m willing to risk it.

2. People who tweet cryptic, passive-aggressive stuff designed to get attention. They’re intentionally doing it so you have to ask them what the hell they meant by that, because it doesn’t make sense unless you are psychic or one of the three people who know all about this person’s real-life drama, inside joke, or whatever the hell it is.

3. People who post/tweet incredibly personal stuff just to be inflammatory. I don’t want to hear about any lingering stains from decomposing bodies, or how far down your leg your husband’s semen traveled the last time you had sex, or that your ex-husband just announced he doesn’t think the youngest kid is his, or anything like that. Boundaries are good. Mind the boundaries, mmmkay?

anna September 23, 2009 at 2:55 pm

Smudges, perhaps? Or miscarriages happening during meetings?

Kerry September 23, 2009 at 4:09 pm

Oh, yes, forgot the miscarriage one. Although the paternity-question one still wins by a nose.

anna September 23, 2009 at 8:01 pm

I don’t think I even saw the paternity one, but I can imagine.

OHmommy September 23, 2009 at 11:37 am

I have only a few partial feeds in my reader and very rarely click over. And I am the worst commenter ever, I selfishly read my blogs and only post comments when I really have something to say. And today, it was a super boring “Hey Anna. I hate partial feeds too!” Heh.

anna September 23, 2009 at 2:52 pm

@OHmommy LOL Thanks!

Perpetua September 23, 2009 at 11:53 am

I know how you feel about off-topic posts, but I’m going to go ahead and do it anyway. The new site is beautiful. I’ve been reading you in my google reader for the longest time, so I don’t even know if it’s “new” anymore. But you should encourage people to drop by and give it a look-see. Pretty pretty. :)

anna September 23, 2009 at 2:52 pm

Perpetua, thanks! I’m still working on it, actually. It’s been changing since last week. I actually had to hire somebody to help with the gallery on the landing page, for the first time. But I’m slowly getting everything else fixed. Glad you like it. The mastheads will be changing every month. Yes, just like dooce. I’m ripping her off. I’m also ripping off PW with the gallery. Sue me. :)

Kerry September 23, 2009 at 1:12 pm

Wait–holy crap. When did all that change? Please tell me it was today.

I love “My name is Anna…I like to blog.”

Plus, I love how it already looks like Anna Omnimedia. It’s not even a blog. It’s an experience.

(I miss the little red “subscribe” chairs though. Maybe they could be replaced by little burning hills.)

anna September 23, 2009 at 2:53 pm

The red chairs will be back, I’m still working on the sidebars. Right now the landing page is my chief concern. It may take me another month or so to get it working and looking right. But we are a work in progress around here!

stutefish September 23, 2009 at 1:26 pm

I judge people who, ten+ weeks into an online course of study, still can’t follow the basic directions about where to post their completed assignments. I judge them with the passion of a thousand suns. Passionate suns.

anna September 23, 2009 at 8:06 pm

Seems like that person deserves to get a low grade in the course to me.

Chris September 23, 2009 at 4:36 pm

I’m with you. On everything. I try not to judge too quickly, but as you’ve pointed out, it’s rare that my radar is off. Because my accuracy rate isn’t 100%, I remain humble and open to being proven wrong.

Snap judgments online are tough. I have a hard time with over the top narcissism, but I know we’re all a bit narcissistic to be playing on the social media playground. What’s rickroll? [I don't Twitter much. I'm trying.]

anna September 23, 2009 at 8:16 pm

A rickroll is when people send you to this video of Rick Astley singing that song from the eighties that goes “Never gonna give you up, never gonna let you down,” on an endless loop. It became this sort of running joke on the internet, and people would try to lure each other into clicking links that lead to rickrolls. But I was on Twitter the other day and somebody put a rickroll link as a tweet, which is just over the top annoying.

patois September 23, 2009 at 4:46 pm

Damn, I am obviously not reading the blogs or tweets that Kerry is. I hate that she doesn’t name names so I can go peep. Um, I mean, I can go see for myself and concur.

I like all of the ways you judge. I judge you to be superior to me, however, ’cause I had to go google rickroll. And now I am SO laughing at that.

I will say two of the quickest ways I judge (harshly) relates to the misuse of its/it’s and the over-use of LOL. ‘Cause it just freakin’ bugs me. And I get to define over-use.

anna September 23, 2009 at 8:23 pm

@patois, I totally overuse LOL. Nothing excuses it, of course, but I’m always worried that people won’t understand that I’m kidding around with them/being friendly online if I don’t overuse the LOL. Must work on that.

surcey September 23, 2009 at 5:30 pm

I want to hear about the affair.

Also, I have learned that my negative first impression of someone is wrong about 80% of the time. Guess it’s bad instincts.

anna September 23, 2009 at 8:24 pm

Surcey, I will write about the affair — I’m going to try to have it ready for Friday! It’s all conjecture, of course.

Becky September 23, 2009 at 6:27 pm

Yes, I need to hear about the spinning class woman. I have found spin class to be a hotbed of human frailty. So spill!

And damn, I really do need to get on twitter, ’cause apparently that’s where juicy info is.

anna September 24, 2009 at 2:07 pm

Spinning class woman is going to be the subject of the post tomorrow. But I might have to steal your “hotbed of human frailty” line, or a version of it — because that phrase is perfect for what goes on there, you know, between the cycles so to speak.

Marinka September 23, 2009 at 7:45 pm

I don’t know what rickroll is but I suspect that I will judge it harshly as soon as I find out.

1. I judge people who announce on their blogs that there are some things that they will never blog about. Duh. Just don’t blog about, we get it.

2. I judge blog posts that start with “this is going to be long and boring.”
3. I judge when people don’t proofread.
4. I judge protected Twitter accounts.
5. I judge ALL CAPS POSTING.
6. I judge difficult to read backgrounds.
7. I judge humorlessness.
8. I was going to say that I judge people who make list posts and don’t put up 10 items like the good lord intended, but apparently that’s not working well for me.

anna September 23, 2009 at 8:25 pm

I never put up ten items! I like to use odd numbers whenever possible.

Ask a Manager September 23, 2009 at 10:37 pm

I judge people who get all judgy about how they don’t pass judgment on other people. Do not like at all.

But oh, I must confess that I blushed with shame when you mentioned bloggers who don’t respond to all their email. But I warn people constantly that I may not respond to their message, although perhaps that just makes it even more obnoxious. I would like to respond to it all, but I am lazy. Possibly I will set up an auto-reply explaining that I am lazy.

anna September 24, 2009 at 2:01 pm

Yeah, I try to do it as much as possible, so I was speaking from a this-is-an-ideal-to-which-I-strive point of view. I object mostly to people who have this habit, and talk about it as if there’s nothing to be done about it.

jenni September 24, 2009 at 6:31 am

I also make snap judgements about people, and they are ususally right even though I feel guilt when I make them. For example, one of my friends started dating this guy, and he shaved his head completely bald and wore a handlebar moustache. I was like, “Who the fuck IS this guy? Who wears facial hair like that PARTICULARLY when they have no hair on their head? This guy is a total douchebag.” Well a few months later he made this very passive racist comment, “My new neighborhood is nice, but it’s pretty dark outside.” I was like, “What? like you have a lot of shade trees in your yard?” And he was like, “NO. DARK,” and pointed to his face. Then I got it and I realized I was right. He was a douche. A racist douche. And, he ended up hitting my friend (she left him.) So, yeah, snap judgements are often right.

I hate when people leave really long selfish comments, like the one I just left. I also hate summary feeds, and people who don’t reply to questions in their comments sections, either w/a comment or w/an email. I don’t hate when bloggers comment in their own comments, but I heartily prefer email replies. I hate when bloggers blog in text speak (is that what it is?), like saying “Hai” or “Bai” or “preshus beebee” or “i can has” ANYTHING. Do you hate that? God, I’m getting so annoyed just thinking about it.

anna September 24, 2009 at 7:15 am

That guy does sound like a major douche. And yeah, things like those facial hair choices do indicate douchedom. It’s just that you cannot confirm it, it’s just a hunch, until the real douche maneuver comes out.

I like replies, but I prefer in the comments, even though it means you have to come back to the site. Because sometimes people will reply to me by email and I’ll be like, wait, what? What is this? There’s actually a plugin for wordpress I’ve been thinking about maybe trying out, where your @reply in the comments will be forwarded to the person via email, too, automatically.

Deborah September 24, 2009 at 7:20 am

You just have to laugh at all of us though! We all have things that make us butt-ass crazy, but feel much guilt when a fellow poster lists something we do.

Own your annoying behavior! Some of it is adorable and some deplorable. It’s good.

I know I’m annoying and that very thing might be MONDO annoying to someone. Just ask my friends.

anna September 24, 2009 at 2:02 pm

There’s always going to be stuff that we do that annoys somebody, it’s true.

Laurie September 24, 2009 at 9:39 am

I judge people who tweet or use in their e-mail signatures inspirational quotes of the day. (I’ll withold the term for what I judge them to be.) Also, I consider lawyers who refer to themselves as attorneys pretentious – although I concede that the term is accurate. And don’t get me started on former slugs who take up exercise and then try to pass themselves off as fitness authorities and serious athletes.

But what really inspired me to comment was how this post came the closest I’ve ever heard to someone expressing a pitfall I experienced in my online dating days. I’d read a very detailed profile of a guy and determine he was wonderful. Then I’d fill out the character by projecting details from my own frame of reference, only to be disappointed upon meeting that he wasn’t the character I created, even if he was still wonderful and very true to his profile. I would found myself mourning for a guy who never existed. It was really hard to focus on the actual person. I also found myself on the flip side of that situation. It was strange to recognize when someone had great expectations upon filling out the character of Laurie, only to be disappointed with the real me.

anna September 24, 2009 at 2:05 pm

Laurie, that’s actually what my most dramatic experience with this is drawn from — online dating. It applies also to message board people, etc., but with online dating it is particularly present. That’s why you’ve got to meet them quickly, before you can build up an idea of them too much in your head.

Zoe Right September 24, 2009 at 9:52 am

I completely agree with your assessment of judgement- although I have to admit I’ve never really thought about it in such coherent terms. Oh course that’s the beauty of a great writer – they bring to light a truth and everyone nods their heads.

As far as the rest- you used a few terms I’ll have to go look up…thanks for piquing my interest.

Zoe Right September 24, 2009 at 9:55 am

UGGGGHH I swear to God I can write- As for the rest….As for the rest

anna September 24, 2009 at 2:03 pm

rickroll, perhaps? I defined it somewhere up in the comments. Thanks for calling me “a great writer,” unless you were talking about somebody else. In which case, screw you. :)

Mo September 24, 2009 at 9:57 am

My husband and I have this conversation all the time. He thinks I’m extremely judgmental, but 99% of the time my initial assessment of someone is right. Sometimes, for whatever reason, I will try to give someone the benefit of the doubt, but time and again I’m proven right. It’s much tougher for me online though.

Dumb question: What’s a summary feed?

anna September 24, 2009 at 2:04 pm

Mo, it’s when you subscribe to a blog in RSS (like to read in google reader), and they just have an excerpt, so you have to click through to the site to read the whole thing. Drives me nuts.

Mommy Cracked September 24, 2009 at 2:31 pm

I really can’t stand not publishing full feeds in a reader. I often unsub from blogs that do that. I’m glad you don’t do that. I always say that publishing a full feed will not make me just skip over a post and never visit the blog…see? I’m here! This was an excellent post. I agree with everything.

anna September 24, 2009 at 2:46 pm

@Mommy Cracked, at one point, for a very brief period, I did have a summary feed. I did it for a few weeks because of the usual reasons (content scrapers, and wanting more people to actually visit the site). But then I realized that if it annoyed me so much as a reader, I was just pissing people off by doing it and so there couldn’t be any real gain from it. Like, I’d rather you read my posts in a reader and never visit the site, than not read them at all!

Denise September 24, 2009 at 5:04 pm

Yabbut the real question here is if you liked me initially on the web and then liked me when we met in person.. ;)

anna September 24, 2009 at 5:48 pm

I liked you both places! Actually, there wasn’t much of a disconnect between you online and you IRL. With some people, the effect is more dramatic than with others. :)

Denise September 24, 2009 at 6:45 pm

You’re good people, Anna. I hope this doesn’t sound condescending, but I’m so proud of all you’ve done here. It’s a joy to read your thoughts because they’re always laced with little gems of laugh out loud humor and academic thoughts. MRC and Mini are lucky to have you!

Denise September 24, 2009 at 6:46 pm

P.S. We’ll always have Bob Barker.

Jennifer (Conversion Diary) September 26, 2009 at 10:33 pm

“Seth Godin returns all of his emails, for goodness sakes. Who do you think you are?”

Aw, man, that makes me feel so bad. I’m one of those bloggers. I feel damned if I do and damned if I don’t — I get a lot of emails, but with four kids under six (and no dumptruck loads of blogging cash a la Seth Godin showing up at my door each morning) my free time for replying to emails is insanely limited. I used to just about kill myself getting some sort of polite note of thanks to every person who emailed me…and then readers started complaining about it! I had people reply and tell me that it hurt their feelings that I only answered with a sentence or two (even if it was a very effusive note of thanks), and telling me that they would have felt less blown off if I just never replied at all. I finally just gave up since it seemed like my herculean replying efforts were just offending people more. Ugh. Sore subject.

Anyway…I agree with the rest of the list though. :)

Lisa September 28, 2009 at 10:32 am

From Kerry earlier….”People who tweet cryptic, passive-aggressive stuff designed to get attention. They’re intentionally doing it so you have to ask them what the hell they meant by that, because it doesn’t make sense unless you are psychic or one of the three people who know all about this person’s real-life drama, inside joke, or whatever the hell it is.”

Total Pet peeve.

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