I just had a brilliant conversation with Sam Snyder - extremely smart guy.
We talked about a lot of things, and a few stood out to me - he clued me into the notion that many internet trolls might actually be mentally ill.
It's like, how bad off do you have to be to get satisfaction out of blogs, social news sites, and discussion forums? Pretty bad. As Sam put it, "Bad enough that you can't even get satisfaction out of playing video games."
More interesting, though, is that Sam introduced me to the concept of "emotional contagion" - by getting exposure to others' emotions, you frequently start to feel those emotions too.
So when you deal with people who are hostile and off-balance, it can make you a little more hostile and off-balance yourself. Scary stuff.
Sam put a couple suggestions down on how we might transcend this here - "Fixing Internet Comments" - it's a short piece, and worth a read.
We covered a bunch of other interesting topics - nootropics, building a space elevator, solar power, nuclear power and thorium, lots of stuff. One stood out as really relevant to the crowd here though -
We were talking about High Upside, No Downside tasks, and why don't people do them more? By taking 20 minutes of your day to reach out to someone you really admire, to apply for a job that'd be a stretch with your current credentials, to experiment with a way to promote your business that doesn't cost anything, to outline and write up notes on how you could launch a new product... things like that. Why don't we do them?
Sam identified two things - first, even if the downside is almost zero, the chance of embarrassment or feeling let down can stop a person. Humans are much more loss averse. We're afraid of losing more than we love winning. So even if you have almost nothing to lose and stand to gain a lot, you still likely think about losing that tiny bit and hesitate.
Second, we didn't evolve in the modern environment, and our brains aren't necessarily equipped for big potential gains down the road. If there's a 5 step process that produces really good results at the end of step 5, a lot of times we won't think past step 1.
We talked over some potential solutions, and a big one will be getting yourself to conceptualize and identify all the good things that will happen if you do the right thing, perhaps by tying it into places you've already succeeded in the past, and the feelings that go along with it.
That reminds me of his point about Reference Points, which I write up a while back. By moving from thinking about the downside or struggle to thinking about the upside and victory, we can become more motivated and do more.
All fascinating stuff. Sam's a super smart guy - you can check out his website here - http://samsnyder.com/