(Dave Rea is an engineer and die-hard pen-thusiast from upstate NY, and the developer of @getindxd. His addiction dates back to middle-school quests for pens that could vanquish the dreaded lefty smudge-palm. He succumbed to fountain pens and Field Notes after discovering this blog in 2012; you can find him on Twitter @mtbkrdave.)
Trolling has become a bit of a trending topic in the online pen community of late. We’ve seen thoughtful, well-reasoned posts on the topic from a pair of PhDs: Stephen BRE Brown and Jonathon Deans. Brad discussed it with Azizah Asgarali on a recent PenAddict podcast episode. It also came up in the most recent episode of Dowdy and the Doctor – an excellent short(er)-form podcast for Pen Addict members.
There’s been a lot of talk about the sorts of trolling that pen reviewers experience. There’s been plenty of theories on why these commenters might be slinging their particular brand of vitriol. There’s no shortage of thoughts on how reviewers should respond. But for all this good discussion, there’s been precious little guidance for how we – the mostly-silent majority – ought to address trolling on our favorite pen blogs, YouTube channels, subreddits or forums.
I’ve got a proposal for us…
In electronics (my day job), we’ve got a term called signal-to-noise ratio, or SNR. If “noise” is all the random energy a circuit doesn’t care about, then “signal” is what it’s looking for. The “signal strength bars” on our cell phones are one familiar instance: More bars = Better SNR.
To the content creators of the pen community there’s plenty of “noise”, and precious little “signal”: those times when the audience actively engages. While “noise” can be just about anything unrelated, the “signal” is the feedback: comments, likes, favorites, thumbs (up or down), retweets, subtweets; the list goes on.
The problem, as The Oatmeal so wonderfully illustrated, is that negative feedback can be much a louder signal than supportive voices, and in a very noisy environment, the loudest signal might be the only one that makes an impression. Ever have a microwave oven blitz your WiFi connection? Then you’ve experienced this too.
Tipping the Scales
Let’s face it: trolling isn’t going away any time soon. So long as our favorite pen reviewers continue to work hard creating content for us, they’re likely to be on the receiving end of some occasional negative attention. We also know that troll-shaming doesn’t work, and in many cases even makes things worse. Even the most well-established platforms struggle, endlessly-controversially, with how to deal with harassment.
So what can we, as a community, do to change the balance of power? I believe the answer is to change the signal-to-noise ratio – to turn up the volume on the positive feedback, constructive criticism, and all-around support we send to those we follow. There’s almost zero downside to doing so. If not feeding the trolls is our status-quo, we need to drown them.
To do this requires a conscious shift from passive consumption of content to active engagement. Given our shared interest in “the analog tools we love so dearly”, reviews likely evoke some reaction in us – be it enthusiasm, desire, appreciation, wonder, zeal, or myriad others. We ought to share these reactions with the reviewers we follow! Even if our reaction to the product or the review is critical, it’s worth sharing in a constructive way – because even these additions to the conversation let the reviewer know you came, you saw, and you cared enough to react.
Case in Point
Let’s take a look at an example – a well-trafficked review of the TWSBI Vac Mini by Matt Armstrong on his Pen Habit YouTube channel this past January: