Over the course of the last few months I’ve been thinking a lot about the kind of people that inhabit this thing we call the internet. Of course, I have no doubt that they represent a wide diversity of viewpoints and backgrounds, but it seems like the core of internet users, the ones I’ve taken to calling Internet People, have a surprising number of things in common. I don’t intend to lay out all these similarities here today, but I am going to focus on the first, and probably most important one.
Internet People Fact #1: Internet People tend to drastically overestimate their own importance.
I think I know why this happens. It comes from having a narrow field of reference. The problem is that Internet People hang out with Internet People. And Internet People, in general, share similar interests (more on that in a later post). So when an Internet Person gets riled up about something, all of his Internet People friends are likely to get riled up too. And hey, if practically everyone he knows is riled up about it, then surely it’s something the whole world must really care about.
Here’s the problem. There are not nearly as many Internet People as you think there are.
Try this. Tear yourself away from your computer screen and go outside. Take yourself to a local shopping center and just look at the people around you. Now its realization time: Most of these people are not Internet People. Sure, they may have a email account, and they’ve probably got Facebook so they can keep tabs on their kids who are off at college. But they’re not the kind of people that spend hours in a forum debating the plot holes in their favourite online shows. Chances are these people have never heard of Doctor Horrible’s Sing Along Blog.
When someone tells you thirteen million people play WOW it may sound like a big number, until you realize that thirteen million people also tuned in to watch Britney Spears on Glee!. Thirteen million seems like a lot of people, but compared to the population of the world? Now we’re talking about less than one tenth of one percent. And most internet communities don’t have anywhere near thirteen million participants.
This is why things like the alleged TSA boycott fail so spectacularly. Because the majority of people in the real world, haven’t spent hours online ranting about the erosion of their Fourth Amendment rights. They just want to get to wherever they’re going with a minimum of hassle.
Don’t get me wrong. The internet is a powerful tool, and when all of us Internet People get together on something, we can sometimes make a big difference. But we have to realize our limitations as well. We are not as important as we think.