In the second season premiere of HBO’s pro-guy, pro-small business, pro-capitalist genius of a counterculture conservative comedy Silicon Valley, the guys once again incorporate a sexual metaphor into their business strategy: negging. Negging is a method by which you insult someone in order to get your sexual desires fulfilled. Twisted? Yes. A functional strategy in a certain sphere of sexual culture? Absolutely.
And it works on the Internet as well.
Before you dismiss those who neg as perverts, keep in mind that negative, provocative, reactionary content drives the majority of clicks on the Internet. Case in point, my colleague Robert Wargas’s latest commentary: How Long Does America Have? His primary evidence that we’re in self-destruct? Baltimore riots, yet another media-fed frenzy that would die down if mothers like this one were more connected to their children than they are to the endless stream of panic-consciousness coming through mainstream and social media outlets.
Those riots, like the ones that turned Ferguson into Gaza, thrive off negging (what Ed Driscoll ironically refers to as “riot porn“). As does Wargas’s second piece of evidence involving Christian bakers, the gay mafia and a crowdsourcing site who my colleague Paula Boylard referred to as “jackbooted fascists” who “won’t be happy until all Christians are in ghettos.” So, a crowdfunding site cut off a fundraiser for someone you support. Whatever happened to bypassing the website and sending them a check directly? But the point of the thing isn’t to give the couple financial support, it’s the negging, feeding the idea that someone hates someone else and therefore the country is obviously going down in flames.
Why are Millennials “the poorest generation in 25 years”? Because their parents neg them, of course. According to S.E. Smith, “everyone loves to hate on millennials” and they have the Internet quotes to prove it. Millennials aren’t just despised on the Internet, they’re despised because of their attachment to the Internet. When analysts aren’t ragging on websites, parents are ragging on their Millennial kids for wasting too much time online. So much for the value of social networking.
Thanks to the relentless negging on the Internet there are entire movements devoted to disconnecting from virtual reality. Often referred to as “slow” movements (i.e. slow food, slow fashion) they’re usually dismissed as hippie garbage until they’re given more scientific twists, as in the new Positive Psychology, or spiritual ones as in the case of the mindfulness movement. Apps have been created to help you join in the social media detox craze.
Think they’re crazy? The rates of ADHD diagnoses among children ages 4-17 have gone up a steady 5% every year from 2003 to 2011. A full 20% of the US college population now has ADHD. The simple math tells you that these kids were born into the Internet age, and its more than the speed that boggles their minds. “Impulsivity” and “depression” plague them as well. Surfing the net at fiber optic speeds, it’s easy to figure out why: Even the most popular kitty is a grumpy one.
According to Urban Dictionary, negging consists of “low-grade insults meant to undermine the self-confidence of a woman so she might be more vulnerable to your advances.” In other words, work hard enough to make someone feel worthless and eventually they’ll not only believe you, they’ll become dependent upon you for emotional support. Key word being “dependent,” a.k.a. everything a Constitution-loving, Declaration of Independence-touting American should work at great lengths to avoid. The “distended orgy” of which Wargas writes does exist …on the Internet. And gleefully so! The question is, if we stop feeding the beast will it cease to be a threat to our civilization? That would require the opposite of disconnect. It would mean connecting for a cause greater than negging one another on. And perhaps that is our greatest challenge of all.