Master of His Domain

Sometimes, despite taking great pains to avoid it, one finds oneself having to go to the Internet for information. An inconvenience, to be sure, especially if one is trying to limit one’s exposure to ads for home mortgages that feature photos of hideously ugly deformed men, the kind you expect to see under freeway overpasses sitting in a shopping cart filled with rags and using a Ralphs Rewards card to eat generic franks and beans from a dented can. But if it’s trivia about Sid and Marty Krofft’s H.R. Pufnstuf you’re after (and I assume that represents more than 80 percent of Internet traffic), then you can be on and off in relatively short order and with a minimum of bother. (Oh, and I’ll spare you the searching. Yes, it’s drug inspired. And no, the Magic Flute was not killed in action in Vietnam.)

But periodically we need actual information—say, some small bit of abstruse knowledge relating to an out-of-production piece of home theater gear—and that means taking the dangerous step of posting on an Internet forum. This should be approached with the kind of care and trepidation you’d usually reserve for tranquilizing a Kodiak grizzly or milking a king cobra.

Flip that around—what if you are the person who holds that small bit of abstruse knowledge and you have the ability to dispense it on a forum? For you, I have this bit of advice: Don’t be that guy.

You know the type. He sits in his little corner of the Internet like Shelob in her lair, waiting until he feels the faint trembling as a victim stumbles across his sticky—or perhaps a better word would be clammy—little trap.

“Hey,” the poor innocent begins, “having trouble finding any info on the ElectroVolt HSX-VII. Anyone know if parts are still available? Thanks in advance to everyone here on the ElectroVolt HSX-VII forum.” Several minutes later, he receives the blunt reply, “Hi, I’m an idiot,” which is hyperlinked to the FAQ. At this point he should of course walk away, perhaps even consider dropping his hobby and taking up knitting or biathlon instead, but he really, really needs the info. Foolishly, he goes back for more.

“Yeah, I read the FAQ. Or at least a good portion of it. But as it is 400 pages long in 8-point type, I confess I lost consciousness before I could read and digest the entire thing. Is there any way you could just give me the information I’m looking for? Thanks again.”

That guy is now in a position to display his formidable talents in the area of pettiness, eclipsed only by his prodigious skills in the art of being passive-aggressive.

“Could I just give you the information you’re looking for? I don’t know, you tell me. I mean, I’ve only been moderating this forum since its inception. I’ve only owned more than a dozen ElectroVolt models and have a 99-percent rating for my eBay ElectroVolt store. (See for yourself, my handle is ElectroVoltBoy_1999. DO NOT mistake me for ElectroVoltBoy_1399, that guy is a total SCAM ARTIST!) I’ve only exchanged more than 10 e-mails with ElectroVolt’s chief grille-cloth manufacturer and have made several pilgrimages to the ElectroVolt factory site (which was, if you know your history at all, torn down and replaced with a Sonic drive-in. I recommend the Footlong Quarter Pound Coney with everything). So could I just give you the information? That’s like asking if the driver for the HSX-VII could be replaced by one from the HSX-VIII!”

Perhaps because he spends considerably less than 16 hours per day on the Internet, and because he’s somewhat well adjusted, he finds it literally impossible that a human could be that invested in something so trivial. So our information seeker tries again, with some trepidation. “Um, so could you?”

Their correspondence is briefly interrupted when someone posts his theory on the meaning of the film Inception. (You see, level one of the dream is the Gulf War, level two is America’s dependency on foreign oil, while level three is a sly reference to the Ghostbusters animated TV series.) It is removed and reposted in the correct thread. “Put your endless speculations on the meaning of Christopher Nolan films here!” and then that guy is back with a time-honored Internet tactic.

“Hm, I seem to recall a few years back, there was another fellow who stormed into places he wasn’t welcome, demanding information from people, information he had no right to. Perhaps you can help me remember who that was. He was a shorter fellow, snappy dresser, loved dogs. Had a distinctive, well-groomed moustache. Had some unusual hobbies, too, as I recall: liked to paint and make his own postcards. And when he could squeeze it in, he liked to annex the Sudetenland. Good dancer, especially when he was celebrating a birthday or, say, the fall of France. Yeah, can’t think of the name, but you remind me VERY strongly of him. Can you help me with the name of the guy you are almost exactly like?”

And of course it gets worse from there, as the goal of that guy (not just this particular that guy, but any that guy—there are millions of them out there) is not just to call someone Hitler; it’s to make it widely known that anyone who does not live by the abstruse that-guy’s rules are in fact worse than Hitler. Perspective is in short supply on Internet forums.

Had the exchange taken place face to face, it would probably have gone something like this. “Hi, I hear you can help me find this thing?” “Sure can. Let me write that down for you.” “Thanks, much appreciated.” “My pleasure. Here, have a complimentary cupcake.” “Thanks, and feel free to borrow my band saw anytime.”

Total time of transaction: 20 seconds. Dictators referenced: zero. In short, don’t be that guy.

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