The XX Factor

A Guide to Expressing Your Opinions About Irrelevant Stuff Online

So many opinions.

Photo by Matt Cardy/Getty Images

So Yahoo changed its logo from one thing to another thing, and as of this morning it appears that there may be more online discourse about a purple exclamation point than the civil war in Syria. In a piece titled, “Why We Can’t Help Ourselves From Caring About Things That Don’t Matter,” Rebecca Greenfield at the Atlantic Wire tries to explain all the fussing and fighting over something so utterly pointless. She points to what developer Poul-Henning Kamp dubbed “The Bikeshed Effect” in response to the amount of discourse generated by the least important aspects of software and Web development:

The Bikeshed Effect, more formally known as Parkinson’s Law of Triviality derived from the humor book Parkinson’s Law, is “the principle that the amount of discussion is inversely proportional to the complexity of the topic,” as explained in Producing Open Source Software: How to Run a Successful Free Software Project. The most classic and titular example is that people care more about the color of a bike shed than the decision to build a nuclear plant because they know about colors and don’t know about nuclear power.

I don’t want to come down too hard on the human habit of chattering endlessly about insignificant things. Our ability to generate a limitless number of observations about the pointless minutia of the world makes dinner with the in-laws more bearable. The problem is not so much that we share our opinions. The problem is our intensity about them—that every opinion about any little thing becomes haterade. We don’t just share observations; we create mini online civil wars, giving those who are good at holding grudges or being cutting on Twitter more power than they rightfully deserve and creating an environment in which then everyone feels he or she must weigh in, even when his opinion about a pointless thing is simply to say how pointless it is. Which, in my opinion, is such a boring opinion.

With that in mind, here’s some advice on how to scratch the urge to render judgment on every little thing, or at least not be a giant black hole of negative energy:

1. Thumper’s Rule. While being a hater may just be stitched into your personality, and expecting you to silence all of your negative opinions about irrelevancies is too big an ask, why don’t you at least occasionally try to achieve a little balance by praising things you like? Here’s how that would work: Next time you’re tempted to tell everyone how annoying you think Anne Hathaway is, why not shift gears and share a link to Janelle Monae’s new album streaming online? See, don’t you feel better already?

2. Don’t be a hack. Making fun of hacks is a worthy pastime, but for the love of good taste and common sense, don’t be one yourself. Before you tweet, ask yourself this: Do I sound like Richard Cohen trying to beat a deadline? If so, delete the bon mot where you were going to call Miley Cyrus a “twerk” and go spend some time with your family.

3. Brevity is the soul of wit. If you can’t express an opinion about something ultimately meaningless in 140 characters, it’s not worth saying. If you find yourself typing “2/3” at the end of a tweet, delete!

4. Don’t be needlessly argumentative. If you see someone express an opinion and you only agree with 95 percent of it, resist the urge to quibble with him over the remaining 5 percent.

5. It’s not a spoiler if the show has already aired.

One other thing: Let’s not be too upset that people waste a lot of time getting upset over dumb little things. It’s not as if we want their opinions on the important stuff anyway.