Living and working on the internet provides many interesting and resistive conundrums. You want to share information, and learn things, and try to propagate knowledge forward with some semblance of permanency and purpose; but there are always — The Others — also online, who appear to live to thwart any attempt at compulsive fact collecting. Sure, we all know the Comments Troll — but there are other ugly demons that abound, just waiting to leap at you and waste all your time.

Bob Lefsetz is one of my favorite online authors, and here’s his take on these Others who appear to live only to stop us

What I like most is those asking for information, as if Google were never invented. Ever think of searching first?

Or those who want me to answer their questions, as if I’m a free college professor and my only goal is to make them rich and famous.

And that’s an e-mail I get all the time, people who want to get together or hop on the phone to inform me of their product that’s going to change the world. And if you respond that there’s nothing in it for you, me in this case, that they’re getting paid and I’m not, they never shy away, they double down! They’re doing me a favor, hipping me to their incredible offering that’s going to change the world. Don’t I want to hear their music, don’t I want my life to be better?

There are only so many hours in the day to get things done, and meeting in person and talking on the phone both happen in real-time, in sync with another person, and when you agree to go “real-time” with someone you don’t know, that means a commitment to giving away what you don’t have much of: Minutes you alone own to get your life accomplished.

Bob reminds me of the people who claim to want to take our online classes.  Those people ping you in email, ask a thousand questions, and if you don’t answer them properly, or right away, then they threaten not to take your class and punish you with losing all that time you already spent on them without getting anything in return. They manipulate your attention and they control your time — merely for their selfish sadistic pleasure.

Well, after a decade of being wrung through that particular online wringer, I’ve learned those Others are never going to take your class — they’re just mining you for information so they can spend their money elsewhere online or locally or never — they expect for you to make them an instant expert, so they know all the talking points, and the prices, and learning angles, and they command you to do everything for them for free… or else!

I’ve learned the best students never ask a question before the purchase.  They read what you’ve provided and reason what you’ve written and then they sign up.  You never hear from them until you get in touch and thank them for taking — and paying for — your online courses.

Over the weekend, the New York Times fed a similar online beast: Those online Others who live only to tear down other people by pretending to be their own authority on anything they so choose:

Something happens, and before the facts are even settled, the morals are deduced and the lessons drawn. The story is absorbed into agendas. Everyone has a preferred take on it, a particular use for it. And as one person after another posits its real significance, the discussion travels so far from what set it in motion that the truth — the knowable, verifiable truth — is left in the dust.

The economy of contemporary journalism encourages this. It favors riffing over reportage, and it’s lousy with opinions, including the one expressed here. I sin whereof I speak. I also present this as a confession and a penance.

That’s the danger of being online. Some feel an expectation to immediately respond to those opinion freaks — more often, retaliate — for any perceived slight, large or small.  Actually, there are no small slights perceived on the internet, everything is massively insulting or extraordinarily cruel, ridiculous, or stupid. There is no known end or remedy to navigating the hurt feelings of The Others.

If you want to “win” on the internet — belittle others, curse a lot, and always make sure you get the last word — no matter how loud or obnoxious you to have to be to steal that last moment of silence away from the rest of us.

Patton Oswalt is an actor who, also over the weekend, decided he’d had enough social media mongering, and announced he was retiring from online interaction for three months to get away from all the chaff passing as cream:

Although Oswalt didn’t explain the immediate circumstances behind his decision, The Huffington Post pointed out earlier this week that he had attracted quite a big of ire after sending out a tweet on Friday commenting on hostile reactions to the #YesAllWomen hashtag movement that grew out of last weekend’s shootings in Santa Barbara.

“Fellow nerds: y’know how mad we get when jocks confuse Marvel & DC? Women feel that way when men confuse rape with sex (x1000) #excelsior,” Oswalt wrote. The note drew criticism from people on both sides of the issue, leading Oswalt to send out a series of explanatory tweets. “Wow. The Marvel/DC rape tweet. Everyone, please…” he wrote. “I was trying to speak directly to all of the MRA dolts in my feed and all their disgusting reactions to #YesAllWomen. That ANY of you took it for a joke is beyond me. There is NO comparison between rape & any MRA concerns. THAT WAS MY POINT.”

I feel for Patton: He can’t win for trying.  You can never say the right thing without also being wrong, and that is the challenge of publishing everything online.  You have to always move forward and not look back.

You need to be certain in what you know.  It can’t really matter what others around you think and it’s never wise to engage those who attack you.  If someone agrees with you, great!  If they do not agree with you, great!  It’s all the same, it’s all not different, it’s always responding without ever responding.

You don’t become malleable, but your expectations of others becomes wispier and less brittle.  People change and argue and agree to connect in some way.  You can either accept that bargain of unknown connections, and be controlled by their consequences, or you can welcome any and all commentary and not let any of it get to you enough to respond with any memeingful amount of effort.

Answer every question, or not, but the endgame is always the same: You’re on your own, alone, and moving forward into darkness with no way out and no other option available.  That’s the internet.  That’s always been the internet.