Where Logic Meets Love

Giving Up Comments for Lent

Tuesday, April 2, 2013

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Choose Your Own Adventure: Real Life Edition | Faith Permeating Life

I try to be purposeful with my Lenten practices. I don't want it to turn into something like "Catholic New Year's Resolutions," where it becomes a not-very-spiritual self-improvement project. And neither do I want to deprive myself of something solely for purpose of feeling deprived, which can lead to irritation and complaining and lead me further away from God rather than closer.

So I usually try to listen for a clue from God about what my Lenten practice or sacrifice should be. Two years ago, this meant giving up nagging Mike for Lent, which was extremely difficult but ultimately very beneficial not only for our relationship but also for helping me cultivate trust, something I struggle with spiritually as well as in my earthly relationships.

This year, I hadn't made any decisions until something popped up in my Twitter feed on the second day of Lent and I knew it was the answer.

I would give up Internet comments for Lent.

I didn't give up responding to comments on my own blog or Facebook page, but other than that I tried not to read or write comments on other people's posts. I eventually installed a comment blocker on my browser so I wouldn't have to exercise willpower to avoid comment sections. (The good thing about that extension is you can still click to reveal the comments, so if it blocked something I needed -- like a forum with the answer to a tech troubleshooting question I had -- I could still get to it.) I ended up using Twitter a bit more than usual so that I could respond directly to a blogger if I really wanted to say something about their post.

Here are the reasons I gave for doing this:

Acknowledge my own insignificance. As summed up in the classic xkcd comic above, I can sometimes get an overblown sense of the role that I play in online communication. Oh no! This person believes something completely false! I must send them the Snopes link and set them right. Oh, I have the perfect suggestion for this person's problem -- I must tell them now and solve everything for them. By forbidding myself from leaving comments everywhere, I had to acknowledge that what had to say was not really that important in the grand scheme of things, and people all over the world go about their lives without having me to correct their misconceptions or offer solutions to their problems.

Force myself to form my own opinions about things. I realized that the Internet has slowly been eroding my own decisiveness and critical reading abilities. After reading a book or seeing a movie, I like to read reviews to see what other people noticed that I missed, whether symbolism or plot holes. When I read an article, I also want to see what everyone else has to say about it. Are most people agreeing, or are they pointing out a bunch of logical fallacies that I missed? But I wanted to get away from that and force myself to read something, form an opinion, and then walk away. If I enjoyed it, then there's no need to wade into the comment section and have it be picked apart. Besides, how much more effort goes into an article vs. a comment? If something genuinely needs to be responded to, better to write a full-fledged, thoughtful, researched response than dash off a quick comment.

Simplify. I spend a lot of time reading blog posts and articles (in my Google Reader -- damn you, Google!), and I am OK with that; I see sitting down at the table with breakfast and my iPad and going through my subscriptions as not much different than those who open up a newspaper and read during breakfast, except that it's tailored to things I find relevant and valuable to my life. But comments are a different matter because long comment sections can turn into a rabbit hole of things I haven't cultivated as relevant and valuable reading material but which end up sucking up a bunch of time. Avoiding comments means tailoring my reading material to the things I want to read, and no more.

Aside from the above, here are some things I learned from this Lenten practice:

There are few comment sections I actually missed. There are a few sites, such as Rachel Held Evans and Captain Awkward, where the comment sections are rigorously moderated and thus the conversations that happen there tend to be vulnerable, meaningful, and informational. In other words, I learn as much from the community of commenters as from the bloggers. But in the vast majority of cases, I was OK with not reading comments. I got the information I needed from the post and then, without the aid of comments, decided what I thought of the post, and then clicked away. In other words, the time I spend reading comments normally is not time intentionally or mindfully spent.

I want other people to say critical things I wouldn't say myself. This was an eye-opening realization for me about how I use comments. For example, if I heard a podcaster continually mispronounce a word, I would go on the show's page to see if any commenters had pointed this out to the speaker. But I wouldn't ever want to be the one to point it out. Without being able to see the comments, though, I had to ask myself, "Is this something that is actually worth taking the time to e-mail the person about, or can I let it go?" And the answer was always "I can let it go." I didn't realize how much I did this kind of "Please tell me somebody has already pointed out this wrong thing" thinking until I had the comments taken away. Sometimes it was more along the lines of "I wonder if this annoyed anyone but me," and instead of getting that satisfaction of seeing that I was not alone in being annoyed, I had to just acknowledge my own feelings to myself and then decide what to do about them (say something, or let it go).

When I cheated, it was never worth it. There were a few times when I somehow talked myself into the necessary of unblocking the comments on a particular site. Whatever I thought I was going to find there, I never did. Even if it was something like, "Wow! This was such a powerful post and I learned so much; I bet I would learn even more by seeing the responses to the post," the comments would end up just being some variation of "This was a great post! Thank you for writing it!" It was a good reminder of my own fallibility and the fact that temptation rarely leads to something as good as you think it will.

This Lenten practice has been valuable for me, and I've decided to leave the comment blocker extension installed, knowing that I can always unblock a page's comments if I feel I need to. Even if I do decide to leave a comment, it's valuable to have that extra second of reflection to say, "Do I really need to say this? Why?"

Did you adopt a Lenten practice and/or sacrifice this year? How did it go?


  1. What an interesting idea, and definitely something to think about. I like the idea of being more purposeful in commenting and not just doing it to do it.

    How helpful that is to apply to real life, too--not just saying something to hear my own voice added to the conversation!

    1. I hadn't thought about it in terms of real life, but you're right -- in a group setting or speaker Q&A I can fall into the same trap of "If I don't say this no one will ever understand!" Really, no one is that important.

  2. I gave up allowing the outside door of my office building to slam behind me. It only takes a split-second of effort to catch it and help it close more gradually. A few days into Lent, I suddenly noticed Lew--the security guard who sits at a desk in the lobby, who is elderly but very alert and diligent--wincing as the door slammed, and I thought about how many times he has to hear that every day.... Now that I'm in the habit, I think I can keep it up permanently!

    I also did twice daily prayer sessions during Lent, which I don't plan to continue at that frequency, but I feel it was helpful in various ways and should help me remember to pray more in future.

    I think you made a wise choice! I know I could save a lot of time by giving up commenting...but it can be valuable in various ways....

    1. I love that Lenten practice, of not letting the door slam, and the thoughtfulness that went into it. It's a small habit that allows you to serve another person -- what better way to live out love in our day-to-day lives than being more aware of the effect our actions have on those around us?

      Commenting can certainly be valuable, though as I said I think it depends on the site. By taking a break and seeing which comment sections I missed, I could weed out the time-sucking ones from the more valuable ones. It also made me think about which sites are worth my time to leave comments on -- where am I able to join a conversation, and where do my comments tend to sit by themselves without ever getting responses? One thing that was difficult was seeing a slight drop in blog traffic since a good chunk of my traffic comes via comments I leave on other blogs. But I think being more purposeful about where and when I comment now will actually increase the likelihood that any given comment will lead people to click through to my site.

  3. I love that xkcd. It's relevant to SO many things.

    Comment sections can be some of the ugliest parts of the Internet. On a site that's more moderated (like, I love The Vine column on Tomato Nation), they can be some of the most awesome, but anonymous commenting tends to bring out the worst in people. Sometimes even non-anonymous commenting, for sites that use Facebook.

    The worst for me, though, isn't comment sections where people are clearly ignorant and ill-informed, but the ones where people are convinced they're right and that they're the smartest ones in the (figurative) room. That's one of the biggest reason why I stopped reading Jezebel- the unbearable smugness of the commenters.

    1. Well-moderated comment sections are great. Another one I didn't mention is John Shore's comment section, which he moderates aggressively, although lately he himself has gotten a little too snarky for my taste. But I agree that smugness is infuriating in comments, and it's frustrating for me as a moderator of my own site. It's easy to make the decision to delete a troll, a spammer, or someone using slurs or insults against me or another commenter, but when someone is "mansplaining" then deleting their comment is likely to just lead to righteous indignation.

      I like sites like Rachel Held Evans' where every post gets a lot of comments and comments can be up- and down-voted, so you can read just the very best comments that actually contribute to the discussion.


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