Books of 2015, #15: So You’ve Been Publicly Shamed by Jon Ronson

I would be just as happy if you didn’t go searching for some of my earliest public emails. I know they’re out there, and while I’m sure many of them are fine, I also have clear, visceral memories of being embroiled in any number of flame wars. I’m not even going to try to suggest that I didn’t know better at the time—I did, and I’m not proud of my behavior, and I try to do better today. And still sometimes I fail.

Ultimately, though, those were arguments on technical mailing lists, with at least a genesis in technical questions: whatever I dished out, I got right back, and it was all, ultimately, retail abuse.

What Jon Ronson chronicles in his book—the fascination with destroying people that social media platorms seem to be enabling, with the spectacular lack of empathy that demonstrated by those involved, and the enormous destructive potential it presents—is strictly wholesale.

As others have said—and I can’t find a specific source on Google—we should not be defined by the worst thing we ever did. Especially if the worst thing we ever did was to, say, make a joke (crude, dumb, perhaps insensitive, but not aimed at anyone) to a friend. But there are people whose lives the denizens of social media have chosen to destroy who are guilty of nothing more than that.

Is this really the civilization we’re creating?

Books of 2015, #1: Lost at Sea: The Jon Ronson Mysteries, by Jon Ronson

Unlike the other books of Jon Ronson’s I’ve read, this is a book of discrete essays, without a specific central theme. However, if I were to try to sum it up, I would try something like, “Oh, what inventive ways we humans have invented to interact with the universe, often thereby doing badly by one another.”

Perhaps not surprising from a guy who wrote a book titled The Psychopath Test.

His voice is engaging, if perhaps a little more neurotic than I can entirely empathize with, but that’s OK: I remember seeing him on The Daily Show a few years back, and can easily visualize his weedy, twitchy look.

Really, the through-line on all these essays zigs and zags a bit. I mean, from Juggallos, to a the scandal that inspired Slumdog Millionaire, to a fairly brutal illustration of income inequality, to the first disappearance from a Disney cruise ship.

I think the only one I truly enjoyed—that being a very distinct thing from my reaction to most, which was a sort of horrified-by-the-traffic-accident fascination—was the one on Stanley Kubrick’s boxes and boxes and boxes of research material.

Don’t get me wrong, it’s all worth reading, but it’s not necessarily going to make you happy.