I didn’t expect this thread to trigger so many reactions. I thank everyone who have chosen to participate in this discussion.
Apparently some people feel annoyed by my possible implication that SDMB posters might be unhappy. Let me state, before anything else, that I’m pretty sure everyone using this message board is a happy person.
If anyone here knows me at all, which I guess is quite unlikely, they may be able to testify that I’m the type of person for whom the particular presents no interest except when it helps extract a general rule. I’m a universalist and strive to understand the larger picture and the grand-scale phenomena.
Now, I know people are happy in so many different ways and for so many different reasons that happiness is virtually accessible to everyone. This is possible because human beings are highly adaptable and because material prosperity has a modest impact on happiness.
As a state of mind, happiness is elusive and fundamentally subjective. No matter how hard you try to stay objective, happiness is difficult to quantify even when you refer to something more palpable, such as a life that goes well for the person leading it.
But you can notice patterns of behavior and wonder. Suppose you observe of a very wealthy, influential man who resorts to Twitter compulsively to express his frustrations and brag. Or who spots a reporter with disability and begins to mock him and has fun while doing it. Knowing this is a man of great power, it makes you wonder: what kind of happiness is that?
I guess everyone has felt the urge to boast on the Internet, at least a little. This could have been the starting point of my brainstorming when I initiated this thread: the fact that happy people who’d like to share their happiness on the Internet may feel discouraged by the possibility that they should be regarded as boastful or insecure. The next thing I wondered at the time was how happy are, in fact, message board posters? And I think I came up with this question exactly because I am one of them. Of course I know how happy I feel: I’m happy. But that’s a subjective perception and I was, actually I am, interested in a more objective evaluation. How happy is, in fact, a message board poster?
The Internet carries a wide range of services that make people’s lives more comfortable and happier. It has led to new forms of social interaction, the Internet forum phenomenon being one of them but I don’t think it has been researched as much as Facebook for example. I’m not a Facebook user but I know youngsters tend to display narcissistic inclinations on Facebook, where young people often behave in an aggressive and antisocial manner.
I don’t see why investigating the Internet forum phenomenon or asking questions about message board posters in general should be a taboo, especially when the query maker is a civil person. Several posters in this thread have even expressed their doubts about my intellectual abilities. Suppose I really was mentally impaired in some way. What kind of mature, happy people would mock a disabled person and have fun while doing it?
I think message board posters are a special and relatively rare breed, and I doubt a message board poster can be compared with a park stroller for example. Virtually anyone can be a park stroller. There is a park outside my apartment building where there is always activity and in the evening it looks like all the apartment dwellers in the area have emptied outside because the park is literally packed with people of all ages.
The people who post on a message board are a more limited group. These people enjoy expressing themselves through writing and have a computer with an Internet connection at hand. There is a wide range of message board posters, but what I think drives them to be active on an Internet forum is their craving for social contact within a community.
It is not absurd to ask whether these people are really happy. We’re talking about fulfilled people, with successful professional and private lives, who, in their spare time, instead of entertaining friends and family members on their patio or in their ultimate man cave, spend hours in front of the screen interacting with anonymous people, they themselves being shrouded in anonymity.
Posting on a message board is not the same as any other activity that produces enjoyment. Activities that induce joy are different. For instance, It is one thing to enjoy a meal, and completely another to eat because of stress. I think resorting to the Internet for fun regularly and for extensive periods of time is not a positive thing. I’ve read somewhere, but I don’t remember the place right now so I don’t have a cite, that the richer people are the less time they spend on the Internet. Thus, the Internet is not a normal good, but an inferior one, i.e. a good whose demand decreases when consumer income rises.
This is the reason why I’m still wondering about the objective happiness of message board users and I don’t have any definite answers.