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Hobotraveler Human Experiment

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1496-hobotravelerThere is an odd sort of experiment on humanity going on on the Hobotraveler.com travel journal.

I suppose experiment is the best word for it, as it a way to gauge and analyze an odd phenomenon that the internet technology has enabled: comment trolls, people who take some odd sort of satisfaction out of insulting strangers through the internet.

Andy is posting his hate mail — he is given the people who follow his travel journal just to insult him a public forum. The page is password protected and you need to sign up to view it, but it is worth it to observe an odd sect of modern humanity and the dynamics of tribalism in action.


Deleted Comments on Hobotraveler.com

The results are interesting.

Andy Graham, the Hobotraveler, gets a lot of hate mail. I once thought that it was because he has a lot of readers, and that once I received a broader readership my hate mail would increase as well. But this is not the case, as I do not receive hate mail in nearly the same proportions as Andy.

Rather, it is Andy’s writing style alone that attracts insults. In his own words, he is terse: he writes his opinions unedited.

And many people cannot accept his opinions. In fact, they attack him, repeatedly, compulsively, and sometimes for extended periods of time. Some repeat senders of hate mail have been reading Andy’s blog for years and know every excavatable detail about him and his website. The people who say they hate him are often his best readers.

There is something going on here. This does not make much sense. Why would anyone read anything that they say they hate for so long? Why would anyone put so much time and effort into letting someone know how much they dislike them? It is my impression that there is something beneath the surface here, the Hobotraveler is providing some people with a service that goes beyond the dissemination of travel information.

My hypotheses:

A. That these compulsive senders of hate mail take a deep sense of enjoyment from reading the Hobotraveler’s travel journal. If they did not enjoy the site on some level, they would not read it and put time into submitting content to it.

B. That by reacting against an opinion which is contrary to your own, you in essence are provided with the stimulation necessary to reaffirm your opinion. A diversity of opinions often only serves to radicalize the lines between the various opinions.  Cultural barriers are never more thick than in places of diversity — there is no such thing as a cultural melting pot. By so viciously attacking the Hobotraveler through hate mail, the senders are in the process of reaffirming to themselves who they are by affirming who they are not. So the blogger becomes the whipping boy of some readers’ personality crises.

C. The conflict that derives from a difference of opinion feels good. Simply put, the spark of anger that Andy insights in his anti-fans is the enjoyment that keeps them coming back. It is fun to disagree with someone and debate an issue, especially when this disagreement leads to you feeling very riotous and correct. In point, the Hobotraveler makes some of his readers feel really intelligent and good about themselves. It is the whole bully in the grade school dichotomy revisited.

For years, Andy has occasionally emailed me some of the more colorful bits of hate mail that he receives. We both have a little laugh about it and the go on with our lives a touch more amused by all of the nuts that inhabit this planet. I always encouraged him to publish these comments on the basis of their humor value alone, and always congratulated him that he has accomplished the goals of the writer: he is able to make people feel.

But as I read through the collection of hate mail that Andy is now publishing, I realize that something deeper is at work: Andy is providing these anti-fans with a service, and, deep down, they love him for it.

But why?

It is my impression that if someone reads a blog that they do not like that they should have the simple sense to click away to another blog that they like better — or maybe stop reading blogs altogether and do something with their lives.

It seems simple: if you don’t like something, stop doing it.

“If the program is not the one you want, turn off the set. It’s only you who can decide what life you’re going to get.”

My intellect accepts the fact that a reader may become so upset over what a blogger writes that they leave an angry comment. This is normal — people seem to like reading information that solidifies their impressions of the world as well as that which challenges them.

For a person to read Andy once and then insult him and never return to his site is normal. It makes sense. A person called someone an idiot and then does not waste time with them again. The program was not the one they wanted so they turned off the set.

So when someone disagrees with something that a blogger writes and gets so angry that they leave a nasty comment, I understand: they were challenged and they feel that they need to reestablish themselves as having the upper hand.

This is logical, rational.

But when a person reads a blog routinely and compulsively leaves angry comments, I must initially conclude that there is something wrong with them.

These people are f’cking nuts. They read Andy’s blog daily seemingly with the sole intent of insulting him and disagreeing with what he writes. The Hobotraveler has an entire collection of readers who follow him around the world hanging on to his every word for the apparent purpose of telling him that he is an idiot.

This seemed pathological to me at first, but, after pondering it for a while, I realize that Andy provides a service to these compulsive insulters.

Andy writes his opinions about culture, politics, and places in a very raw manner. Each day you can read his journal and get a unique impression of planet earth which is far outside of any semblance of mainstream opinion. There is no other writer like this guy. To read Andy is to be stimulated, to talk to him in real life is to be stimulated in the flesh, to talk to him on the telephone is to struggle to get a word in edgewise to hold the stimulation at bay for a moment.

I find this enjoyable, as I have never once been bored talking to him. This is also one of the reasons why I travel — for the constant stream of stimulation, where your attention is titillated along the same lines as a heart monitor strapped to a lab rat: bang,bang, bang, bang, bang. Talking to Andy is akin to setting your metronome to high speed: life seems momentarily turned up, put into high gear, and then flung down a large hill.

Any sort of stimulation can become addictive, and this is probably why I have felt prone to reading Hobotraveler through the years. Though many readers seem to take this stimulation as a challenge.

And it is my impression that when people become challenged by a contrary opinion, it is common for them to use the challenge as a platform to further solidify their own way of thinking.

It is my impression that Andy’s following of obsessive angry commenters derives from the fact that he gives them the opportunity to reaffirm their opinions by presenting a challenging viewpoint: he pokes at the embers of their fire. It is never easier for a person to establish who they are than by establishing who they are not. And it is fun to be challenged by a different point of view.

These obsessive angry commenters have had their world views challenged, and their is no better way to further cement your own opinions to yourself then to try to defend them. The people who send the Hobotraveler objectionable comments should thank him for further setting them in their ways, for there is no better way to define who you are than by defining who you are not.

And Andy knows that the more potentially objectionable opinions he writes the larger his readership will be.

Watch the human experiment – Hobotraveler travel journal

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About the Author:

Wade Shepard is the founder and editor of Vagabond Journey. He has been traveling the world since 1999, through 76 countries. He is the author of the book, Ghost Cities of China, and contributes to Forbes, The Diplomat, the South China Morning Post, and other publications. has written 3053 posts on Vagabond Journey. Contact the author.

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