I finally got around to reading Adrian Chen’s post on Gawker that revealed the identity of the Violentacrez user on reddit: The man behind the troll. It was kind of interesting, though also a little disturbing, and not just because Violentacrez himself is a little disturbing.
I was struck by this comment from Chen’s post:
In real life, Brutsch is an unabashedly creepy old man with seven cats and two dogs and a disabled wife and a teenage son about to join the Marines. He was all of that online, too – only he was famous for it.
I think this struck me because lately I’ve been confronted by the reality that I’ve become older than most of the people I interact with online. (I am, in fact, a year older than Violentacrez.) As someone who was an early adopter of the Internet, I’ve survived to a time when it is largely populated by people a lot younger than I am. Occasionally, when real-life details spill into online interaction, this confronts me with the uncomfortable fact that online, at least, I’ve become old.
In real life, I interact with people of many different ages, including some younger than me, some approximately my own age, and some older than me. In terms of outward signs of age, I’ve been pretty fortunate: staying nerdishly indoors over much of my life and using lots of sunscreen means my skin’s in okay shape. I’ve got a full head of hair (going gray, it’s true). I’m working on a spare tire, but am otherwise in okay shape. My outward appearance is youthful enough that I occasionally get joking “Dorian Gray” comments from friends and acquaintances. So I’ve got that going for me.
But online, none of that counts. And as soon as age comes up, I’m basically left with two choices: Closet myself. Or provoke an involuntary, “whoa. dude, you’re old.”
This was brought into focus recently by my getting more involved on Tumblr, which is a neat place for sharing obsessive fandoms (of which I have a few, as readers of this site will already be aware). But it’s also a corner of the online world characterized by lots of self-disclosure and sharing of angsty feels by (mostly) young (frequently) female users, among whom a 50-year-old guy tends to stand out.
Quoting from an “ask” my lies user on Tumblr recently received:
gr4ci3p00 asked: hi you’re the oldest person i know on tumblr
Yeah, I’m the oldest person I know on tumblr, too. It’s a weird feeling.
A few weeks ago I saw this thing come through my tumblr dashboard (can’t find it now, dammit). It was a survey thingy, where it asked people to repost and add a | character in the row next to their age. And the ages went from, like, I don’t remember, 12 or 13 on up, and there was this cool-looking distribution of rows of | characters, starting off with just 1, and then getting fatter with more and more respondents, with the biggest part of the curve being around age 17 or 18 (I think), and then it tapered off, and there were no | characters at all toward the bottom of the graph. And the bottom entry, at which there had been no respondents for several rows, was “26+”.
Ouch. That hit home. What am I doing here?
I guess, given the degree of privilege I enjoy as a straight white male technocratic Californian making good money, it shouldn’t be a big deal to have to deal with a little irrational prejudice. But for the record: 50 is not old, at least not from my side of that birthday, and 50 and male and hanging out online with a bunch of fellow LBD nerds who happen to be younger and more female than me is not inherently creepy. It’s just a thing.