Perception versus Reality

A little over 20 years ago, I started writing a monthly column for a hobby magazine.   It was devoted to a small subset of the hobby, but had a decent circulation and a certain reputation inside of it.  Why did I do it, besides being an opinionated SOB?  Well, it brought a bit more “name recognition,”  got me a serious discount on advertising, and  I got paid for it.  It wasn’t by any means a “you can do this for a living” gig by any means, because the “pay” was about what I was making in an hour  at my real job.    After all, this was a hobby, something I was doing for fun,  to enjoy.   Being given a soapbox to pontificate on various aspects of the hobby was just icing on the cake.

What I did find out was that there were a number of people who were way too serious about the hobby.  Inside the “bubble” of that part of the hobby, they were big deals.  Reinforcing that were a group of people who wanted to be just as “important” as those people were, who were impressed by the various achievements and titles they’d gotten.     Their entire sense of self-worth was tied up in how well they were doing, or had done, in the hobby, and their “importance” inside of it.   In real terms,  it didn’t amount to much.  Very few people in this world cared about the hobby, let alone had heard of anyone in it.   Even in the hobby at large, not too many people knew who “they” were.  I made myself distinctly unpopular with some of them by pointing this out, along with saying in print “Hey, it’s a hobby.  Lighten up.”

The people I was unpopular with back then were those whose perception of their stature didn’t match the reality.  Inside the very small pond, they were big fish, but in the ocean they were guppies.    I have been having flashbacks to those days for the past year.   While the Internet has the capability to enable people to draw information and perspectives from a wide range of sources,  the reality is that people don’t often take advantage of that.   Instead, they cluster in on-line groups with like-minded people, and form a “bubble” where information is only what they want to hear, and mutually reinforce each others opinions.

This would be generally harmless, since most of the time people have some form of reality check.  However,  when it comes to the extremes  – particularly for politics – it causes some real problems.  It’s on both sides of the political spectrum.  Visit RedState, Free Republic,  FireDogLake, or Docudharma, and you’ll see a remarkable homogeneity of political thought.  They’re “purists,” and they’re all convinced of one thing:  That they represent the thinking of the majority in this country.    Look at any poll on a given subject, and it turns out they often represent a minority, and on their entire agenda, a small minority.   Even within their own party, they don’t always represent a sizable percentage.   When you take into account “independents,” those who aren’t affiliated with any party, it ‘s even smaller.

In the real world, people aren’t “pure” when it comes to political stances.  It’s quite possible to have a stance that might be considered “conservative” on one issue, while on another have a stance that is considered “liberal.”   They are aware of nuances, the shades of gray that don’t quite fit into the “for/against” thinking of the purists.  Which is why the purists are so often dismayed when reality strikes, and their agenda doesn’t seem to get anywhere.  Because their perception of their agenda, that the “majority” agrees with them, turns out not to be the reality.

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4 responses to “Perception versus Reality

  1. g

    Hi Norbrook – It’s me :) My son and I were discussing just the phenomenon you alluded to. I was “critiquing” one of the above named blogs, and my son opined that all blogs, regardless of subject matter seem to trigger the same sociodynamics. He also was on an ‘interest/hobby’ site. Sounds innocuous, right? Hell, no. The members there were raging at each other, and the comments were not confined to differences of opinion about their shared interest, but became personal – with in-groups and out-groups.

    • Your son is right. I’ve been a part of it for a long time, and I’ve always seen the same dynamic. I usually end up getting chastised for “lacking the proper attitude.” Which means that I don’t take (fill in the blank) seriously, or failed to properly appreciate the massive importance of someone.

      I caused a lot of jaws to drop one time after I was elected president of one hobby club. Someone said “Wow, you must really be happy!” My response was “Yes! It means I get free coffee and donuts at our annual show!” :P

      • g

        People need to feel important. Same dynamic in the workplace with territoriality. A caf lady was unhappy with me because I showed up a few minutes late for service (teachers run late). I was apologetic. I did not eat. Same thing at another school: “Of course I’ll pop something in the micro for you, you always have a smile when you come in.” (I love her :))

        • While it’s nice to feel important – and yes, I have an ego, too – I also have a healthy sense of proportion. When I was over at DK, yeah, it was great that I could make the Rec List on a somewhat regular basis. But I never mistook that for being a major force in the Democratic Party or the Netroots. It meant that I wrote something good enough – or controversial enough ;) – to make it. That was it. Heck, it doesn’t mean anything for my local party.

          I was fairly successful in my hobby, and yes, I took pride in doing well in it. But I also knew that in the real world, it wasn’t all that important – it was a hobby.

          What I see with a lot of these people is that they’ve convinced themselves that what their status is there, in whatever little corner of the Internet they inhabit, translates to something “important” in the real world – objective evidence to the contrary.