It's been over six months since term-limits prevented me from running for another year of being Secretary of the PTA. Apparently, I must really miss those PTA Board meetings (where people prattled on in the least linear form possible in wildly successful attempts to put as much distance as possible between their opening remarks and their ultimate points), because I found myself this week at a neighborhood community meeting.
I had never gone to one of these meetings before, but it's the place where our police captain shows up, and our city supervisor shows up, and the general state of the neighborhood is discussed. This sounds pretty reasonable and informative, but in practice something very different occurs. These quarterly meetings appear to be the social club for the oldest people in the neighborhood. And what do old people like to do more than anything else? Complain and eat very bland crackers. Mostly complain.
There were lots of interactions like this:
Police Captain: blah blah blah.... and that's our plan to address the graffiti problem we've been having
Old Person: WE HAVE A TERRIBLE GRAFFITI PROBLEM! blah blah blah WHAT DO YOU PLAN TO DO ABOUT IT?!?
Police Captain: You raise an excellent point about our graffiti problem. Here's our plan: blah blah blah
If I had been the police captain, I would have just arrested or maybe shot anyone asking stupid and redundant questions. It was painfully obvious that people came into the meeting with their long-winded complaints all prepared and pre-winded and nothing was going to stop them from letting us all see the depth of their indignation. We heard useless diatribes against graffiti, totally misplaced complaints against other neighbors, and a series of deeply pained laments about the state of sidewalk policy.
This meeting was a complete validation of Rule #1 of Social Interactions. That rule states: Complaints expand to fill the size of any public forum.
I'm seeing the same thing at work. My company produces a couple of browser plugins and has a medium-sized website. There are a couple of places on the website where users can add comments, and there's also a support forum where customers can ask questions.
Although we get plenty of people filling in the fields with relevant comments and questions, we get a surprising amount of people complaining about totally random stuff. One guy wrote in to the support site complaining about the asparagus in his Stouffer's dinner. Another dude was missing part of his circuit board. Some lady didn't like the jeans she got.
Huh? Jeans? Circuit boards? Aparagus?!?! Dude, you're preaching to the choir here about mushy asparagus, but my company is as involved in your TV Dinner as... well, as nothing. We have absolutely nothing to do with your goddamn asparagus. Apparently, however, if you put a form on the internet, and let people type into it, THEY WILL FILL IT WITH RANDOM COMPLAINTS. The internet is just chock-filled with old people, desperately hunting and pecking their dissatisfaction into every text box they can find.
I don't know that there's a solution to this, aside from maybe trying to distract internet users with bland crackers, but I think it's just very odd.
So very odd.