Haters

by Kalpita Kothary

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My wife, Pita, wrote this piece in September 2013 right after Yahoo! redesigned their logo. I urged her to start a blog but she wasn't interested in doing so at the time. Then a couple of days ago, almost five months after she wrote it, I found it on my hard drive. A criticism on criticisms, it's relevant even today despite the Yahoo! logo redesign being well behind us. I convinced her to let me publish it here. The best part is that we met exactly seven years ago today.

Too often when I read something about recent events on the Internet, be it on a news site, someone’s blog, or a shared writing space like Medium, my takeaway is, “Well, Haters gonna hate”. The fact that supposedly cerebral writing gets reduced in my mind to a hip-hop catch phrase depresses me. Since the Yahoo! logo redesign is a hot topic on the Web right now, I’m going to use it as the example to explain myself.

Mo Facts, Mo Problems

Long ago, someone told me, “Everything is arbitrary”. I didn’t exactly understand what they were talking about at the time, nor will I pretend to now. But I often think about that phrase. I have come to associate it with the practice of debate, and have learned over time that almost any opinion can be defended, especially if the debater chooses the right subset of facts to embed in his argument.

It is along these lines that I have observed that one's preferences get little to no respect on the Internet. And as a result, writers are fearful of sharing theirs. Not only do we often feel like we need to justify our preferences, but we have so much pressure to show that they are right, instead of just being the likes and dislikes that they are. Yes, I may have three facts that show that my opinion is the right one to hold, but I obviously hand-picked them. Someone else will soon write a counter post with three different points that show that my opinion is wrong.

In reality, our opinions are rarely fact—heck, most facts don’t stand the test of time—which means that their correctness is irrelevant. Our opinions are usually just based on our preferences, and a couple of things we may have been exposed to along the way.

It feels like we have lost the ability to look at the big picture: to understand the main point of a piece of writing. In a world where we can fact-check most information in a few minutes, we’ve become terrified of agreeing with something (the main point of a piece of writing) without talking about how wrong the rest is (less important points). And the knowledge that other people will analyze us in the same way, drives us to fill our own articles, blog posts, and comments with preemptive safeguards and, of course, “facts”.

Are We A Bunch of Yahoos?

The point of Marissa Mayer’s Tumblr post was: we redesigned our logo, we listened to our employees, and as CEO, I care about design. What Mayer was trying to do with her post was share and be transparent. She was trying to connect with people who care about logos, brand, and design. And she was also trying to take some credit for the effort because:

  1. People like seeing an “active” CEO, especially when they lead Internet companies
  2. Ambitious type-A people like talking about their accomplishments; it makes them happy

Unfortunately, her post read as, “Hey Designers, I am a controlling micromanager, and can do your job in a weekend!” From my perspective, it was an obvious PR gaffe. I don’t know Mayer personally, but I bet she didn’t mean to imply this. I doubt that she would have intentionally made such a bad PR move.

But let’s suppose for a second that it wasn’t a PR SNAFU. That she believes every word she wrote, and is intoxicated by her own greatness.

Who cares? Seriously.

Even if Mayer is an arrogant asshole (and to be clear, I’m not saying that she is or isn’t, as I do not know her), how would that make her any different from many other powerful and successful people? Why does she have more pressure to be a role model and an all-star human being than Sergey Brin, Bill Clinton, or even Steve Jobs did when he was alive?

If Yahoo! had just issued a corporate press release or made the logo change quietly, we probably would have lambasted Mayer for not being transparent or “clear about her strategy”. Deep down we know that she was fucked if she did, and fucked if she didn’t.

The thing that kills me the most is that we are not consistent with our judgements. Also, I cannot help but feel that she isn’t being judged by her outcomes, rather by her gender. Sure, trailblazers will always get picked on. It’s the price that they pay for being ambitious enough to go first, but let’s at least admit to what we’re doing.

Bottom-line: Mayer should be judged for how she improves Yahoo in the long run, not for how much humility she demonstrates.

Don’t Hate The Player, Hate the Game

In-person discussions have a back and forth flow where we take turns giving each other the floor. We are not forced to provide all our supporting facts and points up front. We get to learn from each other along the way. And, while these discussions can get heated, they are generally healthy.

On the Internet, however, we send our opinions into a void, hope for a reply, and pray that what comes back won’t be humiliating. So to hedge our bets, we actually take our preference or belief, wrap it in handpicked “facts” and rebrand our opinion as “the right answer”. We force ourselves to strongly commit to a side in order to participate in the conversation. And this often leads to writings that are much more strongly worded than the author ever intended. And, the result is often a less civil, nuanced, and productive conversation.

Perhaps we have always been like this, and that what we see on the Web is part and parcel of human socialization. Then again, I can’t help but wonder if it is the immediacy of the Internet with real-time access to an audience is what drives us to move faster and protect ourselves more forcefully.

So, here’s my 2¢.

I like the new Yahoo logo. It feels grown up and confident, but also “sweet”. I am female, in my 30s, married with animals, college educated, work in technology, a child of immigrants, and I live in the Northwest. If those demographics are important, there you have them. The new logo works for me.

I am entitled to my opinion, and I am entitled to debate it. But, I am not entitled to pass it off as fact.