Thus plays the Cunningham’s law

The internet is a parallel world in which we live. So in effect, we live dual lives, one in the natural world where we have our real persona (so to say) and the other is our virtual avatar where we may or may not be known by our real identities. So a Mithun Ivalkar in real life will be known as anything from Fancypanda to Ivalmi to anything. So when you don a mask of a virtual identity, our inhibitions are lost and we become more open to speaking. The internet that allows you posting what you feel through social media and blogs, also exposes you to being commented upon by others. Take any example, for that matter. Try posting a picture of a ship and leave it at that. You will at the most get a few likes, I doubt any comments even. Now caption it with something like “That’s how the Titanic looked like before it sunk”. Before you even blink, you will be bombarded with comments that correct your mistake. Some will say it’s not Sunk it’s sank. Some others will point out that this is just not the titanic. A few will make fun of your ignorance while some may pity you being pea brained.

Why do these people keep quiet when you posted the picture alone? That’s because people love to spot and point out mistakes. A few days ago, a viral picture showed a school teacher teaching the spelling of SCHOOL on the board. The caption has him say, “It should be spelled this way. Some people mistakenly put the first O before the second”. I had a hearty laugh seeing that meme because that strikingly portrays the people’s mindset out there – to point out others’ mistakes quickly. That, by the way, is known as the Cunningham’s law, named after the founder of Wikipedia Howard or Ward Cunningham who famously said that “The best way to get the right answer on the Internet is not to ask a question, it’s to post the wrong answer.”Wikipedia, in fact, has thrived on user generated content, albeit with moderators taking over the approval stuff. With lakhs of pages allowing users to edit, Wikipedia is a live engine, a living breathing repository of knowledge.

Why do people point out mistakes?

Finding fault with others, commenting on others’ mistakes is a common human tendency. Those who realize its fallacy keep quiet while the others take much joy in doing so. The true reason why people do it is because a mistake stands out of the facts. Human minds have gotten used to spotting anomalies to escape danger. Take for example a school teacher who is traveling with some 20 kids in the bus. The moment she steps in, she knows there are two missing and who. If something doesn’t seem right, our eyes capture that error or anomaly and that is immediately registered with priority. This has enabled us to spot threats, camouflaged animals, prey and even lurking dangers. When it comes to the internet, these inherent qualities of the humans are in full display. That is how we spot the differences, pick the odd one out and in general know what’s wrong when everything otherwise seems perfect.

But when on the internet, this human psyche takes on a whole new dimension. It is not just error spotting but much more than that on display. When you see someone has made a mistake, you are quick to jump to correct that. It gives a sense of superiority to the person who corrects. At times, it is people’s own insecurities that play out when showing that they know better than you do. Especially when it comes to social media, those who genuinely know that you have erred, will always send you a Direct Message and never comment openly. It is only those who need that vindication of superiority who are the first ones to jump on the correction bandwagon.

Have you noted, the comments correcting your mistake keep on pouring, completely oblivious of the fact that there are numerous others who have already noted the same. I have seen some threads of correction that go to dozens of others pointing out to the same mistake. ‘You made a mistake and I spotted and corrected you’ gives a (false) sense of superiority, a short-lived happiness in a life that is otherwise so overwhelmingly nasty.

The tendency to spot and comment on mistakes was put to good use by the founder of Wikipedia, Howard Cunningham. I have, myself, trusted Wiki on certain topics more than anything else. That is because people want to add to or correct those who have already contributed to the content creation. Wikipedia allows users to edit and in fact encourages users to add or validate certain facts when found incomplete. This creates an ecosystem of shared knowledge. However, Wiki also becomes unsuitable for citation for that very reason, that it is constantly edited by users.

Cunningham’s observation that people love to reply to a mistake fits bang on to several other instances as well. Have you seen a corporate trainer during his group exercises? He asks you to follow his gestures and touch the part of your face as he mentions the word. So he says out loud ‘Ears’ and touches his ears as the whole room imitates. Then after sometime he says ‘Nose’ and touches his eyes. And the whole room, well almost, touches the eyes. This happens when we fail to spot the error. What he is trying to train you on is to spot the error by synchronizing your senses, the eyes, the ears and the hands to what you’re seeing and hearing. In the absence of this synchronicity, you will end up imitating him wrongly. These traits are extremely valued in the corporate world where you need to be alert to things not being what they ought to be. It is only when they take a different dimension of displaying superiority openly, that it becomes a personality issue.

Check for yourself, do you comment openly on someone’s error or discretely make the person know. That’s for yourself to understand if you are the one who is in fact erring. Well, Cunningham made a name for himself with this.

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