The Online Disinhibition Effect

27 Jun

Broken LaptopWhen I used to teach (nowadays I mentor), I would talk to my students at length about the online disinhibition effect and its potential ramifications on social interactions and deindividuation.  Basically, people act like idiots online because their inhibitions are out the window with the guise of anonymity through a computer or mobile device…so they say and do things online they would most likely not do in person.  For example, in the comment section of a post of mine from 4 years ago about circumcision (a heated online topic) many of the pro-circ crowd used lewd phrases and mocked people who were not circumcized while the anti-circ crowd used internet-based information to convey hearsay as fact and used lewd phrases as well.  In those comments I was accused of wanting to have homosexual sex with my unborn son, was called a barbaric mutilator who should be locked in jail for the rest of my life, and I received multiple death threats.  Many of the comments were so shocking I had to remove them.  The question I had posed was simply to gather people’s thoughts.  This is the online disinhibition effect.  No one in their right mind would have said some of the things they posted had they been face-to-face with me.

In debate, these tactics are referred to as intellectually dishonest.  I find many people think they are great at online debating when in fact they are great at flaming or trolling social media.  Silencing your counter debater with slurs, attacks, subject changes, hearsay, and irrelevant logic is intellectually dishonest…though they are the foundation of online conversation, the result of deindividuation, and the tools of disinhibition.


Boba Fett

The other day I engaged in some fun online banter that quickly took a turn (as to be expected) to dishonest debate as my counter debaters (A) changed the subject, (B) used sarcasm to deflect the subject, (C) used irrelevant logic, (D) used hearsay as fact, (E) questioned my motives as a deflection tactic, and (F) presented logic that plays to the fantasies & fears of the group participating.  So I bowed out of the conversation and the counter debaters marked it as a victory.  That’s how most conversations go online.  That’s how most US politicians debate.  That is how debate and critical dialogue is devolving.  Now, I’m guilty of this technique as well and use it quite frequently on my friends when tipping beers and debating trivial topics like if Boba Fett is really a badass bounty hunter or an idiot who got knocked into the mouth of Sarlacc during the Battle of the Great Pit of Carkoon.  It is also great for poking fun at Doug Gottlieb via Twitter when he openly attacks the city of Wichita and then deletes all his tweets in an attempt to not look like an idiot.  However, this form of debate online isn’t always jovial fun…it is dangerous.

Harley Brown

Harley Brown for Governer

As I mentioned, in the comments about my circ post and by email an anonymous user threatened my life…which is a criminal offense.  Would that person have committed such an act had he or she been standing in front of me in a public forum?  Do we not see how public online conversation is?  I ask myself this question all the time and remember my father’s advice to me when I was in middle school:  I was a scrawny kid interested in art at a school where everyone played football.  I was bullied daily.  Then I grew 8 inches in a year and learned how to fight…and beat up all my bullies and threatened any kid who even looked at me wrong.  (In so, I became the bully)  My dad had told me to ignore the bullies.  He told me to ignore the slurs and eventually they’d get bored and leave me alone.  He told me to learn to walk away from bad situations…and that is not an easy thing to do.  In intellectually dishonest online “debate,” I have found leaving the conversation is often the best tactic…the intellectually honest tactic.  In debate you are taught to (A) argue the facts and know what you are talking about, (B) be honest in your arguments, and (C) point out errors in your opponent’s logic and/or facts.  Online, you are most likely debating an old friend on social media and all of their like-minded friends or a complete stranger.  Due to the online disinhibition effect you have to ask yourself: “Are you willing to risk losing your friendship over the subject matter?”  “Are you willing to waste your time on a flaming/trolling stranger?”  In my case, I found the answer to be “no” as I value my friendship and and left the conversation before it went from poking fun to heated commentating.

So, as you browse the internet and chat with friends, friends of friends, and total strangers…ask yourself if you are accurately representing yourself as “you” online or if you have created a more confident version of yourself, who – through deindividuation – acts in a way the real “you” would abhor in a face-to-face interaction.  The rules of debate don’t apply in the real world but they are the foundation of critical dialogue, conversation of differing opinions, and the remedy for the online disinhibition effect.  Be sure you represent yourself online in a way you would in person.


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Toddler Quotes 6/26/2014

26 Jun

A conversation with my 3 year old Max and 1 year old Dodge as I get them buckled into the car at my office.

ME: “Max, I’m not going to be home til late so I expect you…”

MAX: “I respect you too Dada.”

ME: “No. Okay, thank you. I respect you too Max.”

MAX: “Thanks Dada.”

DODGE: “Dada!”

ME: “Yes Dodge, Dada.”

MAX: “Dada!”

ME: “I was saying, I expect you to be on your best behavior.”

MAX: “I respect I will.”

ME: “You suspect you will?”

MAX: “Yeah.”

DODGE: “Yeah!”

ME: “Okay…good enough. Love you Max.”

MAX: “Love you too Dada.”

ME: “Love you Dodge.”

DODGE: “Yeah!”

ME: “Yeah, do you love me Dodge?”

DODGE: “Again.”

ME: “Love you.”

DODGE: “Drink.”

ME: “Yes, when we get home. Love you.”

DODGE: “Up?”

ME: “No. Love you.”

DODGE: “Splug flooooshpffft.”

ME: <sigh> “Splug flooshpft you too.”

Max & Dodge Back Seat

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Babies Don’t Float

17 Jun

KenmoreRedGrillThis past Sunday was Father’s Day and my wife made sure I had a relaxing weekend because she’s the best wife in the world.  I joked a few weeks back that Mother’s Day should be renamed to “Wive’s Day” since my kids are 1 and 3…so I did all the Mother’s Day activities and gifts.  Well, Kate made it a splendid Husband’s Day Weekend.  Saturday I got to sleep in, the boys (and Kate) got me a new grill, Kate baked butterscotch cookies, I played golf with my dad, slept in Sunday, had a pool day with my family and my folks, watched the Heat lose the NBA Finals (I don’t like the Heat), and a fun night with friends.  But…lets go back to the pool day.

Max (3) is very much a fish and can navigate around the pool and other bodies of water just fine with his safety vest on.  He’s fearless.  On Sunday he declared that we was ready to jump off the diving board without me there to catch him and that he wanted to go under water.  This kid loves the pool but hates going under water so I was shocked.  Sure enough…Father’s Day was the day he started doing cannonballs off the diving board into the deep end with no issues around going under water and popping back up to the surface.  Awesome.  Dodge (1) was in my dad’s arms gently splashing at the water and still figuring out the whole pool thing.  I’m pretty sure I ate a pound of cheese & crackers since I skipped lunch and the ladies caught up on art gossip.  When the boys climbed out of the pool for snacks and drinks all flotation devises were shed and the parents and grandparents went on high alert keeping close eye on the edge of the pool.

Then it happened.

Max sat down on the edge of the shallow end and stuck his feet in the water.  Dodge, naturally, did the same.  They began splashing each other with their feet.  Dodge decided he’d stand on top of the water like a puddle to splash Max better.  Everyone saw it and shouted out as Dodge began scooting his little booty into the pool.  I calmly took off my shirt, emptied my pockets, and jumped into the pool as Dodge fell in with a splash…and sank to the bottom of the shallow end.  I scooped him up and raised him out of the water where I greeted him with a smile.  He coughed and looked around in shock but was happy to see I was smiling and there to hug him.  We swam for a minute and then I placed him on the steps where he played in the very shallow water then exited the pool and left the edge alone for the rest of the day.

A healthy fear of water.

Summer in Lake George

Summer in Lake George

Kate and I love swimming but we understand it has dangers.  I’ve cracked my skull open running next to the pool and fallen in, I’ve been hit by a JetSki and knocked out, I’ve tangled my feet up in rope 10 feet under water, I’ve had my regulator stop working at 40 feet while scuba diving, I’ve breathed in water playing water polo, and I’ve lost my bearings swimming at night.  Yet every summer I dive head first into Lake George like an otter and happily swim along the rocky bottom shores at about 7 feet.  Its my happy place.  Both boys have had safe accidents in the pool where they learned water can be dangerous.  Max’s was almost the exact same scenario just over a year ago.  Instead of grabbing them at the edge and risking banging their heads into the wall I let them fall in and realize they don’t float.  It is an important thing to know – and like learning things such as the oven are “hot,” a minor and controlled “accident” is sometimes the best way to learn.  Both Max and Dodge as babies touched the oven at some point and realized that the word “hot” went with the sensation of “ouch!”  Same goes for water, they both figured out that they don’t float.

It is important to note that I don’t condone throwing kids into bodies of water or letting them sink long enough to breathe in water.  No.  I’m just saying…sometimes its good to fall in.  I fell into the duck pond as a kid and my mom let me so I’d learn to stay away from the edge.  Same thing…only no ducks and cleaner water.

To cap off the pool day Max let me show him what to do if he fell in.  He said, “Dada, I don’t float I sink.”  I agreed and asked him if I floated or sank.  He said, “You float because you are a grown up.”  I got in the pool, stopped moving my arms and legs, and sank.  Then I came up and asked him again if I floated or sank.  He asked why I sank.  I replied, “I sink.  The reason I don’t sink is because I swim.”  You could see the light bulb go off in his head and he understood why I was always trying to teach him how to swim without the life vest.  So we ditched the vest, I gave him simple instructions about what to do, and I tossed him into the pool.  He popped back up and stood in the shallow end.  The light bulb got brighter.  “Dada!  I can stand!”  He began running around in circles and found that doggy paddling got him from point A to point B faster.  He was so happy.  I got in with him and asked him to walk toward me (the deep end) and feel where it gets deeper.  He did and found the visual markers that clued him he had gone too far and returned to the safety of the shallow end.  He’s ready to learn to swim!  But that’s for another day.

Sunday, Dodge learned he didn’t float while Max learned he could stand in the pool.  Dodge learned to say “Papa” for my father which made my dad very happy.  Dodge also figured out how to give a proper kiss and began kissing all of us on the cheek.  Both my boys played very nicely with each other and while Dodge fell in the pool he was not so scared that he wouldn’t get back in.  That night I got a kiss on the cheek from Dodge before bedtime, Max during his bedtime, and Kate when we went to bed.  That’s a pretty great Father’s Day and the best gift I could ask for: My family’s affection.



No babies were harmed in the writing of this post.

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Air Horn Under The Chair Prank

12 Jun

Chris Prater SlappedToday is my boss’s birthday and I happen to have an amazing boss.  He gives me freedom to manage my projects at my own pace, encouragement and assistance when I need it, and is a valuable resource I can rely on whenever I need him.  He and my coworkers are why I love my job.  However, today is his birthday…which means its time to prank him!  So niceties aside, I got Chris good this morning with a classic prank.  Never in my life have I been a punctual person so I decided part 1 of my birthday gift to him would be showing up for work today an hour early.  It gave him quite the surprise…just not as big a surprise as the air horn I had taped to the bottom of his desk chair the night before.  Here’s the prank:


Finding a small air horn in Kansas was harder than I thought!  I kept finding the big ones at the hardware store but a big one wouldn’t fit under his chair and it would be very visible.  Finally I found exactly the one I was looking for at Gander Mountain, the Orion Mini Safety Signal Horn.  It was small, under $10, and most importantly: triggered from pressing the top (not the side).



Rigging the air horn to the chair requires some patience and duct tape.  In my case I used electrical tape to match the black base of the chair.  Be sure to understand the physics of the chair and ensure that the air horn button and chair will make contact once pressure is added by sitting down.

Air horn taped to bottom of chair and rigged to go off when seated.

Air horn taped to bottom of chair and rigged to go off when seated.


Add a Happy Birthday note so your unsuspecting victim knows where to send their ER bill for their heart attack.  I went with the classic “HOPE YOUR BIRTHDAY IS A BLAST!” note inside.  If you don’t want to be caught, leaving a note would not be recommended…though you could leave a forged note signed by a coworker.  Personally, I’d blame my coworker Dee.

I took full credit for this one. Happy Birthday Chris!

I took full credit for this one. Happy Birthday Chris!


Be sure the cleaning help or other coworkers do not interfere with the prank.  In my case I needed Chris’s chair to remain in the same spot because if it swiveled too much the air horn could scoot too far down and no longer work.  A quick note to the cleaning help detailing my needs alleviated my worries.

Now you have an accomplice as well.

Now you have an accomplice as well.

Make sure the evidence is destroyed.

Make sure the note is easy to find and then destroyed.


Document, document, document.  While I had hoped to get a camera in place to record Chris’s reaction this morning…he came in early!  On his birthday!  So all I have is the video test the night before and Chris’s reaction interview after (in which he is a very good sport).  So…enjoy!

The Night Before:

Chris’s Reaction:

Remember, the rules of pranking are:

  1. Is the person I’m pranking going to find this funny?
  2. If the person I’m pranking won’t find it funny…can I still get away with it?
  3. Be prepared to accept any consequences foreseen and unforeseen.
  4. Video and camera documentation is the best.
  5. Watch your back for the inevitable future.

Special thanks to Chris Prater, David Smith, Dee Lanzrath, Williams Ace Hardware, Gander Mountain in Wichita, the office cleaning services, American Armed Forces stationed worldwide, Bud Light, the internet, Skittles, and of course my loving family…without whom (and free time) I would never act out such childish pranks.

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So Long Ornate Box Turtle

11 Jun

Kansas Ornate Box TurtleFor those of you that have been following along, we picked up a hitchhiker about a week ago as my family drove back roads home from St. Louis to Wichita.  We acquired a female Ornate Box Turtle which my boys named Flora.  Upon bringing Flora home my wife Kate and I did some research and came to the conclusion that the right thing to do was return Flora to her home since Ornate Box Turtles are protected reptiles in Kansas and tend to have shorter lifespans in captivity than the 50-100 years suspected in the wild.  So…last Saturday we packed the boys into the car and made the 3 hour round trip drive to Flora’s home:  A bridge just north-east of Toronto, KS on highway 54.

Flora spent her 6 days living in our back yard plotting multiple escapes and nearly succeeding twice.  I was in awe of her burrowing capabilities and her complete distrust of me despite feeding her multiple leaves, watermelon slices, and apples was a good reminder that this was a wild reptile that belonged in her own home.  When I found her the week prior I was convinced I was doing the right thing by saving her…keeping her from being squashed in the road.  After seeing her desperately looking for her home and being miserable in an enclosure it was a clear decision.  Flora needs to go home.  We told the boys, “Flora has had a nice stay with us but she needs to go home to her mommy and daddy now, her family misses her and she misses them.”  Max (3) understood this while Dodge (1) smashed a cracker into the seat.

20140607_110809Without much fanfare I placed Flora under the bridge by the river that fed into Cedar Creek and eventually Toronto Lake in hopes she might go under the bridge this time instead of over it where cars and trucks rumble by.  She thanked me by peeing on me one last time before scurrying into the deep grass she seemed to know so well and hiding in the mud of her home.  She did look back to study me and I like to think she was thinking, “Thank you…thank you for bringing me home.”  When in fact she was probably thinking, “Don’t ever touch me again you stupid flesh bucket!”  More than likely she was thinking, “Muhlbc;hu elsf h;FH…” because turtles can’t speak.

20140607_141435 (1)

Highway 54

We counted 17 turtles in the road that day, one of which was about the size of a basketball and trapped on the median of the Turnpike as cars whizzed past at 80 miles per hour.  We didn’t count the squashed ones but we did watch one get killed by an unsuspecting mini van.  I narrowly missed one making a break for the other side and was impressed by it’s speed…which gave me hope.  The whole thing made me feel sad and acutely aware of how something as simple as a road bisects animal’s habitats and changes migrations and nature forever.  It reminded me of Robert Moses and how the Cross Bronx Expressway forever changed neighborhoods like Tremont in New York City when neighbors were suddenly divided by a seemingly endless 6 lane highway.  I like to think Flora went home that night to her tribe and forever told stories about that wild week she survived among the flesh buckets from outer space!  I like to think she’ll live for decades…longer than me.  I like to think she made it to the other side of the road.  I like to think a lot of things about Flora the Ornate Box Turtle…but the one thing I know is that my family and I did the right thing.  So, if you see a turtle in the middle of the road…don’t take it with you.  Pull over, gently pick it up and place it on the side of the road in the same direction it was facing or heading.  Its like helping a little old lady across the street.  It takes a few seconds out of your busy, busy, busy day…but its the right thing to do.

Flora's Home on highway 54

Flora’s Home on highway 54

Flora hiding in lower right corner

Flora Looking Back Before Going Home

So Long Flora...

So Long Flora…

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