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Clay Shirky On Hackers and Depression: Where's the Love?

timothy posted about a year ago | from the suicide-hotline dept.

Medicine 319

giminy writes "Clay Shirky has a thought-provoking piece on depression in the hacker community. While hackers tend to be great at internet collaboration on software projects, we often fall short when it comes to helping each other with personal problems. The evidence is only anecdotal, but there seems to be a higher than average incidence of mental health issues among hackers and internet freedom fighters. It would be great to see this addressed by our community through some outreach and awareness programs."

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319 comments

License? (4, Funny)

dtmos (447842) | about a year ago | (#42679867)

It would be great to see this addressed by our community through some outreach and awareness programs.

I assume these programs would be released under the GPL, or some other open-source license?

Re:License? (1)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#42680475)

In the US? You have to be kidding. Here, insanity is illegal [illinoistimes.com].

Travis became a regular at the Sangamon County jail, the repository of last resort for mentally ill people who are scary enough that they can’t be free and numerous enough that the system can’t help them.

Travis, 54, died Dec. 3 after he was found unresponsive in his cell. Everyone agrees that he didn’t belong in jail.

Declared unfit to stand trial on Nov. 15, Travis died on a waiting list five months after he was locked up, and there are still a half-dozen people in the jail who have been declared either not guilty by reason of insanity or unfit to stand trial due to mental illness. Some have been on the list for nearly two months, waiting for a bed to open up in the state’s stretched mental health system. And the trend isn’t promising.

Between 2009 and 2011, Illinois cut funding for the mentally ill by nearly $114 million, according to the National Alliance for the Mentally Ill, which found that the cuts were the fourth-highest in the nation. While the state has been cutting, demand has been increasing for beds to treat people deemed unfit to stand trial or not guilty by reason of insanity. As of Jan. 1, the statewide waiting list stood at 98. A year ago, the backlog was 64; in 2011, there were 71 people waiting for beds. Five years ago, the number was below 50.

Re:License? (0)

waspleg (316038) | about a year ago | (#42680639)

I think the fact that the first comment on this story is a joke modded funny shows the author is correct. A lot of people are callous, I've found technical people to be, generally, even more so (as well as often insecure with fragile inflated egos).

People with lots of free time... (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#42679871)

.... have the time to think, read, argue, discuss and debate on the internet. So it's plausible simply gives a certain percentage of very smart people lots of free time to ruminate and think about things thoroughly.

Re:People with lots of free time... (-1)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#42680061)

Calling yourself an " internet freedom fighter" is itself an indication of some kind of mental illness.

FIghting the system is a mental health issue (4, Insightful)

L4t3r4lu5 (1216702) | about a year ago | (#42679895)

Take these SmaxoGlythKlein brand pills so you are more normal. You want to be normal, right?

Who is this guy, and why does his opinion matter?

Re:FIghting the system is a mental health issue (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#42679951)

Who is this guy,

Forgettable blogger #825245

and why does his opinion matter?

Because he has a blog!

Re:FIghting the system is a mental health issue (-1)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#42680055)

Who is this guy, and why does his opinion matter?

Because he made it to the front page of Slashdot!

He must know what he's talking about!

Re:FIghting the system is a mental health issue (5, Insightful)

X0563511 (793323) | about a year ago | (#42680137)

In all seriousness, there seems to be correlation between intelligence and tendency for depression.

It could be that being a hacker and being depressed are just two end products of being smarter than the average bear.

Re:FIghting the system is a mental health issue (1)

K. S. Kyosuke (729550) | about a year ago | (#42680245)

In all seriousness, there seems to be correlation between intelligence and tendency for depression.

It could be that being a hacker and being depressed are just two end products of being smarter than the average bear.

And poets tend to be bipolar. And remember van Gogh and his ear. We happen to be a part of a distinguished society!

Re:FIghting the system is a mental health issue (4, Insightful)

L4t3r4lu5 (1216702) | about a year ago | (#42680249)

In all seriousness, there seems to be correlation between intelligence and tendency for depression.

The stupid don't realise how fucked up things are.

Re:FIghting the system is a mental health issue (2, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#42680571)

And, the "stupid" tend to regard geeks as aberrations. Even when one knows that one's special skills (and accompanying unique traits) are valuable, being widely regarded as weird and being made to feel out-of-place nearly everywhere one goes does tend to make one brood.

Re:FIghting the system is a mental health issue (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#42680771)

The stupid don't realise how fucked up things are.

Indeed. For example, a dog isn't even aware of his own mortality.

Re:FIghting the system is a mental health issue (4, Interesting)

SirGarlon (845873) | about a year ago | (#42680267)

I used to think depression was an intrinsic part of my personality, like introversion. Then I started taking Vitamin D supplements and the depression went away. I'm still a misanthropic curmudgeon, but I'm a *happy* misanthropic curmudgeon.

My point is, you don't have to give up the things you like about yourself in order to get over depression. And in some cases it can be as simple as turning on a flourescent light [wikipedia.org] or taking a cheap over-the-counter vitamin.

Re:FIghting the system is a mental health issue (4, Funny)

ColdWetDog (752185) | about a year ago | (#42680371)

Oops. That's not the Vitamin D. We mislabeled the Prozac.

So Sorry.

Re:FIghting the system is a mental health issue (2)

WilyCoder (736280) | about a year ago | (#42680491)

I experienced the exact same results as you. I now take 4000iu each day and I no longer get terrible winter depression each year. In fact it is winter right now, and I feel fantastic. My energy levels are normal and I don't yearn to be in bed all day.

I think living in an office year round has really taken its toll on my health. Vitamin D fixed all the mental health symptoms I had.

Now if I could just get off my fat ass and exercise to fix the rest of me...

Re:FIghting the system is a mental health issue (0)

dkleinsc (563838) | about a year ago | (#42680535)

And in some cases it can be as simple as turning on a flourescent light [wikipedia.org] or taking a cheap over-the-counter vitamin.

I have an even more radical solution: Go outside and/or be near a window during the day.

Re:FIghting the system is a mental health issue (1)

PhxBlue (562201) | about a year ago | (#42680769)

I have an even more radical solution: Go outside and/or be near a window during the day.

If you're one of those lucky souls who has an office with windows, that is. Because otherwise, going outside for about 15 minutes probably isn't going to help all that much.

Re:FIghting the system is a mental health issue (0)

SirGarlon (845873) | about a year ago | (#42680793)

I have an even more radical solution: Go outside and/or be near a window during the day.

I've got a radical solution for you, too: shove your snark up your ass and let the adults have a conversation.

Re:FIghting the system is a mental health issue (1)

Hatta (162192) | about a year ago | (#42680733)

Does it out perform placebo control in double blind studies?

Re:FIghting the system is a mental health issue (5, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#42680375)

Actually it makes perfect sense. The more intelligence, the sooner a person will come to realize basic facts about the world, such as:

1. It is filled with injustice all around. Some of it can be fixed, most of it can not be fixed.
2. Most of what can be fixed will never actually be fixed, due to reasons such as status-quo and conflicts of interest, corruption, bribes, lobbying and differing ideologies.
3. Society has become so huge and complex that it is impossible for a single individual to effect meaningful change in a lot of issues, unless one becomes a professional politician, in which case, go back to point number two. Never mind that most intellectuals are not suited to this role due to the different skill-sets required (mainly social ones instead of analytical) The alternatives are extremes like blowing yourself or other people up, or more mildly, DDOSing the organisation that sparked your ire, or protesting by camping on the street. Either one is more likely to harm your cause than help it as people will either call you a 'terrorist', 'immature script-kiddie' or (soon to be) 'homeless bum who should be working instead of protesting'. Thus the hacker individually is powerless.

This comment turned out longer than I thought it would.

Re:FIghting the system is a mental health issue (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#42680575)

Ignorance is bliss. This isn't new.

Re:FIghting the system is a mental health issue (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#42680637)

Exactly. It's very hard to stay positive when you're smart enough to be able to take a step back and notice that most people are completely irrational.

Re:FIghting the system is a mental health issue (4, Insightful)

magic maverick (2615475) | about a year ago | (#42680159)

Clay Shirky [wikipedia.org] is a "writer, consultant and teacher on the social and economic effects of Internet technologies", something he's been doing since 1996. He has written a heck of a lot of stuff on the topic, and is presumably some sort of expert. He isn't just another blogger.

In this piece he says something that many people have said before, but is framing it in a different manner. The cultures and sub-cultures that we are part of need to be more caring. We need to be there for our friends and compatriots. We probably can't help much, most of aren't professionals. But simply being there and being supportive is helpful.

The thing is, that people do kill themselves. There are various reasons, some of them can be fixed easily. E.g. by adjusting chemical balances in the brain. Others have an external cause. Some are harder to fix, but might include removing the cause of the problem (bullying or terrible conditions). Some of them can't be fixed. What we as a community can do is provide as much support to people as we can, and help them get the help they need.

Re:FIghting the system is a mental health issue (3, Insightful)

DerekLyons (302214) | about a year ago | (#42680453)

Clay Shirky is a "writer, consultant and teacher on the social and economic effects of Internet technologies", something he's been doing since 1996. He has written a heck of a lot of stuff on the topic, and is presumably some sort of expert. He isn't just another blogger.

He is not however a psychologist, psychiatrist, counselor, or any other form of mental health or medical professional. On those topics, he is indeed just another blogger.
 
The cynic in me says that since he is "writer and consultant", he's just riding the Aaron Swartz wave for hits and street cred. Next week he'll be off on whatever nine days wonder captures the attention of the blogosphere.

Re:FIghting the system is a mental health issue (3, Interesting)

Miamicanes (730264) | about a year ago | (#42680763)

> The cultures and sub-cultures that we are part of need to be more caring

Actually, our communities DO tend to be "more caring" -- we just happen to have a different definition of "caring" than most people.

If somebody who's known on a computer/tech-related forum says that he's depressed because he feels overwhelmed by ${some-problem}, he'll get dozens or hundreds of replies, most of which will be genuine attempts to be helpful, with specific suggestions for things to try and solve that problem. Some might be from people willing to work quite hard to help solve their specific problem.

What he's NOT going to get are warm, fuzzy, "tell me about your feelings about the world's unjustness" replies.

It's just how we are. We're systemizers, not empaths.We love to solve problems. We get annoyed when people whine about things that can't be defined and constrained to some clear context or scope where it's possible to define what even CONSTITUTES a "solution"... unless we happen to be in a mood to commiserate. The fact that such commiseration tends to amplify, reinforce, and legitimize the other's depression is just an unfortunate side effect.

Imagine, for a moment, a hypothetical Slashdot story with a headline like "Joe Python is a programmer who wants to kill himself in the most efficient way possible... what are his options, what are the relative advantages and drawbacks of each, and what equipment will he need to procure in order to carry it out?" Does anybody doubt for a NANOSECOND that it wouldn't get several hundred replies, 90% of which would involve lethal injection cocktail recipes, nitrogen asphyxiation, pre-suicide arrangements for the care and feeding of pets, equipment reviews, countdown checklists (wipe computer, note passwords you want to share with others, update your will, etc) and other suggestions that are mostly intended to be helpful by posters for whom it doesn't quite sink in that the guy wants to literally kill himself?

We DO care. We'll work hard to solve the problems of people we care about. We just won't pretend to care when they go on and on about something they can't be reasoned with. By the time we feel like we've made our third full circle without progress or resolution, we'll get bored and go to lunch. Or head over to Slashdot.

Re:FIghting the system is a mental health issue (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#42680285)

Fighting the system is a mental health issue

Indeed, the sane and rational people are those who realize that coercive authority cannot be fought.

Internet Freedom fighters? (5, Interesting)

Improv (2467) | about a year ago | (#42679915)

So cute when people get full of themselves and take on a title like that. Sometimes the depression is when that lofty self-perception is a kite that gets snagged in one of the trees of reality.

I suspect it's also that a lot of us became computer types after neglecting human ties to some degree, and once we get old enough we either come back and learn to deal with people, or we become increasingly lonely and unbalanced as we age. Sometimes both.

Re:Internet Freedom fighters? (2, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#42680003)

I agree with your assessment, though I also think it might have to do that exactly those people who are more analytical/critical towards how daily life is run, also get more disappointed by the lack of change towards the 'good' direction. Sometimes I wish I was capable of living in ignorable bliss (or whatever the proper saying is), as I can be quite jealous at people in my surroundings who don't give a flying fuck about what's going on around them.

Re:Internet Freedom fighters? (4, Insightful)

GameboyRMH (1153867) | about a year ago | (#42680017)

And here's your answer. People fighting what appears to be a losing battle for a cause completely unknown to most and trivialized or even demonized by many who do...it's completely understandable.

Re:Internet Freedom fighters? (0)

DerekLyons (302214) | about a year ago | (#42680121)

Sometimes the depression is when that lofty self-perception is a kite that gets snagged in one of the trees of reality.

*sigh* And me without mod points today... so, here's a virtual +1 for you.

Re:Internet Freedom fighters? (1)

serviscope_minor (664417) | about a year ago | (#42680347)

So cute when people get full of themselves and take on a title like that.

Well, given how easy you find it easy to feel very superior to others, I'm going to guess that you don't suffer from depression.

But wait...

Sometimes the depression is when that lofty self-perception is a kite that gets snagged in one of the trees of reality.

Better watch out. Though if your self-perception is a balloon it will just happily float off into the stratosphere never to touch ground again.

Can we stretch the analogy further?

Re:Internet Freedom fighters? (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#42680557)

Can we stretch the analogy further?

My self-perception has escaped the atnosphere entirely, and has started collecting dust in the asteroid belt. I expect it to rival Phobos within 8 more years.

Re:Internet Freedom fighters? (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#42680363)

I agree with the second paragraph. The first one seems to be saying, "How dare to claim to fight for freedom! Who are you to know what you are fighting for! If you think you are capable of something, then think again." What is it's purpose other than keeping oneself on higher pedestal of judgement by pushing others lower?

Re:Internet Freedom fighters? (1)

FilmedInNoir (1392323) | about a year ago | (#42680521)

So cute when people get full of themselves and take on a title like that. Sometimes the depression is when that lofty self-perception is a kite that gets snagged in one of the trees of reality.

I suspect it's also that a lot of us became computer types after neglecting human ties to some degree, and once we get old enough we either come back and learn to deal with people, or we become increasingly lonely and unbalanced as we age. Sometimes both.

The second sounds like it comes from life experience... but that first line is full of snideness.
Have you been beaten down so much you no longer try to go beyond your own limitations?

Re:Internet Freedom fighters? (2)

voidphoenix (710468) | about a year ago | (#42680609)

Spoken like someone who has absolutely no understanding of clinical depression. Here's a hint: it's not just feeling bad about something bad happening.

It's not just this community (4, Informative)

jnelson4765 (845296) | about a year ago | (#42679933)

Most activist communities have a higher than normal incidence of mental health issues. Personality disorders, paranoia, anger management issues, I've seen a lot of them in various political activist groups.

Re:It's not just this community (2)

smooth wombat (796938) | about a year ago | (#42679991)

It's not just activist communities. Numerous studies have shown that the more creative someone is, the higher the prevalence of mental disorders such as depression.

Writers such as Zane Grey, Ernest Hemingway, Philip K. Dick and others, had a history of depression. Look at Poe while you're at it.

For whatever reason, creativity and mental disorders go hand in hand.

Re:It's not just this community (-1)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#42680113)

This is true.

Note the the Democrat Party has long been the refuge of Activists and crazies in general.

See Sheila Jackson Lee [house.gov]

Re:It's not just this community (1)

X0563511 (793323) | about a year ago | (#42680155)

Intelligence as well, not just creativity (assuming you are not considering creativity a form/product of intelligence)

Re:It's not just this community (5, Interesting)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#42680207)

As a former art student, I used to see the same thing in the halls of art school. Students were very creative, full of self-inflated egos ready to do the next big thing. The problem was, we all had our own reality distortion field. Another problem: lots of depression going on, resulting in poor people-relationships. Now that I've been out of school for nearly a decade, the artists who "make it" aren't necessarily the most talented, but are the ones who can relate to people and gallery owners. In other words, there's a salesmanship aspect to their pitch - some people call it charisma. I don't mean that in a bad way, but they've come to understand other people's emotions and some are even married. I didn't become a big shot artist but I have an office job.
Artists get this reputation of being lovers or some crap like that, but trust me, we don't retain relationships. On a final note, I don' t consider wannabe geeks or emo/ hipster kids to be 'artists' in my above commentary, but I think they have different issues to work out.

Re:It's not just this community (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#42680025)

Political activist groups also tend to have a larger proportion of FBI agents than the general population.

Re:It's not just this community (1)

mcmonkey (96054) | about a year ago | (#42680107)

So now in addition to all the women are strong, all the men are good looking, and all the children are above average, all communities have above normal incidents of mental health issues?

The things you describe, there's a lot of that everywhere.

Re:It's not just this community (1)

assertation (1255714) | about a year ago | (#42680175)

I will second that.

I worked my way through school at at a food collective ( co-op ) on campus. Many of my coworkers were regular activists. In the years since I've also interacted with activists for issues I care about.

It is true, many of them have problems, some of which they aren't aware of and that they are using the cause as source of catharsis.

To be fair, MOST people have problems and many other people get into things because of their problems, rather than thing itself. No disrespect to anyone, but look at some of the gun advocates in the news fighting against an assault weapon ban.

There are many healthy, reasonable people who own guns for self protection and who want the right to keep those kind of guns.

Re:It's not just this community (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#42680339)

Indeed, a sane and rational person would reason that IF assult weapons are to be banned, that they should be banned from government as well.

Re:It's not just this community (1)

Aguazul2 (2591049) | about a year ago | (#42680415)

It's only the unreasonable people who cause change in the world. I agree, most of the activists I've know have had some kind of non-normalness (bipolar, depressive, suicidal, whatever), myself included I guess. Someone once joked that only the most intelligent people are able to grasp how bad things really are!

Idea (1)

Sparticus789 (2625955) | about a year ago | (#42679953)

Great idea! Let's have some entity set up a helpline for hackers and internet freedom fighters, complete with a call center. Since there are mandatory record-keeping laws, they can also keep track of who they are talking to, what phone number they are using, and details about the call. Nothing in there would be ripe for governmental abuse. Who cares about subpoena's and government fishing expeditions?

Re:Idea (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#42680135)

Great idea! Let's have some entity set up a helpline for hackers and internet freedom fighters, complete with a call center. Since there are mandatory record-keeping laws, they can also keep track of who they are talking to, what phone number they are using, and details about the call. Nothing in there would be ripe for governmental abuse. Who cares about subpoena's and government fishing expeditions?

Good luck. All the unbalanced, depressed, and suicidal Internet Freedom Fighters I know are behind seven proxies.

What love? (3, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#42679973)

Post anything regarding how you feel on almost anyplace on the internet, and all you'll get in return is mocking and derision.

When has "outreach" solved anything? (4, Insightful)

xxxJonBoyxxx (565205) | about a year ago | (#42679989)

>> It would be great to see this addressed by our community through some outreach and awareness programs.

OK, who let the social worker on Slashdot? Seriously, when has "outreach" or "awareness" ever solved anything? (Urban violence? Drug use? What?)

Re:When has "outreach" solved anything? (1)

dkleinsc (563838) | about a year ago | (#42680143)

Seriously, when has "outreach" or "awareness" ever solved anything?

Actually, it may be in the process of at least reducing a serious problem, namely human trafficking: Because of the 'awareness' efforts, lots of states in the US have been passing laws to stop it, and because of the 'outreach' efforts there are groups helping people escape from their post-trafficking slavery.

Your instincts are right, though: Outreach and awareness programs are often about preserving the organization who's doing the outreach and awareness, not about solving the problem.

Re:When has "outreach" solved anything? (1)

jones_supa (887896) | about a year ago | (#42680173)

Exactly. That is what you are "supposed to say" but those might be completely ineffective tools for solving the issue.

Re:When has "outreach" solved anything? (4, Insightful)

thesandtiger (819476) | about a year ago | (#42680715)

Increasing the general level of knowledge (awareness) about mental health issues is certainly a benefit when talking about the issue of depression in a certain subgroup.

Many people I run across in tech circles have positively medieval notions about mental illness - people who are depressed are depressed because of personal weakness/defects, etc. As a result, many will not be willing to acknowledge that they, themselves, are experiencing depression, or might think that they should just toughen up and gut it out, and eventually the consequences can be quite dire.

Making it easier to get help when you need it - without judgment and without making people jump through hoops (outreach) will also help.

Imagine how much better things could be if people stopped being ashamed over shit they had no control over and were able to easily get help to make it better? Imagine how much better things could be if you didn't have people actively mocking and dismissing even the mere suggestion that things could and should be better.

You guys are also thinking in the wrong terms - social issues don't get "solved" - they get improved. Real life is messy and complex and there isn't one true solution - it's not as simple as most engineering problems. That you guys don't seem to recognize that says more about your inability to think clearly outside of your discipline than it does about the disciplines you dismiss so easily.

Re:When has "outreach" solved anything? (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#42680191)

I find it useful to know (awareness) that vaccines will stop my child from getting sick from certain diseases. I imagine that poor suicide risk people find it helpful if there is a number that they can call when things are looking grim (outreach). Maybe these things don't entirely solve the problem of disease and suicide, but that doesn't make them useless.

Re:When has "outreach" solved anything? (3, Insightful)

X0563511 (793323) | about a year ago | (#42680203)

It's solved plenty of individual problems.

So, you're saying because it can't fix the problem for everyone all at once, it's not worth doing?

Re:When has "outreach" solved anything? (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#42680217)

I can't believe you are posting this assertion on a computer network that has "outreach" to the entire globe and changed the "awareness" of just about every human.

Re:When has "outreach" solved anything? (3, Interesting)

somersault (912633) | about a year ago | (#42680599)

Seriously, when has "outreach" or "awareness" ever solved anything? (Urban violence? Drug use? What?)

There are examples. I haven't looked for any myself, but I heard about this one as I do Parkour:

According to figures from the Metropolitan Police, when sports projects were run in the borough of Westminster during the 2005 Easter holidays, youth crime dropped by 39 per cent. The following year, the most recent for which figures are available, when parkour was added to the projects, youth crime fell by 69 per cent.

Source [independent.co.uk]

Re:When has "outreach" solved anything? (2)

thesandtiger (819476) | about a year ago | (#42680661)

Here's an example that should be near and dear to those reading this site:

Open source.

Or, do you think that somehow, magically, open source became a thing without activists helping to increase awareness of benefits (or even existence) of OS solutions and reaching out to various organizations and individuals to get them to try it?

And here are some social issues that have been greatly improved by outreach and awareness:

When I was a child, if you were physically disabled you were pretty much fucked. Want to go to school but you're in a chair and there are no ramps? Tough luck. Want to go to college but you can't hear the lectures or can't see the blackboard? Tough luck. Want a job but your potential boss is creeped out by your withered hand and refuses to hire you? Tough luck. Today? Substantially better. Activists educating the public and reaching out to those who can change things helped make it something worth remedying because clearly based on the status quo before, most able bodied people didn't give a shit.

When my mother was a child, it was perfectly legal to discriminate against people of color, and the right to do so was in fact enshrined into law in many states. Today? Much better. Largely because of activists reaching out to educate people who were in a position to do something about it but previously hadn't felt it was important enough to do.

When my grandmother was a child, women were essentially the property of their husbands and had very few legally guaranteed rights, and mostly unable to vote. Today? Much better. Again: activists, awareness and outreach, and people in power being forced to acknowledge that it was something worth doing.

If you really can't think of things that activism has helped and you really are dismissing social workers because they haven't "solved" problems, you really, REALLY need to pull your head out of your ass. So, too, do the people who called you insightful.

The world was never changed by an optimist (1)

bigmo (181402) | about a year ago | (#42679999)

I believe that was Steven Wright, but whoever said it was correct

Despair (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#42680011)

The hacking community's lack of emotional support has left me in despair.

The downside of creativity (2)

troyer (8249) | about a year ago | (#42680069)

I wonder if we get so focused on the technology side of our world that we forget that this work (programming, architecting systens, etc) has a significant creative side and as such the problems that often plague other creative groups. The anguish and troubles of writers, painters, etc are well documented and seemingly (to me anyway) an accepted part of embracing their work. I know that in my own case letting on that I am anything less than 'normal' has been a scary proposition because of the threat of not only being seen as less than capable but also a direct threat to my livelyhood. After all, software people are nearly interchangeable, right?

And Clay's advice near the end (you did read that far, right?) is dead on. We're a group who likes to fix things. We are not trained to fix this. The best we can do is aim someone we are concerned about in the right direction.

Re:The downside of creativity (2)

Hatta (162192) | about a year ago | (#42680213)

And Clay's advice near the end (you did read that far, right?) is dead on. We're a group who likes to fix things. We are not trained to fix this. The best we can do is aim someone we are concerned about in the right direction.

The unfortunate fact is that there's no way to fix depression. SSRI's don't work except for the most extreme cases, and then only provide a moderate easing of symptoms. Therapy works for anxiety patients, but regularly fails to outperform placebo. Only when poor controls (e.g. waiting list) are used does therapy show significant results. And in my personal experience, it's obvious that therapists are nothing more than bullshit artists. There really is no hope for the hopeless. Offering us false hope only makes you feel better. It only fills your need to feel like you're doing something.

To bring this back to Swartz, the right way to help people like him is not to stuff them full of antidepressants and make them talk to some asshole for an hour a week. It's to build a society where what happened to Swartz can't happen again. Swartz was depressed because he was right. We live in a society where the powerful prey on the weak, and no one really cares. That's fucking depressing.

Re:The downside of creativity (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#42680711)

Swartz was depressed because he was right.

He's right without anyone realizing it. Swartz was depressed because he realized it. And apparently it takes a certain amount of intelligence to realize it. Plenty of people don't realize how fucked up life is and they are quite happy. Plenty of us realize it and don't kill ourselves. Statistics show that we tend to be those that don't bother to fight it, or more accurately, that those who kill themselves are working toward a highly improbable goal. Someone described insanity as being forced to repeat a pointless action. In Nazi concentration camps they broke the will of some prisoners by forcing them to move heavy rocks back and forth across a yard, for no discernible reason.
 
We don't just live in a society where the powerful prey on the weak, we live in a world, a universe, where the powerful prey on the weak. It's a fundamental law of nature. It applies to humans vs humans, lions vs gazelle, black holes vs stars. The ones who are most "successful" in this life are those who say fuck it, I'll prey on the weak too and that will make me more powerful.
 
The powerful usually have no use for a religion, unless it's to prey on the weak. The messages of religion are meant to negate the rule of force in the universe by promising that being the prey in this life will reward you in the next. One caveat, you can't kill yourself.

Re:The downside of creativity (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#42680719)

Posting to myself - sorry, I meant this to be in the context of hacker depression. Obviously statistics of all suicides don't show that they tend to be fighting some hopelessly valiant cause. Then again, sometimes we're the only ones who know we have a cause.

Re:The downside of creativity (1)

Hatta (162192) | about a year ago | (#42680819)

The ones who are most "successful" in this life are those who say fuck it, I'll prey on the weak too and that will make me more powerful.

I would honestly rather kill myself.

Re:The downside of creativity (1)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#42680837)

The unfortunate fact is that there's no way to fix depression. SSRI's don't work except for the most extreme cases, and then only provide a moderate easing of symptoms. Therapy works for anxiety patients, but regularly fails to outperform placebo.

The problem is that we've written off whole classes of drugs because they became popular with drug seekers and addicts regardless of what benefits they might have in a clinical setting. So what we're left with is neutered designer drugs like SSRIs. I'm thinking of psychedelics and drugs like ecstasy (which was originally developed to be used in a clinical setting).

If a drug has enough of a potent psychological effect, it'll attract people who just want to get high. Our problem is that our reaction to people who just want to get high is to go after the substance they're using. Folks who want to get high will always find a way to get high. See "bath salts" (amazingly, I have a body soak in my bathroom that prior to about 2011 I could call a bath salt without implying that it was actually a transdermal methamphetamine), synthetic marijuana, etc, etc.

Outright banning substances like peyote, shrooms, LSD, etc that have potential to be useful in a clinical setting is like cutting off your nose to spite your face. I remain doubtful that the information I've read such as a session under the influence of LSD with a professional being a cure for alcoholism is completely accurate, but I don't think calling the logic by which those substances are illegal into question needs to mean that I think everybody should use them any time they have a bad day or feel a little sad.

I suppose it comes back to the stigma of mental illness and depression in particular. I think there are so many people who are depressed themselves and disappointed in life that they've made it their mission in life to make sure that everyone else is just as miserable as they are. It's a threat to their world view that anything could ever be better.

Re: The downside of creativity (1)

Urza9814 (883915) | about a year ago | (#42680659)

Do we stop understanding people because we focus too much on technology, or do we focus so much on technology because we don't understand people?

I'm my case, I suspect it to be the latter.

Sad, but not surprising (4, Insightful)

PSVMOrnot (885854) | about a year ago | (#42680077)

While the evidence he discusses may be only anecdotal, the conclusion he reaches is logical.

There are certain lifestyle and behavioural patterns common among hackers which do leave us prone to depression and other mental health issues. We do tend to spend much of our time alone, engaged in solitary and sedentary pursuits of the mind which - while we may find incredibly rewarding and cool - those around us in meat-space just don't understand.

Now add in the consideration that we tend to find ourselves on the metaphorical wild frontier of the technological world we inhabit. In a place where we are carving out the basis for the new and interesting but always having to look over our shoulders in fear that some technologically inept idiot with a bunch of lawyers with come along and either crush what we have built or steal it from us.

Added to this we, due to our lifestyles, often lack the aspects of life which are typically used to de-stress and prevent depression: good diet to provide the required thinking fuel (no, caffeine and sugar aren't enough), exercise for endorphins to let us forget the shit of the world for a bit and physically present people for company so we can put things in perspective.

Finally, consider that we have both good reason to be down about things and due to our lifestyles tend to lack the things which help prevent depression... yeah, it's not a surprising conclusion.

So, what can we all do about it?

Re:Sad, but not surprising (1)

iced_tea (588173) | about a year ago | (#42680275)

Isn't that what a belief in God (or gods) is for?

I'm not trying to be sarcastic. What if the concept of 'religion' or belief in the intangible acts as a _pressure-relief_ valve for the mind?

The popular thing is to consider having religous beliefs as 'weak'. But maybe there is a value in believing in a higher power? "Why am I here...", "what happens when I die...", etc.

It seems having a belief in a higher power can make it easier to cope with some of the larger questions. *shrug*

"The evidence is only anecdotal" (1)

mcmonkey (96054) | about a year ago | (#42680079)

AKA, there is no evidence. (There is such a thing as anecdotal evidence, but I don't see any in this case.)

The news is biased. A high profile hacker commits suicide. How many hackers didn't commit suicide that day? That doesn't get covered.

We're also biased for our group. It's like how you buy a car, and suddenly that model of car is everywhere. Those cars were there before, you just didn't notice them because they weren't your car. You noticed the story about the hacker committing suicide, but do you remember the other high profile suicide reported that day? The one from the community you don't associate yourself with? Of course not.

We could just as easily talk about the connection between (American) football and depression and suicide. We could discuss whether the recent high profile suicides are related to head trauma and brain injuries, or the transition from being part of a team to being alone in retirement, or any number of other factors.

Except retired football players have a lower rates of suicide than the general population. So whatever factors played a part in those few high profile cases, the evidence doesn't support the idea that this is a high risk group.

It's good if the community can become tighter and help each other out, but that's true of any community. The summary and phrases like "internet freedom fighters" make me think of precious little snowflakes battling the tyranny of society from their parents' basement.

Critical thinking (4, Insightful)

Hatta (162192) | about a year ago | (#42680097)

Critical thinking is part of the problem. If you've trained your mind to see the world as it actually is, then you're less likely to have comfortable illusions to fall back on. And because other people don't like having their illusions questioned, you don't have much of a social network to fall back on either.

And then when you look for help, you find that psychiatry is bullshit just like everything else. SSRI's don't actually work except for the most severely depressed. And therapy... well when your problem is that you see the world accurately, what exactly is therapy going to do?

Even if you could stop thinking critically, is that an ethical thing to do? Most of the world's problems are due to not enough critical thinking, so if you have that skill and don't use it, you're deliberately becoming part of the problem.

Re:Critical thinking (1)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#42680299)

That sounds less like critical thinking, and more like some kind of nihilistic response to wounded narcissism. A truly objective critical thinker shouldn't be so attached to a cause or idea that its failure requires them to fall back on "comfortable illusions". That's the kind of thing that someone who operates on assumption and bias needs.

Re:Critical thinking (4, Interesting)

SuricouRaven (1897204) | about a year ago | (#42680667)

When you strip the world of comforting delusions, nihilism is all you have left. I imagine a lot of activists remain so dedicated so they can avoid having to give up the last thing that gives their life any form of meaning. They fight because the alternative is to admit that in a long term view, they are nothing.

Re:Critical thinking (1)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#42680391)

If you view the world through such a critical lens that nothing appeals to you and you have nothing comfortable to fall back on, you need to turn the lens back on your methods and outlook.

If the first thing that pops to mind after reading that statement is to smugly reject it out of hand as advice from a "non thinker" consider the effects of narcissism as they might relate to high intelligence and reevaluate.

In short, if you have reached the point where you are the only one who "truly sees" the problem then you have also reached the point in your analysis where you can understand that you are part of it. The pressure release is to know that you are a small part of it and that many hands make light work toward improvement.

That was the nicest way of saying "get off your high horse" that I could think of.

Re:Critical thinking (1)

Hatta (162192) | about a year ago | (#42680627)

If you view the world through such a critical lens that nothing appeals to you and you have nothing comfortable to fall back on, you need to turn the lens back on your methods and outlook.

Believe me I'm trying. I'm trying as hard as I can to get people to tell me I'm wrong, and explain to me exactly how I'm wrong. No one seems able to do that.

The pressure release is to know that you are a small part of it and that many hands make light work toward improvement.

Except when most hands are actively involved in making the world worse. Many hands make light work, and after Swartz's death we have many hands working on prosecutorial abuse. And you know what, reform is still not going to happen. Ortiz will suffer no consequences for her abuses. The legal machine will continue to devour the lives of promising young people and there's really nothing we can do about it. As far as I can tell, the only rational respose to that is depression.

But if I'm wrong, please show me where.

Re:Critical thinking (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#42680817)

Focus.
Your focus is wrong. You look around you and see corruption, shills, violence, hate, stupidity, greed. You see greedy corporations manipulating corrupt politicians into passing unbalanced laws and taking advantage of the populace, but not the amazing technology, science and advances corporations have brought to our world. You see stupid people denying their children vaccinations based on misinformation, but not the care and love and resources those people give their children. You see a world being run into the ground by greed, short term thinking and hate, but you don't see the tireless efforts of the scientists and activists to help in any way they can.

You think we are a violent, stupid species, but you're wrong. We're a violent, stupid, greedy, caring, loving, helpful, smart, hard working species of *animal* who has picked ourselves up by our bootstraps and shaped our world into an amazing place our ancestors could only have dreamed of. All of the things that you see as wrong exist, but its YOUR choice to sit around and think about them. It's not logical - it's masochistic. Your problem is not that bad stuff happens, it's that you chose to make your whole world about that bad stuff.

A quick footnote that if you feel unhappy all the time, it may be physiological. Sometimes there's a quick fix (like more sun). Don't discount it - not everyone who can see the world for what it is is made miserable by the knowledge.

Nothing wrong with us... (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#42680105)

There's nothing wrong with us...there's something wrong with the world.

It Starts With Examples (5, Insightful)

assertation (1255714) | about a year ago | (#42680115)

When I first read this post I thought " yes, but what can be done?". I've been a programmer for 13 years. Socially maladjusted people are all over the industry. You can't force people to take a look at themselves and go get help.

However, there is the power of the example. Look how many IT types went from being obese to slim with John Walkers "The Hacker's Diet".

What is needed for high profile ubergeeks to publish their own accounts cleaning up their mental health and perhaps providing a geeky way, a "Hacker's Diet" for mental health and social skills ( beyond the ground covered by the PUA community ).

I'm sure there are at least a few ubergeeks who had mental health issues, social adjustment issues and who overcame them. It is time to publish.

Re:It Starts With Examples (1)

bmacs27 (1314285) | about a year ago | (#42680357)

I'm sure there are at least a few ubergeeks who had mental health issues, social adjustment issues and who overcame them.

Drugs. Book done.

Jock Culture (5, Insightful)

Bonker (243350) | about a year ago | (#42680139)

One of the things I've noticed in the 'professional developer' community is that there is a bit of Jock Culture going on.

First of all, you have a business environment that tends to favor younger, fresher talent and puts a LOT of pressure on aging developers to keep up with their younger peers, many of whom are capable of (in the very, very short run) unhealthy work practices. 80 hour work weeks and back-to-back all-nighters are doable when you're 22 years old. They're fucking painful at 30, and ruinous by 35.

And it's hard to say 'No' to them because we've just come out of a nasty recession when upper management is all too eager to lay you off in favor of younger developers eager to prove themselves.

That shit WILL give you depression, anxiety, and insomnia, and all of those kill.

Second, again with the Jock Culture, developer culture tends to be dominated by hot-headed males, many of whom are eager to replicate locker-room style pecking orders in the cube farms... and that crap just doesn't work when you're developing software.

(Ex-military guys? I'm looking at you here. I've seen you do this shit. Stop it.)

Sadly, those pecking orders are often directly related to pay. The guy who manages to wedge his way into the 'Project Lead' or 'Senior Developer' slot tends to have a few more dollars attached to them. Again, the pressure results in depression, anxiety, and insomnia which are proven killers.

Shirkey's piece spends a lot of time talking about Aaron Swartz, but Aaron was a unique case of being uniquely and unfairly persecuted by multiple 800 pound gorillas. His depression and suicide *should* have been as fucking obvious to anyone who knew him as an 18 wheeler rolling the wrong way down the freeway.

The answer to these issues is, perhaps a shade ironically, the same answer we should be looking at in regards to our sudden flareup of chronic school shooting disease:

Mental Healthcare needs to be made a priority in this nation. We need to destigmatize ADMITTING mental health issues and seeking treatment for them. Also, we need to completely ditch the notion that drugs used for treatment of mental health problems cause more harm that good.

Seriously, guys, when you're having daily panic attacks, when sleep won't come for days at a time, when the world starts showing up in black and white and more black than white... it's time to talk to a doctor. And if your doctor won't help, ditch him and find a doctor who will.

Apropos captcha: Biopsy

Re:Jock Culture (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#42680451)

wait, you're registered and you still get captcha?

Re:Jock Culture (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#42680495)

No, Aaron Swartz was poking his pee-pee into the gorilla's cage. When his little "information should be free!" pee-pee got the smegma scrubbed off it with a brillo pad, he should not have been surprised in the slightest.

So... a geek dating service? :-) (1)

BLKMGK (34057) | about a year ago | (#42680283)

Hey, doesn't sound like a bad idea to me. It would probably be 90% men signed up tho!

Mental Health labels are profoundly stupid (1)

emil (695) | about a year ago | (#42680287)

It's amazing how backward DSM-IV (and -5) can be in considering human behavior. Psychology gives lip service to evolution, then ignores it in determining the grounds for "mental illness."

Let's consider kleptomania. Stealing is a behavior that is rewarded by evolution, and is a cross-species phenomena. The theft of resources is hardly an oddity in a few species like the cuckoo, but is a subset of general parasitic relationships, all of which are hard-wired into our biology. There is an endorphin rush from stealing, and the perpetrator receives an opioid high as a reward in addition to the object of the theft.

Kleptomania is reduced to an illness in mental health, with no particular understanding of its origins. Obviously, we as a species would not exist were it not for the many evolutionary behaviors, including this one, that allowed us to survive. In a supreme gesture of arrogance, an overstatement of an evolutionary imperative becomes a sickness. We do not understand who we are.

The same goes for all the endorphin/opioid compulsive behaviors, including alcohol/substance abuse, compulsive gambling, likely pyromania, and even binge eating (all treatable with the naltrexone family). The quackery of this profession is staggering.

The U.S. has around 30,000 suicides per year, yet there is no thorough study of lithium in an attempt to curb this number (instead we prefer to solve the problem with gun control). Depression is common for these people, yet no studies of the ingestion of tryptophan with niacin to increase serotonin production exist. We don't even understand how basic diet can help these people.

We don't care about those who are dying, only about labeling and profiting. We have the mental health profession that we deserve.

Re:Mental Health labels are profoundly stupid (3, Insightful)

PhxBlue (562201) | about a year ago | (#42680801)

Kleptomania is reduced to an illness in mental health, with no particular understanding of its origins. Obviously, we as a species would not exist were it not for the many evolutionary behaviors, including this one, that allowed us to survive. In a supreme gesture of arrogance, an overstatement of an evolutionary imperative becomes a sickness. We do not understand who we are.

Alternately: What was once an evolutionary benefit is now an evolutionary impediment because the social environment itself has evolved.

Sunshine (1)

bmacs27 (1314285) | about a year ago | (#42680345)

Go outside, for the love of Science.

Re:Sunshine (1)

GodfatherofSoul (174979) | about a year ago | (#42680401)

I second this. It's easy to isolate yourself as an IT guy. I went through a work-at-home period where I felt gloomy all the time. It took me a while to realize that isolation can lead to a feedback loop where you're gloomy and don't feel like being social; making your more gloomy. Working at home might be a utopia for some people, but I hated it.

Captain Obvious (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#42680463)

Lets be real, most of these "hackers" are people who tend to favor sitting in front of a computer over actually being with people and/or getting exercise. By "being with people" I mean actually being with them - in the flesh - not sitting on some "social" website (which is kind of a joke - "social" websites are about as far as one can get from being social).

Step away from the computer, go out and do something different with your friends, get some exercise - you'll find that you will just feel better. Oh, and eat a healthy diet - it sounds cliche, but it really does make a difference.

I say this being a professional software developer for the last 25 years and a nerd for far longer than that. When I get too caught up with my intellectual pursuits and forget to get exercise and hang out with my friends, I feel worse. When I balance my intellectual pursuits with the other aspects of life, I feel much better.

Hackers are not insane (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#42680507)

Hackers are not insane, rather there's a different definition of "Normal"

Go look at the average facebook or youtube comment, then cross reference those with what you see on slashdot, and again with fark, 4chan, somethingawful, etc.

What you'll find...

- The more anonymous someone is, the more likely the person writing the post (like myself) will write their opinion, or opinion-is-truth statements where others can agree or disagree. This doesn't always mean they are making the comments to benefit of the people reading them. No much of the time it's just to provoke the conversation in a direction they want it to go. Not quite as bad "trolling" but not the kind of thing people should be doing to begin with, because these conversations are based on trying to make the poster feel better about themselves by putting someone else down.

- There's a pecking order. It's generally considered "good" to be somewhat of a geek about anything. It's however you're pushed down the ladder for various things:
Science Geeks (as in research) >Computer geeks (includes hackers) > MMO/RPG Geeks (all multiplayer games where one can spend 12 hours playing it in one sitting) > Comicbook geeks (includes print and webcomics) > Toy geeks ((action figures/dolls,) board games, diecast cars, cards, etc) includes collecting and creation)> Cosplay geeks (includes conventions, LARP and renfaire)> wikipedia editors >fanfic writers> Furries > Bronies > 4chan /b/
What you find is the incidence of Aspergers and GLBT identification increases the farther to the Right. It's considered embarrassing to admit to people in the group to the left that you have anything to do with the group to the right, and as such people have multiple pseduo-anonymous identities for these.

You'll also notice this pecking order on pretty much any forum on the internet. Sometimes the order shifts one or two places depending how topical the forum is. Just about everyone agrees that the last three belong where they are. This isn't to say that furries are bad, but the rotten apples in that barrel spread quickly.

And Google, Facebook, and Blizzard wonder why people DONOTWANT their real name published.

- The more visible the content is, the more trolls it attracts. Moderation be damned.

Like if the next generation of geeks wants to clean up this image, what they need to do is keep their own kids on a short leash and be involved with absolutely everything, be it computer games or cosplay, and show good behavior.

The bad behavior that everyone notices, is why many people just become NEET, Hikikomori, Basement dweller, etc It's because they're already a lost cause and creep people out. Bad behavior just begets more.

Now to bend this argument back. Social games (This can include MMORPG-type games), IRC chat, and Twitter can rectify some of this by encouraging people to communicate in order to work together. Many MMO games currently are becoming less and less "MMO" and more like "Single player experience, with other people sometimes in your way." Likewise social media games are more about nagging people to be your friend to get ahead in the game, than actually wanting any social interaction. This needs to stop. MMO games need to take two steps back and require polite social interaction to progress, not simply talk to generic NPC's to do generic quests and never have to party with a person except to take down the largest most powerful and time consuming monster.

But really, I believe that nobody is really a lost cause. Many people on the internet are not intellectually challenged enough on a day to day basis, and the price of boredom is to provoke others into fights... which predates civilization.

Creativity, intellegence and insanity are linked. (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#42680513)

Everyone knows about Vincent van Gogh.

The truth of the matter is intelligence and creativity are linked to insanity,

If you were "Normal" you would have an IQ of 100 or less and be living in the same place you were born, and then make a small version of you who will do the same thing forever.

Chances are if you are reading this you were thought of as "weird' in High School, and probably live a few thousand miles from where you were born.

That is the price of having a good brain, you are NOT normal and you probably don't give a damn about the local high school football team like the "normal" people do who never moved more than 20 miles from the place they were born do.

I'm not crazy! (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#42680775)

all I wanted was a Pepsi!

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