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I love you, Hacker News, but you’re toxic

2/15/2022

When I got off social media about a year ago, I wanted to replace it with something more productive, so I chose Hacker News. I had already been on HN for many years, but decided that I would start visiting it as often as I did with an app like Instagram or TikTok. If I was going to be spending hours on my phone anyway, I thought, why not learn a thing or two.

After nearly a year of using HN every day for several hours a day, I’ve had some realizations. HN is amazing. You’re going to learn things about space, music, databases, web design, writing — you name it. You’re going to come across comments by billionaire CEOs who just so happen to be replying to a deepy-burried reply. You’ll come across tools and advice that actually end up having an impact on your life.

But it’s not all sunshine and rainbows... As you spend more time on HN and start reading the replies, you’ll notice that HN is, unfortunately, toxic. Not all the time; not everywhere. But it’s there, and the regulars know what I’m talking about. So many posts on HN are met with skepticism, pessimism, or just an overall negative tone.

There was an article that reached the front page of HN recently: If You’re So Smart, Why Aren’t You Happy? The article explains that people who are "intelligent," or just over-analytical in nature, end up being less happy. They see through the BS of everyday life and are able to spot the negatives faster than any positives. This is the problem with HN: The community is too smart for its own good.

As a 20-something-year-old tech bro, I’m no stranger to this attitude of “I’m smarter than you, so I’m going to pick your ideas apart and tell you exactly why you’re wrong.” It’s a mindset I’ve moved away from since I first recognized it in college, but it’s easy to fall back into. I realized how much damage it was doing to my social life. I cared more about being right than being kind. Unfortunately, some people never let go of this attitude. They can go on to be very successful in their careers, but it's hard to even grab coffee with them and have a light conversation.


Since being on HN, I've noticed myself falling back into this sort of mindset. I'm now aware of it, but I didn't even realize I was doing it again. For example, my ex-girlfriend once told me that hospitals can’t require their staff to wear N95 masks at all times -- only regular masks. I immediately said "I don’t believe that. They can probably do whatever they want." Instead of being empathetic toward a nurse after a 12-hour shift, I was more concerned over hospital policy.

Or another example: My dad told me that he wants to dabble in programming, but MySQL isn’t compatible with his laptop. My response? "Yeah there’s no way that’s true. MySQL will work on anything." Instead of taking a look at this laptop and working on the problem with him, I just told him that he's wrong and he doesn't know what he's doing (basically).

These are typical, HN-esque responses that may get upvotes online, but they hurt personal relationships. It doesn’t matter if I’m being logical. It doesn’t even matter if I’m right. Sometimes, you just have to be kind -- whether it's to an author, a friend, a parent, or a stranger on the Internet. As long as you're aware of this, HN is a wonderful place to be. Scroll away, friends.