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The Internet’s cult of complaint

Got a problem? Join the rest of the Internet. From the iPhone to Rebecca Black, a fetish for fussing is what unites us.


Owen Thomas

Internet Culture

Posted on Oct 5, 2011   Updated on Jun 3, 2021, 2:23 am CDT


What are you complaining about?

As long as I can remember, the Web has served as a natural home for complainers. Got a gripe? Post it online.

But this week, the disgruntled disgorged an epic amount of dissatisfaction.

As comedian Louis CK once put it, “Everything’s amazing and nobody’s happy.”

Take the iPhone 4S—please. Or so said weary Apple watchers, who expressed their disappointment at the gadget’s underwhelming rollout. I’m with Business Insider editor-in-chief Henry Blodget, who’s itching to upgrade from his 3GS: this is clearly a better phone, and every Android I’ve tried drives me mad with its overcomplicated interface.

(Then again, I’m a surly adopter who proudly sports a cracked smartphone screen as a sign of my miserliness.)

By the way, people had similar gripes about the iPhone 3GS, which instantly went on to record sales. It’s still being sold today. If you really want to offend the gadget pundits, go buy one.

That Apple didn’t announce an iPhone 5 was just one of the first-world problems we experienced.

Redditors discovered that babies cry. Football fans learned that their heroes mouth off on Twitter. Anderson Cooper complained about links to photos of teenage girls, prompting more people to click on links to photos of teenage girls.

An ordinary Reddit user, Forthewolfx, got his wish for instant celebrity on the social news site. And then found himself the target of an organized backlash.

Hater magnet Kreayshawn met hater magnet Rebecca Black, and to the horror of millions, nothing untoward happened. Soulja Boy did not die either, but people learned you can’t believe everything you read on the Internet.

Outside the first world, by contrast, people are grappling with real problems.

In Mexico, people are reportedly spreading rumors, too—but since drug cartels are involved, the rumors have deadly consequences.

After typhoons struck vast parts of Asia, people shared condolences and organized relief efforts.

I don’t mean to be hard on smartphone snobs or people who find deeper meaning in disliking Rebecca Black. Wait, no, stop—actually, I do. There are some amazing things happening online. Actually, some things that don’t completely suck.

Like, for example, the story of Sarah Churman, a deaf woman who heard herself for the first time a couple of months ago and whose story is now spreading thanks to YouTube.

An insidious part of the Internet’s culture of complaint is that the nonstop negativity has become background noise. We don’t really hear each other because our filters are always on. Heck, we probably don’t even listen to ourselves.

If we did, we’d have a moment like Louis C.K.’s: What is it that we’re complaining about, exactly?

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*First Published: Oct 5, 2011, 6:12 pm CDT