The Social Memory of a Sports Message Board Community on a Divisive Figure

An original version posted on 7/23/2009 as "Message Board Posting: Perception, Language, Memory" @ AMMMO

I think the ripe topic for this is the Chicago Bulls message boards online.

At least for me.

Even if I detest the Chicago Bulls management at this very moment (see Ben Gordon post below), I'm quite addicted to at least following their progress, and after 8 years of recreational posting, I've come to the conclusion that I can't quite get the Bulls nor the message board communities out of my system.

Everything I've learned about arguing and everyday reasoning way back to my SAT test-taking days to my first days studying linguistic anthro, I've learned from recreational message board posting. I figured that much after picking verbal arguments in AOL chatrooms and later sports message boards. As an enthused student of AP US history in 11th grade I aimed to pick apart Republican/Conservative message board responses by referring to moments in history analagous to current conditions. It was a spitting image reflection of what my teacher did to white Republican kids during class, manifested and reinacted in the message board space, race-less, status-less, where I felt comfortable.

I used to go out there thinking that if I could show the facts and nothing but facts, that people would automatically click and "get it." They would understand my point of view and perhaps change their minds.

But I dare say that that has almost never been the case. It takes much more than facts to move anyone. I think it takes almost a religious conversion, meaning a conversion that involves a shift of the body, mind, and soul. In psychological terms, that means moving an entire schema of relations. There are no power tactics available other than cyber-bullying or some kind of fixed groupthink within a message board community.

From my experience, no one really ever admits that they're wrong. And if they do admit a mistake, it's probably because they made an explicit prediction (i.e. predicted 50 wins, player X to suck), and/or they can distance their current thoughts from past transgressions, that is, they can explain away how they were wrong before, but not likely to be this time around.

On Perception and Memory of these Message Boarders:

I was and still continue to be amazed at how fans can watch one basketball game and yet still make different observations.

These aren't flash-in-the-pan comments made, but there is a long-standing community of posters. While there is a steady stream of newcomers, there's also posters who I've come to "know." They will occasionally make reference to their jobs, occasionally talk about their personal experiences, share photos of their newborn children, and even share how they've lost their jobs, or ask for prayers.

So I feel like I've grown emotionally with this online "community", even though I only "know" them through what I've read, but have managed to do so consistently for about 8 years.

But there was and remains a lot of fighting between fans. Fans of the SAME team, usually about the transactions made.

My favorite player, Ben Gordon, was the topic of plenty of message board fighting within the Chicago Bulls message board community, and will probably continue to be a center of controversy now that he's not with the Bulls anymore and moved to a division rival.

I was amazed that no matter how many memorable moments I brought up, no matter how many wins I thought he brought us because of his momentum-swinging style, the same cadre of posters would continue to criticize him. There were very different degrees and reasons for dislike, but for sake of my cognitive sanity, I will simply label them the "haters." Not because I really believed these guys "hated" him as a person, but simply didn't like him on the team.

The same old criticisms by people I perceived as "haters" would be front and center: "he's selfish, he's playing for a contract and not for the team, he doesn't play defense, it won't matter much if we lose him."

I was always curious of what episodic memories anchored their perceptions of his playing ability. Based on what some haters" wrote in the official appreciation thread for him, they could only talk about general semanticized memories about him. The general semanticized memories were memories of habits they weren't fond of:

They cited only general habits ala

"gets posted up by bigger guards"

"dribbling the ball of his foot"

"shooting over 3 defenders"

In the discussion of habits, they could only abstract their memories about him. "Abstracting" means that you forget a few moments and extract the relevant moments to fit with an abstract and general statement. For example, if you have it burned into your cortex that he's "selfish", and make the statement "Ben Gordon is selfish", you'll predispose yourself to remembering only when he was selfish, and filter out any moments when he was "not selfish."

From these general statements, I suspected that these posters seemed to listen more to commentary, hearsay, and analysis about him from reporters and talk radio rather than actually watching the game for themselves. I suspect they remember more verbal commentaries and merely parroted their bullshit on the message boards. As was shown by Jonathan Schooler, verbal memories have been shown to interfere with the expression of episodic memories.

Other than the very last game he played as a Chicago Bull, which was Game 7 against the Boston Celtics in a very memorable series, I was particularly struck by the inability to cite specific moments compared to his advocates and supporters.

So the interesting finding was that advocates and supporters present more episodic memories, while haters present more semanticized abstract memories. The haters seem to have more memory of general descriptions and characteristics as opposed to concrete occurrences.

Episodic memories are rooted in concrete occurrences, while the semanticized abstract memories are mental shortcuts.

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