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

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  • by L4t3r4lu5 ( 1216702 ) on Thursday January 24, 2013 @10:31AM (#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?
  • What love? (Score:3, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward on Thursday January 24, 2013 @10:39AM (#42679973)

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

  • by xxxJonBoyxxx ( 565205 ) on Thursday January 24, 2013 @10:41AM (#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?)

  • by Anonymous Coward on Thursday January 24, 2013 @10:43AM (#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.
  • by GameboyRMH ( 1153867 ) <gameboyrmh@gma i l .com> on Thursday January 24, 2013 @10:44AM (#42680017) Journal

    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's completely understandable.

  • by PSVMOrnot ( 885854 ) on Thursday January 24, 2013 @10:54AM (#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?

  • Critical thinking (Score:4, Insightful)

    by Hatta ( 162192 ) on Thursday January 24, 2013 @10:57AM (#42680097) Journal

    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.

  • by assertation ( 1255714 ) on Thursday January 24, 2013 @10:59AM (#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.

  • by X0563511 ( 793323 ) on Thursday January 24, 2013 @11:01AM (#42680137) Homepage Journal

    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.

  • Jock Culture (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Bonker ( 243350 ) on Thursday January 24, 2013 @11:01AM (#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

  • by magic maverick ( 2615475 ) on Thursday January 24, 2013 @11:04AM (#42680159) Homepage Journal

    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.

    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.

  • by X0563511 ( 793323 ) on Thursday January 24, 2013 @11:10AM (#42680203) Homepage Journal

    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?

  • by L4t3r4lu5 ( 1216702 ) on Thursday January 24, 2013 @11:16AM (#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.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Thursday January 24, 2013 @11:33AM (#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.

  • 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.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Thursday January 24, 2013 @11:56AM (#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.

  • by thesandtiger ( 819476 ) on Thursday January 24, 2013 @12:19PM (#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.

  • by PhxBlue ( 562201 ) on Thursday January 24, 2013 @12:32PM (#42680801) Homepage Journal

    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.

The first Rotarian was the first man to call John the Baptist "Jack." -- H.L. Mencken