The Kindness of Strangers

About two years ago, I posted the following video to the YouTube:

As lead editor for O’Reilly’s Hacks series of books at the time, my purpose was to illustrate the audio-visual illusion described in Hack #59 of Mind Hacks, in which Tom Stafford and Matt Webb use a classic illusion known as the McGurk Effect to show how our senses combine to completely change our ultimate experience of perception (blog post and complete transcription available here).

Since I posted this clip, it has had over 50,000 views and 62 ratings that average out at 4.5 stars (on a 5-star scale). Based on the 76 comments generated by the post, I have to believe that the commenting audience must be distinct from the rating audience, because even if you generously tallied up an approximate rating from the comments, I think you’d find a rating somewhere around a single star or lower. But comments clearly must be evaluated qualitatively, not quantitatively (otherwise, the commenters could have simply voiced their opinions with a star rating), so I’ll give the viewers their due and include a fairly representative sample of the feedback I’ve received so far.

Let’s see, where to begin? I actually value the comments that critique the efficacy of the video, such as this one by kated101:

didnt work at all on me, sounded like you were saying ba ba the whole time.

There are even some that report a bit of failure on my part, mixed with at least a little success, like Janedoex0x:

It didn’t work.
I still heard “BA BA…” when I saw him say it.

The olive juice thing looks really real though.

Also, “elephant shoe” looks like I love you too. =)

These are fair criticisms that, given that I’m neither a neuroscientist or a filmmaker, expose me for the amateur 10-minute video producer I am. Heck, even given those handicaps, I get a few unqualified kudos from users like gagaboat:

Thank you. This was the most thorough and well done explanation so far in relaying the power of perception.

But then, there are those who, on no uncertain terms, must feel betrayed by me on a very deep level. People like moxmister2006:

i heard ba ba the whole time [expletive deleted].

and RiddSin:

i just hear bah bah all the way you [expletive deleted] big eyd [expletive deleted]

and moviedragon5000 (to quote just a few):

yeah i heard bababa the firrst time so this is a bunch of bs

Now, I’ve been around the Interwebs long enough to expect trolls, so I don’t expect anyone to think I’m exposing things I think they’ve never seen before. Really, I’m just genuinely dumbfounded by the point when the comments cease to be about the content at all and become ad hominem attacks on me personally. That is, I say they’re about me, though their bizarre content makes it almost impossible for me to really take them personally. What drives a YouTube troll to respond to a demonstration of a neuroscientific audio-visual illusion with:

your mustache is shaped like an “M”

or focussing on my eyes, as at least three commenters did, most recently by kevituz, just four days ago:

[begin comment] you have huge eyes [end comment]

Really, I encourage you to read as many of the comments as you can stomach and share your opinions in the comments. I have a thick skin and will even allow trolls to voice their opinion on this one. It’s not that I’m offended or hurt; I really just don’t get it. If you’re one of these commenters, how is this worth your time? If it’s just to get back at me for wasting two minutes and forty seconds of your life that you’ll never get back, I do apologize, but really, is it worth another 20 seconds or more to you to let me know just how much you don’t like me? Take me at my word when I say I’m not offended and am genuinely interested in hearing a genuine answer that might make one bit of sense to me.

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