Don’t snark, these buttons deliver a profoundly new user experience!

This word went off in my head while going down yet another rabbit hole on a popular website’s commenting thread. The topic was Google’s new Material design and the use of box-shadows to give Material buttons dimensionality (example above). Pretty engaging stuff, I know. The post had generated hundreds of upvotes and comments. It made sense because Google is kinda a big deal, ☺, but srsly a raised vs. flat button?

Commenting threads are, of course, now ubiquitous. We, yes WE, spend endlessly hours engaging each across the web for mythical internet points. Somehow it’s become cool or at least acceptable to be perpetually on the high school debate team.

Getting back to cynicism, a common purposes for commenting threads is to flesh out your ideas and discover others’. Cynicism happens when you don’t think there couldn’t possibly be room for either of these things to happen. When a thread seems SO obvious to defy further explanation, you might think there are only two responses: 1) respond critically, e.g., “duh!” 2) downvote. So in my example, “Google sucks up more of the internet because they are now outlining their buttons???” DOWNVOTE!!!

What this category of response really means is “I am doing insert_earth_shattering_thing and no one gives a crap?” People care enough to comment cynically about something that doesn’t involve them when their own ideas aren’t getting noticed. There are two reasons to care about your own ideas. Money and power. There are some quantitative differences in cynicism when money vs. power is involved, so let’s examine each.

Cynicism when money is involved.

When I think about cynicism and ideas when money is involved I think entrepeneurship. What I think I’m starting to notice is that cynicism isn’t in the wheelhouse of successful/influential money makers. They may not agree with someone, but I don’t see them delivering beatdowns of the regular. On the other hand, take a look the cynicism-to-impartiality ratio on’s Facebook commenting threads. Sports are a physical debate. Don’t let the sports side notes confuse you, though. This is ground-zero for the fiscally disenfranchised. “$10M/year for this bozo who can’t speak english???” -Top commentator who self-identifies as a student at _insert_not_prestigious_school.

Perhaps, it’s just as simple as money makers not wasting time on commenting threads. The thing I’d like to know is whether they are actually visiting these threads in the first place.

Cynicism when power or social status is involved.

An obvious case for cynicism about ideas when social status is involved is in universities. I’m familiar with academic cynicism because I’ve worked in biomedical research at well-known institutions for >10 years (all on the east coast, the part of the US where cynicism seems to make particularly good sense to people). Cynicism is the wheelhouse of the ivory tower. A very common way cynicism plays out in my world is after someone publishes their research in a “good” journal or receives an award or grant. Despite all these accolades directly or indirectly lining their pockets, money is rarely the important thing. Nobody ever has enough money for their research. What happens is the claws come out. Wallace Stanley Sayre’s law, “Academic politics is the most vicious and bitter form of politics, because the stakes are so low.”


Perhaps cynicism simply comes with those who lose more than they win. It would be interesting to gauge Elon Musk’s level of cynicism now vs. in 2008 when he was getting divorced, Tesla didn’t exist, and SpaceX crashed its first three missions.