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The Endless Argument

At The Side Project blog, Warwick Holt sees fan-ticipation meet the Internet

Belief: another brick in the wall between fans of Roger Waters (left) and those of The Endless River Pink Floyd
Image © 2013 AP via AAP/Vadim Ghirda and 2014 AP via AAP/Columbia

On Friday, Pink Floyd released The Endless River, their first new album in 20 years.

That means it’s the first album Pink Floyd have released in the Internet age. Sure, the Internet was around when The Division Bell came out, but in 1994, the World-Wide Web was a babe in arms. Searching Geocities-hosted sites through AltaVista was still just a crazy dream.

Back then, Floyd fandom was something I shared with a few fairly like-minded friends.

But eager for any scrap of news about the new album like a teen Directioner searching for fresh Harry Styles pics, I waded into the realms of the online Floyd fan, where I discovered the downside of anticipation.

With a dearth of actual information, Floyd fan forums became filled with the Internet’s other great commodity: feelpinions.

Before anyone had even heard a note of the new album, it was being judged by the past, and defined by the schism that sent conceptual mastermind Roger Waters and the rest of the Floyd marching in opposite directions to the courts.

The Internet is the drug dealer for any obsession. Passions can be fed through social media, online forums, global communities.

Communities of people arguing. Arguing about the things they most strongly believe in, whether that be climate change, the ethics of horseracing, or whether Roger Waters was the true creative force behind the Floyd and therefore the new album will be rubbish.

Believers come in a spectrum of passions, from agnostic to fundamentalist. But online, the fundamentalists always win out, keyboard warriors armed with certainties. Such as: there’s just no way that this album could be worse than Roger’s Radio KAOS.

And mildly stated, or held, opinions get amplified by their opponents, pushing people to defend their tenuous positions more strongly. All in all, it’s just another post on the wall.

The truth is, bias is often largely in the observer more than the observed. Passionate people can amplify the slightest challenge to their cherished worldview. And it’s fair to say we all have one of those.

If you think you don’t, why not make a list of beliefs you hold that are probably wrong. I wouldn’t want to suggest I’m perfect, but my list’s pretty short.

You’ve likely heard of confirmation bias (or “myside bias”), the tendency we have to seek out, filter and interpret information to confirm our existing beliefs, particularly for emotionally-charged issues such as 'whether I should even bother to listen to the album, I mean they haven’t done anything good since 1983'.

This means, that when we hear stuff that we agree with online, like that Meddle and Animals are definitely underrated albums, we don’t feel we have to respond. All is right with the world.

But when someone suggests something that challenges those beliefs, like that 1983 comment above, we are provoked into responding. Something like: Marooned won a Grammy, you stupid Waters-lover.

When we publicly commit to an opinion, we become prone to “attitude polarization”, meaning we will tend to become more strident in our opinion. Just like you must have lead ears if you think those teasers were anything but lame soft rock, you Dave-Gilmour-apologist.

Furthermore, we suffer a “backfire effect” – which means that when presented with evidence or opinions that contradict our beliefs, we don’t tend to moderate those beliefs, but instead hold them more strongly. And obviously anyone who disagrees, like some of those magazine reviewers, must just not get the Floyd.

When people from opposite sides of the opinion fence come screen-to-screen, wandering out, perhaps, of the echo chamber of their Facebook feed and subtle downplaying of difference that you tend to get with people you actually know, irresistible forces meet immovable objects frequently.

Online, being right is a sport, complete with adrenaline rush. But without the consequences of actual person-to-person interaction, the main thing that matters is being right to yourself.

Which usually means reinforcing beliefs that we already hold, that often go back to a fundamental ethic that we’ve had instilled in us, for instance whether we’ve been raised with the virtue “prosperity” or the virtue “fairness”. Or whether The Wall or Dark Side (or even The Piper At The Gates Of Dawn) is the definitive Floyd album.

Recent studies have even said that conservative and progressive people have differences in the actual structure of their brains. Who knows, the same may be true of Watersters and Gilmourists. The upshot is that arguing on the Internet is most likely a futile exercise.

Into their 49th year, Pink Floyd’s final album is their most heavily instrumental ever. In fact there is only one song with lyrics, the 18th and final track, in which lyrics penned by Gilmour’s wife Polly Sampson (“Yoko!” yells Team Anti-Post-Waters-Floyd) suggests that the Floyd’s music is Louder Than Words.

Could be read as a bit of a dig at their former lyricist. But the message could equally apply to some of their online fans.

Perhaps we aren’t all as good as we think we are at talking. Perhaps it’s worth spending more time listening.

As well as writing for The Project, Warwick runs a Media Empire, and can hum all of Atom Heart Mother.
The opinions expressed in The Side Project blog do not necessarily reflect those of The Project or the Ten Network.