Procrastination Bonding: The Daily Jolt

Mikhaila It was that time of year. I was living on four hours of sleep-a-night, fried cheese and peach-orange “drink”. I had four papers to complete and take two exams to take. I had just three days to hand in a paper on racial discourse in Othello. Managing to get everything done before flying home for Winter Break would mean winning my battle with procrastination. But, at the rate I was going, I doubted I could. What with the urge to type on The Daily Jolt washing over me every five minutes.
Emoticons are used for conveying emotions and are a staple of message board navigation. You’ve got to be creative to make a message board posting a personal experience. Here are some widely used (and not so widely used) emoticons:

:o) smiling. Happy (usually accompanies most of my posts)
<:o smiling>:oD grinning. Really happy
<:od really happy>>:o) and >:oP Mischevious
>:o0 Angry
<:o0 scared>:o( Sad
>:o( Really sad and grumpy
:o Trying to stifle a giggle
:oP Joking



That Winter I did persevere. I managed to successfully resist the message boards and the urge to procrastinate ---at least long enough to get everything done. But sometimes the bait is just too good. Like lately, there’s been this character posting on the Jolt who calls himself Poultrygeist, and he ends his posts with a signature cluck cluck. Poultrygeist! And he clucks ! Get it? Poultrygeis -- um...er...

Ahem.

Welcome to my struggle with the Jolt, a website for college students built mostly around it’s message board. It’s actually network of college specific web-sites produced by the students of the college, for the students of the college. It was started by Amherst College students in 1998 (then it was called “Amherst Central”) and has diffused to over 100 colleges nationwide. The folks who manage the site claim to deliver “timely and relevant information and services to students across the nation.” And while timely and relevant information is always nice, I say the real deal on the Jolt are the message boards.

When the urge to Jolt comes over me I inevitably just go with the flow. But the flow is quite dangerous when you’re trying to finish a paper, (or an article for WireTap, as the case might be). On that particularly dreary winter day in my first New England/American winter, for example, my mind was unwilling to process anything but silly Jolt conversation. But writing on message boards isn’t only about what you’re avoiding.

The Daily Jolt community is grounded in denial. “I’m here to procrastinate,” we say. “I’m here for the entertainment.” Deep down, I think we all know that we’ve got a community going on. But the way community is created and sustained by strangers online is so different from the way it is in real life. We don’t like to get all sentimental about it. We’d rather bond in dysfunctional ways, by battering each other with expletives and emoticons (see sidebar).

During First Year Orientation for International Students a student from Thailand pointed me in the direction of the Smith Daily Jolt while giggling like a crazy woman. People can’t seem to help laughing when they talk about the Jolt. Like all school-specific sites, The Smith site isn’t directly affiliated with the school, but the college students run their own Jolt chapter. The Smith forum is full of inside jokes, lively political debate and reactionary postings from a group called “the Apathetic Students of Smith.” According to the site, 50 percent of Smith College students use the Jolt to find out what’s happening on campus.

But Smithies aren’t the only ones to see their college network transformed by this largely East Coast phenomenon. The Jolt claims that 70 per cent of Amherst College students procrastinate via their site. And some Brown University students Jolt enough to need a Jolt Constitution. (see sidebar) I’m one of about one million people who visit the site (or Jolt)-- when you add up all of the students and graduates who post from different schools. Every month 100,000 new people forsake an English paper or a sunny day to take a peek at what’s happening in the Daily Jolt community.

I introduced myself to the Smith Jolt community as the work piled on in late September of my first year. Between writing about Descartes and Foucoult, I’d post questions that made people think about the happy things that happened during their day. I’d check on the responses whenever I had time alone at a computer.

It turned out folks kind of liked my silly sappy questions, so I continued to post as a guest. The more I posted, the more I understood that my words could be readily misunderstood by a lot of people I hardly know. It’s hard to make electronic messages a personal experience, so being creative was the only way to get any emotion across. I found myself hard pressed to communicate as clearly, cleverly and as effectively as possible. I eventually registered a cute name for myself and got a little icon (of a black girl wearing a blue shirt) that appeared every time I posted. I now had the foundations of my Jolt Persona.
















The Brown Dailyjolt Constitution:




We the Posters of the Daily Jolt of Brown, in Order to form a more perfect Forum, establish Ranking, insure posting Tranquility, provide for the common procrastination, promote the general Humor, and secure the Blessings of Posting rights for ourselves and our Posterity, do ordain and establish this Constitution for the United Posters of BDJ, who will unite against the trolling of the Evil and Insidious guests who Flame the Regulars.





At first, I didn’t feel compelled to take responsibility for what I posted because of my anonymity. But overtime, my screen name became like my personal brand name and I wanted to be able to stand behind my postings. Being clear, and always conscious of whether my words could be twisted, was really important. The anonymity the Jolt provides reveals the best and worst parts a generation of people who are going to be the leaders and the teachers and the healers. The people who post on the forums are very vocal. And they’re not shy about trying to force you to hear what they have to say. Anonymity is a powerful tool and people can be pretty ruthless when they have it.

But I’ve also found that I have to come to the boards prepared to not take myself too seriously -- especially on the more intimidating school forums where people are anal about grammar and spelling. Now, I know I have to have a smart comeback prepared when I’m publicly “flamed” (personally attacked) by posters with names like IProbablyHateYou.

After getting a handle on the anonymity thing, I eventually became a Regular and moved on to The Cross-Campus (or X Campus) forum. I liked reading postings from people outside my campus and my daily life. I dug deeper into the off-kilter world of the X Campus forum during the 2000 election. At that time even Ralph Nader was showing up on the Jolt! Well... It was probably some Brown or Hopkins student who thought it was funny to adopt Nader’s name, but soon I started calling him “Wrinkly Ralph.” (He seemed to like that a little too much.) Wrinkly Ralph had super hero icon that showed up every time he posted, and he would ramble about his political platforms and secret trysts with Winona Laduke.

Soon, the word on The Jolt was that Ralph Nader and my persona were having some kind of torrid affair. And apparently, I wasn’t the only one involved. As soon as I had convinced myself that it was okay to put Othello on hold in favor of an impromptu soap opera, another Jolt personality came to the fore. Not to be confused with a traditional “Troll”, this poster called “herself” a “Froll” and began criticizing me for trying to steal “her man.” Apparently, Frolls live in large meadows near to wooded areas, and they coexist with vampire albino deer.

All this may sound like just another way to waste time. But, so what? A girl can’t stare at the same Word document for more than ten minutes at a time, can she? This silliness is commonplace on the forum, where nutty (and sometimes mean), Jolters have formed friendships online. “The cross campus forum fascinates me,” says Jolt moderator or “Jolt God,” Pedro Soto. “There is this ever growing core of people who interact on so many different levels with each other on a daily basis.”

The “Jolt Gods” are the forum moderators. They watch over The Jolt land from above. We rely on them to clean up spam, and keep people from posting personal info like phone numbers and addresses. They don’t post very often, so their lightning bolt icons (which is probably what prompted the nickname Jolt God) definitely stand out when they do. In this context of partial anonymity, they have the most clues as to who we really are. They know which Regulars posts form where. They can scold you for your Jolt wrongdoings and make you feel kind of dirty.

Although the Jolt Gods have “special” powers, the Daily Jolt is definitely ruled by the people. The forum rules make that clear. Forum flooding (see sidebar) and posting phone numbers and addresses is likely to get you more than a stern scolding. Posters are encouraged to monitor posts themselves and rank them off if they feel the post is inappropriate or offensive. The ranking system has led to some lively debates among the students-- many who read The Onion and demand the moderators set up silly forums like an Alpaca Liberation Forum and a Troll Memorial Forum. They are also the kind to play Jolt Safari, a game that has Jolters to ranking off posts under post headings of animal names like giraffe and porcupine.

















Glossary of terms used on The Daily Jolt and Other Message Boards Like It



Jolt: n.1) The Daily Jolt message board community that seems like it’s own secret society. v. 2) To actively participate in this community by posting messages "I jolted instead of studying for the 3 hour psychology final."

Jolters: adj. 1) A community participants who actively post messages.

Post: n.1) A message placed on a message board under a subject heading or ‘thread’. v. 2) The process of placing a message on a message board.

Troll: n. 1) The criminal elements in message board society. They try to make life uninhabitable for Regulars (see below) by constantly flaming posters (see below), flooding the forum (see below) and posting offensive or otherwise inappropriate spam. v. 2) To engage in message board society criminal activity "I went trolling under another registered name."

Regular: n. 1) A Jolter who has posted for more than three weeks under a registered persona. Usually has an icon that appears with their registered name, every-time they post.

Forum Flooding: v. 1) When Trolls like LALARLABAR post messages like "I like monkey’s - LALALABAR" over and over in succession, so that posts with real content move off of the first page to later pages. Jolt Gods clean up the flood.

Flame: To personally attack another poster – usually with the use of expletives.

Tic-tac-toe: n. 1) Posting three times in succession.

< >: Indicates action. Example: < smacks Kid_a upside the head >

Yarr: n. A BDJ construction meaning "anything good, cool and pirately." A general statement of goodwill and agreement. Example: "A hearty yarr to all who've kept me amused here at work."

Lurk: v. To read the message board but not post on the message board.

Joltorgy: n. According to a Jolter named Wolfe, "Mega flirt-fests."





What kind of life do you have if you make up weird stories about vampire albino deer? A pretty interesting one. My life is pretty full with trying to spark a career, pick a major, working and managing college drama and friends and figuring who I am and what I’m good at. For me, posting on the Jolt can be like writing in a journal. Only you get responses (wanted or unwanted) from lots of people.

Jolters are compelled to return to the site precisely because the people who post them have relatively full inner and outer lives. The Daily Jolt Relationships Forum, for example, wouldn’t exist without people who need advice for getting in and out of scandal. And it’s nice to hear about what Helenahandbasket is doing at his new job in Geneva, or about Dixie’s lawyer boyfriend or why Lanfear hates her neighbors.

Regulars seem to understand that message boards like The Jolt wouldn’t exist if the real world didn’t. If there were no papers to complete or reports to fill out we might just all be out doing other things (nevermind that we’d probably get to those other things sooner if we didn’t jolt..) This is the reason the message boards move more slowly during the early summer and why they sometimes stand still on the weekends.

The Regulars definitely represent the difference between what’s Internet and what’s Real. They bring up some of the same questions that have been floating around since the dawn of the message board’s existence, like: Is it healthy to form bonds, however deep or superficial, with people you’ve never met? Are the people who do so freaks?

“Don’t you Regulars have lives?” a hostile poster will ask. “Why do you post so much? Go out and meet people and get away from your computer! Is this the only way for you to make friends?”

But, the fact that people post as often as they do, usually means that they can’t help but be themselves, eventually. “Because most people are actually who they claim to be,” says Pedro, “the transition to meeting [a jolter] in real life is less jarring than in other online mediums.”

Bonding with people by punching commands into plastic does still seem like an unnatural way to form a community, sometimes. I’d bet that many of The Regulars would be quick to point out that their sole purpose for jolting is for entertainment and procrastination. I Jolt to procrastinate, remember? I don’t consider The Regular’s my friends or even my acquaintances. How can I know who they really are?

But I did go out for dinner with two of them last weekend. We sat and ate and managed to have great conversations despite the fact that we’d known all about details in each other’s lives but never really known each other beyond a screen name, some IM conversations and email. I found they were exactly who they claimed to be on The Jolt. And I still like them.

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