How Bragging Powers the Internet

Testosterone to blame for something other than male pattern baldness

By Matt Baume
|  Wednesday, Sep 2, 2009  |  Updated 3:30 PM EDT
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How Bragging Powers the Internet

Manpop via Flickr

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The Internet was built on creativy and innovation, but what keeps it running? Ego, according to MIT researcher Philip Greenspun.

According to Greenspun's theory, men are more likely than women to engage in endeavors that are associated with high social status but low pratical return -- for example, bickering over minutiae on Wikipedia or commanding raids in World of Warcraft.

In other words, for many on the Internet, looking good is as important as doing good. That's consistant with a recent study showing that only 13 percent of Wikipedia users are women.

Sweeping generalizations aside, however, nobody would claim that women are immune from bragging. A recent NY Mag article dissects the passive-aggressive boasts of loathsome Facebook users, male and female, including such lines as "Rose wine can be tooooo much" and "just woke up ... looked at maid-folded clothes" and "left my toothbrush ... HAVE to go back to the hamptons."

But in general, men seem to dominate the world of online boasts, particularly when it comes to admitting to crimes. A British welfare cheater was caught when he bragged of his extravagant lifestyle on Facebook; a Marine was caught defrauding his insurance; there's a case of a British teen who wrote that he felt "like killin some1" and then jailed after doing just that; and a soccer player who boasted of job hunting was dismissed from his current team.

The lesson here: no matter what your gender, those irrational urges to compete for status can be a boon for everyone -- or they could prove your downfall.

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