The Seven Things I Learned from the Internet Last Month

1. It is the more like The Jerry Springer Show than 60 Minutes.

The internet is like the Jerry Springer bouncer, Steve, who is there to prevent you from getting decked in the face for accusing your sister of having sex with the family dog on national television.  With Steve there, you can scream and yell and taunt and posture to your heart's content.  With Steve, you know that the distance provided by doing it all from the home of the folks you nanny for or the office you paid for with a Kickstarter campaign keeps you safe from harm.

We'd like for the Internet to be like 60 Minutes - intelligent, thoughtful, truthful with a cranky old guy at the end - it actually resembles that bane of low brow pop culture, the tabloid 'reality' TV talk show.

2. If you turn it off, you can't hear the screams.

Ignoring online harassment is really as simple as turning the thing off.  Deactivating Facebook for a while is absolute bliss when you realize that, even though they're still taking potshots and finding ways to hound you, their nonsense is like barking into a plastic bag.  It's a waste of energy, the target of your derision can't hear you, and that means your "voice" is impotent rage.

3. The Illusion of Universal Communication is just that - an illusion.

The internet is a huge space to voice your opinion. There exists the phenomenon of the "Facebook Bubble" that gives you the sense, because you've posted it online, that everyone in the world is reading it.  Here's the deal: everyone in the world can read it but you and your opinion isn't important enough for very many beyond your immediate circle to even mildly care about.

The reach of social media can be vast but 99 times out of 100, unless you are a laughing woman with a Chewbacca mask on, so few are actually listening it's a bit silly to aggrandize your power.

4. Decent people have massive fuckstain potential when online.

As I've written before, the internet makes assholes out of all of us.  I've become an incredible jackass online and, in some cases, regret those instances.  I recall having Big Internet Battles with folks like Rebecca Zellar, Mike Daisey, and Scott Walters and behaving like a real douchebag in the melees.  I'm grateful that time has tempered those arguments into blips and that I'm generally a better person for having disposed of my most juvenile tendencies (for the most part...)  

If you consider yourself a decent human being (and, of course, you do even if you're the equivalent of a minor literary version of hot dick cheese) think before you hit send.  Every time.

5. Even though we say we don't, most of us believe almost anything we read online.

If the narrative is one that supports "what I always knew" to be true, it doesn't make any difference if it's made up crap, we believe it.  From the fiction that Saddam Hussein was somehow in on the 9/11 attacks to the idea that GMO's are bad for you, if the information fits your pattern to conspiracy, Truth is just another casualty of a really good storyteller.

"Remember the Maine!"  Yeah.  Go look it up.

6. The act of "unfriending" and "blocking" is considered an aggressive, abusive act by some unstable people.

I know this one sounds ridiculous but it's true.

7. Like the book, you can't judge a person by his/her/their online presence.

We can barely make accurate assumptions about one another in person let alone based on the phantom person we are online.  Sure, we can suss out a bit of ideology and some understanding of someone's tastes in popular culture.  These things do not grant the complexity and nuance it requires to know someone.

And with that short list, I gotta move away from this experience and get on to other things.  The Wonderful World of the Web has some genuine positives and I think the key is to find those, use them and avoid the negatives.  Like a hammer which can be used to build a house or bash in a skull, the internet is a double-edged tool.

Currently, I'm Facebook-less and will be until September.  It's been it's own sort of odd liberation, like giving something up for Lent or realizing peanut butter gives me a stomach ache.  Due to that, I'm actually "getting" Twitter and am setting a few rules for myself for future use of all social media.

It's a been a weird month but, if I'm doing my job, I will continue to learn from it.