In the ten years or so that I’ve been online, how the particular medium of the internet affects the behaviour of those who inhabit it has never failed to amaze me. I recall, from my talker days, what it would be like when mousey little girls suddenly realized that no one could actually see them typing away in their bedrooms. Voila! Instant femme fatale. Guys who probably spent WAY too many hours alone in their mother’s basements suddenly became the Cool Kids. Leaders of men, wooers of women, coders of totally nifty features.
Beyond that, people will frequently, upon realizing they’re invisible, take it as an invitation to act in ways they’d never act in person: like complete wankers. Since the internet has allowed communication between people there have been trolls. People who, for no human reason, will try to inflame, hurt, or otherwise disrupt the lives of others for… entertainment, presumably. Attention, obviously. I can’t imagine what it must be like for those who are “famous”, the well-known bloggers, for example, to receive this kind of abusive garbage in comments and in email on a daily basis. These bloggers are real, live people, and while I imagine you learn to mostly ignore it eventually, it has to corrode your soul. Many of these blogs are out there for a reason. Well, all of them are, but many are out there for people to talk about important issues in their lives – to get things off their chests, spread information, connect with others, etc. People who are dealing with depression, or infertility, or eating disorders, or breakups, or any of the myriad painful states in which humans find themselves especially don’t need the ministrations of trolls, some of whom say things so sick and so hateful it surprises even the most jaded among us (like me). Hell, sometimes the comments are more just stupid or ignorant, but it’s still wearing and frustrating. Can’t someone banish these assholes from the net?
Anyway, even as someone who is not a famous blogger, I have witnessed my share of what I will call anti-human behaviour online. Which is why, when one finds kindness, and generosity, and intelligence, and humour, and kindred spirits, it is especially exhilarating. Particularly given that a lot of the population of the net, I think, is people who are not overly extroverted. We like to think, and observe, and we write better than we will ever be able to talk to anyone in person. The net is our habitat. And it expands our horizons to include people we never would have encountered otherwise. The only problem with having a friend in Japan or Australia or Easter Island is that he or she won’t necessarily be online much of the same time I am, and it’s a bitch for trying to maintain a long-distance romance. (I know whereof I speak…)
Overall, it’s just nice to know there are people out there who just get it, even if I will never meet them. Even if I will silently enjoy their blogs and never send an email or post a comment. Certainly, there are people out there who are intimidating. Sometimes for their views. Sometimes for their personalities. Sometimes for their fame. Like the BlogHer attendees. As if they all weren’t smart and funny and famous enough, turns out they’re beautiful, too. (Dammit.) There are certain parallels to the Cool Kids in high school, and much as you might enjoy their writing or relate to things that happen to them, the more exposure someone like Dooce gets, the harder it is to relate to her on a casual level. When Jon posts that she’s got an inbox with 80,000 emails, how likely is that to make you want to zip off a note to her when you particularly enjoyed that day’s Chuck anecdote? But that’s okay, because it encourages further expansion. Further clicking of links and reading of blogs you wouldn’t find otherwise. Of discovering ideas and talents and humanity in places you never would have known to look. Of attempting and making connections to people whose comments sections you’re comfortable residing in. Of becoming more comfortable in being yourself, and letting that show through online so maybe other people will connect with you, and get it, and on it goes. And, conveniently, the more numerous and nebulous the connections, the strong we are against those who would corrode them with their abuse of invisibility.
The net has been described as the ultimate democracy. It is also, I think, an excellent expression and reflection of life’s insistence on balance as well.