We are Still Using the Internet Wrongly

Avocados, Homes, Lola, Temper and Hate

photo by Thom, from unsplash.com

The internet is a platform to allows us to speak more freely and I’m happy about that. I have used email and Twitter to reach out to people I could only dream of talking to before the internet.

I once emailed Seth Godin to try and interview him (got rejected) and got some advice from Tom Hulme (of Open IDEO) back in 2008. Just recently, I got some crazy good advice on Product Management from a Product Manager at Buffer.

My parents and their generation tend to see the internet as a good thing — it brings people and information closer to everyone. However, as I like to believe, the internet isn’t really a platform of good or evil, but a platform of magnification. What we do with it gets magnified. What good you are, what evil you are, it will get magnified.

What gets magnified in me?

Sadly for me, it magnifies how angry I can get. Sometimes I tend to let what I read affect me a lot, and I react angrily in person about the things that I read. I saw two articles this week that really, as kids say nowadays, gotme triggered (please feel free to search for these yourselves):

  • Avocados and owning homes
  • The honoring of Lola

Using first principles to control temper?

When I first read the avocado piece, I was furious. Let me just say this to show how ridiculous this is: I don’t know where to buy avocado toast where I live, and I don’t buy expensive coffee daily.

Naturally, I wanted to find consolation, so I read through the tweet replies. At first, I reveled in the sarcasm. Eventually, I found that I kept seeing the same idea expressed in more sarcastic ways. Suddenly, I began to feel worse.

I started to read more about it and learned that the one who made the comment was a real estate mogul in Australia who had the luxury of starting a business from a $34,000 loan from his grandfather. If you do quick math, saving up on daily lattes and avocado toast will never reach that amount until you can actually land a more senior role and cough it up. (Plus, come on, I wouldn’t skip out on a Flat White if I was in Australia — that stuff’s amazing)

“I’ll have a Strong Flat White, please” — the order that changed my life.

Then something hit me: he probably is using his bias from his experiences to generalise a problem in society that he sees. I asked myself, “Why should I be angry about that? That’s his perspective.”

I then asked myself, “Is the problem that he sees a valid one? Is it a problem if less people owned homes and more people just rented them?” In my perspective, having a home to live in is very different from owning a home. I don’t see it as a problem. But I figured that for him, it is a problem — he is in the real estate business, after all. Aha, an agenda.

What about the spending on expensive coffee and avocado toast (disclosure: I live in the Philippines, and our version of avocado toast is eating out at pricey $10–20 a meal restaurants and drinking coffee outside), daily ? Yes, at least in our country, I believe it’s a valid problem to point out.

Instead of describing the spending behaviors of young, working people, let me point this out: Starbucks is still growing fast. Sometimes, there are branches within 1km of each other. Sometimes, there are 2 branches in 1 mall. I grew up near a shopping area with 3 Starbucks branches (now with 4; in contrast, we only saw 3 Starbucks branches in the entire Sydney central business district back in 2015).

All this thinking made me realise that I didn’t need to immediately get furious. First of all, I could have saved time from reading all those tweets. Second of all, this guy’s comments didn’t hurt me. Third, I did see a point in the comment; why am I so focused on his generalisation? I can’t act on that, but I can act on my own spending.

Instead of writing a scathing tweet and Facebook post on this, I thought about it some more. Isn’t it funny how we’re still so quick to react instead of just sitting still, reflecting on what was just said, and only speaking when we have something more constructive to say? The internet allows us to speak more freely than ever; but it also allows us to think carefully less than ever.

Learning the lesson a second time

You would think that once I had learned this, my reactions would have been more controlled.

I read a piece about a lola (grandmother, in Filipino) who was maltreated her entire life, and how the author tried to make it up to her. This piece really tugged at my heart strings.

Filipinos are known to go abroad and work as domestic help, nurses, barbers, engineers, etc., often leaving their families behind. For those of you who don’t know, a lot of these Filipinos are still maltreated today. Some don’t ever get days off. Some don’t get fed. Some don’t get to go out of the house they serve. Some are severely beaten. These stories are all easily searchable online, with keywords: OFW, abuse, Filipina.

This story isn’t new to us Filipinos. Most of us even grew up with household help, myself included (when I was 12, my parents decided it was time to not have household help). But not every family treats household help like slaves, and not every family treats them like family, either. I have a friend whose helper practically raised him. She still works for him, her daughter lives with them, and she also has her own side businesses she deals with while he and his wife are out of the house.

A few days after sharing the piece, I noticed some people on my Facebook getting angry about reactions to it. I was aghast, how could people react in rage? Did they not read it until the end? I got curious and checked out Twitter. It turns out that people, instead of focusing at the ending of the story, focused on the middle and decided to chastise the author for his past.

My first thought was, “How can they say this without being in this position?” I wanted to reply to these tweets. Then, I realised what I learned about the avocado story: I should think about this first and at least try to understand why they’re reacting that way. Ad hominem attacks are never the solution to anything. The internet merely magnifies who we are, and allows us to speak freely, more instantly. For the nth time, I was about to let my temper get the best of me.

I put down my phone and closed the Twitter search. My day moved on, I did fun stuff, and a few days later, I’m writing this story.

photo by Mike Wilson, from unsplash.com

Time to look in the mirror

I only hope that the next time I see something similar on the internet, I remember to be this aware about my reactions. It’s so tempting to speak up about what I think are wrong and injustices, but my hypothesis is it really breeds more hatred than action. There’s too much hate on the internet (either that, or I need to clean up my feeds 🤣).

We really need to continue thinking things through before speaking out loud. Curating our own feed to weed out hateful things is a good start, but making sure we’re not spreading one more hateful piece of content on the internet is a better next step.