The ol’ internet debacle (through my lens)

No one claims to know all of San Francisco. Its locals know better than anyone how big and complex it is, infinite almost. The internet is similar. I am tempted to say I know it well. After 15 years of use, and being only 21, I feel like a local. Having been a web developer the last four years I’m even tempted to say I know it intimately, but that’s weird. I want to say I know it well but I know I can’t. It’s too big and too complex, too much more than my specific experience.

I do however need to say something to it, something personal. Internet, I’m sorry.

I have let gross and mean generalizations keep me from participating in conversation online. I’ve let the few who partake in propaganda and trolling belittle my perception of the whole. Because the internet helped raise me I told myself I knew it, and that it was bad.

My biggest fault has been placing everyone who shares serious content in the same bucket. Wherever the person fell on the spectrum of considerate to arrogant didn’t matter, if it was serious you were a “person who takes the internet seriously”. You became someone who ignored how masked, synthetic, and hidden discussions online are. Since you ignored this your only intention could be to “teach the other lessor networkers” your opinion. Even thoughtful posts became arrogant.

This cynicism, however, takes a toll. It ignores how our culture, for better or worse, is trended towards the internet. An old argument would be that it’s hard enough to have a healthy discussion face to face, the internet makes it impossible. This old thinking also ignores how the internet so beautifully gives voices to many who otherwise would be silent. To me the face to face world was willing to share their considerate opinions when called on, this is simply not true. Lastly, it completely ignores the internet as a place where love can happen, where people can feel heard, engaged with, and sympathized for.

Some friends and I had a conversation recently about the French flag overlay on Facebook pictures. If you don’t remember these started popping up after the horrific terrorist attacks in November. Our conversation was headed towards concluding the overlay was an opportunity to seem sympathetic or caring but not true compassion and ultimately pointless.

In ways an overlay of the French flag seemed as absurd and undignified as using the event as an opportunity to argue for or against gun control in the states. It was someone saying “I am a sympathetic person” which is sort of like saying “I am pro/against gun control” because all you are really doing is using tragedy to say something about yourself. The overlay was not true sympathy.

Then, for me, there was a turning point in the conversation. We began discussing how I’d been moved to tears seeing the NHL’s Montreal Canadiens pay tribute to the victims. During the tribute I wanted so badly for my French friends to feel honored. Through my tears, through the tears of fans, players, and coaches, I felt connected to the tragedy. The weight of the attacks, the loss of loved ones to so many, and the fear of an entire nation became more real to me in that moment.

In something as trivial as a sports game, grieving was taking place. Lots of people, no doubt, left the hockey rink and their TV sets as apathetic to the attacks as they had been when they entered. But some were moved. More importantly, those watching who were connected to the event felt known, honored, and cared for.

This tribute was a grand act and an overlay is a small one. But they became strangely similar during that conversation with my friends. Perhaps it was how equally insignificant a sports game and, in my old way of thinking, the internet seemed. Yet one moved me, deeply. So why couldn’t both?

What if one French friend experienced the overlays happening all over the world as people saying “I know what happened, and I too think it was evil, I too hurt with you and your friends, your family, and your country.” Would it then, despite all potential selfish ulterior motives, not be worth it? Was it not then a real example of that broken and flawed yet empowering love we all try and give?

By the end of our conversation I wanted to participate. It became clear pride and a silly perspective were preventing me from doing so.

Since then I’ve thought a lot more about what healthy discussion online could look like. For me, if this is ever going to happen, it starts with taking the internet seriously. Seeing it as a real community. Both by honoring what people say and by beginning to have a voice in the conversation.

Since cynicism toward the internet has kept me from blogging over the years, something I’ve always wanted to do, that’s where I’m going to start. Sort of.

I’m starting a Newsletter. Thoughts, experiences, stories, and ideas once a month, maybe more or maybe less. To whomever signs up.

It’s worth noting a huge reason I’m doing this is because on January 19 I go back to school. I’m doing so after 3 years working as a software engineer, to study English Literature.

I want to document my experience in school, watch my writing evolve, and share what I’m learning with an audience who cares to hear. A newsletter seems like the perfect way to accomplish those goals.

In a way, if you sign up, I’ll be taking you back to school with me. Which means I’ll want you to participate. To respond to my emails with thoughts of your own. To share with me what you are learning. To give criticism on the ideas I share and the way (my writing) I share them.

We can maybe even find, on the internet of all places, that beautiful sweet spot where two people share ideas openly and humbly and perhaps the most beautiful achievement mankind is capable of will happen; learning.

So if you want, come teach me, learn with me, and learn from me by signing up for my newsletter.

Excited for the discussions ahead,
Tim Schiller

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