Last week I was feeling down. With that rodeo clown in the White House, the rise of authoritarian leaders around the world, and the rapidly gentrifying, Patagonia-vest-over-dress-shirt blandness that the Bay Area is becoming, I was in a bit of a rut.
Knowing that a lot of people were feeling the same way, I wanted to do something to help elevate the collective morale, so I posed this question to my friends on Facebook: “What’s something positive going on in the Bay Area right now that you’re excited about?”
I figured it would be a great way to not only let people publicly share something that they felt was making the Bay Area better, but also a way to turn other people onto those things. The responses were fantastic.
Some people shared that they were excited about various politicians, both local and national. Others mentioned concerts, drag shows, weird art events, local theatre and comedy. While still others were elated simply by the fact that the weather was beautiful outside. My favorites were people sharing their recent accomplishments or projects they were proud of. Too many people keep their victories to themselves for fear of seeming like braggarts or self-promoters, so it was wonderful to see folks learning about each other’s awesomeness.
One friend, Tamara Palmer, is self publishing a new quarterly print magazine and website called California Eating. Another, my friend Molly Sanchez is part of the theater group Killing My Lobster and she was proud that KML “is out here giving out diversity scholarships, selling out shows, training youth, and beginning their most ambitious season yet all while paying artists every step of the way.”
It felt like this was the way the internet was originally intended to be used. This whole hyper-connectedness that we’re living in right now was supposed to bring us together by giving us a better understanding of each other and pathways to building relationships with people we wouldn’t have met otherwise. Instead it’s become a bunch of Orwellian mega corporations that sell our data to the highest bidder and propagate insidious propaganda, all while sowing divisiveness.
That thread on Facebook felt like a place where people were coming together to actually share and learn and be stoked for one another. It felt like, what’s that word? Oh yeah, community! And it was lovely.
It made me start to wonder: How do we make the internet a better place? How can we still use it as a way to share important information and build community without it devolving into name calling, propaganda, conspiracy theories, and shitty people sharing racists memes? How can we use it as a medium through which we can speak truth to power, without simultaneously empowering those who seek to subvert truth in the name of exploiting power?
Usually I like to tie up these columns with calls to action or suggestions of how to make things better. I like to not just complain but also offer solutions. Unfortunately, I don’t have any solutions this time around. Is it just human nature that we’re such monsters on the internet, or is just the nature of the internet? Or is it the combination of the two?
I don’t have the answers.
I don’t know how to change the entire culture of a thing that so vigorously pervades our lives. But we can change the way we act as individuals. One thing I thought of to make the internet a slightly better place is this: Next time you want to say something mean to someone on the internet, give a compliment to someone who deserves one instead. We all need more compliments, especially online.
If everyone did this one simple thing, we won’t change the world, or the internet for that matter, but who knows, it might just inspire the right person to figure out how we can.
Stuart Schuffman, aka Broke-Ass Stuart, is a travel writer, TV host and poet. Follow him at BrokeAssStuart.com and join his mailing list to stay up on the work he’s doing: http://bit.ly/BrokeAssList. His guest column, Broke-Ass City, runs Thursdays in the Examiner.