HUMMING IN MY UNIVERSE By Jim Paredes (The Philippine Star) | Updated September 15, 2013 – 12:00am
I once sent out this tweet: “The upside of the Internet is that everyone can express and be heard. The downside is that everyone can express and be heard.”
You hear from the best and the worst people on the Internet. It is a marketplace of ideas, but it is also a Tower of Babel. There’s a lot of noise dished out about every possible thing but few take the time to understand the really good points of view.
I follow a lot of people on Twitter who are smart, funny, provocative, inspirational, informative or have unique points of view that are not racist, sexist or offensive in other ways contrary to my tastes. I also follow friends, relatives and some people I have discovered whom I like.
With the long hours (too long) I spend on social media, I have learned enough about certain people on Twitter and Facebook who I have never met, so that I can almost relate to them as friends. I have seen them react to local and world events, pass on articles to share, re-tweet certain tweets, and express their opinions on a myriad of topics. I have also seen pictures of them — enough to feel I know them already.
But it is an amazing experience meeting them in person. Despite what I’ve read and experienced online, they come out rather different in real life. They are larger than their tweets and posts. They break the imaginary mold in your mind when you hear their voices and see them in action. You can even feel some kind of bonding with them. Oh, and they laugh, too.
I have also seen in real life, people I have blocked online. Although they may have appeared somewhat powerful or large enough to have annoyed me at one time, they actually are smaller in real life, less threatening and less annoying. They appear to be “lite” versions of what they are online. If I open myself to a greater understanding and acceptance, I can even see that they are not the demons I imagined them to be. They are mere humans like myself who get caught up in the heat of discussions or arguments, but perhaps with fewer manners and less patience.
I have had my share of trolls, paid hacks that insult and say nasty things to me, even as I try to initially answer their queries with politeness. But by the second round of comments, when I can already sense their mean-spiritedness as they rant rather than argue, I position my cursor on the “block” button and click. I draw the line when they resort to insults and name-calling. When that happens, I reply with a rebuff and immediately block them, depriving them a chance to retort. I do not mind arguing in an atmosphere of civility. But once anyone becomes uncivil, I tend to reciprocate.
I have learned to detect these trolls who exert great concerted efforts to bully people. I imagine some of them are paid hacks. They almost never use their real names. Rather, they use “official” or NGO-sounding names like Filipino Masses and the like, which gives the impression of authority. They almost never use their real photographs, but show pictures suggesting militancy or populism, or sometimes, an attractive face. Lastly, from their timeline, you can see that they are newly made accounts. They follow very few people and direct most of their tweets at them. Sometimes, different accounts even tweet or post the same venom (word for word) to common people on their target list. And of course, the company who follow them, and those they follow are an easy giveaway.
This is the cyber world where self-proclaimed messiahs, evil villains, bullies and victims, real and fake people, the rich and famous and the ordinary, the smart and the stupid, the cream and the puff, liberals and conservatives meet, shake hands, share a laugh, exchange views, argue, cross swords, engage in word combat, or become each other’s fans.
One of the questions I ask myself is: How tolerant or democratic do I want to be when I engage people on the Net? I do not mind seeing comments I do not agree with on my timeline so long as they are not disrespectful or insulting. The biggest lesson I still have to master though is when to engage and when not to. I really want to come from a place of openness and rational discussion but it can get very tiring discussing with people who can’t tell reason from imagination and suspicion, and are dismissive of facts.
The structure of the Internet and social media is designed to give a voice to everyone. In short, practically anyone can express his or her views and can potentially become a power center. We have seen this happen every time something goes viral.
Now that more people are using the Net and are already feeling quite at home with it, they are inadvertently showing more and more of their natural selves. Sooner or later, character, breeding, education and temperament will out.
That’s how it is, and unfortunately, it is not always a pleasant experience.
It is pleasant when you discover people who are illuminating, profound, charming and funny; people who can readily correct themselves, or apologize for offensive or factually wrong remarks they have made. It is wonderful when you unexpectedly encounter brilliance, surprise and delight, and an openness and tolerance you did not expect.
On the other hand, it is unpleasant when you see the ugliness of hate, bias, faulty reasoning, or plain bigotry and intolerance. Facebook is filled with followers of fallen dictators and dubious politicos, the lunatic fringe, who want to “save” or convert you, among many other weird characters. There are ranters, whiners, negative types who prowl the net looking for people to bully and harass.
I can understand if my observations, especially the negative ones, are seen by some people I do not like and who don’t like me, as representative of me. I can concede that. No one can really please everyone. And one should not try.
I would like to end this piece by sharing a Zen koan which goes:
Two monks were watching a flag flapping in the wind. One said to the other, “The flag is moving.”
The other replied, “The wind is moving.” Huineng overheard this. He said, “Not the flag, not the wind; mind is moving.”
If you ever get into an argument on the Net, stand back just a bit then sit back and philosophically accept that more than who wins or loses, more than the quality of the discussion, you are actually experiencing it all only in your head. After all, no one really knows where the argument is physically taking place.
But if you are not philosophically inclined, then take advantage of the true egalitarian character of cyberspace which gives everyone the virtual power to block negativity. And it is okay if you do so with wicked laughter as you gleefully imagine them trying to unsuccessfully get the last word in, and failing.
And lastly, don’t forget, we have the power to simply sign out and get back to our real, non-digital lives.