None of Us

I first started noticing a shift online about two years ago. I’ve said this before and I really think it’s true. Until then I had had some negative experiences online but nothing that different or more frequent than the rare in-person unpleasantries.

But then it started changing. For me, in the online interactions I have, people became more competitive. People became more catty. And it was harder to distance yourself from people too…

To further explain, I don’t become genuine friends with people (on my end) until I am really and truly close with them to at least some degree. I might count people as good, friendly acquaintances or something like that but nothing more… I don’t let most people get that close. It’s just not wise in my opinion. And it’s not personal against people but…you can’t open up and genuinely trust most people with your heart. Not because they’re all bad or something but because except for a few, most people won’t understand or appreciate us because we’re all so complicated and unique. Real friends are rare. And it’s lovely to enjoy people but I don’t think it makes sense to count everyone you’re on good, pleasant and friendly terms with as a true friend.

Anyway, on Instagram I’ve had many friendly acquaintances. Many! And possibly a very few almost genuine or genuine friends. But…some people seem to have thought things were deeper?

And that has occasionally become a problem when they post 10 photos of their tiny poodle, three of the mushrooms in their yard behind the garage, five of perfume and another two of an open bottle of vodka they’ve recently consumed and one of their morning tomato juice…over a period of weeks or months without taking time to like or comment on anything I’ve posted (save maybe for one post I had tons of likes on). And depending on how much I enjoyed their feed, how long we’ve followed each other or the pleasantness of my interactions with them, I tend to unfollow them sooner or later.

I’m not going to like all of your photos of mushrooms, caterpillars and your neighbors when you can’t be bothered to like anything or almost anything I’ve posted… For weeks or months.

And that’s just one scenario. There are many variations on that.

There have been some people who just couldn’t seem to keep from making seemingly catty remarks or being too unpleasant (often in a passive aggressive way) and I’ve had to unfollow them too and at times I’ve blocked them if they keep coming back and making passive-aggressive catty remarks. I don’t find it necessary to keep interacting with people who probably don’t actually like me just so as not to offend them.

But, at any rate, I think people often take the internet too personally in the wrong way in general. And I think we’re all slightly losing track of reality because of that…

On the internet (and to some degree in real life) people come and go and very few stay for long or that long. Some stay forever. But those are rare people… Some people find that difficult to accept in real life but on the internet there are a lot of people who seem to struggle. They want you to keep following them, giving them attention and etc. but they don’t seem to realize other people’s inherent impermanence, especially if they aren’t polite or they lose interest in interacting with others themselves. Or they overestimate people’s continuing and unconditional interest in them or what they post.

But, of course, taking things too personally on the internet is about more than just struggling with letting people come and go.

When the internet first started it was mind blowing (it still is). The number of people you could reach, who could reach you was staggering. There were no walls. No oceans. No boundaries to the vastness. We all got a kick out of talking to someone from the other side of the world who we knew we’d almost certainly never meet.

And in our amazement and sincere optimism we opened ourselves up to each other to connect and reach out. On Myspace. On Facebook. On Twitter… On blogs.

Some of us had truly life changing experiences. People met their true love. People found long lost friends and family… They made new true friends. Or they connected with people in a very meaningful way. I know I’ve had a few experiences like that…

And there were trolls. Sure. But they were like a fart. They stank and were occasionally a sign of something more pernicious but generally they could be ignored…

But then things shifted somehow. People started basically living online… And, again, I think a lot of us started losing track of reality. At least slightly.

In real life if you see someone drive by you in a Bentley while you’re driving your beat up 1998 Dodge minivan you might admire their car but you very likely don’t take them to heart. Or, at least, people didn’t as much… There was this beautiful, sad distance between people. It meant that you might not ever truly know how “the other half” lived but you accepted that as part of life. You were basically forced to.

There were inherent, intangible walls of respect, privacy and mental quiet for all of us.

Of course, I should note, that lack of distance on the internet can be good. Maybe that was you in one of those cars. Maybe you were a cute, decent and sweet 18 year old guy driving his parents old minivan. And maybe in the front seat of the Bentley was a 17 year old girl who thought you were incredibly attractive… But neither of you would ever have a way to meet naturally. And in that way, the internet is great because it’s fairly egalitarian… Or, it used to be…

But overall, I think things have become toxic. Again, what in real life people can ignore, cope with or grieve in a more authentic and healthy way, they take too much to heart and too personally online. It’s affecting how we treat each other in real life and online.

It’s like we’re all drunk. Some people become very silly and post things that are entertaining and fun. Others become mean, conniving and/or confrontational. Some more promiscuous. Some more quiet and creepily observational… And others pour out their hearts and from time to time find a real connection but at other times they just walk away bruised and in despair.

Really, I don’t think we’ve been self aware enough as a world when it comes to the internet and I don’t think we’ve handled it particularly well.

We all were at least somewhat naïve. We had never had a taste of the internet before… And now, just a decade or two down the road, we have to figure out how to get a grip on this social beast. We have to not to let it inside of us in the wrong ways. We have to use it for good and not let it control us or the situation will just keep getting worse.

Edit: (Caveat) There are times when I think things are personal on the internet and, on Instagram for example, people can unfollow people for truly personal reasons (especially if they know them in real life somehow or have become genuinely close). That can be hurtful. But I think that’s the rare exception. And for those of you reading this who I no longer follow somewhere, nine times out ten I didn’t mean to unfollow you as something against you personally per se. That’s unusual. Again, some distance can be good as it gives people freedom to comment as little or like as little or as much as they want. On Instagram just only follow a few people who I’m in almost constant interaction with in some way. For me, unless I want to follow a lot of people and lose track of who I’m following (to some extent) I have to draw the line somewhere… There are rare exceptions (people who don’t follow me back or like much and etc. – often people who’s accounts I admire and specialize in something like antiques, jewelry, old film, or are at least somewhat famous) but that’s basically how I run that account. Really, if we’ve talked and I unfollow you it’s likely because you seemed to have lost interest over time… Truly. I may have or do count you as an acquaintance but you’re likely not someone I would count as a real friend although I don’t wish you harm. I would hope you feel the same…

One more edit: I think there’s a huge difference between seeing what people are passively aggressively doing, openly doing, and/or etc. to being unkind or to provoke one and having boundaries in self defense in place because of that and taking things too personally.