How the Internet can make you a better person

There’s no shortage of negative stories about the pernicious influence of the internet. Every day we see stories about cyber bullies, predators, trolling, scams and cons, racism, sexism. It’s tempting to think the internet is a pit of depravity and that contact with it will tarnish you. I don’t think it has to be that way. I think if you approach it in the right way the internet can make you a better person, not a worse one.

You can learn to be more questioning of your own ideas and attitudes. Don’t only read blogs and articles and tweets from people you agree with. Read the words of people who challenge your opinions. I’m not saying go and follow the blogs and tweets of racists, homophobes and misogynists. What I mean is find people who point out the problems and issues in the causes you may hold dear – or at least in how they are pursued in the real world.

Do this at every level. Don’t just do it about big serious issues. Read the posts pointing out the problematic aspects of a TV show you love, or of a fandom. Be prepared to see the word “privilege” a lot and learn to examine yours. You’ll become more sensitive to issues you’d never considered before. This doesn’t mean you have to stop liking a show or movie or genre you enjoyed before. But it will make you consider it more deeply.

And read the comments. I know what they say: “Never go below the line! Don’t read the comments on newspaper articles and blogs, especially those that deal with hot button issues!” But I think not reading the comments is like burying your head in the sand. Sometimes you should take a look. Don’t read them just to be outraged and upset. Read them to be aware of the kind of hate and abuse some groups still face every day. Read them so you know there is still a lot of work to do. Read them to see the kind of crap women columnists and bloggers still have to put up with whatever them write about.

And read them sometimes for the counter view to the point of the piece. Those can make you question what your own reaction to the piece was. Did you accept it without question? Did you reject its premise, but for a different reason?

So do you think the internet can make is better people? Broaden our minds? Or is a hell’s waiting room?

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12 thoughts on “How the Internet can make you a better person

  1. I have found that the more interaction I have with strangers on the net, the more I wish I hadn’t. And don’t get me started on “privilege” – the number one reason I stay out of political/social discussions. Most people seem to divide their time between three pursuits – playing the victim, blaming everyone else for their troubles, or trying to make anyone who disagrees with their opinions feel like shit. And being able to do this anonymously just makes them louder and more disagreeable.

    I’m moving back into recluse mode, doing my research, playing my games, watching a few shows. I think I have indeed reached the end of the internet. Life’s too short for that shit.

    1. Ah well, interaction isn’t always advised. I mostly stick to “reading and thinking about it.” There are lots of people who still make me think “Okay, you have a point, but you’re still a dick.” 😀

      Is this research for the novel? Think I might go nag you in another place…

      1. Yeah, the research is for the novel. If RL ever gives me a break I might actually get something more written. With winter pounding on the door, I should at least be able to “hibernate” with my computer for a few months…

  2. I didn’t know how privileged I was until I’d been kicking around the internet for a while. It was a huge and horrifying eye opener. If I had stopped to think I would have been able to say that of course there were groups of people who were treated badly and that it was wrong but it was a brain knowing rather than a gut and heart knowing. In my small rural, almost all white, apparently almost all straight world my perceptions of equality were rarely challenged. If I hadn’t started to use the net they never would have been. I have a long way to go and still catch myself laughing at things or accepting things first and realising that they are problematical later but I am trying and an glad to have the opportunity to do so.

    1. To me, the term “privileged” used in this context is just the other person’s way of looking at me as a stereotype, not an individual. It’s no different, in my mind, than being racist, or sexist, or “heterophobic”. Until we quit putting labels on people, things won’t change for anyone. I grew up female in the 50s and 60s – calling me “privileged” is one of those “Don’t even go there” items.

      1. Yeah that’s the thing about privilege, it’s complex and ever changing across different situations. Only a very few people will find themselves on the “more privileged” side in nearly every situation in life.

        Anyone who thinks privilege means nothing oppressive can ever happen to white people or to men is looking at it far too simplistically.

        1. Oh yeah – fun until you got to that age where you started thinking for yourself and then suddenly “Well, girls can’t do that!”. Luckily my parents liked girls who were “different” like that, but it made school pure hell.

    2. I think it helps my writing too. Just recently someone raised a point that seemed like something that could be dismissed as “just being overly PC”, about how to refer to people in a certain group and it made me think about how a character was referred to in a book I was editing. It wasn’t so much in the narrative, but it made me think about how a character who was a lawyer would refer to him. Lawyers aren’t slapdash with words, especially not trial lawyers trying to persuade juries. Every word carefully chosen! So it meant I paid more attention to what that character was saying and made sure he was consistent too across the story.

      1. Words are very powerful. Writing historicals it’s very easy to get into a situation where one has to use terms that are desperately offensive by modern standards. Big choice time – use it and risk offending readers or use a more modern term and get slammed for historical inaccuracy. 🙂 At one time I wouldn’t have given it a second thought.

  3. What a smart words. I totally agree with you. It´s understandable we tend to read only things we are interested in and agree with. However, sometimes we should read more challenging articles so they would help us to shape our own opinions. That´s what I believe is beginning of a progress in becoming a better person.

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