How the Internet is Making Our Planet an Uglier Place to Be

 (Photo credit:  Nasa.gov )

(Photo credit: Nasa.gov)

I am the viewer in this image, standing on the moon. But I am also in the picture, as one of the inhabitants of planet Earth. 

In my mind, all revolves around my personal orientation. “My” continent pinpointed on the globe, my recognizable land mass. The name of my country. The personality of my region. My state (my place of birth, states or countries from my past, my current locale). 

Then I drill down to my city or town (or the closest one, if I live in a rural area). The feel and flavor of my community. My neighborhood, my home, my family. 

On an even more detailed level, there’s how I define myself, by gender, class, race and sexual orientation. 

Like most humans, I surround myself - both in real-life and through the infinite web of the internet — with people that seem like me because it’s easier and more comfortable. Similar values, politics, aspirations.

I am but one tiny ant, reaching out energetically to the rest of my nest, whether they are physically near or far away. The rest of everything else is “over there.”

Places I don’t know or care about. People I can’t identify with. Cultures I don’t understand and will never experience. 

We humans can do something really magical—which is fitting because we have created lives of incredible complexity here on this random, magical planet floating somewhere in the Milky Way, one of billions of other galaxies. 

We can listen to a story and project ourselves into it, experiencing it as if it’s happening to us, even though it’s not, just as you have done with this picture of our planet, above. Maybe stories started as a grunting pantomime with cavemen and women explaining what just happened on a hunt, so that others could learn from mistakes and avoid danger. 

But now, we experience a plethora of stories everyday.

Told to us in person. By phone, text and email. Through TV shows, books, movies.  Advertising images and videos. Photos, words and videos on Facebook.

The same thoughts as you repeatedly drive by the same landmarks in your environment (“I wish that restaurant hadn’t closed. I’ll never go to this new one. I don’t like that kind of food.”)

We are so inundated with the flood of stories that we have begun to push back. We feel the need to DEFINE and outline our spaces. What we care about. What matters to us. What we agree with. How we will expend our precious time, energy and attention.

And just like the shadowed part on the other side of our planet, everything else lies in darkness and seems irrelevant and less important. 

We feel the need to do a hard NO on the things we don’t care about. The things or people that "don’t matter." What we disagree with. The people or places to which we will never belong. A hard no to life outside our chosen tribe.

If this is starting to sound too esoteric, let me make it more concrete. Here’s an example of a single minute spent online. 

A one-minute session on Facebook led me through the following stories:

  1. An inspirational meme and words about stoicism and accepting what is. 
  2. A Facebook photo showing me my previous author page post and stats for how much attention it got, asking me to pay $30 to get more.
  3. Beautiful, evocative photos of a friend’s cat, who is ill. 
  4. A video of Hawaii from a family member who works for an airline that now offers flights to the island.
  5. A photo and article on President Trump and Harvey Weinstein and the similarities between the two as sexual predators.
  6. A photo and article about a couple who spent 6 freezing hours in their pool to stay alive, as their house burned to the ground around them in the California wildfires.
  7. A photo of a dear friend and his daughter at the ACL music festival, asking who else they might meet up with.
  8. A photo and story of how the black man who was brutally assaulted in Charlottesville by white supremacists will face felony charges for wounding one of the men who beat him.

So the emotional journey I went on REALLY QUICKLY with each story in the span of one minute(!) goes like this:

  1. Hope, resolve. That’s right! I should try harder to be a better person.
  2. Whoa! I did pretty well. Should I share more of the same type of thing, even though I didn’t write it? Wait--no, screw you, Facebook! I’m not a sucker.
  3. Oh no, I hope the cat’s going to be okay. Such beautiful pictures, she must really love him. I know what that’s like to love my pets with all my heart.
  4. Hawaii! So gorgeous. So restorative, but also, so touristy. Maybe we’ll go sometime? It’s expensive. I remember other trips there… 
  5. Anger and disgust at how prevalent sexual abuse is, not just in our country, but everywhere. Frustration and disbelief how often people get away with it, even after getting caught on tape. Hopelessness.
  6. Wow, a triumph of the human spirit! They lost everything, but they still have their lives and each other. I’m in awe of their bravery and hope they will be okay and had good insurance. Probably, since they had a pool. 
  7. Awww, what a sweet picture! They look so happy and like they’re having fun. And look how much she’s grown! I wonder who's playing ACL? I miss my friends and family and Austin.
  8. What is wrong with our country, that this man is going to jail, for whatever reason and those sick motherf**kers are still free, spreading their hatred and terrorizing others? 

That was one minute. One.

(Download your own One-Minute Facebook Experiment worksheet below by clicking on the image. No signup required.)

I don’t know about you, but I’m overwhelmed because of all the emotion from these little stories. Feeling the emotion is real for me, not theoretical. I have an experience as I bounce from one story to another. 

That’s why we’ve lost our ability to consider the other side. What’s in the darkness, outside of what we normally care about. It's all too much!

We dip our toes into the Story Pool and in a few compressed moments strung together, feel inspired, proud, moved, wowed, disturbed, in awe, affectionate and fearful hatred, all in one fell swoop. There's no room for anything else.

Besides, what am I supposed to DO with all that emotion now? 

Well, if you’re like me, you keep looking for another story. One that’s going to make you feel calmer, more in control. Hopeful, wiser, better informed. Centered, on top of things. 

So then the cycle starts again.

Blech.

Look again at our planet. Yes, OURS. We’re all sharing it, just like roommates. No one has more of a right to it than anyone else. 

As the planet turns, we all take our regular turn in the shadow. Which means that for billions of people, YOU are one of the people who will never matter to THEM. 

How can we better protect our hearts and minds and make better choices about the stories we let in? 

How can we spend less time getting worked up and more of our talents fixing real-life problems? 

I don’t have the answers to those questions. All I can do is work on being a kind, compassionate person; keep writing about the things that matter to me and hope I inspire others to widen their circle of concern. 

Albert Einstein said, “A man’s value to the community depends primarily on how far his feelings, thoughts, and actions are directed towards promoting the good of his fellows.”

What matters to you? What will you do about it?

What might you discover in your own one-minute Facebook experiment?

Download a free worksheet by clicking on the image below.

(No email address required.)