5 Ways to Shape the Soul of the Internet

On my journeys through the ‘net I came across a very interesting article by Alexandra Samuel, CEO of Social Signal, that brings together some strands worth looking deeper into:

What kinds of choices can create a relationship to the Internet that supports positive personal and social change? Let me propose a starter list of principles:

  • Give your attention to sites, people and organizations that reflect your true values. When I talked about the Soul of Money with my husband, he summed up his own approach to values-based spending with the following: “every dollar you spend on something is a vote to have more of that thing in the world”. On the Internet, every page you load is a vote to have more of that kind of content, or more of that kind of interaction. That doesn’t mean a diet of digital granola: you can have your virtual froot loops, too. But try redirecting your video surfing to indie films instead of gossip clips, or sending a personal hello instead of a generic Facebook poke.
  • Find love online. Love online can’t be relegated to match.com. We need to bring the very highest qualities of empathy, respect and affection to our online interactions…in as many contexts as possible. The Buddhist practice of metta — meditation to foster loving kindness in ourselves and the world — counsels us to begin by meditating with love towards ourselves, our family, and our dearest friends, and gradually expand that attitude of love to encompass a larger and larger circle, and eventually the world.

    We can use the Internet to entrench and amplify our confrontational and hostile social dynamics. Or we can make our online interactions a practice in loving kindness by approaching each online interaction, even writing each e-mail message, as if it were an affectionate encounter with a dear friend. Yes, we need to be sensibly discreet and protective in an environment that is currently rampant with abuse, fraud and predation — but caution can co-exist with connection, and even hostility can be met with empathy and kindness. Indeed, with the amount of time we now spend online, we can’t afford to spend it in a mindset of suspicion; we must find ways of experiencing our online hours as a practice in forging and deepening relationships.

  • Let down your guard. We live in a fairly guarded society. From locked doors and car alarms to invitation-only parties and call screening, our physical spaces and social practices often serve to keep people out rather than bring them in. The anonymity of the Internet, and many of the emergent pathologies that anonymity makes possible, have led many Internet users to be even more guarded online than they are in their offline lives. Guarded equals disconnected; every wall we put up makes it harder to discover new people, ideas or experiences.

    But anonymity affords a certain kind of safety, too: a safety in which new levels of candor and connectedness can thrive. Indeed, if you talk to people who enjoy spending a lot of time online, they will often tell you how much they treasure anonymity (or degrees thereof) because it frees them to have honest conversations or forge deep friendships in the absence of superficial social judgements. Experiment to find out whether your truest self emerges from anonymity, or from disclosure. Embrace the Internet as a place where you can be more honest (but with kindness) or more transparent (but with some discretion) and thus experience a new kind of social intimacy. Put more of yourself out there, and let in more of other people by absorbing other people’s blog posts, videos, photos and ideas without the social filters that often shape our in-person perceptions of others. Personal transparency builds interpersonal trust, and interpersonal trust builds social capital.

  • Give as good as you get. There’s a reason a lot of people describe social media or Web 2.0 as “user-contributed media”. A lot of the sites you now enjoy — whether it’s Flickr, YouTube or Boing Boing — are driven by regular folks (or at least, one-time regular folks). That spirit of contribution is the cultural shift that we need social media to nurture; to transform us from a disconnected culture of passive TV consumers to an awake and alive community of creative expression. So don’t engage with the Internet as a passive consumer: embrace and nurture the spirit of expressive and contribution by participating actively yourself.
  • Fuse the power of money and technology. The soul of the Internet is not just analogous to the soul of money; they’re interconnected. The Internet is our bank, our shopping mall, our charity box. Taking our financial transactions, shopping and giving online is an opportunity to transform our dysfunctional experiences on those fronts into more meaningful and effective interventions. You can shop at Etsy instead of Overstock, or supplement habitual workplace charitable giving with personal investments on Kiva.

The whole post here

Leave a Reply