Staying sane on the internets

Is it me, or are the internets wearing a lot of people out these days? It seems that a number of blogs are shutting down, and I’ve been feeling a lot of angst among my Facebook set as well. Those of us who have computer-centric jobs can feel continuously bombarded with upsetting news, most of which we can’t do anything about. (I don’t know which I find more depressing, really: the opinions of my FB friends whom I disagree with politically, or the constant links to an ongoing litany of outrages shared by those on my side.) All of which led me to post this a few weeks ago on my Facebook page:

A crazy idea: for every one thing you read on the internet that makes you sad or angry, commit one act of love. Sign a petition. Post a funny video to a friend’s wall. E-mail the manager of your local Starbucks and tell them about the excellent service you got. Introduce two people whom you know would enjoy each other. Ask for other people to share their stories on your blog.

I’ve been practicing this without being consciously aware of it for a few weeks now, and it has, I feel, made a huge difference to my head and heart and soul. Try it.

I’ve been keeping it up since then, and it’s continued to work. And then yesterday, I was catching up on some back issues of New Scientist, and read an article about happiness by Dan Jones. Much of what he said I was already familiar with, but I learned about Barbara Frederickson’s “broaden & build” theory of positive emotions for the first time. According to this theory, positive emotions — joy, affection, curiosity, playfulness — lead to a broadening of our ability to imagine different ways of thinking and acting. And the actions that these emotions prompt us to take — expressing kindness to others, getting physical exercise, exploring the environment, learning experientially or through books or dialogue — build long-term health, social, and cognitive benefits.

I found Dr. Frederickson’s link between immediate good feeling and long-term rewards intriguing, because in the past couple of weeks since I’ve been trying my little “use the internet for good instead of evil” routine, I genuinely have felt better — not just cheerier, but more satisfied with life and my place in it, and even more optimistic about human nature.

(Not, of course, so optimistic as to have lost my basic faith in Murphy’s Law. I know this advice is likely to be read and followed most enthusiastically by exactly the sort of person who shouldn’t: the sort who finds LOLcats to be the very apotheosis of internet humor; who considers sending a chronically ill friend a link to a new alternative-medicine treatment a good deed; who assumes that everyone’s spiritual life, and therefore taste in inspirational quotes or art, is more or less identical; who considers availability and heterosexuality the only qualifications required to be a candidate for matchmaking. But what can I do? I seek to empower, and this at times means empowering the clueless as well.)

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8 Responses to Staying sane on the internets

  1. JDavidJ says:

    It’s great to thank people. On a tangent, I’m a dog owner, and I find it great to say hello to both the regulars and the strangers that I meet on the daily walk. Some people refuse to respond at first, but I’ve found that a cheery “Good Morning” often enough from me will get them to crack in the end, leading to delightful conversations. Is this rude?

  2. Shulamuth says:

    Just a passing note — the ones who considers availability and homosexuality the only qualifications required to be a candidate for matchmaking are just as benighted.

  3. KellyK says:

    I’ve been doing some of that too. When I get angry about something (often on Facebook), I go play Free Rice for a bit.

  4. KellyK says:

    JDavidJ, are you talking about repeating the greeting in the same day, or saying “Good morning” agaain the next day. I think that if you say “Good morning” and the other person doesn’t respond, that’s a pretty clear “Don’t bug me.” But I don’t know that it automatically carries over to the next day.

    I kind of think that trying to get someone to “crack” is the wrong attitude–you’re offering a pleasantry to be polite and maybe make their day slightly better. It shouldn’t turn into a conflict or something where you’re trying to wear them down.

  5. JDavidJ says:

    Hi KellyK. It is on subsequent days, and only gently – I don’t grab them by the lapels or anything like that! But I guess you’ve answered my closing question.


  6. veronica says:

    congrats robin! you’re the only blogger who has ever sent me to the dictionary…I had to look up apotheosis.

    and yes the internet does drive me to insanity…there is this tendency for humans to say things on the internet they either wouldn’t or couldn’t legally say in real life.

    I commend the Maine newspapers who have removed the comment sections on their online versions of the newspaper. If letters to the editor can’t be printed without publishing a name and location, why are internet comments published with handles?

    And JDavidJ, I’d probably scowl at you on the morning walk. I have a don’t talk to me before 10 AM rule…

  7. Shulamuth says:

    I am not sure that people really do say things on the internet they wouldn’t/couldn’t say in “real life”. My experience with people who I know in both venues is that they say pretty much the same stuff in either (although style, lack of visual cues and stuff like that may make comments in one or the other forum appear somewhat more negative.

    The problem with the ‘Nets is, I think, less about what people say and more about how many more of them you come across in a day. If I don’t log on I only have to deal with one or two idiotic statements a day, but if I’m on line I can come across hundreds.

    (FWIW, my morning FEELING is that “good morning” is an oxymoron. My morning RESPONSE tends to vary with the amount of caffeine in my system, but I try to at least smile. Unless, of course, the person says “smile”, which for some reason I find annoyingly invasive.)

  8. allstonian says:

    Shulamuth: strangers telling you to smile? That *is* annoyingly invasive. It is not wrong of you to feel that way.

    The first time I ever encountered the popular line “Smile! Life is not a dress rehearsal!” was when a complete stranger said it to me while a friend and I were waiting to be seated at a crowded local pizzeria. Less than one month after my kid brother had died, accidentally, aged 23. Thanks, perky stranger. You sure taught me an important life lesson. (Oh, and internets? Rose Tremain did NOT originate that line in 1989 – this incident happened in ’84.) (I’m also 99.999% certain that Oscar Wilde did not, in fact, write “Be yourself. Everyone else is already taken.”)

    However, I’m not all curmudgeon: I’ve been doing my own little experiment for the past six months or so: I commute almost entirely by bus, mainly the 66, which is a heavily used route that can be miserably crowded.

    I have learned quite a few strategies to give myself a reasonably comfortable ride: I use NextBus to track bus arrivals, I make a point of boarding at stops before the points where the bus tends to get crowded (and I’m lucky enough to have easy access to such stops on both directions of my daily commute), I’ll let a full bus pass if I can. But lately, whenever I can, I thank the driver as I’m exiting the bus, and this has made a HUGE improvement in my perception of my daily trips. The bus drivers seem to appreciate it as well, which probably also improves other passengers’ trips.

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