How to stay sane on the internet: a list of utopian commandments I rarely follow, because they are so damn difficult
1.Practise abstinence. Social media abstinence, especially. Resist whatever unhealthy excesses you feel drawn towards. Strengthen those muscles of restraint.
2.Don’t type symptoms into Google unless you want to spend seven hours convinced you will be dead before dinner.
3.Remember no one really cares what you look like. They care what they look like. You are the only person in the world to have worried about your face.
4.Understand that what seems real might not be. When the novelist William Gibson first imagined the idea of what he coined ‘cyberspace’ in 1982’s ‘Burning Chrome’, he pictured it as a ‘consensual hallucination’. I find this description useful when I am getting too caught up in technology. When it is affecting my non-digital life. The whole internet is one step removed from the physical world. The most powerful aspects of the internet are mirrors of the offline world, but replications of the external world aren’t the actual external world. It is the real internet, but that’s all it can be. Yes, you can make real friends on there. But non-digital reality is still a useful test for that friendship. As soon as you step away from the internet – for a minute, an hour, a day, a week – it is surprising how quickly it disappears from your mind.
5.Understand people are more than a social media post. Think how many conflicting thoughts you have in a day. Think of the different contradictory positions you have held in your life. Respond to online opinions but never let one rushed opinion define a whole human being. ‘Every one of us,’ said the physicist Carl Sagan, ‘is, in the cosmic perspective, precious. If a human disagrees with you, let him live. In a hundred billion galaxies, you will not find another.’
6.Don’t hate-follow people. This has been my promise to myself since New Year’s Day, 2018, and so far it is working. Hate-following doesn’t give your righteous anger a focus. It fuels it. In a weird way, it also reinforces your echo chamber by making you feel like the only other opinions are extreme ones. Do not seek out stuff that makes you unhappy. Do not measure your own worth against other people. Do not seek to define yourself against. Define what you are for. And browse accordingly.
7.Don’t play the ratings game. The internet loves ratings, whether it is reviews on Amazon and TripAdvisor and Rotten Tomatoes, or the ratings of photos and updates and tweets. Likes, favourites, retweets. Ignore it. Ratings are no sign of worth. Never judge yourself on them. To be liked by everyone you would have to be the blandest person ever. William Shakespeare is arguably the greatest writer of all time. He has a mediocre 3.7 average on Goodreads.
8.Don’t spend your life worrying about what you are missing out on. Not to be Buddhist about it – okay, to be a little Buddhist about it – life isn’t about being pleased with what you are doing, but about what you are being.
9.Never delay a meal, or sleep, for the sake of the internet.
10.Stay human. Resist the algorithms. Don’t be steered towards being a caricature of yourself. Switch off the pop-up ads. Step out of your echo chamber. Don’t let anonymity turn you into someone you would be ashamed to be offline. Be a mystery, not a demographic. Be someone a computer could never quite know. Keep empathy alive. Break patterns. Resist robotic tendencies. Stay human.
Be careful who you pretend to be
KURT VONNEGUT said, decades before anyone had an Instagram account, that ‘we are what we pretend to be, so we must be careful who we pretend to be’. This seems especially true for the social media age. We have always presented ourselves to the world – chosen which band T-shirt to wear and which words to say and which body parts to shave – but on social media the act of presenting is heightened a stage further. We are eternally one step removed from our online selves. We become walking merchandise. Our profiles are Star Wars figures of ourselves.
A picture of a pipe is not a pipe, as Magritte told us. There is a permanent gap between the signifier and the thing signified. An online profile of your best friend is not your best friend. A status update about a day in the park is not a day in the park. And the desire have always presented ourselves to the world – chosen which band T-shirt to wear and which words to say and which body parts to shave – but on social media the act of presenting is heightened a stage further. We are eternally one step removed from our online selves. We become walking merchandise. Our profiles are Star Wars figures of ourselves.
A picture of a pipe is not a pipe, as Magritte told us. There is a permanent gap between the signifier and the thing signified. An online profile of your best friend is not your best friend. A status update about a day in the park is not a day in the park. And the desire to tell the world about how happy you are, is not how happy you are.
Make ourselves see what we pretend to know. Remind ourselves that we are an animal united as a species existing on this tender blue speck in space, the only planet that we know of containing life. Bathe in the corny sentimental miracle of that. Define ourselves by the freakish luck of not only being alive, but being aware of that. That we are here, right now, on the most beautiful planet we’ll ever know. A planet where we can breathe and live and fall in love and eat peanut butter on toast and say hello to dogs and dance to music and read Bonjour Tristesse and binge-watch TV dramas and notice the sunlight accentuated by hard shadow on a building and feel the wind and the rain on our tender skin and look after each other and lose ourselves in daydreams and night dreams and dissolve into the sweet mystery of ourselves.
Source: Matt Haig – Notes on a Nervous Planet