O Lord,* help me to remember that everyone on the internet is a narcissist, or a hypocrite, or a liar and that we all transparently sit in judgment of the choices of others at all times [perhaps especially myself]. And so, guide my fingers to backspace through the witty and cutting retort that is nearly always apt but never necessary.
And Lord, remind me that most people over the age of 40 think that everything they read online is either about them, directly for them, or asking a reply of them because they are not from the internet and its ways are strange to them and I must show them compassion because this is my native land.
And Lord, if someone uses the comments section to be hateful and sow divisiveness, help me to remember that they are displaying their own insecurities and my responding to them in kind does not heal their wounds but it disgraces me also. But Lord, grant me the serenity to block men’s rights activists and moderate the comments of those who would say that their free speech is being impeded. Because they can go buy their own domain, pay hosting fees and post whatever they want, but you have granted me this small space on WordPress [through my annual subscription] to curate as I see fit and I do not need that shit.
And Lord, when someone cannot use “there, their and they’re” correctly remind me that orthography and diction are tools of the oppressor, and that tone policing is a sin against you, but if someone quotes Brietbart at me as if it is real science, or tells me to “do my own research,” I must call them out, for they do blaspheme.
And Lord, grant me the wisdom to not make arguments with memes and to vet media with the tenants of information literacy before sharing, and to mindfully help others to do so, lest we entirely collapse into a post-truth hellscape.
And Lord, grant me the courage to use my privilege to do emotional labor for my fellow white people in their own defensiveness and fragility, and lead me not to centering myself in the narratives of oppressed and marginalized peoples.
And Lord, when I get it wrong, give me the strength to retract my comments and to perform publicly learning from my mistakes in vulnerability.
In Tim Berners-Lee’s name, I pray.
*It should be noted that I do not believe in an omniscient anthropomorph who intercedes into the affairs of the material world thus disrupting the laws of cause and effect [how terrifying]. All prayers directed to “Lord” or “God,” should be understood to be entreaties to the better angels of my own nature and the willpower it appears as though I can exercise over myself as an iterative product of my own lived-experience. Prayer is a request for intercession, among other things. It is a cry into the void for help. No one needs a god for this.
It is worth noting also that this post is not in response to trolls on the internet objecting to my content, but rather an attempt to not pick a fight with my grandmother over a question I asked on Facebook about the quality of Tencel sheets where she basically said, “google Tencel” as if I could not figure that one out. This makes it “funny,” which is to say something trivial I can laugh about, but also a bit sad. I know that my visceral response to her mostly good intention is about my sensitivity to older family members’ perceived inability to believe that I have any expertise of my own [despite being an objectively successful adult with like 8 kinds of insurance and an excellent credit rating].
I know that only a special sort of asshole argues with her grandmother about fucking sheets on Facebook. God as my witness, I do not want to be that asshole.
My older family members should have the emotional maturity to understand that I, as both an information professional and a person who has very publicly demonstrated over a decade of highly intentional consumerism, don’t need Google lessons. But that emotional maturity is something over which I have no control. I don’t actually know what my grandmother was trying to say because [NTs tell me] tone is hard to read on the internet [I promise, it’s hard for me to read everywhere, it’s just also hard for NTs to read online and that is the metric for “hard”]. The larger lesson here is that I have the emotional maturity to not engage in this fruitless argument. However, those emotions need to go somewhere.
I feel as though other natives of the internet, and possibly others who have spent a large amount of time praying in large groups can appreciate this A Prayer for Natives of the Internet in Troubled Time. It is to be understood that it is always a troubled time on the internet, and that though this instance is a minor and relatively meaningless one, there are many more interactions online that are actually very dangerous. To dispel confusion: the impulse that makes me not want to damage my relationship with my grandmother in choosing not to fight with her, is actually the same impulse that requires that I call out actually damaging content online because the imperative is protection of something fragile in both cases. That said, I feel personally that many people do this “wrong” in that almost no one saying anything on the internet is able to walk anything back that they have ever said because there is so much ego involved.
This is not a spineless argument about why we should tolerate Nazis online [we shouldn’t] but it is a cautionary tale about the razor’s edge of cancel culture. Our harsh and insensitive world can get no better for anyone if we cannot all practice an honest and compassionate interrogation of our own behavior. It is entirely possible that both Nazis and my grandmother cannot truly participate in that personal interrogation. Nazis are still worse than cancel culture, but that doesn’t mean that cancel culture is virtuous. I think cancel culture exists because we know that the status quo is untenable, but that does not help us to understand what to put in its place. I don’t want to cancel my damn grandmother [but there might be a reason to do so to yours].
I live on the internet because I think it has the potential to bring us together in the center of our best selves, though at all times it has demonstrated it is better at bringing us together in the center of our worst selves. As humans, we are the ones who are ultimately responsible for being our best selves and the internet is here to be our tool. Would that we not use that tool as a weapon.