The Internet has been described as a firehose of information.
However, that’s only a small part of the story.
It is a firehose, that’s for sure. A big one, firing its contents continually and at an extraordinary velocity. And it’s growing, getting stronger.
What that description doesn’t give you is context.
Imagine you’re in the desert. It’s hot. Not hot in a “wow, I should put a little sunscreen on my arms” way, but hot in an “oh shit if I don’t get a drink in the next 30 minutes I’m going to totally die out here” way. You’re mighty parched. You need water. You’re also naked.
So you turn on the firehose.
Instead of bright, fresh, clear, cold spring water, you’re hit with a torrent of shit and piss and pus and mucus and puke and bile and all of this brown, stinking sludge is hitting you so fast and so hard that it throws you against a rock and pins you there, covering you continually with its unholy slime. Bits of poop are dripping off your chest. Vomity chunks are getting tangled in your hair. The mucus and pus is oozing down your legs.
Instinctively, your mouth shuts tight. You close your eyes. You turn your face away as the crap splatters everywhere. This is too much.
But you’re thirsty.
“Perhaps there is enough water content in here to save me,” You tell yourself. “If I just drink a little.”
So you slowly move your hand through this rushing torrent of Eternal Stench bog water, looking for the most liquid-like part, when you come across something miraculous. It’s cool and fresh and where it hits you, you feel clean.
You slowly move your face through this raging mess, fighting to find this miraculous occurrence and eventually you find a tiny, almost imperceptible stream of pure, crystal-clear, mountain stream water. Right there in the middle of this filth.
You start to drink. It tastes good. It gives you hope.
And the crazy thing is, the more you drink it, the more of it there is. The volume of water increases. Not by much—a very tiny amount—but enough.
But as you’re drinking, the stream suddenly and without warning moves and you take a mouthful of the most shit smelling foulness that you can’t even imagine (or maybe just don’t want to). There’s only one thing your body can do, the only thing it can do when it senses something wrong inside you—it tries to get it out. It’s diarrhoea central. You start to vomit. Your allergy reactions go into overdrive.
All of your body’s excretions add to the massive, explosive river of human waste. Your shit melds with the rest of the shit, your puke is lost in the vast amount of liquid refuse. The volume of crap increases.
After a while, your body calms down and you’re able to search for the water again.
That tiny bit of water is the sum total of all of the good stuff out there. It’s the stuff you believe in. It’s the stuff that lifts your spirit, makes you feel good, makes you feel like there’s hope. Every time you let go of the scoffing and the hollowness and allow yourself to believe in something, to revel in childlike wonder, the stream gets a tiny, little bit bigger. There’s more for everyone.
The shitstorm is everything else. It is the hate, frustration, snark, bullying, anger, fear, and cynicism. It is everywhere and it is growing and if you get some in you, it only serves to increase the overall amount. It’s easy and cheap and fun in that “let’s eat three huge bags of Cheetos” way. It gets links and clicks and pageviews and retweets and comments (even if all of those things done in anger) much faster and much more consistently. It gets friends and followers and likes. It drives sales.
I have been drinking the shit for too long that sometimes all I see are the faults and the failures. All I feel is the smug superiority of someone who’s never really gambled anything that matters to them on anything important, who’s more focused on being right than happy, and who knows that a witty putdown is more likely to get noticed than a genuine expression of excitement and love for something or someone.
I’m so scared of dying of thirst that I’ll drink anything.
And it’s killing me.
Love requires effort. It requires time. It requires self control. More than anything, it requires courage. You have to search for it and work at it and on the way to it you’re going to see a million billion ways in which people are wrong or stupid or arrogant or mean and you’re going to want to stop and correct them. You’re going to feel justified in calling them out, calling them names, pointing to their failures and weaknesses and hypocrisy and telling them exactly what faults they have. You’re going to want to laugh at pictures of people like them. You’re going to want to show the world how enlightened you are and how evolutionally inferior they are; how you’re not worthless compared to this other guy (guess what—you’re always the ‘other guy’ to someone).
This is when you drink the liquid shit. And all of your insecurities and unfulfilled desires and fears and regrets and self-loathing sentiments just love drinking it—the poison inside you is fuelled by the poison outside. The more you drink, the stronger all that stuff gets, moving you further and further away from your own potential. Weep for yourself, my man, you’ll never be as brave as you were at the start.
Then there are those moments and, man oh man, there are nowhere near enough of them, where you see something or hear something or do something or use something that someone has made and feel uplifted and pure and hopeful and think there might be a chance for us. And you get excited. And you tear up a little because someone has touched your goddamn soul with a video about a unicorn and a stolen kidney. Or a thirteen year mission to tell a story about our planet. Or a witty reference to Transformers: The Movie that you totally and completely understood (and no one around you did). Or the fact that a city can get together to make a 5 year old with leukaemia feel like a hero, just for one day.
When this happens, you want to share it with the people who like what you like and when someone else gets excited about it too it’s beautiful and wonderful and you get it and want to join in. You want to make or say or do something that touches someone else in the same way. You’re still scared, but for that split second you believe that you might have a chance of actually making or saying or doing it and who cares what anyone thinks because it will be an expression of you.
Unfortunately, the shit is always just a millimetre away, ready to replace the glorious watery water. It’s lurking under the post or video. Or in tiny, 140 character pooplets. Or sometimes, if you’re extra lucky, someone will have thrown up into an envelope and sent it down the hose directly at you by email.
It doesn’t even have to be related to the thing you’re excited about. Shit is shit, after all, and that tiny moment of courage—that fragment of faith in yourself; that moment of human connectedness—sails away on a little excrement boat.
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