you're just following the wrong map

If you’re struggling, with anxiety, with a lack of hope, with despair that humanity will ever save itself, I have just a quick suggestion for you today: go find some humans on the internet.

I know, I know. I know what you’re thinking. The internet is a dumpster fire of hate, a giant shit sandwich where people rip each other apart to pass the time and you can find any sick thing you put your mind to.

And that’s true, in some corners. But the internet we geriatric millennials believed in twenty years ago is still there — the one where humanity would save itself, where knowledge and passion and curiosity and connection would allow us to change in ways we’d never dreamed before. It’s just different now.

We thought it would be a mapped out metaverse with virtual trains and planets that had topics — thanks, Neil Stephenson, I love you.

What we actually got was Facebook and Twitter, of course, so I fully support and understand your cynicism.

But while it’s harder now to find spaces that aren’t being manipulated into profit-driven, divisive time-wasters that keep us from getting better, it’s still possible. And wherever you can find them, those opportunities for human interaction — fleeting, hard to find — they’re there. And they will change your life.

For your own sake, stop giving your money (i.e., your eyeballs) to Facebook and Twitter and Instagram — and go drive all the back roads and see what you can find.

Photo by Andrew Neel on Unsplash

I found my little internet dive bar full of interesting humans in a writing fellowship. You might find yours in a knitting blog or a reddit thread on weird design mistakes or the comments section of a camping guide or teacher tiktok. Whatever it is that’s your thing, chances are, there are still real humans on the internet doing real things just like it.

If you take the time and energy to find them, you can still access those moments that we hoped the original internet would be: authentic, collaborative, supportive spaces full of cool people doing weird things that only they can do.

I’ve spent three weeks in this fellowship talking to everyone I can, carving out time for 15 or 30 minute phone calls that always run over, chatting about everything under the sun. I haven’t felt this much connection to humanity since I first made friends on a blocky, all-purple online scrabble server hosted somewhere in Romania over my dial-up connection. It’s rapidly become less about the writing and more about the curiosity, hope, and delight that I’m finding in meeting strangers and being human with them.

They’re from all over the world. They’re curious about everything. They are all big messy walking contradictions and their humanity is brilliant and moves me to tears.

They teach me about everything: comedy, mental health, prediction, fonts, tech, crypto, love letters to animals and inanimate objects. They write and share things that make me feel everything even when I don’t want to. They make me want to pull down all the walls I built to become an adult and remember what it is like to feel my soul all the way through my skin.

They remind me of themselves as children even though we’ve just met.

They’re rich and poor and everywhere in between, bar owners and waitresses, tech managers and high schoolers, CEOs and grad students. They’re being vulnerable and brave about something they’ve always wanted to do. They help one another out of impostor syndrome and writing for work and justifying our right to be here. They encourage one another to dust off old dreams that will pay us nothing but require us to be present, frustrated, lonely, scared, and likely broke.

It’s beautiful.

They bring me hope.

They’ve shown me that the internet can still be the great leveler, but not in the way we originally thought. It’s not, as we often think, the access to information that makes the internet such a radical shift in human development.

No, I think it is this: this ability to connect, with real humans, from everywhere, doing everything.

To be reminded that all any human wants, at their core, is to belong. To be reminded that we all belong, here, together, that the things that unite us aren’t political, or social, or based on race or gender or class, but rather that we are all here, alone, together, on a giant ball floating in space with absolutely no idea of what’s coming or why.

It’s been a shit year or two. We’ve had a lot, us humans. Yet we’re still able to show up for each other, like this, to bring each other hope, to build each other up. We might be even better at it than we were before.

If you, like the me of two months ago, have absolutely no hope for humanity, I recommend changing your map.

Find the internet version of your local in a lost corner of the internet that no Zuck or Elon could point you to.

Go find some humans. Love on them.

And let them help you believe again.