Harry Taussig

The Internet is Full of Humans

12 February, 2021

The internet is packed full of human scum. It is the perfect habitat for anonymous hate through twitter and youtube comment sections. It can make it seem as if the world is doomed, as if we are all heading back towards our mammalian instincts. No more are the days of friendly neighbors, only idiots on the internet.

But face-to-face kindness is our default as humans. If a stranger on the street asked me for a favor, it would have to be a truly ridiculous one for me to say no. I would actually be happy to help with the type of small thing they'd ask for, like loading groceries into their car. I would genuinely feel better for helping a fellow human, as would nearly everyone.

I recently took a semester of college off and spent part of it working on a farm in New Hampshire. The owners of the farm had personal connections with everyone they worked with. We would drive to help a woman in the neighborhood shovel her driveway, or go to a neighbor's farm to chainsaw and remove a fallen tree. Not for money, but just because people around here helped each other.

We enjoy helping others. Everywhere if you ask humans for help, especially as a stranger, they will want to help you. There is almost nothing as meaningful for us as positively impacting another person. What person doesn't get meaning out of life from their relationships and trying to improve other's lives?

But there isn't the same connection and desire to help when we interact online, because I can't directly see and feel your individuality as equal with mine. You are not a face but an email address or a number, making it impossible to care. There are no incentives to bring out our altruistic instincts when we try to connect over the internet.

Yesterday I was on Clippings.io to save highlights from my kindle, only to receive a long message telling me that the website needed to start charging for their services to keep running. Love it, another free product selling out for online subscriptions — another example of the lack of humanity on the internet. I knew there was no way I was paying, so goodbye to all of my kindle highlights.

They even added those annoying automated messages to their site, to pretend that the creator messaged you personally.

The youtube commenter within me came out as I replied to the bot:

02:28 PM | htaussig: dang dude :( gonna make my own now sori

and to my surprise...

02:30 PM | Jim from Clippings.io: Sorry, needed to support the running costs

I was embarrassed, I had no idea this man was ever going to read this message, and the calm way he reacted made him feel human instead of like the robot I thought I was texting.

02:30 PM | htaussig: naw makes sense you good

02:30 PM | htaussig: you built something good you deserve it

02:31 PM | htaussig: it's still been helpful so thank you!

Ah, free from guilt now.

2:32 PM | Jim from Clippings.io: Is there an amount that you think would be fair?

02:34 PM | Jim from Clippings.io: If so let me know and I’ll see if I can create a coupon to discount

Oh c'mon Jim now you're really making me feel like a dick. I'm sorry, I know you need to make money like me.

02:35 PM | htaussig: I think the 3.25 is pretty fair, it's mostly that I just actually think it would be a fun project to build a database system to hold my highlights and transport it to anki lol, nothing on your service

02:36 PM | htaussig: It's cool that you actually reply to these though! didn't expect that haha

And then Jim the absolute man pulls through

02:39 PM | Jim from Clippings.io: You will probably laugh but Anki, Notion and roam research are integrations I’m rolling out in the next couple of months. I’d give you a lifetime free membership if I could pick your brains of how the anki should work. Not the code, rather how you would like the export to work 😀

This guy is way too nice.

02:43 PM | htaussig: woahhhh!

02:43 PM | htaussig: I am a huge notion user too so very enticing offer Jim!

02:43 PM | htaussig: I accept

02:44 PM | Jim from Clippings.io: Cool 😎

02:45 PM | Jim from Clippings.io: Do you mind if we chat time next week? I’m taking the kids out now 😂

In a place that lacks so much of what makes us human, this nugget of life lit up the internet for me. I was telling my little brother next to me that this was the best moment of my life.

There are humans everywhere on the internet, but they hide behind automated messages, anonymous usernames and angry tweets.

And now that I am looking for it, I am finding humans on the internet. There are people who just put up links to their calendars and let anyone on the internet set up a 1-on-1 meeting with them. This is insane.

These people want youtube commenters and redditors wasting a full hour of their time. But this individual personal interaction is the filter for all of the hate and anger and bullshit we see on the internet. What incentive do you have to be a dick to someone when you zoom with them for a full hour? Coming face to face with someone, even over your computer, you are forced to recognize your shared humanity. No one is going to talk to you for a whole hour just to make fun of you. You'd both get uncomfortable and bored and hang up.

It's easy to understand why a 13-year-old boy and his friends in a fully packed elevator would drag his hand down all of the buttons and then run out. It is almost unimaginable that an adult in an elevator with only one other person would look them in the eye, press all of the buttons, and then stay in it with that stranger for the rest of the ride (If there is a video of this please let me know). Most of us are simply not good enough at overcoming our social discomfort to sit in it.

And so when we ask a stranger in person for help we are saying, "I am overcoming the social discomfort and pressure to not talk to you, because I genuinely need help." We understand that and are happy to cooperate. On the internet, when we are open, kind, generous, and human, we give others the opportunity to treat us like neighbors, instead of like anonymous foreign enemies.

All the people on the internet are human (except for the bots), but their human aspects are rarely brought out. As 1 of 100,000 fans of a celebrity on twitter, all you want is the attention of your others — to say something noticeable so that you don't get left in the crowd. But in these smaller online communities, like certain blogs, people can still act like regular people and have the time and connection to treat others as regular people.

Derek Sivers replies to every email he gets, and goes out of his way to help others for nothing in return, and also gave me the code I needed to start this website. Andy Matuschak does all of his research out in the open for anyone who wants to learn from it.

There are better ways to live on the internet. Much like a close community of farmers who help each other unconditionally and have weekly potlucks, instead of overpopulated cities where strangers are obstacles and competitors. The internet can be a place where we genuinely connect with humans.

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