On the first day of this new year, I was poking around the internet while making some notes about potential future blog posts when I landed on a column from one of my favorite New York Times columnists, Farhad Manjoo. It was right on point with one of the stories I was doodling around with.
”I enter the new decade with a feeling of overwhelming dread,” wrote Manjoo. “There’s a good chance the internet will help break the world this year, and I’m not confident we have the tools to stop it.”
He enumerated some of the many things that can make the internet a horror and offered some suggestions about how we – ordinary users - can avoid a personal run-in with them. I'll get back to that in a moment but first:
I've been doing this blog for nearly 16 years. You, dear readers who comment, make it a joy. But every six months or so it becomes necessary for me to repeat some of the rules of the road. It's a short list and then you'll see why I've dragged Mr. Manjoo in to this.
At the top of every page just under the banner are four links of which one is Contact. That is how you can send a private message directly to me that is not a comment on the topic of the day.
This is useful if you have suggestions for blog posts or have items that might be good for Saturday's Interesting Stuff post, etc.
Through the years, I have tried to answer all those messages but the number has increased in recent years at the same time that living with cancer and COPD have cut my energy and increased the maintenance time they require leaving me with fewer useful hours in a day.
So sometimes I just run out of steam and can't sit at the keyboard for one more moment in a day. I usually leave the unanswered email in my inbox thinking I will get to it tomorrow. Yeah, right.
So when the inbox items number more than a thousand (including many messages unrelated to TGB) and I can't stand seeing them all anymore, I just hit delete. I'm sorry about that but it happens.
HOW TO COMMENT FROM THE EMAIL TGB
If you receive this blog via email, you cannot comment by clicking “reply.” That just sends your comment to me, personally. It arrives by email in my inbox.
To comment, you must go to the blog online. You do that by clicking the title of the story (in the email you received) that you want to comment on. Then scroll to the bottom of the story online, click the word “comments” and a new page will open where you can write your comment.
Hitting the reply button to comment suggests that perhaps some people don't know there are comments. If that is you, you are often missing the best part of this blog: what readers have to say.
Some of you follow TGB on Facebook. Some of you leave comments on Facebook. Some of you send me notes, links and such on Facebook.
The thing is, I don't use Facebook, I never look at it except to be sure the day's blog post is there for readers who use the service. I accept “friend” invitations only to clean up the page. That's all I do there. I do not read anything on Facebook.
If you read TGB on Facebook and leave comments there, know that the number of readers at the website vastly out-numbers Facebook readers and is much more of a community where commenters relate to one another.
Plus, for a variety of reasons, I am considering closing the Facebook page. I haven't decided yet and I'm slow at that sort of thing, but it may happen relatively soon.
You are not allowed to include links in your comments. I delete all of them. Reason: people who do not read this blog leave comments that are meant to sound flattering about the blog but exist only to leave a link to their commercial website. It's just advertising.
I don't have time (nor inclination) to check each and every link so I delete them all. Occasionally, if I recognize a name on the comment, I will remove only the link. But it's time consuming and I don't always feel generous so I delete the whole comment for sanity's sake.
If you want to direct people to somewhere else online (not a personal, commercial or retail website), just tell us within your comment what to google to find it. (You can link to your own blog by including the URL in the footer of a comment where there is a line for it.)
See, that wasn't too bad – just four items. Here is the nut of what Farhad Manjoo has to say about avoiding the dystopia that large swaths of the internet have become.
”It can sometimes seem as if all the internet is deep fakes and culture wars, Trump tweets and influencer scams. It’s not, of course,” he writes.
“The internet still abounds in lovely, wholesome niches — the fantasy sports circles, the YouTube and Instagram communities devoted to any kind of craft, the many subreddits where strangers come together to help one another out of real problems in life.
“What distinguishes the productive online communities from the disturbing ones? Often it’s something simple: content moderation. The best places online are bounded by clear, well-enforced community guidelines for participation.
“Twitter and Facebook are toxic because there are few rules and few penalties for flouting them. A Reddit community like r/relationships, meanwhile, is a haven of incredible, empathetic discussion because its hosts spend a lot of effort policing the discussion toward productive dialogue.”
Thank you, Mr. Manjoo. I've been saying that for almost 16 years. It works.
You can read Farhad Manjoo's entire story at The New York Times.