The Nicer Internet 

Over the weekend, I ordered some food from Postmates. After waiting for about two hours, I opened the app again to find out where the delivery was. Much to my surprise it was delivered – except not to me. I got frustrated. I wrote to Postmates customer support, and didn’t hear back from them for a bit. By then it was almost 10.30 pm. I ended up making some eggs and going to sleep. But before I did that, in a fit of anger I wrote a few snarky lines about the service on my private Facebook account. And 15 minutes later, I took it down.

What happened? Well, I realized that I was doing what I hate the most about the modern social web — complaining out loud. In one quick second, I forgot that Postmates had never missed a delivery (though they have been late.) I forgot that startups are people, and perhaps mistakes happen, despite the software and its increasing efficiency. I forgot that it is still damn amazing to get food from an app, a convenience missing in the San Francisco feature set. (As an ex-New Yorker, I was used to the on-demand economy, before it was hip.) Postmates got in touch, and apologized. Matter closed!

But the whole weekend, I spent thinking about how to go the extra step to become more civilized, breathe a little before reacting. And despite that, I said something on the Internet, I didn’t have to. It was pure reaction to something I disagreed with and after five minutes, I ended up regretting sending out the tweet, because in the end it was something that didn’t matter.

I hate that Internet has become a weapon of mass outrage – only for complaining and expressing anger. How, then do I better? Maybe less of the web is one way to go — and I am going to follow down that goat path. Dave Winer has some 12 commandments of the Good Internet in his piece, What do nice Internet users do? These are simple suggestions but so powerful. I will keep this checklist in mind, going forward.

Talking about public good, the Jacobian magazine has a great article arguing that since the Internet was built by public institutions, why is it controlled by private institutions. The article is a healthy reminder of the role of public institutions, the research work by the government and that private companies are all about themselves and not for the greater good. Google, Facebook, Twitter, Apple and Microsoft need to be reminded of the giants on whose shoulders they stand.

Talking about Facebook, the company knows how to step its foot in the middle of it. Last week, it acted like an arbiter and decided that a Norwegian paper can’t use a picture from the Vietnam War on its page. Norwegians got outraged and the whole thing made some folks ask the big question: Is Facebook a media company? The journalists answered in the obvious manner. However, I liked what Nicholas Carr had to say to media companies. “That’s like telling the fox that, now that he’s entered the henhouse, he’s a farmer,” he quipped. Got me to chuckle, and kept me reading the article to the very end. “The pressing challenge for the media is to define what it is, not what Facebook is.”

Amen!

September 12, 2016, San Francisco

A letter from Om

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