These days, Internet in general, and specifically social media, is taking a lashing worse than an offender in a boarding school. Thanks to the free for all nature of the social web, anyone can say, do, or fabricate anything and get away it. You don’t even need to have a hand on the nuclear button. A lot of these troubles often distract us from what is good about the Internet – the ability to communicate, establish relationships and learn from each other.
Last evening was a beautiful reminder. I had dinner with someone I met almost four years ago, on the Internet.
VJ Singh, a fellow photographer, had signed up for Storehouse, a True Ventures-backed photo story telling app, developed by Mark Kawano and Tim Donnelly. I was mesmerized by her stories and landscapes. We followed each other. Through her stories I discovered the Faroe Islands, which resulted in a trip in 2016, that I believe was the first step towards finding my visual voice. The company has since passed on, but we have stayed in touch, through Instagram, Twitter and of course through her Tumblr.
Despite having never met her – VJ Singh is a pseudonym – our online interactions seamlessly translated into a real-life camaraderie even before the first drop of wine was poured. She and her husband are fellow immigrants from India, and live a similar nomadic life. Our conversation spanned our pasts, presents and our affinity for photography. And just like that, we were the last people in the restaurant. When I left, I felt as if the bonds of the web had been reinforced by concrete reality.
An absolute stranger’s generosity unlocked my love for photography and adventure. And it is not the first time. And it won’t be the last time. I met Rebecca and Johnny Patience over a year ago as an introduction from friends Dan Rubin and Bijan Sabet. I still have not met them in person, but both feel so much a part of my life – mostly because of our interactions online, and via email and the social web. They have helped me become a better photographer, encouraged me to use film and in general, have added a sense of positivity and calm to my disturbingly noisy Internet presence.
The random acts of kindness that made Internet so beautiful and magical still exist. The other day, I tweeted out about seeking guidance on buying vintage hi-fi gear, and before you know it, Alex Roy was sending me a direct message. Alex, who has a podcast about autonomy and runs a high-end music equipment service, Nohosound, asked to see a few photos of my room. He suggested I move my old gear around, make some tweaks and see if that helped the sound, before spending the money on anything new. He sent an email with product recommendations, just in-case I wanted to change my set-up. None of that was a sales pitch – I can’t really afford that expensive gear he sells – but the advice was free and helpful. There wasn’t an expectation of anything in return – just a desire to help a fellow music lover.
I share these stories, not to laud these individuals, but as a way to remind us that the web we had before the madness and monetization of relationships began, is still around. We don’t need to focus on the negative, and instead try to use the social web, by being accountable to each other. All it takes is one to focus on how to be good to each other on the Internet – not by shouting, but by helping and encouraging absolute strangers.
January 3rd, 2018, San Francisco