Thursday, 31 January 2013

In which the internet is kind

Warning: more language, I’m afraid. Editorially necessary. Still not nice.


There is an awful lot of received wisdom about the internet. One of the stickiest is that it is a wild, cruel place, where people have no edit button, and say hideous things from behind a cloak of anonymity.

As a sub-set of this, there are many stories about women being abused and degraded. Revolting suggestions about parts of the anatomy are offered; death threats are not uncommon. The latest example of this was the monstering of Mary Beard. To everyone’s great delight, the stalwart professor fought back like a tigress.

All this is, of course true. Only this morning, I found a comment on a seemingly benign Facebook page. One man accused another of being a ‘dumb fuck wank stain wife beating cunt’. (Sic. He clearly had no use for hyphens.) This was in regard to a piece about the South American tribes whose way of life is being threatened by the building of a vast hydro-electric dam. You might think that the people who care about this would not even know the expression ‘wank stain’, let alone use it in public. Yet there it was, in all its gratuitous ugliness.

The thing that is not much reported is that the internet is also a place of great warmth and kindness and humanity. It can be polite and charming. It can be helpful and informative. Because of it, I know things I would not otherwise know; I may witness lives across the other side of the world, about which I would otherwise be ignorant.

All of which is a long way of saying: thank you all for the lovely birthday wishes.

The virtual birthday is a new thing. Through Twitter and the blogs, and most of all via Facebook, which helpfully reminds your online acquaintances that this is the great day of your birth, happy little messages of goodwill may wing their way through the ether. They come from complete strangers. They come from friends whom you only know online. They come from real-life loved ones, and far-flung family, waving across time zones. They bring just as much pleasure as actual presents and cards. Someone, somewhere, has paused in their busy day, and taken the time to type. It is oddly touching.

I sometimes wonder if the goodness and generosity and big-heartedness of my internet circle is an anomaly. I am always wary of universalising the particular. And anecdotal evidence is, well, anecdotal. Of course my Dear Readers are of the finest and best: five star, ocean-going, fur-lined remarkables. When you were made, the mould was broken.

Yet, I cannot believe that this place, and the people who come here, are so very unrepresentative. I get glimpses, sometimes, of other people’s interactions, and they too are being funny and kind and polite. If anything, the wank stain crew seem to me to be the minority, the oddities, the furious few who, like small children throwing tantrums, almost cannot help themselves.

Being kind does not make headlines. It also does not shock in the way the ravening hordes with their swearing and their threats do. But it is real, and it is important, and it should not be drowned out by the shouty people.

I also think it matters. I’m going to go back to my hippyish tendency now, but I really do believe that sending the smallest message of affection, paying the tiniest compliment, offering the briefest good-hearted encouragement really does add to the sum total of human happiness. The increments may be minuscule, but boy, do they add up.

Thank you all. You are bloody lovely. And now I am going to contemplate love and trees.


Today’s pictures:

A gloomy old day. Dirty sky and intermittent rain. At least last night’s crazy gales have blown themselves out. But today was all about looking for the beauty in the small things:

31 Jan 1

31 Jan 2

31 Jan 3

31 Jan 4

31 Jan 5

31 Jan 6

31 Jan 8

31 Jan 8-001

31 Jan 9

The last of the snow, in a rare moment of light:

31 Jan 10

Autumn the Filly:

31 Jan 12

Myfanwy the Pony, at her woolliest:

31 Jan 14

A rather dreamy Red the Mare. She may be tired after keeping her herd safe in the high winds. She’s never been a lead mare before, and she’s learning on the job. It’s very sweet to watch. Except when she decides Autumn is getting out of line and must have a charming bite on the bottom. (Don’t worry; it’s a very gentle bite. And Autumn proves herself pretty much unfussed by anything.):

31 Jan 15

Stanley the Dog has found a most excellent stick:

31 Jan 19

Here he is, doing sit and stay. He is saying: how long do I have to sit here before I may have my good boy reward?:

31 Jan 20

Today’s hill:

31 Jan 30


  1. I completely agree about the smallest message of affection, etc. It's like please and thank you, and smiling at people in shops. It doesn't take very much effort, any of it, but it's what keeps all the positive stuff rolling, in my opinion.

    I am somewhat bewildered, and on the road to alarm, about the monstering on - mostly twitter I think, but I bet there's loads on the internet and I'm just lucky not to have come across it. Dunno what it presages but it can't be anything good. Or maybe that's my bronchitis talking.

    1. Lillyanne - you always leave such thoughtful comments. Agree with everything, esp the thing about smiling in shops. I madly smile at strangers in the street, which is not really done in Blighty. As for the monstering, it is quite frightening, because it gets so vicious so fast, and there is a bit of herd mind, in its negative sense. That's why I concentrate really hard on the small acts of kindness. Let's hope they win the day. :)

  2. How well put. I do wish kindness got more press. So many people who think that's cool/hip/current, etc., to be unkind and rude could perhaps be shamed into rethinking their behavior. It needs to be cool/hip/current to be mannerly to the general public at least and more than that to one's friends. Rant, rant, LOL. But hippyish or not, you are so right that even the tiniest kindness is important.

    Belated happy birthday. And isn't it amazing how Stanley is beginning to behave a little more like the Pigeon as time goes on? Pose for the camera (with different expressions, each becoming more clearly defined), pay attention to the stick . . . must be in the air.


  3. Can't tell you how happy it makes me to know I'm not the only one that sees beauty in dead leaves and grass, bare branches and moss!

    Have witnessed that herd thing (I call it mob mentality) on the internet, one person makes some tiny complaint or other and 20 people pile on. At that point I usually play devil's advocate just to try and stem the tide. Sometimes it stops the conversation cold. Which is sometimes a good thing.

  4. Is this mad, I look at the photos of the new Gentleman Stanley and I think "Lord Peter Wimsey".
    I have a serious crush.

  5. Hear hear - I totally agree.
    I love that photo of Stanley - he looks adorable.


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