I was never a very talkative person. As a kid I was intimidated by every single person around. I spent the first sixteen years of my life being scared of people. I guess in a way, I still am. Some days I still tread the world as if it’s out to get me, as if anyone I ever say anything to will find fault in what I say and do and will point them out and yell and cast me out. I know now that it’s irrational, but no matter how hard I try to put it away, that childhood fear will come out and tangle itself around me.
So for most of my life I kept quiet, kept to myself. I read a lot. And then, when I was nine, or eight, I discovered the internet.
I guess, I just realised, that I must be the first generation to do that: to raise myself on the internet. I raised myself on message boards, on online communities of people who have never met and will never met but can become the best of friends. Later, I raised myself on Twitter, on anonymous boards, on articles and news scattered across the internet, down to the comment sections. I read what others say, I read how others think, I read the words people write to try to explain their thoughts. The human mind is capable of so much thoughts, abstracted through all the senses, impossible to completely be expressed in words, so we have to choose what to express and hope against everything that our audience can derive the rest.
It was a wonder, really. The internet. How so many people can see so many other people beyond geography, beyond psychology or physiology. Your face, your age, your gender, your nationality don’t matter in the internet. Only what you say.
There was a time when some of my best friends live on the other side of the planet. America, Australia, Europe. And our conversation went slowly, one reply a day, thanks to the lag that is time-zone difference. I didn’t realise it anything strange at the times. I like talking to them, writing to them. I didn’t think it extraordinary that I have to wait overnight for people to reply because I’d be asleep when they’re awake.
And they came in all ages and faces and status. Some of them are adults, some kids. They could be a Caucasian or a Filipino or a native American, but none of that mattered. I never imagined them as faces, as the people I found on the streets. I was afraid of the people I see, afraid of what they could do. But these people I meet on the internet, I didn’t see them for what they look like. I see them through their words. It formed how I see people now: as a people, with hearts and minds, no matter what face they have, what they were born like.
Yeah, there’s a lot of bad things on the internet. I’ve seen people rage for no other reason than to rage. I’ve seen people spewing hate and breeding hate, sometimes just because they could. There is an idea, I heard, that people do that because they could do it under an identity completely separate from their real one. That idea sounds completely alien to me. What you do is you, whether you’re doing with the face that you take to your nine-to-five job or the face that you wear on Saturday nights, talking to strangers that you thought will never be hurt by what you say.
No one can ever really escape hate. There will always be someone who will take you down just because they can. But through the words of the internet–which might look less harmful than a stone or a kick, but can actually have just as significant an effect–I learn which fight to take on, which to leave. When to stand my ground and state what I think, and when to step down, admit defeat even though I don’t believe I have to, for the greater good.
The world is big. So so terribly big. And it’s filled with so many people, so many thoughts, so many point of view. There is always a place where you can belong, always somebody out there who share your thoughts and feelings. The internet is a blessing. Books can give you a window to another world. The internet lets you become a part of it.
Growing up on the internet, I live my life holding on to this: Be nice. Be courteous. Be kind. Understand others. The world is big enough for everyone.