When the Internet becomes for each of us exactly what we bring to it

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The Internet is neither good nor bad. It’s neutral—it becomes for each of us exactly what we bring to it. In our real life and our internet life, we live inside whatever we build. – Glennon Doyle Melton

I would like to believe that the above quotation from Doyle Melton is true and perhaps it is but not quite in the ways we expect.

Back in 2008, I did a usability review of a food pump, the Fresenius Applix Smart food pump to be precise. It frustrated me and I wanted to think about it from a usability point of view (which was my job before I turned peritoneal dialysis nurse for my baby). Sad and afraid, I wanted to analyse my frustrations.

This post unleashed a torrent of abuse unlike anything I had ever experienced online before or since. The stuff people thought was ok to write at the bottom of the blogpost, just because it pressed all their buttons, was amazing. I stand by the review it is measured and balanced – but aha, do I? No, I don’t. I haven’t kept it up online. The comments contained personal attacks on me: rude, offensive stuff about me as a human being, as a usability consultant, and as a food pump user.

I tried to remain open-hearted. I read each comment and responded on and offline. People admitted: yes, there were problems with the pump; yes, the problems I had named; yes, if it was being used on the heavy unstable stand next to a child or a fragile person and it fell on them, then yes, it could kill them; and yes, it was irritating being woken up by it… and so on. However, responding like this was exhausting and in the end, it was easier to take down the blogpost, than have to do that each time, even though it is a thorough usability critique of a flawed design.

And, I know this in my heart too, because it sat next to the Baxter peritoneal dialysis machine which was a master class in excellent design. I always wanted to write a blogpost about it too, but even tonight as I think about the machine we slept next to for 20 months to keep our baby alive, I am surprised by the tears in my eyes. No, I don’t want to write a review and potentially bring down another fierce, murky investigation into a painful part of my life.  But, we did swap foodpumps and it was miles better – a bit 70s style but much better. Alas, I can’t remember what that one was called, I should have reviewed that too, for completeness sake, and seen what happened.

Did I attract all that horrible energy to my website?

So, the main question I am asking is: If the Internet becomes for each of us exactly what we bring to it, did I attract all that horrible energy to my website? Perhaps, I did.

I voiced my frustrations and I got back in return lots of frustrations, not about the pump itself because it helped their lives and they were quite loyal to it, but they were projection rants and I very easily became the problem. I was an easy scapegoat. I understand that, because eating and drinking are fantastic activities I love to engage in, and if I couldn’t do that so easily and needed a foodpump, well I would be really sad, but glad at the same time that I had something to help me. However, I would never go online and abuse someone because I feel sad. This is because, ultimately I own my impact, as davidji says. Or do I? Did I own it the day I pressed publish? Or older and wiser, is it something I see that I learnt, starting that day?

Three things before pressing publish

Thinking again about that blog, what do I think now? Doyle Melton has three pieces of advice to help me: 1. Remember, you are what you post. 2. Post with intention 3. Dispense compassion.

1. Remember you are what you post

All I had in me at that time were my frustrations, my sadness, and my fear which @Iyanla Vanzant says underlies all the painful feelings like hate and anger. So, guess what showed up? Fearful, painful feelings of hate and anger all over my blog to echo right back all the pain in my heart. That open heart of mine, which really was so wounded and which I held up to the Internet to completely get shot at. I could have protected it, protected me, and waited until the day I could have shared in a more empowering way.

2. Post with intention

I definitely had an intention and it wasn’t good. It was to tell that Fresenius and give them a piece of my mind.

In a former life (one before the scary one) I could have performed usability testing right across a broad spectrum of patients in-situ to find out what was really going on and what everyone thought, in a professional manner, in order to provide insight and potential for improvement.

There is a 1 in a million chance of a baby being born with renal failure, so, I am not sure they are the target market for this food pump. But, you know what, in a former life, I wouldn’t have wanted to do that job. I would have been too angry and too scared to witness other people’s pain.

So why did I want to do that job, now? Because, I was angry, I was scared, and I wanted a witness for my pain. I wanted to not to have to use the pump. I wanted to breastfeed my child and hold her in my arms all night; not have her hooked up to two machines which I couldn’t detach her from without washing my hands for 20 minutes. I wanted a child with working kidneys and I wasn’t going to get that off the Internet. I was on my knees with exhaustion praying for a miracle, praying for hope and love (which is the very definition of a miracle given by A Course in Miracles). The miracle came a long time later, just not in the form I wanted. It came with fear, anger, and denial, and taught me hope and love, but that is another story.

3. Dispense compassion

Melton Doyle says seek to understand rather than be understood (rather like mystic St Francis of Assisi’s Prayer) and listen to others, which is something I know for sure. I say it in every blog – we all want to be seen, felt, heard. @daniellelaporte puts it so succinctly: We all want to be experienced. But, it begins with ourselves, because if I had been listening to myself that night perhaps I wouldn’t have been so eager to get validation online and open myself up to a whole load of criticism reflecting something I put out and something I was constantly giving myself. Constantly! The strain I was under was immense, I just couldn’t see it, and I just couldn’t forgive myself. All I could do was criticise myself for doing things sometimes with fear and anger and pain that were just too much for me to bear.

Be the change you want to see

You can only listen to others when you listen to yourself first, because then you are certain of what you believe and it is in those moments when you stand in your own compassion, your own listening, and your own heart, that you can see what people are saying is really all about themselves, like what you are saying is all about you and there is very little connection. We all have our pain and wounds. But, the connection comes when in that moment that you can be self-aware and lean in and give them what they need. Other times you have to be aware that sometimes people will ask too much from you and you need to judge what you can give (you may even have to run away, and run you should, run as quickly as you can). But, until you can give with great strength, then keep it off line and look after yourself, because sometimes the Internet is just another far too easy option for us when we go looking for love and hope in all the wrong places, armed only with words that don’t contain any love and hope for anyone who shares our pain.

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