Suppose it’s a Monday, and someone takes a dumpster truck – filled with broken glass, soiled diapers, rotting food, medical waste, pet hair, flu-filled toilet tissues, wrappers, plastic bags, used barf bags, crushed cans and wet newspapers – and drove it right to your front door, and dumped it right there. You could avoid it, in theory, by simply not leaving the house. But it won’t go away. And if you want to go out into the world, you have no choice. You have to either climb all over it and ignore it – hoping you don’t get sick or injured – or you can try to clean your way through it, using a broom or a spade.
Now fast forward to Tuesday, and the dumpster truck does it again. And again on Wednesday, Thursday, Friday, Saturday, and that other day too. Leave the house too long and you’ll have all the cumulative stuff to deal with. Stay inside too long – ditto. You have no choice but to live with it and deal with it – find some way to cope.
Now in the dump-truck example, you could call the cops. Sue. Threaten. Injure. Go to war. Return the favour. Your options are as varied as your temperament. But you can be darn sure that it will be sorted, and soon. Not just because you’ll fight like you mean it personally, but because others might stand up to it. Can’t imagine the neighbours will like it (they let you know when your lawn is a millimetre too high, sure the HOA will have a duck fit over trash at the door). Environmental activists might take up your cause – because your doorway – like pristine streams and mountains high and jungles wild – deserve protection.
And yet, every day, this is exactly what happens to you. And to me. And to everyone else on the internet.
Because scammers, corporations, hustlers, hucksters and e-psychos send terrabytes worth of crap right at your electronic doorway.
There is, for starters, the barrage of ads. Persuasive messages you did not ask for, telling you what margarine you want, how your body should look, what ails people of your age, metropolitan statistical area, Nielsen Demographic or McKinsey psychographic category or disposition. We’ve accepted it, like unwelcome pre-rolls on video, because we want to access certain services for free and the advertisers pay for it. So fine. We smile sheepishly, and step politely over the special offers, specials and deals like they are junk-mail leaflets shoved through the mail slot. We might pick it up and bin it – if we like things neat. But there’s more where that came from every day.
If the internet is peripheral in our lives, there’s only about an extra two tonnes of waste a day to deal with. Sweeping political generalisations and declarations to echo chambers on both sides made by friends whose wisdom, if not sanity, you’ve begun to question of late. Rudeness online, keyboard courage. Once respected news sources with the most comically inane takes, now anger-factories mass producing outrage porn. Antisocial media. Fine. That and the sales. Easy enough to keep clean.
Also, the occasional text or email. A Nigerian Prince needs your pin number to get his money out of the country and generously offers to share half his wealth with you. Or you have won the British Lotto Contact Mr Stevenson. Or a link to click on from a bank you’ve never done business with. Or a Russian bride offer (even if you’re the gayest of the gays that have ever been gay on God’s green gay earth). People with very dangerous sharp edges that very much want to hurt you if you are not cynical. Any generosity, any empathy, any compassion from you and they’ll take your lunch and ask for seconds.
You’re still a light user at this stage, mind you. All you wanted to do was check out some recipes on your profile page and send an email to your sister. And all this trash is dumped in your doorway, daily.
But let’s make you active. Turn it up a notch. Say you want to start your own blog, create content and put it out there, or have your own website. This is where the soiled diapers and rotting food comes in.
Read any guidance by the two million experts on making money with your blog who make money with their blogs telling people how to make money with blogs – and you will know that Best Practices – and the Shiny New Way Of How The World Works 2.0 – dictates you must have a Comments section.
Since you’re starting out you’ll get one comment from your mom (thanks) and one from an actual user, per two year period. The rest will be some Eastern European digital agency – legit or not is anyone’s crapshoot guess – selling you stuff you don’t need or want. Or some woman with an exotic name offers you sexy times. You could be a school kid starting up a thing on your toy collection – totally innocent, totally wholesome – and cockroaches come out of the woodwork and tries to pitch you or scam you – and what really is the difference with these methods?
Have a business email on your website? Well, did you know that the US Internet Copyright Agency is demanding payment for your domain, which is in arrears? No? Guess they haven’t gotten to you yet. Or little mails sent just to see if you’ll click on something (don’t) or respond (don’t).
If our physical lives were as polluted as our digital lives there would be revolution, with blood flowing in the streets.
The problem with digital is that it’s not physical – so the guilty parties are like air, and view themselves as non-violent and victimless criminals. The truth is that digital aggression really can and does hurt people – and like petty crime – over time erodes the promise of freedom, peace and eventually, prosperity.
Little incursions and encroachments on the dignity, integrity, safety and peace of people are like little byte-sized doses of psychopathy.
And some lowlife working out of a troll farm, call centre or his mother’s basement adds his little bit of inhumanity to a load that – in aggregate – makes your digital life the filthiest, dirtiest, most polluted spot on planet earth… and there is absolutely nothing you can do about it.
Unless, of course, you’re quite the psychopath yourself… and hit them with reverse payloads and go after them. But that won’t be most people.
Most reasonable, peace loving, ordinary people, simply want to use the internet to enhance their lives and get the things done they need done. They shouldn’t have to become combatants in a digital war they didn’t start.
The scamsters? Well… they either have to be legally prosecuted or illegally persecuted to go away. They won’t stop out of the goodness of their hearts. So godspeed to law enforcement and a handful of grayhats, if the former don’t deliver. At some point, given enough frustration, people jump in and start cleaning. You get them into an angry mob state and they won’t care any longer what you feel are fair and reasonable boundaries of conduct. Right or wrong, that will be irrelevant. Folks rise up at some point.
The hustlers and sales pitchers? Well, like the corporations, they’ll just have to understand that when they send out little junk mail leaflets, what many of us increasingly see are dump trucks heading for our doors.
How to stop mental bandwidth pollution? Well, it looks like we’ll to live with it and manage it, rather than get rid of it, at least with our current infrastructure.
Avoid free – because free usually means you’re the product. Don’t engage with anything unsolicited – sales pitch, sales funnel, pdf download in exchange for your email, email, text, phone call, anything. Be abrupt, disclose zero information and get a reputation for being difficult and uncooperative, even if it is just in case.
Punish corporations and organisations for dumping in your doorway and let them know you are.
And generally adopt an attitude that you are protecting your attention and your headspace, as if were a pristine river in a beautiful wilderness.
And – this is key – often, regularly and if at all possible MOSTLY – step away from screens.