For the last eight months I've worked as a viral curator and reporter for The Huffington Post. Aside from being an incredibly fun dream job filled with fantastic co-workers, it was also a job that required a lot of time on the Internet -- like, way more time than most people spend on the Internet. The numbers are something like 12 to 18 hours a day, depending on how much work I had and how much sleep I needed. That means that, at the lowest range, assuming I got eight hours of sleep a night (ha!), I was spending a 3-to-1 ratio of my living, breathing, waking hours on the Internet.
On those days I'd probably watch somewhere close to 100 YouTube videos, read thousands of tweets, and scroll through thousands of feet of Instagram, Facebook, New York Times, Washington Post, Al Jazeera and -- of course -- Huffington Post content, among others.
There are close to 3 billion people using the Internet, and that number is growing quickly. While interacting with nearly half the world's population, whether directly or indirectly, I'd like to think I learned a few things. Here, on my last day at The Huffington Post, I've written down eight of those things:
1. It's the most honest place in the world. That's not to say it's factual (we'll get to that later), but it is definitely the most honest. For many people, being able to post on the Internet under an anonymous pseudonym or from a private account is like going to therapy: They can show a side of themselves they don't reveal anywhere else. Commenters on the Web, the same people who are sitting next to you on the subway or standing in line at the grocery store, feel the ability to reveal parts of themselves online that they'd never show in the public sphere. Unfortunately, what comes with honesty is a plethora of racists, cheaters and people who have fun ruining a good discourse. But...
2. There are so many good people. I know I just finished talking about bigots, sexual deviants and trolls on the Internet, but it would not be fair to ignore all the incredible people who show themselves through the World Wide Web. Every single day I come across videos that make me tear up; sons and daughters giving their parents their dream gift, drivers helping the elderly cross a busy street, dogs being rescued, people overcoming odds, strangers standing up for each other, and even the people who make dumb stuff just to give you a laugh.
3. Every event is interpreted differently. This morning, coming down to work from my apartment in Harlem, I was standing on a crowded, express 2 train that was stopped at 72nd Street. The train hadn't moved for close to 15 minutes, the doors were open, and there was no announcement from the conductor about what was going on. About 10 minutes in people started getting outwardly frustrated, cursing under their breath, antsy to get on their way. Right at the moment that the announcement came to "stand clear of the closing doors," a sweat-soaked New Yorker came sprinting down the stairs to the subway, jumped the last three steps and slid onto the train as his book bag momentarily got caught in the closing doors. He pulled it in, the train pulled out, and he let out a little cheer and a fist bump, delighted at his start to the day. Same event, two completely different experiences for the people involved. That's a good metaphor for the Internet (and, of course, life).
4. Russia is wild. I know there are a lot of things, political and otherwise, happening in Russia right now, and in the region in general, but I'm not going to comment on them. All I'm going to say is that Russia has the most insane videos on the Internet, and, thanks to an abundance of dash cams, there are almost always cameras running.
5. Warning: Having a camera can make you a crappy person. A recent trend I've seen gaining some momentum online is the recording of videos exclusively to piss people off, abstain from helping in a situation where help is needed, or provoke police. So here is a PSA to all my Internet users out there: Sticking a camera in someone's face just to troll them is a shitty thing to do. Filming people burning up in a car accident instead of helping them escape is unspeakable beyond words, and idiotic. And, of course, recording police so you can provoke them in a way that makes all police officers look bad is just as bad as being a dirty cop (and it only makes the divide between cops and citizens even wider).
6. You aren't that clever. The next time you think you have a "really good idea" or a "sick invention," you should try googling a few key words. Chances are someone has already posted about it on some obscure blog or it has already been invented in a country you don't live in (or even in the country you do live in). Last week I thought, "How cool would it be to have a glue stick that was just butter? That way you could avoid getting it on your fingers or using a lowly knife." Imagine my horror when I googled it and found this article.
7. Dads are making a comeback. Traditional American patriarchy left a lot of families with uninvolved fathers and, in many cases, dads who had trouble communicating across gender lines. While there is still a ton of improvement needed for all parents, a slew of YouTube videos and blog posts have shown that millennial dads aren't just finding creative ways to be awesome parents; they're also letting their guard down and loving more openly.
8. The lies are always moving more quickly than the truth. The most important thing that I learned from the Internet is that, despite it being so honest, it also can't be trusted. Most of the time, when you come across something online that seems too absurdly crazy and outlandish and inflammatory to be true, it isn't. The most recent example of this, and the most common, is the half-truth, like when the BBC exposed images of attacks on Gaza being recycled from wars that happened in neither Gaza nor Israel. Of course, there were children being killed in Gaza, and there were powerful and horrifying images of those children on the Internet, but a lot of the most popular ones were falsified or shared under a bogus context. It typically isn't hard to source or double-check something you read on the Internet, and if it is content that moves you to an opinion or affects your life directly, I'd highly suggest vetting it by finding the same thing reported on or verified in a trustworthy space. Photoshopping, video editing and lying for political gain are all crafts being mastered like never before.
Follow Isaac Saul on Twitter: www.twitter.com/Ike_Saul