The Rules of Survival Online

During my journey to unlock my mental health, I’ve been starting to understand the feelings of ‘survival’ which afflict us all. The need to survive is the biggest motivator which drives us as a species.

But when it is constantly employed in our personal life because of harsh living circumstances, feelings of self-preservation amass incredible pain and fear within us; not just in our minds, but our bodies too.

Our bodies become the memory foam of our lived experiences.

I have realised the impact of our existence on this planet is not just on the external environment, but the internal as well. But since the scale of the outside is so much bigger than the scale of what goes on inside, it goes unnoticed. It doesn’t have any immediate impact on the outside either, so ignoring your internal symptoms becomes quite an easy task.

Political movements in society have always started because of internal and not external circumstances. Humans feel disregarded and disenfranchised. They feel helpless in their circumstances, and that’s when the need for survival kicks and they rebel against the set norm. They demand a course of action, knowing the logistics and methodology of it all may be out of reach. They don’t know all the answers, so they collectively try to find them.

We like to gather to solve problems and the solutions are never the same. We, as a society, have such an expansive idea of knowledge, so what works and what doesn’t  always varies.

Also read: Does Online Bullying Spell the End of Democracy?

There is an incredible uncertainty attached to our being. We use science, probabilities, civic laws, social rules – all just to create as much certainty as we can. The social existence of human beings is at the back of a very old system that may never have been right in the first place. We know this through logical deduction and yet we believe in the goodness of the system because we believe in goodness of other human beings.

The only reason you as an individual continue to follow the code is because you believe the code will protect you.

Therefore, when we see this system fail to protecting millions of human lives, we start to wonder if the system is wrong.

Or is it the people?

It is very difficult for us as individuals to believe we are wrong and it is even more difficult for us to believe that as a society. The first step towards fixing a problem is to acknowledge it. But being blind to the most obvious issues only mean they keep piling on until the system crashes. 

This is also what has been happening on the internet for a decade. We love being part of a cult, don’t we? We like to feel exclusively attached to a pool of knowledge not accessible to others; whether it is private chat rooms or moderated sub-reddits, we like to feel that we have cracked the code to our personal happiness.

Online communities therefore, have only been becoming smaller and tighter, making it incredibly hard to have conversations which transcend those boundaries.

At this point, it is as if we are speaking a different language (literally). You are not cool if you don’t know the same memes, the same words, the same facts and figures. You can stay outside while I thrive because this is my system and you do not belong.

We are all trying to take control of our personal narratives online, much like creating a perfect persona or none at all. It is as if we think we have mastered the internal so well that our external will always reflect that without fail. We expect the same of others, that they have it all figured out if they decide to speak up.

The rules of engagement online are the rules of survival. We want to preserve ourselves, we want to keep ourselves safe. Block, delete, report and use everything in the community guidelines. But make sure your sanity is preserved.

Also read: Everything Wrong With Social Media Call-Out Culture

As a woman who has been engaging with bullies all their life, this is exhausting. I have had to use all the tools in the settings box to protect myself from harassment. I am tired of arguments because while there are millions online, the logical threads of arguments only run so long.

I have made it a point to moderate comments on my posts here on LiveWire because I am well aware of the misconceptions which seep through online conversations. Young people especially are exposed to extremely biased online personalities and literature.

While I have been watching online trends for 11 years now, the youth can be caught unaware of the depth of some of the rhetoric they end up buying into.

I am also hurt because of the bile that is spewed. There is deep disgust in some people’s words – and how can you fix that through a screen and the internet? There is only so much you can do through comments and DMs.

This is where it has been important for me to realise that we absolutely can not deny the existence of these online personas. These are real people in the real world; there is nothing like an ‘armchair activist’ and nothing like a ‘cyber bully’.

These are humans we need to engage with and talk to – even beyond the internet.

Unless we start having these hard conversations with people in our lives, we are not going to be able to see a reflection of that online. Being vocal is difficult, sometimes you simply croak at the idea of speaking.

But good things never come easy.

I have realised that surviving is a prize, but it is the process is what we truly seek. We need that pain and fear to find happiness. We must do the work to get the reward, and then it really does feel like an achievement.

Then we can celebrate our imperfections together and throw a hell of a party.

Sumedha writes to highlight the need for non-conformity and for practical politics free of labels. She is also a certified cat lady.

Featured image credit: Pariplab Chakraborty