For me, one of the most fascinating things about the net is how the net makes it easy to meet and know exceptional people.
I am not talking about famous people here.
Frankly, all but a few of the world's most famous people cause me to despair of humanity. Really, is there anything about a Bush, a Putin, or a Musharraf that makes you want to celebrate humanity? Is there anything about a James Dobson, a Britney Spears, or a Bill O'Reilly that makes you want to cheer? Have you ever praised The Cosmic Weirdness for gifting you with a Mahmoud Ahmadinejad? I strongly suspect most of the world's most famous people became famous because they were driven to covet fame, power, or money above all else in their lives. In other words, because they were shallow.
When you turn away from the most famous and instead surf the net for the much less famous, though, you seem to turn away from some of the worse people humanity has to offer and turn towards some of the best it has to offer. That has been the great discovery I've made about the internet -- it allows you to meet and know people who lack fame, but who are genuinely exceptional.
That point tends to pop up in my mind each time I surf blogs. If all I knew of humanity were the world's most famous people, I would become a cynic. I could not believe in humanity. I would despair of it.
Yet, so very many of the people I've met on the net have proven themselves kind, gifted and even wise. That's not to say everyone I've met is those things. Yet, I'd rather take my chances of meeting a very decent person on the net, than take my chances of meeting a very decent person at a White House dinner.
On the net, I have met people who are not famous, but who are world class writers, poets, or photographers. I have met people who are extraordinarily intelligent or exceptionally wise. I have met people who are better informed and more intellectually honest than most of the world's famous pundits. I have met people who I suspect have an unrivaled capacity for kindness. I have even met people who have either the luck or the talent to lead quite interesting lives. In short, I have met dozens of people who should be world famous if that sort of fame was based solely on one's human merit. Largely because of these people, I do not despair of humanity.
So, what effect can meeting so many great, but largely unknown, people have on us? Perhaps I can only speak for myself here, but one effect all of this has on me is to create a longing to become -- not merely a good American, not even merely a good Westerner -- but a good citizen of the world.
This is coming from someone who does not consider himself sentimental about humanity. I know humanity can be ugly. I know we are the least sane of the Great Apes. I am aware we are destroying the only world we have, and I recognize it's a long shot the world will ever come together in a sustainable peace. Yet, I still wish to become a good citizen of the world. It seems to me the sanest course in an insane world. What hope I have for such sanity comes to me in some large part from having met so many wonderful people on the net.
If the world is ever to be a decent place for most of us to live, it won't be because of the Bushes and Cheneys, the Dobsons and Spears, the politicians, pundits and preachers, but because of the common people.