The Toltec Guide to Surviving the Internet

Step 1: Delete all of your accounts. Wipe your hard drive. Donate your computer to a local school and take up the kind of job where you repair something unique. Live a life of quiet solitude and fade into the dust like we were all meant to do.

This, however, will not happen. We live in that semi-miraculous time where there is this TOOL between all of us that allows for instant and continuous communication with everyone we have known or could know. Anything we desire is just a few keystrokes away, endless opportunities are presented, and most everyone else on here is an asshole. And since you arrived here by clicking on a thing that brought these words to your screen, a life of quiet solitude is likely not meant for you either. Also, there is nothing left to repair. Use it up, throw it away, replace anew. 

So, What is a Toltec?

  To be frank, I’m not entirely sure, but I’ll tell you what I read, and you can just go read more on it, yeah? In short, for the purposes of this post:

“Thousands of years ago, the Toltec were known throughout southern Mexico as “women and men of knowledge.” Anthropologists have spoken of the Toltec as a nation or a race, but, in fact, the Toltec were scientists and artists who formed a society to explore and conserve the spiritual knowledge and practices of the ancient ones.”

In short, Toltecs were philosophers with a spiritual backing from a civilization none of us were invited to. That passage, and many others you should probably read, are right out of The Four Agreements by Don Miguel Ruiz. The Toltecs and Ruiz did not have the internet, so it is difficult to imagine applying their ancient wisdom to modern problems.

Yet, that’s why philosophies are so cool – they are but a lens to view the world with, not the world in and of itself. When it comes to surviving the internet, the Toltecs provided and Ruiz further defined, four convenient tools:

  •    Be Impeccable with your Words
  •    Don’t Take Anything Personally
  •    Don’t Make Assumptions
  •    Do Your Best.

The Awfulness of Everything and the Need For New Glasses

At any given time on any given day, the internet is a horrible place full of bad personalities getting attention for doing things that are not necessarily newsworthy. Also, everyone is mad at something all of the time. There are few things created in this vortex of content that is worth anyone’s time. Yes, probably, including this web page right here.

Yes, true, the internet is always heralded to some extent as the last bastion of the democratic ideal: everyone has a voice. But with more voices comes more opinions and more chances for conflict. All of these voices wrap up neatly and are fed through a handful of algorithms to ensure the right voices piss off the right people at the right time for the sake of advertising revenue.

From 10,000 feet, it’s a pretty crappy view.

From ground level, it is easy to get lost in the mess of it all.

Here is this thing that we would all happily give up if it didn’t give our attention something to do. Here is this THING that is driving significant change in each and every one of us, yet we are the ones that should be changing IT.

Habits and behaviors change through a reframing of perspective – getting that new lens.

How do the Toltecs play into this?

I tried to break down the Four Agreements in context of online life. The realization? I fail at this philosophy, routinely, every day. Possibly every hour. Again: the beauty of philosophy – it is meant to be failed at.

Be Impeccable with Your Words

I made a small oath with myself at the beginning of the year: Don’t Fan The Flames, don’t add oxygen to the fire. This has been outrageously difficult to do. It is so, so, so easy to throw in my two cents, to apply my experience to a situation, to make sure I am HEARD.

But is everyone else’s outward expression always evil? DId your family member mean to share that racist post? Remember Michael Scott? He shared jokes by forwarding emails around the office because he thought they were funny, even though everyone else saw them as offensive.

Being impeccable with your word means, loosely, to be so sure of what you are saying that it must be said in the way you are saying it all the while keeping in mind that your words will impact someone, somewhere, in some capacity. Sure, you may be going for a particular result. But is that result necessary? Is it good for the world?

Over a billion users online, doubtful any of them are being impeccable, or even careful, or even conscious of what is being said. We can try, but it is probably best to take the second agreement into consideration.


Don’t Take Anything Personally.

Even when it’s meant to be taken personally.

Even when it is designed for you, specifically, to take personally.

Taking things personally gives all the power to the publisher of those words. Largely, you can assume they don’t have the same investment or energy towards you that you likely have towards whatever is upsetting you.

Most of the time, things are written without full consideration of the ultimate impact it will have on the audience. If consideration were given, we’d rarely see anything published.

If something has been designed to get you to react in a specific way, the best reaction may be none at all.

Don’t make Assumptions.

Most social media profiles have an “About Me” section that is around 200 characters long. Most of us are human beings that have decades of life behind us. An eon of experience wrapped up in a handful of words. It must be an exercise in Zen to accurately portray yourself over this small space.

The result? Many of us are left creating huge stories about the persona presented on the screen before us. Maybe we criticise the girl trying to sell tummy tea through her Instagram, but not go so far to think that maybe she hates her job as much as most of us do and is trying to change her situation. Or, maybe that’s just another story that I’ve given her. Maybe the tea really does work.  

Everything they say or type or share is tinted with whatever preconceived notions we have of that person. Or, worse yet, we end up projecting ourselves and our fear onto that person we have never met.

Always Do Your Best

Isn’t it amazing how much of an impact a 3-inch screen can have on our lives?

Wouldn’t it be an excellent habit to sit back and ask yourself “is this the best thing I could be doing with my time?”

   Is it worth fighting with strangers? Maybe they are wrong. Maybe they disagree with you. If someone disagrees with you, does that always make them wrong?

Humans are fallible.

Fallible humans build complex systems of inconceivable machines (which are also fallible) that we then ask to be intelligent, only to usually be perturbed by it the result.

None of this is perfect. We would be insane to think it could be.

There are always going to be selfish, center-minded people on the internet. Or in life. By now we have learned that giving our attention to things only gives it fuel and life.

Maybe this is just a sign that we should give attention to the good things? What, then, is “good” in a world where anything can be made to look like anything else?


There are just as many bad days as good ones. There are tragedies and things said that only serve to steep my ire in the world. There Is a split, though, between what the algorithms say I should care about, and what the conscious, flesh-and-blood commitments of my day to day say I should concern myself over. There are dusty typewriters that need to be repaired and stories that need to be told and tabs which need to be closed.

Every morning, a fresh set of lenses await us even if they only risk to get smudged. Good luck out there.


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