Wednesday 25 July 2007

The Power of Words- Image and Reality

A certain blogger once said, 'I blog because I can, I can therefore I do.'
And yes, it's that simple in principle.
It's our own thoughts we thrust out, without asking permission.

But isn't it a little more complex?
Isn't this an evolving medium?

Two excellent posts I read on blogging recently, here and here.
Both tackle angles of blogging which are on the one hand, pretty obvious, but also a bit more complex.

What exactly IS our relationship to other bloggers? What kind of interaction is this?

In one sense, it's a bit like a Newspaper. Guido for example, sees himself as a citizen journalist. I don't think any of us would aspire to that particularly, but it's worth considering this.

Consider a typical paper for a small provincial town. Twice weekly.
How many readers would read that paper just for one correspondant? Probably as many as read the average blog.
We read blogs for News, Gossip, Social reasons, Opinion.
Especially of the type we don't get elsewhere.

We also find many plus points newspaper columns do not have. They're often just as well written, but we can ask questions of the writer, or just tell him he's plain wrong. And he or she ISN'T up on some pedestal, free from your individual criticism.
Hell, you can even run a post of your own refuting him or her.

All much more satisfying.

But there's another angle. One which is often overlooked. Look at the names in your mobile phone, or wherever you keep important numbers. How many sentences do you exchange per week with all these people? And how many sentences per week do you exchange with the authors of blogs?

Over time we do build up mental images of bloggers. This is inevitable.
Possibly these images are just as real in their own way as the other sides of themselves that they show in the flesh.
And in a sense they are at another level. Many of our real life connections are on a shallower footing than we often realise. Our deepest opinions on most subjects are reserved for those closest to us.
We see the mind in operation, without the form that carries it. The most profound, compassionate blogs we read could be written by someone who has a reputation in the flesh for being superficial and shallow.
Which version is true?

For example, I visualise many male bloggers in a pub setting. I guess thats the sort of place you'd imagine chatting to them. I see James Higham as fast pace, delivering his opinions as he played pool, statement- shot- retort-shot.
Ian Appleby (still being held hostage, I'm afraid) watches and takes everything in, before his considered response.

Electro-Kevin wants to get drunk, whilst Ed needs time to get into his subject, but then he's the life and soul. There is something a little pythonesque about Colin Campbell, you wouldn't know quite what to expect, but if a stripogram showed up, you'd suspect his hand...
At which point you'd have lost Theo Spark...

It's hard to imagine Raffi being anything other than a Stars Wars Stormtrooper. He might look a bit out of place in the pub.

Mutley is an enigma. At first I took him at face value- a dog with quick, barked responses. Now I see him as more than just an irruption of anarchy in a blogging calmness. I am more put in mind of the wise fool in King Lear, who's comments often penetrate deeper than a cursory glance reveals.

And what of the ladies?
I can imagine Welshcakes telling me I smoked too much, drank too much and partied too much, but never really meaning it and laughing as she said it.

I could see myself sitting a cafe with Ruthie discussing the Bush Administration. She'd be very earnest and thoughtful- and she'd probably run rings round any of my arguments.

Phishez would be the sort of female friend who I'd tell my problems to when drunk.

Jenny?- well, we'd have a good time, I'm sure!
And I'll admit, I imagine lying on a beach by moonlight as Calliope reads me her posts.

It stands to reason we create these images. We are used to seeing the people we are talking to. We picture people on the phone. We certainly picture the blogger.

Is it real?
Do we know the blogger at all?
Or do we know them better than the world which sees them in the flesh?

It's a very young phenomenon.
We are in uncharted territory.


Anonymous said...

I dont have a lot of flesh friends...but i am very close to the ones that i do have...i Like it that way! I feel like i can be myself on my blog, although thats not all that different from my flesh life...i dont know! We form opinions of people the instant we meet them, whether on a blog or not!

Anonymous said...

Is that your computer? You do realise that if Superman were ever to read your blog, your anonymity would be blown.

And, if it is you, i'll forever think of you as Dr. Claw...

Anonymous said...

Oh this is very interesting. A whole can of worms. We are indeed involved in an immature medium without precedent.

Many of us blog in character. Our real selves could not be further from our blog characters if we tried. Some of us are of course similar to the real us – but with a little twist. Are we ever the same in real life as we portray on our blogs?

Either way i do believe that you intrinsically can tell if a person online is genuine. If you read a blog for long enough (and note the blogger’s comments on other blogs) you can definitely form an opinion on their overall real life character.

Of course our blog friends only truly ‘know’ our blog character rather than the real person – we only know what they publish and how they interact with other bloggers. Unless of course we progress to real email/MSN/personal friendships. I have met many bloggers in real life - they are now my real life friends. i have never been surprised at their nature when i finally met them in real life.

But that also becomes interesting - do i own my character? If you slander my character do i have any legal or moral rights of response? After all, if i go on ebay, i am legally responsible for my online personna. Is the same true in blogging? If not, why not? If, for example, my character is slandered in blogland do i have a right to launch a missile in return to defend myself?

Or do i quietly ignore it and hope that my cyber friends will not believe a word of it and not take it seriously because 'its only the internet' or they ‘know me better than that’.

Really, that's not good enough. Many of us invest time, energy and love into our online persona over a very long time period - do we really have to put up with being treated online in a manner we would never stand for offline?

This may be very off-topic to your original intentions in this post (sorry for hi-jacking your post), but I believe that cyber harassment is a very real possibility for any of us bloggers – it comes from nowhere, spills out into the real world and can be really unfair. Worse, there is little that any of us can do to protect ourselves if a rogues breaks loose in our midst unless we elect to betray our intrinsic values and engage in a dirty war.

I believe that our online characters may be a parody, but we still have rights. Of course you can form whatever opinion you want about my online persona – but I don’t believe that you can treat me with any less respect or legal responsibility than in real life.

Anyhow. It’s an interesting topic. I wrote a thought provoking (and long winded) article on this very subject in the real world. I will email it to you if you like...hope I didn’t stomp on your mellow:-)

Anonymous said...

Jungle Jane has awesome points...and the blog harrassment thing is such shady bullshit, and even it if is against the persona or character...its like a personal attack on a real person.

Anonymous said...

There are so many aspects to us as spiritual beings. The pictures we conjure up in our imagination are little avatars of hope, but I think the reality of it is that if any one of us met each other at a party, we probably wouldn't have that much to say. There's something so breathtakingly remarkable about anonymity. Like cyber paper dolls, we can dress our avatars any way we like and make them into who we want them to be. Fascinating stuff.

Anonymous said...

Cool. It's a topic I've thought about too (and come to the conclusion that it's just like real life; one can develop closer relationships with certain other bloggers, but most remain but casual acquaintances; friends one might hang out with, for example, but not tell deep secrets to {except through the blog}). I can't imagine Mutley either...he's an enigma (and I'm sure he loves that). But from the picture, I'd say wise, hymourous... an old dog that can laugh...

>We see the mind in operation, without the form that carries it. The most profound, compassionate blogs we read could be written by someone who has a reputation in the flesh for being superficial and shallow.
Which version is true?
I think the one in the mind. Sometimes people don't like to reveal themselves in real life... don't like to show emotions. But in writing, anything is possible (and one can just call it fiction, and thus find an outlet for all those thoughts and emotions)...

Anonymous said...

Jenny- Yes, but a blog gives us different information. The blog may well be real, but how well would you know someone in real life before they were as open with you as their blogs are?
And would you not have already made a judgement on them based on factors you never know by reading their blog?

David- I had trouble finding good pictures for the opening of this post.
I sometimes wonder how long my anonymity will last and what I will do if it's lost.
Dr Claw? I suppose it's better than Baron Greenback...

JJ- No, your comment raised some real issues.
Many people DO blog in character. Of course many of us have a work persona, maybe several- and other sides too we bring out for various occasions.
I think you see which parts of a person are genuine, just as you do in real life. I think you can pick up on their mannerisms, sense of humour etc.
The crossover with real life IS a problem. I disabled anonymous comments for that reason. A crazy ex may not blast your peccadilloes round the pub, she may find it amusing to post it on your blog. Early morning on a day she knows you can't check your blog.

There does seem to be a kind of etiquette developing, much more open than most such codes. There is nastiness in the bloggosphere true, I have seen several bite the dust, but most workplaces are full of unpleasantness.
Valid points, Jane.

Jenny- It is indeed. I sometimes think that if I heard someone shout 'Crushed' in the street, I'd look round.

Alexys- Yes, but we can only dress them with what we have inside us. You can't fake a worldview.
I'm quite likely to talk as I do here, but usually only when I know most of the people present, or its a comfortable setting like a party.
My views here ARE the way I see things.
But a lot of people out there would describe me in a very different way.

Eve- I think you really can see inside the minds of some bloggers. Some you can't. I can give you a number of blogs where really I know nothing about the author, it doesn't take away from the blog, others where you feel you know the author.
But then again, we do this at work, lull clients/customers into a sense of interpersonal connection for our own ends.
I think you can say that posts don't give you the full picture, but as Jane says, comments can give you a rounded picture.

Anonymous said...

The questions is:

”Do we really ever know anyone at all… including ourself?”

Anonymous said...

Ooh this is interesting. When I did my first few posts I was really self-conscious. I was worried that I might put something up which "upset" people, particularly if a friend, family member or colleague was to stumble upon it (especially as it's virtually impossible to know who is reading one's blog).

I have got into my stride a bit now because I heard a friend urging other friends to look at my blog (I was mildly embarrassed about the idea) and people seem to like what I write.

I think the blog is the ultimate freedom of speech - but one can be challenged and rebutted, you leave yourself wide open to hostile spam.

I see the whole thing like a pub conversation, but a conversation between people who meet purely for that particular conversation.

Anonymous said...

Here's a conundrum for you though - particularly for bloggers.

Richard Feynman asked "What Do You Care What Other People Think?"

Do I worry about what other people might think of me because of what I put on my blog? Sometimes, although I know I shouldn't. But if I don't care what other people think then why do I blog at all?

Anonymous said...

You think too much Mr Ingsoc... its what I like about you. Or your blog.. or whatever..

I shall write something more later.., I would love to get your article JJ! You have my email or mutleydotthedogatgmaildotcom.

Anonymous said...

You know, I never really appreciated how fantastic my tits look in that picture.

But that pic makes me look a bit like a prawn (nice body, shame about the head).

I find my blog persona to be similar to what I am in real life. But its more raw and honest than I am in real life. I don't tell everybody about most of the shit that I've been through. It takes quite a while to find out about even half of the stuff that I've blogged. I think putting it all out there on the blog isn't quite real. I'm removed from the reactions and the awkwardness that usually comes with revealing stuff like that. People who read my blog do get to know the real me much better than those I know in real life.

Anonymous said...

Phishez that's interesting. It's a cliche that it's easier to bare your soul to strangers but it's true - blogging sometimes doesn't feel real because you aren't sitting across from another person and can't see their reaction.

The danger for me is that my rants and raves are definitely tracked back to me!

Anonymous said...

You're right, CBI - comments CAN help... but that's only if the person commenting is willing to share. Sometimes, with a casual comment, like a compliment, one can still hide...:-) With opinions, it's a little different; then you start to see more...just a little more...:-)

Anonymous said...

Mutley the Dog looks a lot like Two-Face from Batman.

And, really, he'll get himself arrested walking about like that.

Anonymous said...

There aren't too many people take care of the spiritual side of their cahracter. You do and it comes out in your visions, Crushed.

Anonymous said...

That's probably true that you know people more intimately on a blog than in real life, in the flesh the topics of bloggers choice would maybe not come up...ever!

Anonymous said...

Crashie- Often not, because we have a very subjective opinion of ourselves.
The superficial and transient nature of modern life means that many people do not have people who can be honest with them and tell them strengths and their faults because they do really know them and care for them.

But I can name a few people I know who could no longer surprise me if they tried, and vice versa.
To me, that's priceless.

Ed- Blogs evolve, this one certainly has. These days, I pretty much write it exactly as I would say it, but I know what you mean- I didn't when I started so much. But the bloggosphere is evolving along with us.
I have run a couple of posts which worried me a little, because of their contentious nature, but its the ability to discuss and comment that makes this different.
You can say WHY you agree or disagree and that's the difference.
If you really feel something strongly, post it.
That's the beauty!

Phish- I actually think you look quite pretty in this picture. That's why I chose it.
You put a lot of yourself into your blog and it comes through, we see the real you and that makes it interesting.
I do often rehash some of the more intense conversations I have parties and turn them into posts.

Eve- Touche. I shall bear that in mind :)
You don't want to see too much, in some cases...

David- Don't worry. Everyone in Blogpower takes a turn to walk him.

Lord SB- Thanks, though I'm not sure that's always true.
I do believe however, that God gave us both reason and conscience.
I believe that both always ultimately lead to truth, though our imperfect perception can sometimes see them as opposed.
I have the somewhat crazy idea that Christ wasn't just talking about the next life, that he was talking about a new way for man to live in this life, and that if we lived like that, then all the Utopias we are told can't work due to human nature, would work perfectly.
Thanks for the kind words!

Jenny- This is true. Let's face it, how many of the conversations you have with work colleagues are even half interesting.

Anonymous said...

i'm interested in jj's article. my blogdentity is very much the real time me such that my mood and thoughts can be captured by a snapshot post... much like a journal. it's also possible to formulate others' personas by their posts and comments. i find it funny that most of the time i don't even read the "more about me" sections. btw, my storm trooper suit is accepted here in nyc at all pubs.

Anonymous said...

I didn't share my train boner with ANYONE at work!

Anonymous said...

Oh dear! I am too late - you have moved on.. I was planning an exciting and searing, self revelatory
essay on the nature of the internet and of adopted personas - but there will always be another chance... Thats Blogging!!

Anonymous said...

This was a very entertaining post... I like your descriptions here. It's funny that you think in these terms, because I do too-- I think we can't help but form mental pictures or preconceived notions after awhile. I wonder how closely they fit our actual personalities.

On my post you commented that most people who know you wouldn't guess you were a blogger. I think it's safe to say the same is true of me... although it seems as though you're more careful about it than I am.

Now I'm tempted to run down the street shouting "Crushed!" and see if I get lucky. More likely I'd get arrested and deported. LOL.

Anonymous said...

Raffi- There's a lot you can tell, without it needing to be stated directly. When you think about it, the gender of a blogger should not be immediately apparent, yet we easily make such a judgement without too much thought- surprisingly easily and usually rightly.
I think we often get close, but we are all bound to form complete misconceptions too.

Storm trooper suits were banned in pubs here July 1st, along with smoking. Nanny state, I know.

Jenny- Thats a shame. They'd have loved the story.

Mutley- Comments threads last as long as they stay on the page, feel free to share your story.
Is it about the unmasking of Electro-Kevin as Gordon Brown?

Ruthie- I think we might find ourselves puzzled initially. Maybe at first glance, somebody might appear very different.
And then maybe ten minutes into conversation, you'd recognise a smile, a turn of phrase, a gesture, that maybe you'd imagined them to have.
I suppose you could try and see what happens.
Of course, its less likely to work if the street in question is on the western side of the pond...

Anonymous said...

Very interesting thoughts, Crushed, I've wondered about people's real persona as well. I think the people one chooses to read and be read by would have much to talk about, but the tone and volume would be totally different in the real world.

By the way, I did see two Storm Troopers walk into a bar in Houston, Texas one time (that sounds like a joke), so Raffi probably would not be that out of place in a pub.