Monday 4 February 2008

Our Brave New Connections- How Do we Relate Here?

It is a brave new world.
Millions of people who have never met, yet know eachother.

Or do they?

It is a strange new world.
Millions of people peering at the thoughts of others by candlight in a hall of mirrors.

There is danger at the centre of the maze.

Real danger.
We veer from extremes.

Why do we come here?
A multitude of reasons, I guess. To set up our soapbox and proclaim to the world, to rant on what frustrates us, to say somewhere the things we'd never say audibly in the great world out there, to reach out and feel we are not alone in the things we think, the way we feel.
And we are answered.

But by whom?
There is a tendancy to forget. There is Real Life, and there is the internet. And it's good to maintain that boundary for reasons that I shall explain.

But this isn't virtual reality- we forget that sometimes. This isn't a game of Final Fantasy. When you strike out at someone, when you leave a nasty comment at their blog, you are not winning a game on a playstation. It is not just you that is real, and the other party a feature of the game.

Somewhere in the world a real human being reads that comment and winces.

Just because you have never seen their face doesn't make them and their beliefs a target for you to obliterate. They exist, they live, they were born, they had a whole life you know very little about and they come online for reasons that are theirs.

And when we attack others personally, how can we? Do we know them personally? We know their blogs.
Do I know JRR Tolkien personally? Do I know Sir Thomas Malory personally?

I know their writings inside out. I have read JRRT's biography and his letters. I do not know the man. He died before I was born.

But then, we have the other side. And it IS a good side. It IS one of the benefits of being here, if we use it wisely and don't get misled.
The main reason we come here is to blog.
But that creates a new type of contact, a new type of friend, in our brave- but-strange- new world.

Because we DO read blogs and see the people behind them. And sometimes, when we read everyday, we do get to know these people in a way, perhaps, even their closest friends don't.
Of course, we don't know them like their friends do. We don't ever see them in context.
We don't see them with their friends in a place they would feel comfortable. We don't see them in their happy places- or their sad ones.

But we read the things that maybe they would never dare tell anyone if they were not protected by anonymity.
The blogosphere is a place we come to feed our souls.
We come to let our souls out of confinement, to let our hidden selves out to play.

And it's a powerful release.

And it's inevitable, I suppose that when we meet what we see as kindred spirits, we will make contact.

But what does that contact mean?

Now that is the issue.

Unless you fully appreciate the dynamics of the situation, it is dangerous. It's not something you can grasp at first. You cannot grasp it, because you haven't understood what YOU are doing.

This is not just your soapbox. It is your confession box. It is a private little world you come into and leave your real identity, like a coat, in the cloakroom outside, to put back on when you log off.

And that can be a good thing, as long as you don't ruin it.

You like these people AS THEY ARE.

That's the beauty of it. In here, in the blogosphere, we like the dancing souls frolicking in the cybersun.

And I suppose it's natural for us to form brave, new, friendships. But we should never forget the underlying dynamic of them.

The key point, is that you'll never meet. The key point, is that they know you in a way people in your real life do not. They are friends of a side of your life.

And that makes sense. It is something very special.

The danger comes when fantasy steps in. The internet is NOT a place to find people for your REAL LIFE. Yes, I think the versions of ourselves we present here are often more us, than the us that our work colleagues see, that our families see, that maybe even our friends see.
But the point is, the real world, is a world where we must wear that real world coat, maybe our whole lives are lived behind barriers, but nevertheless, that's where we live.

We are like the Pevensey children, except we come to Narnia when we want.

But however much we love Aslan and Prince Caspian, they do not live in our world.

How many of you want to dicuss the finer points of flow wrapping?

How many of you choose to drink in a working man's pub, where going out for a fag means avoiding being blinded by a dart, where the language is fairly coarse and the girls are certainly not ladylike?

Would you really want to come to the sort of parties I go to?

Some of you would no doubt like that. Many wouldn't.
The fact is, many of us have shared thoughts a hell of a lot more than we would have done in real life. We have formed deep, personal, and possibly lasting connections with people that, if we actually saw them and didn't know who they were, we would dismiss as 'not our types'

Because back out there, THEY AREN'T.


It's that boundary makes it possible. Take Electro-Kevin. He's an ex-policeman. He lives in Devon.
He's not the sort of person you get in my local. Cheap fags, yes. DVDs off the back of a lorry, yes. Respectable people, VERY RARELY.

It's special. There is one blogger I kind of regard as an older female relative. She offers me wise advice, which I feel compelled to listen to. In a sense, I trust her judgement and advice in a way I wouldn't if it was my Mum. If my Mum tries to say anything to me at all in which I am the subject of the sentence, she is likely to get an answer along the lines of 'That's my business though, ain't it. Stay out of it.'

In a sense, it is a hall of mirrors, it is a veil of shadows, but as long as you are sensible, there are rich prizes to be won, real diamonds of human beings nestling in the dark.

And that's the beauty. You can have not only blogfriends, but blogfamily (Yes, hello Phish!).
And those can be meaningful in a special way. Special, because the connection is with that other you, the you that never appears in the flesh.

There is one particular internet friendship that has become very important to me, it has become a major part of my life. I suppose I have opened up to that person privately in a way I don't to hardly anyone in that cold world out there. I know them through their blog and they know me through mine, but they also know how I feel privately every day, they know mundane details about my life, my friends, everything. There's nothing I do really, that I don't tell them about.

I actually said to them recently that I really had no idea why it was I could talk to them in a way I never would be able to talk to a woman in real life.

She showed in their answer why it is that I trust her so much- because, as she pointed out, she is (X distance) away. She can never threaten the calm, planned, settled world I have built around me in real life. I don't have to guard myself against her. The knowledge that she will never cross into my heavily protected real life, enables me to trust her, confide her, open up to her, in a way that would be impossible were we to know eachother in the flesh.

Her friendship means so much to me, it's difficult to explain. I guess it covers an angle most of my real life friendships don't, that last piece of the puzzle that maybe I'm uncomfortable anyone seeing.
Certainly I'd NEVER let a real life lover that near- in terms of getting inside me.

Being intelligent enough to realise that it is a beautiful friendship and it is beautiful because of what it is, is crucial, I think. Of course there's a huge temptation to wonder what the other person's voice sounds like, what their eyes look like, the sound of their laugh, to know how the two of you would get on sitting in the pub chatting.

But isn't it dangerous to start thinking like that?
The actual evidence, if you look at it, tells a tale.

If you met this person in real life, you'd revert to your real life behaviour, barriers fully up. In fact, you'd be doubly wary, because you'd feel exposed. There, in front of you, would be someone who knew the depths of your soul, something no mortal human being you come into contact with is ever supposed to see, unless they have spent ten long years earning your trust.

It's a paradox, because you really feel this person to be amongst your top ten closest contacts in the world.
Yet maybe that can only be so whilst that contact remains in cyberspace.

Yet the devil still sits on your shoulder telling you otherwise.

And so, like Digory in The Magician's Nephew (God, we have a Narnia theme going tonight), you see the words;

Strike the bell, O curious stranger,
strike the bell and bide the danger,
or wonder till it drives you mad,
what would have happened if you had.

But Digory awoke the White Witch and- well, read the books if you haven't already. I loved them when I was a kid. Still do, I guess, though these days I prefer his adult trilogy, begining with Out of the Silent Planet.

I wouldn't lose the friendship of this person for the world. She brightens up every day just by being part of it. And that in itself is a huge treasure to me.

She made my Christmas Day.

But are not internet friendships like fossilised insects in amber- expose them to the air, they dissolve like dust?

True friends are priceless wherever you find them, and they are worth keeping.

This friendship means a lot to me, even if it is in cyberspace, even if it is a friendship precisely BECAUSE it is in cyberspace.

I think it's important to think about these things.

It's a great thing the internet, it's a wonderful world, the blogosphere.
But people get hurt (don't I know it), and I'm very careful indeed now.
I've learned you have to put a lot more thought into how you act and react in this brave new world.

Because it really is a whole new ball game and we're all absolute beginners.


Anonymous said...

We are absolute beginner at this, aren't we?
I just witnessed another blog war of words this past week, and it was ugly and cruel, leaving me wondering how such things would play out in real life.

However, it can also do wonders, even when you've been burned, like you obviously have. Because it seems like it has been amazing for your to let this person you speak of in, even if the walls haven't yet (if they ever will) fallen.

Anonymous said...

I've been pondering these very issues ever since I began blogging, almost two years ago. I've come to see it as a very real type of community that is much the same, and much different than the ones where we live.

One of the things that first interested me in that aspect was when I accidentally stumbled upon a fairly interesting community of bloggers who participate in something called HNT. Over the course of two years, there have been numerous legal and medical problems, and a death, which caused people to respond in a very community-like way (sending of money, going to visit, etc.).

I've actually met some of the people I first came across in cyberspace, and am now close to one who lives nearby. Our relationship in the non-cyber world isn't really any different than that in our cyberworld. Of course, I haven't met everyone, so I might say something different when I meet more.

It's curious. For the obvious reasons, there seems to be an "unrealness" about this space. I'm not so sure that it is unreal so much as it is different. As you said about trolls, for example, no one (in his right mind) would insult another person in the flesh nearly as easily. Then again, they might have the same same ascerbic thoughts in mind, and might face a similar sort of rejection by people in both worlds.

Strange concept, isn't it?

Anonymous said...

Sometimes I feel like a voyeur out in cyberspace reading other people's blogs. Especially when I am pretty reserved in my own blog.

I am amazed at the things people say on blogs, such personal things that I am sure they would never tell their friends. But perhaps there is value in that, for there is somewhere that they can let them out and not be judged, well hopefully not. If your reader doesn't want to hear something they pass on by, but if you tell your friends in RL that thing, you worry that they may think less of you.

I don't think anyone in RL can understand these strong bonds we form in cyberspace and frankly I don't understand it myself sometimes.

When I did arrange to meet a blogger in RL I was so worried that we wouldn't connect. Thankfully we did.

But in another way I would love to meet all the people I've formed online friendships with. Somehow they do seem like real friends.

But they are not, as we sometimes find to our sorrow. They can disappear in a flash as our RL friends do not. It can all be an illusion so we must always be aware of that.

We come to let our souls out of confinement, to let our hidden selves out to play.

I think I'm on the sidelines in this idea, watching the others play.

Anonymous said...

I think the world can be a cold place and anytime we can form alliances with anyone who has our best interest at heart, then we are the winners.

Anonymous said...

There is one particular internet friendship that has become very important to me, it has become a major part of my life.e

I thought you were talking about my Blog when I read this Mr Ingsoc...

Anonymous said...

Princess P- I think a huge problem has been the ones who graduated from chatroom to blogging. A few don't get the rules. There has to be certain professionalism to blogging.
When I say professional, I don't mean professional, as in, stuffy, I mean professional as I understand it.

There is very little taboo in my line of work, except the golden rule. It's not personal.

Yes, it has been very positive. Life affirming, even. We are still finding our feet, I think. The dust is settling.
It has been a communication revolution, and like with all revolutions, it takes time to normalise.

I think we are still thrashing out our codes of etiquette here, of what is and is not acceptable and how we protect the boundary betwen blogging an real life.

But we need to consider how we do that- in the simpe interests of protecting people's right to blog without real life affecting it- and vice versa.

jmb- I think it's more than just being able to say stuff you can't tell your friends. My closest friend knows everything there is to know about me. It's being able to show the true you to a world which accepts. You wouldn't want your real name associated with all of it.

My friends have mixed views on it. Bottom line is, as long as it doesn't affect them, they don't mind. But potentially, of course, it could, and we have already had a situation in which it no longer became my business alone.

It would be interesting to see how people would react at a global bloggers convention :)
Would we recognise who was who?
Would you mistake me for, say Matt Murrell?

Alexys- That's always true.
And the most important point is 'best interests at heart'
As opposed to what they want your interests to be.

Mutley- Why, of couse you are a key blogging friend!
Anyone who has had to put up with my drunken ranting deserves a medal :)

Anonymous said...

Well you deserved a better reply than I did so here is another one. I started to interact with previously complete strangers on the net via blogs I found amusing, witty or clever or better still all three. I viewed them much the same as reading an interesting article or piece of humour in a magazine or newspaper. I had no inkling that some kind of strange anonymous relationship would be created by this. In some cases there are people I exchange words with almost everyday on blogger who I have no idea who they really are, nor what they are really like. So to speak. That is one level of relationship in blogging.

I don't share your absolute rejection of making real life friends here though. I have spoken on the phone and met with people via blogging who have turned out be exactly or pretty similar to what they say on their blogs. They dont use their writing in the way you say, rather it really does reflect their day to day existence and opinions. I also exchange emails and chat with bloggers, and its not a problem. MTD is a persona which I use to laugh at the ups and downs or triumphs and tragedies of my life. Sometimes is greatly exaggerated and sometimes it is just making fun of my own hang ups and naivety. Its not a confessional for me and if you went out for a beer with me you would find that I often actually talk like that - mocking things by exaggeration, sniggering at silly jokes and innocent humour, hopelessly shy and ineffectual in my personal life - but not really that bothered and so on.

So be brave Mr I, you can get to know some blogger friends in real life without a problem...

Anonymous said...

I find it much easier in blog world because kindred spirits gravitate to one another quite naturally regardless of class or physicality.

People who take the trouble to read other people's thoughts are generally kind and generous by nature. Those that aren't are found out pretty quickly.

I expect that everyone I have a virtual connection with is exactly as they are in Real Life.

I wouldn't care that people didn't look the same as I've pictured them. If anything my worry is that I wouldn't meet up to their expectations at a gathering. But I've been as honest as I can about myself in blogworld and I'd be willing to take chances.

Blogging is actually a very spiritual thing where we meet disembodied and on equal terms. Almost like I'd imagine Heaven to be really.

Anonymous said...

I read this post after the previous one. Now I see...! You were thinking of Narnia too! Yes, I read them all as a child, too. I find the post slightly disturbing in that I wonder if I should apply it to myself; that a beautiful internet friendship should be kept as such.... it would be so much easier and less complicated.... ah well... will have to sleep on it *and then just leave the thoughts for another day, and let it all just play out*

Anonymous said...

Mutley- I agree in a sense, I've not met one in the flesh but- well, as you know, not good, pain in the arse, once bitten twice shy and all that.

It's letting someone in via the back door that worries me. You all know things about me RL people are not SUPPOSED to know.

There are certain bloggers, as I've said, I do think about meeting. But the thing is, I let them in, because there was still a barrier there.

E-K- I think you'd be fun to go for a beer with.
I am pretty much the same, except I am a lot coarser and more vulgar in the flesh. I'm really not very posh.

Eve- I think you can possibly see what worries me.
I find that one of the valuable things about blogging is you really can unburden yourself to people, because of the fact they are far away. But you can become very fond of them, they become part of your life.

So, which is the best Narnia book? My vote goes to the Silver Chair...

Anonymous said...

Hmm... the ones I tend to reread are the Magician's Nephew and The Horse & His Boy; but I think that's more because there are horses involved there than because they're the best...