Friday, February 09, 2007

Whereupon I Express Random Thoughts

How did it happen that I fell for the people who live in my computer? It started simply enough. I read an article in a magazine online, clicked where it said to in order to read comments (like letters to the editor, I assumed) and started making comments myself. After some time I began to appreciate the differences among commenters. I saw similarities too. I had interesting discussions via keyboards.

After playing a version of Survivor with these new cool cyber-kids, I started hanging with them more. It became, in a way, dangerous. These relationships were more real than some of my "meat" ones and often more intense. Yes, yes, people role-play virtually. Over time, however, you see that is not prevalent. To the contrary, people appear truer to some elemental self online. Over time, characters emerge through words and shared stories and poems and giddy "virtual laughter." You recognize people by their writing, no matter what name they carry (unless, honestly, the writing is bland). We are somewhat more emotionally naked in this place, and we bond more quickly.

Maybe, the barriers are often down online precisely because we don't have to see each other in the morning. If I've been a bitch online I don't need to explain it over cofee. If I've been too arrogant, I don't need to meet them at the water cooler or at evaluation time. If I say something about a family member, they won't have an opportunity to approach that person and share that secret conclusion. We are bound simultaneously by an intimate knowledge of one another and the knowledge that our confidences pretty much can't be breached. Anonymity and intimacy. Who'd have thought it.

To me, this is not entirely satisyfing. Much as I adore these relationships, I need physical cues. Not just so I can process better by picking up on the clues you don't online (a headwave, the cast of the eyes, etc.) but because I believe in real social fabric and I think that even the most intense electronic interaction is not as genuine as it should be. We can shop online, watch movies alone, go to Church via cable. We don't engage in a lot of social normative behavior anymore outside of work and school. I crave that kind of real community for some reason. I think the world is better experienced together.

For these reasons, I have attended real life meetings of online personalities. I have never been disappointed by these. People I like online come delightfully to life. It's not that they are all so compelling physically: some people are, some aren't. It's all about the eyes. Intelligence, desire, art, creativity, interest, are all there. I've made some good friends through these meetings and by that I mean friends who exist outside of the box as well as in it.

At one of my last meetings, I met a woman I know as Isonomist. I'd known her virtually as an intelligent, cogent, sensible writer with a wry wit and a playful side. When I met her in person she was like that but moreso: genuinely lovely and charismatic and interesting.

Her 22 year old son died yesterday, a victim of leukemia. Though I followed all of his health issues only online, and I haven't seen her in months, and she was not even one of my "closer" virtual friends, this news has hit me harder than news about people I see more regularly. Why? well, of course it reflects the worst fear of all parents, but I've had people closer to me lose younger children. That was always sad and scary, but this has the acrid smell of devastation about it to me.

Maybe because while her fences were down I got to see so much more than I see in others. It feels so pornographic -- to know that you know someone's vulnerabilities and then watch them exploited. I'm ashamed of how much I think I know it devastated her. I've prayed more emotionally for her than for anyone I know. And I still wonder whether I'm a better or worse person for this. Am I elevating the cyber over the real? Have I at last given in to the notion that the cyber world is superior the meat one? I wish I knew. And I wish most fervently I could have examined the question in other circumstances.


TenaciousK said...

You know, feeling self-conscious is the equivalent of someone standing over your shoulder, catching you in the act of something.

Why should we feel self-conscious about the attachments we form to people here? The attachments are real, and the relationships a gift.

Gifts ill-used by people at times, to be sure, and there's the rub, right? Don't want to leave your heart unguarded, lest someone nefarious sneak in under false pretenses.

But you know that's not the case with Isonomist, and any residual doubt you might have felt must have evaporated on meeting her face-to-face.

I think we get self-conscious about it because we don't know how to explain it to people who aren't involved. But that's ok, RunDeep, because you don't owe anyone any explanations at all. It is what it is.

And what it is today is very sad. What a privilege, to share the tragedy of such amazing people.

A gift so valuable always comes with a hefty price tag, though. Silly to think you could reap the benefit without paying the piper his due - whether in sadness, or betrayal, as you decide to pretend it didn't really matter anyway, and bear the scars of that decision away with you.

WikiFray said...

In real life you get to love people in a number of ways that you can't love them online, so there's that...but I agree with you about the depth of intimacy in online relationships. In a computer-mediated interaction, I don't have a need to protect myself. The distance is built into the medium, so I've no need to manage it. Not having to manage it, things go deeper. I agree with you that we are more emotionally naked here, and that that involves some unanticipated risks. It amazes me that I can get to know people in this medium in a manner that's the opposite of the way I form relationships in real life. In real life, it's the surface stuff first: how they look, how we respond to each other's body language, our compatibility in physical space. Next, it's the details of their lives: where they work, how old they are, kids, hobbies, etc,. Only at some point much later do I get insight into their politics, their romantic histories, their dreams and their hurts. Online, the process happens in reverse.

I don't have kids, so that attachment isn't one with which I'm familliar, yet because I've read Iso's writing about her life, I find myself vividly imagining what she's going through now. I'm worried about her. Maybe it's because I saw what happened to my grandmother after my dad died at 48. I hope Iso can find her way through this.

I believe that grief is a kind of insanity, one that everyone including you forgets about shortly after its onset, while it goes on and on, like a dream you don't know you're having and can't find your way out of.

Do we ever get over these losses? I think from now on, I'll try to remember that we're all going to die in a moment or two, and it's merely a matter of the order in which we go. If I focus on our shared journey into the comforting arms of death, the losses might not feel so much like the world splits in two and swallows me. Easy solution to that, of course, is to get out before everyone else.

Thanks for writing this.

Dawn Coyote said...

That last comment was me. Forgot to sign out of the wiki admin.

rundeep said...

Thanks TK and Dawn. You're both right, of course. These are real and valuable relationships (and I count you two very much in that statement). Though Dawn's "final solution" seems a bit rough.

The fact that we can feel such empathy probably means that the online community isn't demeaning to humanity. Unless, of course, we change to the point that we prefer those relationships to the meat ones. Even then, I suppose I could conceive of situations where that would be fine: I certainly like a lot of folks I've met online better than many others I know IRL.

But I'm unwilling to let go of the meat. (My husband is so happy about that, by the way). The most harmonious thing for me, anyway, is attending the hugfests. Not that I'll like everyone. But it helps me align my realities, and keeps me from having to ask the questions I'm asking.

Thanks to both of you for stopping by.

august said...


Mind if I link to you? I'm trying to foster the appearance that I'm part of something bigger than myself.

I'm kind of scared of meeting all of you, because my internet experiences have been/can be rather consuming. Also because interactions of a high degree of intimacy (intellectual and artistic, but also (less intense for me) emotional), and I'm a bit frightened of them -- even as they are they do occasionally interrupt my meat life -- distract me.

I guess I approach my fray life a little differently. You, TK, others in various places have asked (in various contexts) whether the fray is more like a conversation or like writing. To me, it's more like writing -- I find that the interactions can make me write better, make me think better, make me better. I think I'm paraphrasing a post by Ender.

Anyway, I've found the occasional break to be absolutely essential. Also, I try to shift fray modes fairly frequently -- from "month of august" to pfray to blorple and all over the place. One thing that you are particularly skilled at -- "rundeeping" -- I tend to dislike. I don't enjoy giving idiots their comeuppance, however deserved. Much happier on the fray, in fact, when I'm the idiot.

But one thing that fascinates me is that every once in a while someone will say something and text will pour out of me that i had no idea I was holding onto (I think I may have creeped Splendid out on occasion, as she has a better-than-average chance of being the trigger). And now it turns out that your post has done something similar -- it's like I'm a leaky creature, leaving a slime-trail of prose snippets.

Don't get me wrong -- lives are so interesting to me. But I think I'm a bit of a control freak when it comes to the people I really want rattling about in my insides, affecting me. I'm very protective of those relationships, and try not to talk about them much online.

I started off in Poems Fray. That probably also made me more attentive to form and language than to relationships -- only when the place kind of collapsed did I see how important the relationships had been. But I've never been able to shake the sense that the Fray is an enormous poem, a complicated and beautiful thing that will never quite make sense and that is actually quite free, more so than, say, second life.

Anyway, all that by way of a different point of view. We haven't had a good chat lately, thought this was as good a place as any for one.

Archaeopteryx said...

Your post seems a bit like the internal monologue I've been having lately, which Iso's situation has brought to a head. Three times in the past few weeks I've sat at the computer in my office with tears coming out of my eyes after reading a post. This made me extremely angry--I lost a beloved aunt a month or so ago and never cried a tear. What in the world is wrong with me that I could hurt so much for someone that, in the scheme of things, might as well be a character in a novel (a really weird novel, poorly written in a lot places, and completely indecipherable in others)?

On top of that, something that Zeus-boy said on his blog made me feel ashamed for the amount of time I spend on-line, reading and interacting with people I don't know. Is that who I am? A person who lives in an unreal world?

But TK's right. Conversations we have here are real--maybe with better spelling and grammar, but real nonetheless. Zeus-boy says we're not changing the world by blabbing at each other on the internet, but we are changing each other, and that is a gift.

topazz said...
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topazz said...
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twiffer said...

august: come to a meet. damnit.

Keifus said...

What the hell, was it a full moon last week or something? Are we all thinking the same things or what? (Sorry rundeep, I had no idea you were in the habit of updating this thing, or I would have chimed in while I was still in the mood.) Suffice to say, yeah, yup, uh-huh, etc.

I feel more uninhibited in expressing myself here than in regular conversation. (Which is a lot like writing, august. Writing is dangerous shit, I am finding, what with opening all those doors and uncovering all those internal places: dark, light, and forgotten. And I'm finding way too many lonely spots in there, more than I thought.)

But I do think there's something to be said for letting go, going and breathing some air, talking to your family from time to time.

Dawn, I think the opposite business of knowing someone is exactly right. I'm a little hung up that opinion would change on meeting y'all.


rundeep said...

Hey all: august of course you can link. Thanks for being interested in it. And I don't think we all have to approach the Fray with the same model in order to enjoy it. Some days I'm there to blab, some to learn, some to write. The feedback does help you to hone skills.

Keif: no worries, man. Not like I'm really diligent about this. Just random thoughts splattered around. Be well.

maximo said...

you people are nuts.

Isonomist said...

Funny, I came to the Fray pretty much the same way, wandered in by accident and stayed. I don't feel violated by letting you or anyone else see what this is like, I feel that in some sense, teaching what I know about loss is important. I don't know why I feel that way. My father did it for me, my grandfather. They believed that death is a part of life, and important to understand. As important as knowing how to feed your family, how to be a friend, how to build things and tear them down when the time comes. That's not to say I think I have any "answers" on how to be a grieving mother, or grieving daughter or granddaughter. But I know that someone will suddenly realize -- well something about life as they read my words. And it will help both of us, somehow. In ways that talking face to face can't. I mean, the people I pass on the street on my way to work, the ones that notice I am crying-- what can I tell them? But I can tell you all and see from what you say, that you understand. You've allowed a little bit of us into your hearts, and made me better for it. It's a little vicarious, sure, but what you feel is as real as anything else in your heart. I'm glad for you all that you can pull away and go back to your own reality. I envy it right now.

rundeep said...

Iso, thanks so much for visiting and saying that. It's reassuring to think it's a real community, with bilateral relationships, and not just a sick species of ego-reflection. Be as well as you can be -- it's obvious that you are a terrific Mom -- you clearly did well with Jesse during his short time here. I know you don't buy into religious sentiment, but Easter is a time for cautious optimism. I hope that spirit finds you.