Excuse me, do I know you?

It’s a question that comes up for me more and more often as I move into an independent online life. I haven’t yet crossed the threshhold of more virtual friends than physical world friends, and I imagine that in terms of readership, my quiet table doesn’t really have many seats, the kitchen relatively free of lurkers except when it comes to the stuffed mushrooms in the oven. You can have my portion.

But as the blogosphere is rife with opinion, one might be tempted to consistently associate the passionate expression of it with identity. There are no doubt many sincere, earnestly opinionated people who write from the heart, or write as the person they might want to be (I’m reminded of the warning from Natalie Goldberg‘s seminal book on writing, “Never write to seduce” and think it’s as relevant to oneself as to others). And as we read them, we might think we know what they are thinking, and that we can then say we know them.

But the truth of the matter is we probably don’t. I think about the conversation I had with a family member about the excitement of new technologies. He noted how children from my generation managed the multitasking phenomenon as a generation thanks to TV, and now how widespread Internet presence, the systems and devices built on top and through it make it possible for unprecedented levels of data to be available. I pointed out to him that there was only one problem – that the speed at which all of these devices and systems had appeared and evolved was far beyond that of our own social systems, our mores, the things that still mattered when we tried to communicate with one another. We still need to talk and listen. We struggle to know each other.

Some of us don’t really want to know others, as we don’t see how it serves our purposes. We want to be known and seen, and we’ll provoke anyone to get that level of attention. In those instances, there can’t be enough struggle. And this is where the some parts of the blogosphere reminds me more of the first web pages, or worse, of talk radio. It ends up being more about broadcast than conversation, even in a format made for interchange. Blogging does not oblige you to be rude, anymore than it obliges you to be a good writer. (If only the latter were the case – then my posts would be whittled down to about 3.)

But for those of us who want to know each other, actually getting there takes more than a twitter.  Let’s try in 2008 to do just that. Lurkers, leave more than a page count. You’ll be rewarded with cookies, and not the Montulli variety.

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1 Comment

Filed under atoms v. bits, blogosphere, communication, intimacy, people, privacy, Talk Radio, Web privacy

One response to “Excuse me, do I know you?

  1. I’ve been lurking here for about a month, I guess. Do you know me? Well, the last time we met was quite a while ago, at the debutante’s wedding in Providence, where I remember you seeing me and my then-fiancee (now wife) approaching the church and you said, “Ralph, what are you doing here?” I think I replied that I had heard there was a wedding happening or something.

    Does that mean we know each other? Well, kinda, I guess. Not well, and not recently, but at least in person, in “real life”. Geography’s funny that way. I’ve long shared your frustrations with blogging as a way to make connections; they seem unsubstantial in most cases. Something about the medium that doesn’t lend itself to conversation. I think I’ve made more and better friendships by and large over IM and IRC than blogs. Even e-mail seems better suited to getting to really know other people better. So part of it’s the medium. The other part I think is just getting older and more entrenched in the day-to-day. I know I don’t have the time to do stuff online that I had 20 years ago when I was spending so much of my then-bountiful free time on Usenet and such, and I don’t even have a kid. That’s the other thing that getting to know other people requires is time. Time and conversation.

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