Guest Post: “Community cannot long feed on itself, it can only flourish with the coming of others from beyond: their unknown and undiscovered sisters and brothers.”

13 Jan

I realize, more and more, that the internet is a bad place.  I don’t
mean with respect to child molesters and spammers, I mean with respect
to it offers little in the way of reality.  People, more and more, are
turning to places like their blogs, facebook, twitter, and expecting
it to be a perfect replacement for reality.  You know, the reality
where we meet friends at coffee shops, hang with neighbors at picnics,
go out to dinner with our spouse or nice date?

Why am I so angry when I don’t get above a certain threshold of email
messages or comments on facebook?  Why is it normal that my husband
and I come home from a long day at work and sit in front of our
respective computers without talking?  Where has the sense of
community gone in our lives?

The traditional “community” of family, friends, neighbors is gone.
Sure, we still have these people in our lives, but things are nothing
like the 1950s June Cleaver-esque ideal.  Families don’t all live and
die in the same town that they grew up in.  We don’t have
grandparents, cousins, aunts or uncles right down the block.  If we’re
lucky, we live in the same region.

The truth is, though, as humans, we’re animals.  We haven’t changed
much in the last 10,000 years.  We used to rely on our evolved way of
living, with our community that supported and nurtured each person.
No one really fell through the cracks unless they were dead weight.
That’s how we evolved and hopefully still are evolving.  As a result,
we’re not comfortable being in isolation.  People who are neglected
and isolated have bad things happen to them because that’s just not
how people are supposed to be.  So, instead of being lonely and
isolated, which is the way culture and technology are trying to push
us – longer hours at the office, a hellish commute, suburbs – we
desperately need to feel part of something.  We reach out across the
internet to friends on other sides of the continent, in different
countries, to try to reach a common thread and build a friendship.
For some of us, this is pretty cool and it works.

Unfortunately, some folks who would normally be socially isolated
start to act out in this new community.  Kate’s blog was hijacked.
Dutch’s photos were swiped.  Thordora’s privacy was invaded.  I hear
more and more about people doing strange things.  I don’t know if it’s
because they’re missing a few tacos from their combo platter or if
they’re just desperate for the attention.  I suspect, for most people,
bad – even nasty – behavior on the internet is the result of
loneliness.  If they could just make themselves felt in the real world,
even if that real world is in another country and they’ve never met
you before or even sent you email, well, then to them it’s like

As for the ethics of it all, it’s not like the real world where, when
you see someone being mugged you’re actually seeing them being mugged!
 No one is who they appear to be on the internet.  It’s like House
always says, “Everybody Lies”.  It’s especially true in internet land.
 I would argue that, for all of the people who commented on your
tweet, there were many times more people who said to themselves,
“Whatever.  She’s anonymous, I’m anonymous.”  There isn’t anything
wrong with it.  It’s necessary for us to block these things lest we
become consumed with the misery of the world.  Again, we’re human and
we’ve evolved.  Right?

Guest post by my good friend, Miss Pudding. (mmmmm pudding….)

11 Responses to “Guest Post: “Community cannot long feed on itself, it can only flourish with the coming of others from beyond: their unknown and undiscovered sisters and brothers.””

  1. cj January 13, 2009 at 9:57 am #

    The thing is, this isn’t a diary with a lock and key that you keep under your bed, safe in the knowledge that you can vent about anything you want without anyone else reading it. You’re posting on a public domain and everyone from Bill Clinton to 10-year-old kids are beginning to understand that anything posted or sent on the internet can affect things like jobs and relationships.
    However, as a blogger myself, I understand the appeal. It isn’t merely some exhibitionist hobby for most of us; it’s a chance to reach out in a cold and lonely world to find some like-minded people who might understand us.
    I think we all have to be very careful with the internet, which is unfortunate because we’re just putting up more masks and barriers and eventually, if it continues this way, the internet will have nothing of substance to it.

  2. Cee January 13, 2009 at 10:17 am #

    Miss Pudding – I totally agree with you fine “Guest Post” – some of what I read is a fantasy land of make-believe, I say this of the people I know personally, not of others.

    Oh well, maybe their ego needs it or something akin to that. The internet has become the television diversion of the 2,000 +.

  3. bromac January 13, 2009 at 11:46 am #

    This lack of community is only getting worse with succeeding generations. As a high school teacher, I see the next generation with diarrhea of the mouth. There is so much quick communication available that they don’t even think before the act/speak anymore. They just do/say whatever comes to mind.

    And the communities of actual people and friends is quickly disappearing, very quickly. Maybe it’s regional, maybe it’s generational, but when I was a child you smiled or waved at people you passed. I wave to people in my neighborhood and get ugly or confused looks.

    It is a very sad state of our society. Good post and good points.

  4. Betsey January 13, 2009 at 12:37 pm #

    The nastiness of the human experience will find its way anywhere, the internet is no exception.

    Like running into them in a dark alley, the internet is chock full of its own dark alleys.

  5. misspudding January 13, 2009 at 1:11 pm #

    I don’t know, Betsey. I think the nastiness of the human experience is much worse on ye internets, as there is almost total anonymity.

    I used to post at fark A LOT when I was in college. Some of the vitriol on there was astounding. People would just say nasty things to get a rise out of people.

    As for me, I’m really sad about that missing sense of community in my life. I live over 1,000 miles from where I grew up and where both my husband’s and my family still live. Now that I’m unemployed, that sense of loneliness is far worse, even though I still have great friends who check up on me and send me messages. I think facebook, though the intention is wonderful, makes it worse. You never have to make a phone call or actually show your face when talking to your friends in other parts of the world. I don’t even seen my girlfriend who lives down the street!

    I think we all need to lighten up a little and get our asses off of the couch and away from the computer. Myself included…

  6. Cee January 13, 2009 at 1:26 pm #

    Well what really gets me is that I ask how my Granchildren are doing and I am directed to a blog, not sent photos by e-mail, not with a phone call – all of life is now updated on the blog. Ick!

    Loneliness is a sad fact of life – learning to live with oneself and then be creative is a task to master. I visit restaurants, coffee shops, stores, parks, anyplace where people are so I can listen to real conversation and learn to write like real people talk.

    It is worse now that I am divorced, but I have my dogs and I volunteer a lot – so that helps. But living alone has its rewards too – I know the young, when I was young and my children had a group of friends – camping, surfing, skiing, it was so much fun. But things have changed, life is more expensive, and then friends work and are tired and have families…….

    So one learns to be alone but not all the time……

  7. Gabriel... January 13, 2009 at 2:53 pm #

    There seems to be a general misunderstanding of what happened to Thordora… she, at no time, ever said anything about harming her children.

    Seeing someone being mugged in the “real world” could just be two people playing. There are ways both on and off line to make sure what you’re seeing is authentic. The people who called the cops on Thor were told by a Twitter staff member the comment Thor made was sarcasm, but they continued to push the issue.

    Their zeal had nothing to do with anything other than their almost addictive desire to have something to tweet about.

    If you see someone “off line” you believe is being mugged or attacked you yell, you ask if everything’s alright, you pull out your cellphone and warn them you’re calling the police.

    If you’re told they’re just screwing around… you remain suspicious and on the look out for anymore bizarre behaviour, but you back down and take a second look at what’s going on. Maybe you make note of their descriptions. You don’t call the SWAT team.

    The people who tweeted the police on Thor believed they were the only people who could make a difference, and completely ignored any common sense they might have, the warnings from Twitter and from the Twitter community. And that delusional power comes from their total lack of understanding of what the Internet really is, and what can happen on it.

    The Internet is, for people who are new to it, a place to bring all of the fantasies of who we are in the real world but can never be because we’re too… something. When we first get online we adopt a caricature of ourselves, we’re more aggressive, we don’t have to care about what other people think of us, we can be the ultimate mother, we can lie about our education, we can pretend to be more than who we are.

    We can be the Trolls which, in the real world, would get us beaten or shunned. We can steal, lie, cheat, break, murder and even get kids to commit suicide.

    I don’t think it was loneliness which drove the people to call the police on Thor. I think it was being part of a shallow, thoughtless community like Twitter where every random out-of-context thirty-word statement is meant to be interpreted as a universal declaration of absolute truth about who you are in that moment.

    Thor said nothing wrong, and nothing which hasn’t already been said a million times on Twitter and elsewhere.

  8. bromac January 13, 2009 at 3:11 pm #

    Well Said Gabriel!

  9. Cee January 13, 2009 at 3:15 pm #

    The problem, as I see it with blogging or twitter, is that one doesn’t hear the tone of voice, evidently this person pushing it had some issues, but tone of voice is so important. I was speaking to an acquaintance on the phone – she said – I want to choke all of them, being her kids since they kept interrupting our conversation and she was yelling, I’m on the phone, in her heavy New York accent, that I adore, by the way.

    I said, go ahead and choke them just don’t kill them. She laughed. Of course we both knew it was just in fun…….

    I can hardly imagine having the cops show up to check on me or my house – I wouldn’t let them in without a warrant or they’d have to break down the door – but I just hate that type of thing……I guess they’d break down my door and arrest me for thwarting justice or something like that.

    But hearing about this is a good lesson for me – I certainly won’t be ranting about fiddling with a gun and entertaining suicidal urges or the desire to teach someone a lesson they will never forget…….someone might think I am serious when it is just blowing off steam! Yikes.

  10. Gabriel... January 13, 2009 at 3:45 pm #

    “The problem, as I see it with blogging or twitter, is that one doesn’t hear the tone of voice…”

    Sorry, but this is exactly what I meant when I wrote:

    “And that delusional power comes from their total lack of understanding of what the Internet really is, and what can happen on it.”

    It takes people a little time to understand that what we read on the Internet — blogs and tweets — is interpreted entirely through our own experience. We don’t get to see the person writing the tweets, we don’t get to hear the tone in their voice, and that means backing off and understanding there are real people behind those words and not just the fantasies we build up of “them” in our heads.

    The people who called the cops on Thor are the same people who sued Frank Zappa to death, who bankrupted the Dead Kennedy’s and wanted to hold Ozzy responsible for some kids suicide.

    To function as a human being on the Internet takes an incredible amount of empathy, which is something we have to bring with us to the Internet. It is something we can grow given time and our experiences, but if we don’t already have it then the Internet becomes just a big ass mirror.

  11. misspudding January 14, 2009 at 7:00 pm #

    I had a boss who said, “If you have any sensitive information to discuss, do NOT do it over email. Make a phone call, take the time to send an actual letter, but not email. You cannot convey tone over email.”

    Of course, we were in environmental due diligence, and anything you remotely convey over email can be used against you in court, but there are similarities.

    This is so true in this case. You guys are very right in that respect.

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