The Company of Strangers

It is an almost perfect spring day, sunshine, cloudless blue sky and twenty two degrees Celsius ahead. Today I shall venture out into the world.

I realised yesterday that I have not been out of doors for over ten days. It is not as if I have felt isolated. The world comes in with the people who pass through this house, as well as through the Internet, through the telephone and through blogging.

This sedentary life becomes seductive. There is a cosiness to my place on the couch under the bay window, a safety in seclusion.

In my dreams I am mobile. In my dreams both my legs work. My unconscious may not yet have caught up with my physical state. In my dreams I drive cars, I carry babies, I run. But dreams as we know, are symbolic representations of states of mind that go on underneath, and that I can still walk in my dreams does not really mean my unconscious has not registered this event because there are so many other hints in my dreams – car accidents and falling – that I am sure I am working on getting over my leg, not just physically, but also in my psyche.

Eryl, has written a wonderful post on her tendency to write the word ‘love’ in reference to other people’s blog posts when in search of a suitable verb that honours her reading. Troubled by her use of cliché, she wonders about the meaning of this. The all too easy throw away lines: I love your poem, I love your painting, I love this post, this blog, as if to say I want you to know I was here, but I cannot be bothered, or do not have the time to reflect longer and find a more meaningful word to offer. Elizabeth, on the other hand, has written about the trolls who periodically invade her blog and send her messages of hate.

Much of this has to do with the nature of the Internet. Norman Holland has called it the Internet Regression, our tendencies, when locked away on our computers, to engage with the outside world in less well-defended ways than we might otherwise employ.

When I first started to blog I found myself anxious, frightened of what I might say in comments on other people’s blogs, and frightened of giving offence or of wording things in such a way as to be misinterpreted. There are no spaces for eye contact or for opportunities to scan the other person’s facial expression in the blogosphere. There are no opportunities for establishing through body language whether the person speaking is serious or joking, whether we must listen attentively or only lightly.

The only way we can understand the anger or the sadness the joy or the pain is through the words and images and words are clumsy beasts, while images are open to interpretation. Words and images do not always travel well from one person to another.

Lost in translation from the person through the computer and into and through the eyes and ears to the heart and mind of another. Norman Holland writes about Internet regression as a fact of life. There are three ‘symptoms’ to which he refers, the first is ‘flaming’, namely the typewritten rage that people can sometimes fly into ‘at some perceived slight or blunder’ akin to road rage. The second refers to a sort of sexual harassment, unwanted advances on line. Not only do men proposition women but women sometimes turn their unwanted advances on men. Finally, there is the extraordinary generosity that can blossom on line.

Holland ascribes these tendencies to the heightened vulnerability and openness we feel on line. The positives and the negatives of Internet life, in light of love and hate, generosity and aggression, stir up a type of disinhibition – a lack of restraint about social conventions. The computer, itself a machine is like a ‘phallic’ object that takes on addictive qualities. Our trust in our computer can lead to a certain confidence in opening up, a bit like the trust we might feel when driving around in our cars, safe and cocooned, shielded from the rest of the world.

The machine becomes our ‘as if’ partner, almost a sexual object. And we talk to it. When we write on our blogs we consider we are talking to our fellow bloggers. We love the sense of freedom the blogosphere offers, with its eradication of conventional status and the ostensible absence of class difference.

The ones most vulnerable are the ‘newbies’, the ones who first start to blog. Those who have blogged for some time acquire the stagger and arrogance of older siblings, and people refer to one another as friends or almost family.

There are no footnotes in the blogosphere. This is freedom. Also the blogosphere welcomes opinion pieces, the more personal the better. People talk about other people and their ideas all the time, but they are also free to offer their own opinions without apology, though often apologies take the form of a certain level of humility.

I often feel the need to qualify my statements, to recognise a multiplicity of views, but even the bigoted get a Guernsey in blogdom, simply because the nature of a blogger’s personality reveals itself over time through his/her posts and this is what we look for, information sure, aesthetic pleasure in art, photography, poetry and prose, but more than anything we look for signs of personality in our fellow bloggers. We look for someone with whom we can relate. We look for that spark of recognition, whether as far as commonalities or differences, something that resonates from which we might gather ideas. We/I look for connection.

Jodi Dean writes that there are three underlying assumptions about blogging, the first that speed is of the essence, and that everything happens without time to think and reflect; the second is that bloggers are narcissistic, self obsessed media junkies who cannot see anything from behind their noses; and the third is that bloggers believe they are pundits, and that they speak with authority to the whole world. She refutes all three.

Most bloggers know that their audience is limited. You can write openly and intimately and no one will read it. Or thousands might. You can never know. The minority of readers make comments and just because someone makes a comment does not mean that what you have written is remarkable, nor does the fact that no one has commented, signify that your post is not remarkable. It is a lottery. The more posts you posts, the more posts you read from others and leave traces of yourself in the form of comments and of the icon that shows you are a follower the more likely you are to attract followers and a readership.

Perhaps more than anything it is my access to the Internet and to blogging in particular that has caused me to feel that rather than staying cooped up alone in the house for hours on end, I have not been alone or in the company of strangers, rather I have enjoyed the company of many dear friends.

Yesterday, I began to worry that I might start to suffer from a vitamin D deficiency for lack of exposure to sunlight. I have resolved therefore to make it my business to go outside into the afternoon sunshine and soak up some of what’s missing.