Monday, February 16, 2009

Alone, Not Alone

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Someone needs to write something intelligent and insightful about the explosion of cyber-socializing. And when someone does, I have a few half-baked thoughts to add:

What does it mean when you're all alone in your house, just you, your computer and the rain pattering on your roof, but you feel as if you are at a wonderful party -- a party where there are so many people you like that you don't know who to talk to next?

Are we alone or not?
Triumph of Venus by Francesco Cossa, 1470 (Image from
My life has recently exploded with social connections thanks to the internet.


Of course there are all of you, those who read my blog and whose blogs I read. We are all constantly engaged with one another on an intellectual basis, experimenting with rhetoric, and volleying ideas and validation back and forth to one another.

We are enriched by one another's thoughts, ideas, inspiration. Inspired to think and to write. Informed, in some cases, about what is going on in local politics, economics or the community. I deeply value all of that.
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Thanks to my other blog, I keep my parents who live 3,000 miles away informed about the doings of my sons, their grandsons. Or me, their little girl.

And thanks to email, my dad and I have formed a connection that we never had before.

Social Networking Websites

Then on Facebook, I found high school friends and friends from my more carefree youth. Although people have scattered like the winds, some to as far away as England and Japan, we have enjoyed posting old photos and recapturing a bit of the camaraderie of our youth.

This has sparked an array of realizations, for me at least, created some fascinating perspective, and assembled some scattered pieces of myself. Realizations like, for example, it was the guys I paid no attention to in high school who became the awesome husbands and fathers later.

Thanks to MySpace, I found some friends from ancient childhood, adult women I am proud to have reconnected with, fellow mothers of teens (something that is lacking in my "real" life).

Through MySpace also, I have also stayed in touch with all the kids I ever worked with in the elementary school, as they head off into their own teen years and adulthood.

Shrinking Geography
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I've also "met" brand new friends via MySpace, friends with MS, when I do not know one other soul with MS in Humboldt County. The one I write to every day is in Germany. How would we ever have found one another otherwise?

Thanks to the blogosphere and to MySpace, I have found kind intelligent Swedish literary types willing to school me as I fumble around trying to teach myself their language and culture. And thanks to the internet I have a quick if fallible online translator as well as instant access to maps and geographical information.

The Strangest Thing Happened...

Today the strangest thing was going on as I sat on my couch editing stories for the newspaper on my laptop, just me all alone in my house with the only warm body nearby being a big purring black cat. I had all the windows open in Firefox: MySpace, AOL, Facebook, and HSU Webmail.

Suddenly, the cellphone by my side chimes that a text message has arrived, AOL chimes that a new message has arrived, a friend on Facebook sent me an instant message and MSN messenger, which is new to me, signals a conversation starting with my Swedish friend.

Of course, you know what happened. All these things were so compelling that I could barely continue my work. I was laughing out loud (lol-ing) in my own empty living room. I was suffused with pleasure and feeling liked and intellectually stimulated. So was I still alone?

What Does It All Mean?

Once I read a book by Dean Koontz, written before the internet was all the rage, in which the characters' brains grew roots into their computers. Was it called Midnight? Horror only works if it plays upon a deep-seated fear, carrying that fear out to an extreme conclusion (voila, the formula for horror). That's a topic for another post.

Last week in Language Analysis, the students learned about how new words (neologisms) enter the language (coinages, acronyms, initialisms, clipping, compounding, etc.) They were throwing out examples, and I learned something interesting -- interesting in an alarming kind of way: they say L-O-L or even lol.

Instead of actually laughing out loud. Which to me seems so much more satisfying.
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Speaking of satisfying, don't even get me started on the topic of cyber sex.

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Anyway, am I being a Luddite here to worry about some of this just a little bit?

So, am I lonely or am I surrounded by friends?

Carpe Diem et Tempus Fugit

Finally, I will add one more thing to this mish-mash of thoughts: something my intelligent reader Kato, of whom I know nothing except that s/he is smart as a whip, wise and articulate, sent me this quote (and I paraphrase):

"If there is a child in your house who is not asleep, turn off the computer right now, get up and go read to/talk to/play with that child."

I keep this quote as my background on my laptop, reminding me to keep it real and that childhood is heartbreakingly fleeting.
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Kym said...

Earlier today, I sat in my car with Kato feeling so lucky she was part of my neighborhood, my life. She is a gifted teacher, a loving mother, a woman who strives to do the right thing. I admire her.

She is a good example of what the internet provides--a connection with the wise and wonderful inside of us. I have learned to care for so many people that I have never made eye contact with but whose spirits have reached out across the ether and touched mine.

You're not alone. Your with friends.

Anonymous said...

Spooky thought K, huh? To never be alone... I'm flattered you even mentioned me! *blushing* And believe me, you manage to enrich my life as well, since the second we started discussing things in our MS-group. I'm also glad to having introduced you to M. You guys have so much in common, the writing (did you see her drawings?), the cooking/baking, ME *giggle*, issues about raising two teenage boys (ask her, ask her) and now I gotta tell you, regarding your headline... that she met her nowadays hubby in cyberspace. So far they are happily married for over one year now! Keep going, maybe the luck is just around the corner, behind the next letter you type on your keyboard righ now... ;-) Hugs my faraway friend, R.

Indie said...

R, I consider you one of my close friends, too. Really? M & J met online? Wow, she really hit the jackpot and so did he. And now we must all have a reunion in Germany!

Anonymous said...

K, you just wanna come to see, feel and smell our snow, eventhough you said *brrr*! *lol* No wonder, you living in CA... Yeah, they both hit the jackpot! M & J that is. And no, I won't have to set a foot outside today, luckily, maybe help sweeping later on? Sending chilly hugs, R.

Ernie Branscomb said...

Well at least you are beginning to answer the age old question; “If a tree falls in the forest, and there is no one there to hear it . Does it make a sound?” If a woman is home alone with her technology, is she really alone?

If you need any help making up neologisms, give me a call. I have an innate inclivity toward such things.

suzy blah blah said...

LOL!!! wtfs --i know i totally know wow! LOL its
sooooo cewl!!! rfc --thaeres a party going on 24-7 rcs LOL!!!!! I luv it!!! Suzys becuming totally
N --LOL eeeeep! -- gotta run -- my new cr is beeping
--but ill be rite back ... LOL!

Indie said...

Kym, I admire her too. I keep telling her she needs a blog.

R, yes I do want to see, feel and smell the snow, but only if I can then go inside and get warm by the heater!

Ernie, we continued the neologisms conversation today. It was so fascinating and you would have loved it.

Of course the prescriptivists hate neologisms. I don't think of myself as a prescriptivist, but I have to admit I find the words "gifting" and "regifting" particularly irritating.

Maybe because of gift theory, or maybe because gift is already derivative of a perfectly serviceable verb: give. So why make it a noun just to turn it into a verb again????

Kato said...

Indie (and Kym): Thanks for your kind words; I'm "blushing out loud" here. It's an honor to be admired by people you respect. Without your two blogs to accept my rambling thoughts, I'd be left muttering to myself (MTM?) at this hour of the night. How would I have time to write my own? What's the neologism for people who just comment at great length on OTHER people's blogs?

I was a resistant Luddite for years, until I discovered that the internet brought me a) weekly letters from my previously silent sister, b) an enormous reference library that doesn't require any storage space, and c) endless possibilities for dialogue with all kinds of people, at any hour. I agree that this form of communication is skewed from "real" time connections-- you miss subtleties and can't enjoy contagious laughter, for example. But you do have the rare gift of being able to review your instant response before it's conveyed: it's hard training your mouth not to hit "send" before your brain has a chance to edit.

I think these kinds of forums can be lifesavers-- for connecting people that otherwise wouldn't or couldn't spend time together physically-- but not life sustainers. There's too much that is critical for our souls in face-to-face communication that will never be replicated here. Still, it's a wonderful tool/medium/canvas/toy/meeting place that I'm grateful for.

ps. "Text" is another noun that got "verbed". MTM.

Indie said...

yes, I fondly refer to my laptop as "my external brain."

headwrapper said...

Unfortunately we have made technology into a god. Nowadays humans project onto technology what we once projected onto the supernatural --the archetype of order, deliverance, salvation and wholeness.

Big City Poz said...

Many of my downtown Los Angeles friends are bloggers and of course I keep reading their blogs now even though I live on the other end of the state.

In a sense I am still with them when I read their blogs because in some cases they let loose sides of themselves only in their blogs. That is, I would be with them in person on a regular basis but I would often experience some things from their hearts and souls only in their blogs.

So no, I am not alone when I read their blogs. I am with them as much as ever in one sense because of the personal and unique natures of their blogs.

I am alone, though, even with their photography and writing. I am not, for example, hanging out at Banquette with beautiful Pamela. I'm not lounging around with Stella in her dress shop sharing jokes and adventures.

.....and even though I have looked into the hearts and souls of some Humboldt bloggers, I have yet to meet most of them and spend time with them in person. That means that I am partially alone with I read the blogs and partially with other people.

Kato said...

Wow, this got deeper. Good stuff. Headwrapper, I think we've maybe projected our HOPES of "order, deliverance, salvation and wholeness" (surely you've had cause to curse your computer) onto technology, but I think it's become much more of our ideal slave system than a substitute deity. Email, research, shopping, booking on line all happen at a speed-of-light pace, sometimes simultaneously (unless you're on dial-up...) and they can happen without the formerly necessary middlemen of postal workers, clerks, travel agents, reference librarians, etc. Erik just posted about self-checkout lines on his blog. It's the 21st century!

But you've got a point in that we sense the potential of technology is so far beyond what we are just playing with... as far as a social tool, I think it's like any other tool. It can be incredibly useful (as in giving expression to someone in an isolated part of the world and connecting their words and images with others who would otherwise never encounter them), or it can be harmful (as in someone who remains isolated from "real" life relationships and all the challenges to emotional growth they present).

I'm intrigued with the potential, but there's a lot of irony involved. Genuine connections are made that people value, but impressions can be misleading in 2D... The opportunity to reveal only as much of yourself as you wish (or even completely false information) lends an air of distrust to the cybersocialworld for me. But the possibility of finding known acquaintances, old friends, keeping up with traveling friends, is a draw (I predict Facebook will be responsible for turning "friend" into a verb soon).

Then there's the privacy issue: do you post that heartfelt sentiment for all to read, or send it in a discreet email? Does it matter now that the NSA can read/listen to everything anyway? Maybe the answer to your heading question is that, since Homeland Security, no, you're never alone.

headwrapper said...

Headwrapper, I think we've maybe projected our HOPES of "order, deliverance, salvation and wholeness" (surely you've had cause to curse your computer) onto technology,

Yes that's what I said, we've made it a god.

but I think it's become much more of our ideal slave system than a substitute deity.

I don't see that technology is our slave, but rather that we have become enslaved by technology. I'm not talking about anyone personally, specially not you Kato. I think that your attitude towards technology is admirable. And, like you, what I'm concerned about is the human's relationship with technology. I think you and I are in agreement that technology itself is neutral, neither good nor bad. Whether it harms us, or helps us, depends on our attitude towards it and how we use it --specially towards what end.

Judging by our history, I can only be pessimistic.

Humans, by and large, with the help of technology, are under the illusion that we are superior to nature and that we can do whatever we will. Technology dulls the instincts. It causes us to lose touch with our inner being, our soul... Science and technology have conquered the world, but whether the soul has gained anything by this is another matter.

Kato said...

Headwrapper, you nailed it! We do think in those terms while ignoring how much of our lives are spent maintaining, attending to or working to afford all of our must-have techie devices. I see your point now about projecting god-like qualities onto our technology, I was just hung up on finding a sense of order and salvation from my dial-up service.

I fluctuate from hopefully pessimistic to skeptically optimistic.

Big City Poz said...

Kato and Headwrapper, while you are patting yourselves on the backs for agreeing that "technology dulls the instincts" and that we are slaves to "must-have techie devices," you are doing so by way of, well, technology.

....but Kato, can I trust you? Is it possible you are using this forum for "the opportunity to reveal only as much of yourself as you wish (or even completely false information)?"

Indie said...

Wow, I see one little problem with technology right here: when people are having a conversation online, it is often completely lacking in context, or in this case what we call in argumentation: ethos.

Ethos lets us know that even if someone says something we disagree with somewhat, we are bound by the rules of good manners in our response first of all, and second of all, we can rest assured (thanks to ethos) that we can trust the person to be "coming from" a place of decency, intelligence, reason, or understandable circumstance.

I have to run now and don't have time to articulate it better than that. I'll think about it though.

headwrapper said...

hey Poz,
Your point is understood and well taken. I'm not denying the ironic contradiction.

Fete et Fleur said...

This has been a thought provoking post for me.


Kato said...

POZ, you can trust me when I admit that I'm only going to reveal as much of myself as I want to! I think that's a big part of the attraction for many people. But I value sincerity, even in a pseudo-anonymous forum.

What Headwrapper and I agree on is that technology is neutral (with the possible exception of nuclear weapons). The irony of using technology to critically analyze technology may border on hypocrisy, but I think the concern isn't that we've got it, but are we at risk of losing something else in our preoccupation? I think it's a balancing act.

By the way, POZ, I peeked at your site and love what you've done with the studio. Wish I'd known about that Restoration Hardware sale...

Indie said...

I am humbled by how kind everyone here is.

Eureka Poz said...

......but Indie, you seemed a bit annoyed with us (well, some of us) before. Are you sure you don't want to talk about it?

Indie said...

No no no no no, instead it is that I have lost internet at home temporarily. So whenever I do get a chance to read and write, am hurried. Lately.

I seriously adore my blogging pals, and you, Joe, are among my very favorites!

headwrapper said...

I think the concern isn't that we've got it, but are we at risk of losing something else in our preoccupation?

We don't have it, it has us! --and our world. We've already, for the most part, lost the 'something else' and need to regain it. Or veer even more dangerously out of balance.

What Headwrapper and I agree on is that technology is neutral (with the possible exception of nuclear weapons).

The bomb isn't evil of itself, the evil is within us. Humans invented it, we willed it. And now we are threatened and intimidated by it.

Eureka Poz said...

Well, thank you, Indie, but remember that you need to grab the class by the horns whenever those horns pop up---or you'll pay for it later!

I hope you get your internet back soon!

headwrapper said...

The bomb isn't evil of itself, the evil is within us. Humans invented it, we willed it. And now we are threatened and intimidated by it.

To clarify: What I meant is --we invented the bomb, not we invented evil.