Had an interesting conversation the other day about interactions over the net. Here's the idea. Basically, human beings have evolved over thousands of years to figure out what somebody is trying to say not only by the words they say, but the tone of voice in which they say it, the facial features, body language, movements of the hand, involuntary gestures and so on and so forth.
It's the story my mother likes to tell of me. I was two or three, and in a pizza parlour with my mom and dad, and my mom's parents (my nanny and poppa). One of the specialities of the house was a tomato and canadian bacon pizza. Now, I don't like raw tomatoes (never have, prolly never will) and my family knows this quite well. However all of them like tomatoes, so they order this pizza (there was another one, prolly CB&P for everybody to partake of). Anyway, I get the idea that i have to have the pizza the adults are having and ask for it. When told it had tomatoes on it by my grandma, I told her I liked tomatoes. So, with hesitation, she gave me a piece, and told me to eat it all or face the consequences. So I sat there, eating it, making the most horrific facial gestures, and going, "Grandma, I just love these tomatoes, they taste really good" in a disgusted voice.
The point of that story, despite the humerous nature of it, is that my grandma could immediately tell that I was lying by my facial gestures and tone of voice. That's what you get in RL face to face contact.
The telephone, although a wonderful invention, removed some of this interactivity from conversations. You couldn't see facial gestures and body language over the telephone, although you could still pick up tone and intonation.
If we iterate one more step, we have your typical IRC chatroom. Here, all you have is your words. Tone comes across haltingly with the help of such wonderful devices as the <sarcasm> tag, and really learning the person you're interacting with. For example, most of my friends can tell when I'm sarcastic and when I'm angry just by the way I start phrasing myself. But it's taken them the better part of four years to understand that.
And of course it leads to people putting feelings "in your mouth" for you too. Notable example happened this year, when one person told everybody else that somebody was being a heartless bastard when he refused to communicate with her, and no matter how many times it was pointed out to the first person that they were "sticking emotions in somebody's mouth", for lack of a better term, she insisted that her reading of the situation was right. Even though it turned out that his way of healing is withdrawing from a situation.
(BTW, note to journal watchers, although this situation actually happened, I'm not making any accusations or anything. You obviously have the right to feel however you want to about it, and it's irrevalent now anyway. Just trying to make a point here about the nature of communication over an IRC link.)
To hang out on IRC, to interact over the internet, one needs to learn an entirely new set of social cues. Some people learn relatively quickly, and other people learn not at all. In the world of the internet, we all are at a disadvantage at truly understanding how the other party *FEELS*. Emotions and text just don't seem to go well together.
But unfortunately, it's all we have.
I wonder what Paul Simon was thinking of when he wrote "Sounds of Silence". It obviously wasn't the Internet, because the Internet was just a dream in 1963. However, it has been noted that the permanence of art is that it can speak to many generations and in a slightly different way to each generation.
Because it's a good way to describe interactions on IRC. Or at least the depressing parts of it. All the worst of humanity can be reflected there -- our tendancy to depersonalize the individual in the collective mind of groupthink. Sometimes I wonder if the pace of technology is outstripping our ability to be individuals, to think, to feel, to dream...It is important to have connections. It is important to reach out and touch someone, whether that be over IRC, or on the telephone, or in person.
I have "Sounds of Silence" on infinirepeat at the moment, because it expresses a mood. As I sit here tonight, I'm watching things fracture. Everything is at a turning point and the future looks bleak. I count three of my closest friends who are pondering taking a temporary and/or permanent vaction from IRC, and I'll confess to having entertained those thoughts myself. I'm feeling overwhelmed, unable to deal with things that would have normally bounced off harmlessly.
There are people whom I can't deal with anymore. None of my closest friends has reached this point yet, but the wearing is there. There's one person whom I just can't deal with anymore; I don't know why, but that person always makes me depressed and makes me feel like skittering into a crack like a cockroach. When it comes down to it, it's just me and the darkness, and we're very close friends.
I'm feeling, at the moment, very ineffective. I can't even help my friends, so deeply wrapped in my own problems am I. And the friends I want to help, the friends who have been battered like boats tied to a dock in a hurricane by the sheer gale forces that this year has brought down on us...I can't. Because I've been battered myself and am purely incapable of being the lighthouse to bring them all home safely.
...strangely enough, every single person I've talked about, am thinking about, is a person I've met on IRC. For my friends, I'd like to be able to see them in person, to give them a hug and reassure them that this world is not as evil as it appears to be, and that no matter how lonely and lost in the darkness they may feel, I will be a lighthouse, a beacon of safety, portage in rough waters.
For the people who are causing all these problems, again I'd like to see them in real life, just so I can yell at them without having to resort to the Caps Lock key, just so they can understand the sheer force of my words and the raw and powerful emotions behind them. So they can see just what they have wrought upon us. Seeing is believing, after all. And maybe I could find them help, because I don't like leaving people in worse situations than they begain with.
But...when it comes down to it, to all these people, I'm just words on a screen. Who am I trying to fool? Why do i count as two of my closest friends people I have never met in real life? And why am I hurting because one of them seems to be slipping away in the distance?
Why do I care?
"...there is nothing again"
Why do I care?
o/~ hear my words that I might teach you/ take my arms that i might reach you/ but my words like silent raindrops fell/ and echoed/ in the well of silence o/~
I've been reading two books this last week. The first was Deeper by John Seabrook. In it, he describes going from a net newbie and having email conversations with Bill Gates (which impressed him with the use of the technology) into his metamorphosis into understanding that the net is not the utopia we sometimes present it as. The problems of human society are transposed to any human medium, and there are lesser ways to control it.
Which is part of the problem I'm dealing with at the moment, but I'm not going to go much into it at the moment. How do you get rid of somebody that is obviously hurting a community, when they refuse to participate in that community. Sure, our community is a lot of individuals, and we're pretty good at tolerating eccentricity, but what about the person, who through no fault of their own, just cannot or will not work with the community? What do you do then?
the internet is, more than most mediums, a medium of trust. You have to trust the people you're talking to, that they won't suddenly reformat the events into something else, won't start telling a dominate narrative over the narrative of other people. You have to trust folks to be who they say they are. And you have to expect a certain amount of give and take.
the second book, which I'm almost halfway through, is A Canticle for Leibowitz, by Walter M. Miller, Jr. It's an amazing book so far, and if you're into post-apocalyptic settings, it's a definite read. Even if you're not, it's an amazing book. I'll write more on it when I finish, but I'm sorry I put off reading this one.
So...things to get done in the next few weeks...get financial aid straightened out, make an emergency dental appointment, get my sinuses xrayed, writing that goddamned thing, and getting ready for skewl.
That should be enough to keep me busy.