Thumbnail Humans

Isn’t it a lot easier to write online to an unknown audience who conveniently only have one side of the story (mine) and can, hence, be more willing to offer me their sympathies which is often what we all need, especially, when we are running through a rough patch – a pink slip, a broken marriage, bankruptcy, death of a near one? I used to spend a lot of time on blogs but most of them wrote random stuff. Soon I found blogs that were more like an online journal with personal minutiae brought out and embarrassingly disclosed. Nevertheless, blogs require a certain amount of thought and the temporal distance inherent in writing a post ensures for some mellowing down. Twitter allows for lesser reflection before one gives vent. One can verily have a quarrel with one’s sibling and get online to call them names. A heart-broken woman can tweet endlessly about her suffering. An unemployed middle aged man can spew all his venom against the new economy (never for once thinking that his potential recruiters might be reading his tweets). It is not merely about the damage one can do to one’s reputation but the palpable, though invisible, damage such venting does to one’s own mettle.

Conversation with real people is medicative. There is inherent balance in it in the pulling and pushing of thoughts, in the need to clarify and justify, in the sheer physicality of it all and the bonding it creates. Conversations with pets/animals at least provides the latter two and sometimes a woof or a whimper makes us go “I know, I know, he didn’t really mean that but still…” which might lead to clarifying certain thoughts. If you have a keen and articulate friend, you are blessed and can be assured that during your difficult times you have someone who might guide you properly. If you have a friend who is nothing more than a yes-man, then you are less blessed, though the repeated yes’s might make you want to stop and ponder over how you could be perfectly right on all counts. Whatever be the nature of the companion, real conversations are helpful because it allows you to emote and share what you can’t do well in words or every attempt to do so appears shabbily inaccurate at best. I am sure all of this was known to the dear reader.

What amazes me is the infinite trust we are willing to place in a faceless person and the boundless comfort we have in standing virtually naked before a virtual audience by baring our all. I would suspect that the Christian custom of confessions has something to do with this (where one can reveal all under the perforated assurance of anonymity) though even in that there was a humaneness to it. I wonder what would happen if Churches started an online anonymous confession service (a virtual chat with the priest). This might seem less strange given that that is what Fragments
is assured to the confessor though I doubt whether it would feel the same without the Father’s voice saying “I understand, my child”. The intimacy of real conversations and relationships does not exist in the networked world.

What we readily get from the virtual world is what our body readily gets from French Fries – an instant high/gratification. The ability to just “Like” someone’s status on FB, to RT “such a f*&^d up day! Feels like yesterday and tomorrow” or just comment on a blog post where someone weeps his/her heart out is instant gratification for both parties without a tenth of the effort of actually going and meeting this person and connecting over coffee or in the park. Can this be done for all the 2734 friends one has on FB? No, and it is anyway stupid to have 2734 friends on FB, according to me given that you probably are in regular touch with not more than 30 of them and consider less than 5 of them as your closest friends. The ability to make friends instantly (all it takes is a “Add as friend” click or importing contacts), the ability to comment on their status with a “Lol” (which frankly means nothing to me) and the ability to ignore them for a long time but claim that they are on your “Friends” list is the relationship equivalent to French Fries and Coke.

Speed definitely has a role to play. Most people equate writing letters with sending email. They are not the same. Emails suit the purpose of quick correspondence to convey important details. For personal connections, I still consider emails ersatz. Unfortunately, I have no friends who share that opinion so writing emails is the only way I can stay in touch (though I end up calling my dear ones). Speed ruins all semblance of being organic. Tomorrow when they invent seeds which sprout into beanstalks the minute they are dropped into the earth, try convincing real gardeners that there is no difference between the old-fashioned way of growing plants to the whoosh-whoosh-there’s-a-rose-for-you type of gardening.

Every single day I am reminded of what Gustave Flaubert said about being intimately involved with just 6 books (Commel’on serait savant si l’on connaissait bien seulement cinq a six livres). How lame it would be to gather the import of an entire tome on a tweet (and yes, I saw the Twitterature book and fell ill)! So be it with relating to an individual. I cannot imagine being intimate with someone over tweets and blog posts!

But you object and correct me in my thought; you say “No, E, it is not that they seek intimacy, but just a mode to give vent to what they feel which they perhaps can’t say to a real person. An audience, is perhaps just a fringe benefit” and I find that unacceptable as an explanation for various reasons. Any implement (implement is also a noun) which provides you a quick escape into a psychological thumb-sucking state, eats away into your maturity and mettle. You are more likely to seek that than face reality or do what it takes to tackle your situation. Drugs, sex, binging, drinking and video-games are similar such seemingly innocuous (though not drugs) avenues of escape. I think it is more imperative to address the conclusion that what needs to be said cannot be said to a real person. Why? What is it that can’t be said? Can it be presented differently? Why would no one understand? Why will they be offended? Why would it make matters more complex? If you were told that your tweets and posts would be sent straight to those very same people, would you stop writing? To turn the last question around and tackle the point about “fringe benefits” – If there was no one on earth to read what you write, would you still tweet or blog?

I am not concerned with the world of business and the impact such micro-journalism have on the way the world’s thought is shaped. I care two hoots (actually less). Business will do anything it takes to get an extra buck and it is not in my lifetime or yours that we will find businesses revisiting that foundation. I used to find popular blogs excessively boring because all they did was add a few links to the latest talk happening elsewhere and add a line or two of their own. They were the least effective aggregators of sorts. Artists who use their site for showcasing their work are also a different category whom I am not concerned with in this post. I am more concerned with what this speed, this veil, this connectedness, this sheer reach and distance brings to the human mind.

This post started when I observed the content of tweets and some posts. They were rich in their presentation but embarrassingly personal in their content and it made me wonder as above. When I started writing this post I chanced upon a post which is essentially a book review. What I loved in the samples from the book was the phrase “Moments of more may leave us with lives of less”. Sheer poetry and insight.

Say what you will, I have deeper respect for a writer who doesn’t allow his personal life to shadow their artistic produce or knows how to channelise it into richer more meaningful content which doesn’t make the reader sympathetic but merely a recipient of perspective. I have consciously stuck to that protocol on this blog and have often had the happiest posts come out during my saddest times and conversely and in other combinations too. It makes me shudder to imagine sharing my personal life with an audience I haven’t known for long and my concern is not a result of my need for privacy as much as it is the incongruency of sharing things with people I don’t know.


6 thoughts on “Thumbnail Humans

  1. True, real writing is a work of art.. there is self-expression without making the reader a voyeur. I feel sad too, when I get into bookstores and see “books” that are best-sellers, not for their literary value, but just because I can go, ” Oh, your day feels so much like mine!” Maybe i'm being judgmental, but this is precisely why I don't like blogs/tweets being published as books.

    A blog/tweet might warm you up to someone.. but it takes time and love to build a true relationship, I totally agree. ๐Ÿ™‚

    Good post, Eroteme!

  2. I was once told that my blog is very impersonal, given that I just sporadically vent my opinion on various things. It was very hard for this person to understand that pouring out one's feelings on a public space like a blog is not a good idea.

    Looking at kids merrily tweeting and facebooking the minutiae of their lives, it's as though concern for online privacy is restricted to us older folk.
    Finally, email itself is viewed as old fashioned now, and it really IS the modern equivalent of the paper letter, because of its lack of immediacy. Of course you may choose to have your email synced to the second on your phone, but it is an asynchronous medium by nature. The femtosecond attention span generation of today would prefer SMS/chat, given its immediacy and abbreviated language that doesn't require any careful marshaling of thought.

  3. Dear SR,
    I totally agree. Bestsellers are the worst tags one could give a book. As if a book was for selling!

    Dear R,
    Privacy is a lesser concern for me vis a vis the sheer discomfort I feel. Asynchrony is the biggest impediment, I agree. Well put.

  4. Disclaimer- this is just my opinion!!!
    When people have trust issues with most people they know, and they're the kind who cannot keep things to themselves and need a vent- they resort to using the internet(reads any site-twitter,facebook, blogs, blah blah) to blurt out stuff.
    Its a lot like the “Dear Diary” or “Dear Agony Aunt” columns in the newspaper. It retains anonymity, you can probably pour out all that's happening in your life(which they feel they cant do to their “near or dear” ones).
    For some people, it may just be a vent- for some, it may be that they're looking for a different perspective for some problem which they can't otherwise solve. Some chance stranger reading their blog, may just throw some light or put forward a different aspect to the way they're looking at things.

  5. Dear D,
    Why the disclaimer!? Feel free… ๐Ÿ™‚ My point is not anonymity as I think I mentioned. My own blog is largely anonymous except to those who know me and my pen-name. So anonymity can be achieved in many ways. My concern is (as summarised in the last para) with allowing the personal life to creep into everything on a public forum. Secondly, the sheer comfort in sharing personal things with all and sundry unnerves me. Why would I want to share a break-up/fight/etc. in minute details?
    I understand your point about people wanting to vent things out and perhaps finding solace/guidance from unknown quarters. But what can I offer to someone who tweets their anger? I know nearly nothing of the problem or the context (what can anyone know in less than 140 characters) and can at best offer lame words like “Don't worry, all will be well soon”. I am told even that does help people and this is where my personal preference kicks in – I will not offer lame words.

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