This started as a comment on an entry titled “Is it wrong?” on the Solipsisters blog. But then I felt an essay coming on (and you know how you know when an essay is coming on? You ears start to go numb, and your smile gets bigger and bigger and bigger), and so decided to […]
This started as a comment on an entry titled “Is it wrong?” on the Solipsisters blog. But then I felt an essay coming on (and you know how you know when an essay is coming on? You ears start to go numb, and your smile gets bigger and bigger and bigger), and so decided to move it on over to my space and not take up theirs.
You might read the above linked entry for context, it’s short. Basically it’s about how odd it is to “meet” people over the internet To play roles and find mutual desire for what are, in effect, pretend personae, but also behind these masks, maybe real people.
It’s an interesting thing, “meeting” people over the internet. The faces turned to the light are, sometimes, only those we choose to show. To quote the old New Yorker cartoon (and I’ve lost my link to the actual cartoon, I must find it), “On the internet, nobody knows I’m a dog”.
Thus can I be, in some forum somewhere, a pirate or conan the barbarian, ming the merciless, the sheik of araby (Well at night where you’re asleep Into your tent I’ll creep), or a master of slaves on some counter-earth. You, you can be the mysterious temptress, the super-villainess with thigh-high boots and whip, the wicked schoolgirl, the willing slave, the haughty business woman, the tavern wench.
Or I can be me and you can be you. And we never really know where one ends and the other begins.
“And through the wire I hear your voice
And through the wire I touch the power
And through the wire I see your face
It’s through the wire”
–Peter Gabriel, ‘And Through The Wire’
It’s a dance, sometimes. Do we want truth? Fiction? Do we care or want to know? Is the illusion better, or in fact, the real point?
But who are you really?
Some people don’t seem to play this. You get face value. On the internet, they say, I am a dog. really_a_dog@no_really_a_dog.com. But even then, it’s only the words they give, only the side they share. They may not, truly, control what they’re showing, but still it’s a flat two-dimensional image presented over the wire.
It’s different now, year-of-our-lard 2004, where the internet is made of pictures and sounds and video and real-time chat. There was a time when the internet was only words, and our interaction was in a space where we could and did hide, or reveal, based only on words. And where we used facilities provided by employer or school, and thus had an authority to answer to, sometimes, for what we did and said and presented. Now, today, I’m not a name and a set of words, I’m a picture and a web site and an identity that’s as much larger than life as I make it. I’m the devil on fire (thanks, Paul!), I’m the laser-eyed bastard, I’m the sullen kilted warrior. Whatever I want. A digital camera and a whack or two with photoshop, I’m any and all and more.
With all this, though, an interesting thing happens. With all the roll play and unknown ‘reality’, one connects. One finds a point of common ground, respect, shared interest, atraction. One finds a dialog, sometimes public, sometimes words whispered off in the shadows.
Real friendships are born out of the game play and the masks. Which is what makes it worthwhile. Yes, the game itself if fun. The picture one hides behind, the persona made of smoke and mirrors and reality, in a shifting array. The reveal, hide reveal game of internet dialog. But when the game grows old, and it does grow old, you’re left with real connections. Sometimes close, sometimes far, half a world or a continent away.
But then a funny thing happens sometimes. Sometimes you meet in real life.
This was a little different, again, in the old days. There was a time when most of the internet, outside colleges, was here, in silicon valley. Where if you met someone on line, like as not, they were within an hour’s drive of San Francisco in one direction or another. Now, the internet is as global as people are, and my friends may live on any continent, in any time zone.
It’s a funny thing though, meeting people you “know”. Because you never really are sure who, what you’re meeting, how they compare with the fantasy, the image, the imagined person behind the name. Even if pictures have been shared, and today, they so often are, it;s so very different when there’s a voice, a form. People are so much more than what they say in writing, what they show in a photo. They’re body language, gestures, mannerisms. Nervous silence. Skin tone, eye contact, smells and laughter.
I’ve met people who proved to be all they showed on line and more. And others, brilliant in writing, who cannot maintain a conversation or meet my eye. I’ve met people who are stunning in person but fear to share a photo, people with whom I clicked on line but found nothing there in person. Some of these relationships were cemented, permanently, by a meeting. Others were in effect ended by meeting face to face.
One always wonders. If I meet you, will it be like this? Or like that? Will we find the human connection endures when the wire is shortened? Or will it prove to be as ephemeral as the internet itself, elusive and spoiled when the mystery is removed?
And here we are back to me – I will always choose the real over the pretend. The flawed reality over the image of perfection. Live music over the studio, amateur porn over glossy professional. I’d rather know a real person with quirks and oddities and imperfections over the shiny, pretty picture shown to the public. For me, real itself is attractive.
Your mileage, as they say, may vary.