Friday, October 27, 2006

Blogging: Stripping us of Humanity, or highlighting our basic scraftiness?

Before I get on to metafilter and the like, I was interested in something Jim said in his comment on this post. I apologize in advance for quoting such a (well written!) hearty chunk, but I'd like to respond to all of it, thus I think it appropriate to include it all.

"The distance and analytical nature of the blog changed my voice, making it more metallic and harsh as I examined someone who I’d met for two hours and then passed judgment on him as if he were another blog. He is human and I forgot and in doing so became a little less human myself. That I think is the great flaw of blogs and technology – we have trouble communicating our humanity. There is no inflection of voice, a smile, a raised eyebrow to redirect, clarify or soften sarcasm, to add humor where it was meant to be. The words simply sit on the screen, not controlled by the writer, but interpreted by the reader. Even if we don’t assume new identities, as in Wikipedia or Second Life, we are new, different because of the flat nature of the medium. Perhaps, that is why there are all these odd fights, flaming on blogs and Wikipedia – the nuance of humanity is not there."

So the blog gives us distance and yes, by nature is analytical (or, in the words of my father, who now reads this blog as well as most of yours ((*Hi, Dad!*)) "seems like a whole lotta navel gazing to me, Cato.") but does it make us LESS human, or rather frighteningly moreso? Perhaps this'll mean me outing myself as something of a cynic, but I think that deep down inside, past the layers of kindness and rational justice, we're all just a little bit assholic--the blog just happens to lend itself so nicely to showcasing this basic human snarkitude. Also, aren't we always passing judgment on the people we meet, though it may be on some unnoticed, unconscious level? As a culture we've become so preoccupied with political correctness that it's hardly appropriate to breathe too heavily in someone's general direction, much less tell them what we think of them. I think that out of instinct and desire to be a) polite b) liked and c) cover our asses, we're far more apt to smile pretty and call people nitwits in our heads than we are to simply behave indifferently or express actual antipathy. So I don't know, Jim, if the blog makes us crueler by removing a level of humanity or if it makes us more honest by ripping off the bullshit colored mantle of proper social protocol. For the record, I hope it's the former, but I can't help but play devil's advocate and entertain the possibility of the latter.

Also, I'd like to think that with carefully chosen words and clearly communicated ideas, blog intent can't be missed by too huge a margin. Text DOES communicate that which the author wishes--it's really a matter of careful diction and thorough cogitation before one gets to the point at which he hits "publish," and the words are up there forever. With that said... I think it's unlikely that bloggers often ARRIVE at that "thoroughly cogitated" point before hitting "publish" (I know I often don't). Therefore, intent is frequently slightly off-center and people, being slightly assholic at the core, love to be offended, so will naturally vault up onto their soapboxes and start a fight at really any given little time.

P.S. Shout out to Aldon: "snark" is an amazing word. You severely improved the quality of my afternoon by using it. :) (Go ahead and TRY to misinterpret that smiley face. See? You CAN'T). ;)


Aldon Hynes said...

Let me toss out a couple other thoughts. First, you should read Susan Crawford's post The contact hypothesis. It suggests that the less cogitated posts may in fact be important in establishing contacts that we wouldn't otherwise establish.

Beyond that, I do think we would all be better off if we had a little more authenticity in all our communications, online and offline.

slothsinabox said...

Does it suggest that the less cogitated posts are important in establishing contacts? It seems to me it's advocating for an even MORE carefully orchestrated contact!

The article indicates that JUUUUUST the right kind of contact has to be made when people are feeling comfortable and vulnerable. (sounds like a lot of cogitating and gauging the other side, no?) It seems to me that this article is advocating for a latex-wrapped, safe-sex version of intercultural relations. If an interaction is BEGUN with a foil already slapped over it, with each party promoting only its good side, isn't somebody going to be misled when an actual, face-to-facer occurs?

Nonetheless... interesting little snippet. Thanks for sharing! :)

A Little World Literature said...

When I think about it, I agree that “that deep down inside, past the layers of kindness and rational justice, we're all just a little bit assholic” and that “blog just happens to lend itself so nicely to showcasing this basic human snarkitude” (I like the new word). Maybe that is my issue with blogs. It’s the same analogy that we hear about getting drunk and how that reveals our true nature. I don’t agree – I think it only shows one aspect of what we are. I not sure, but I believe that blogs and the net can exaggerate the snarkiness, our assholic nature, because of its distance and flatness. In addition to our nasty side, I also believe we are driven to be kind and that is “the colored mantle” we so easily and frequently throw aside in blogging. This complexity of our nature is our humanness.
By the way, I love your father’s ‘navel gazing’ comment. I’m sitting next to my wife and she wanted to know what I was doing at this early hour (I can never get used to the changing of the clocks). When I told her, she simply rolled her eyes, shook her head, and went back to reading – she’d agree with your Dad and I know even though she didn’t say a word. That’s communication that comes with 24 years of love and kindness. Thanks for reading my blog and commenting.