Tuesday, July 15, 2008

Unclaimed baggage

On the internet, everyone carries a purse. Or an attaché case, I guess.

What I’m saying is that online, everyone brings baggage to the table. Everyone’s showing off what they have, attempting to hide some of it, or criticizing other people because their own baggage is too oppressive.

Imagine this … there’s a guy in a public place, let’s say a park. He’s sitting at a picnic table. He has a gym bag and he’s calling over some folks to look at his stuff. “Hey, look what I got here! It’s a doohickey!”

Some people go and see what he’s talking about. No one really says anything, but generally just take a look. A couple of days later, there are three people -- the gym bag guy, a guy with a briefcase and a woman with a handbag. They’re all showing off different things out of their bags and they’re telling each other how much they like each other’s stuff or how it makes them think of a certain time in their life, etc. Then some other people in the park come over and start looking at their stuff and start talking to them as well. They also say things about how nice the stuff is or how it reminds them of something they once did, etc.

The picnic table show-and-tell goes on for a bit and everyone’s enjoying themselves. The sharing can be freeing and looking can be entertaining or thrilling. But one dude comes along, pushes his way through the crowd, looks at the guy with the gym bag and calls him a whiny douche for complaining about his knee pain when he jogs. He calls him stupid for even coming out to the park to call attention to it and questions the guy’s manhood, intelligence and common sense. It never seems to occur to this individual that these criticisms are even more applicable to the person who’s making them than to the target, but he makes them nonetheless.

Suddenly, the picnic-table show-and-tell is a bit more guarded. Those who do show up are far more careful about what they decide to share and those who talk about the stuff are far more careful about what they choose to say.

Maybe this has been a stupid analogy because I really don’t think I could see myself going to a picnic table and unloading all my stuff to strangers. The picnic table lacks the anonymity that the internet does. The fact that we can reveal as much or as little about ourselves that we want to is exactly why people blog, chat and comment. And the guys who come up and bitch and moan or arbitrarily strike out would never do anything like that in real life, or, at least, those who do are obviously douches.

Going back to the park analogy, it’s like that critical dude coming up and saying, “How dare you show me your stuff!” It just doesn’t make sense, but that’s exactly what these people are doing.

My hypothesis is that people, when reading other people’s blogs, get a feeling of connection that may or may not be there. There’s the feeling that you “know” the person you’re reading about as opposed to knowing only what they’re telling you. This anomalous connection leads some people to lash out when they read something they don’t agree with. They’ve invested time and energy into making a connection with this internet person (who is, even at internet full-disclosure best, only a fraction of who the person really is) that there is a sense of betrayal when they perceive something to be counter to who they have come to believe the internet persona is.

I’m not sure what I’m trying to get at here. I’ve written and rewritten this post a few times over the past two days. I’ve read at a couple of different blogs how the site owner feels insecure about sharing certain things because of viscous commenters, and that kind of sparked this rant. But I don’t know that I have a conclusion other than to say what just about every internet user already knows: Here there be stalkers!

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