Dozing polar bear, Indianapolis Zoo

Wednesday, December 20, 2006

Just another narcissist dumping her opinion into the tubes

Though it's a trite enough observation these days, I'm struck anew this morning by the real impact that can travel through this series of tubes called the internet. The difference between blogging and reading words on a page is, of course, the more or less real time nature of internet communication. The endings are not pre-ordained; we go along on the journey of others, often those we've never seen in person.

There's a blog out there I've been lurking around for a few months. The author of this blog has been creeping toward an inevitable and deeply painful event for awhile now. For the last few weeks, I've hesitated before viewing the blog, in dread for what might have happened since my last visit. I click anyway, of course. I've become invested in the story, in the outcome, in the life. I wouldn't recognize this person on the street, yet more than once I've lost tears at posts over there. The suffering is so clear and visible. It comes right through the screen and there's no place to go away from it, because I'm sitting here alone in my office and it catches me every time.

How can it be a bad thing, this investment in the lives and fates of others we don't know? Is there anyone out there who thinks these experiences of virtual empathy are anything but a salutary development in an increasingly cold world?

Apparently there is. I suppose it shouldn't surprise me that it's George Will, who made clear his disdain in this embarrasingly self-revelatory statement:
It’s about narcissism.... So much of what is done on the web is people getting on there and writing their diaries as though everyone ought to care about everyone’s inner turmoils. I mean it’s extraordinary.
It's about narcissism all right, but not bloggers'.

Under Will's formulation we must carefully preserve the boundaries between the people who are Allowed to Speak and Be Listened To, and everyone else. It's fear I smell in that statement, fear of the loss of relevance once preserved by restrictions on the flow of information that are no longer in place. That, and a hostility to the anarchic nature of blogging that has the cheek to encourage unauthorized empathy toward those outside our immediate view.

I'll leave Will to his disdain. I have inner turmoils to consider.


JLB said...

All dumbassery aside, I, like you TH, love the evolving nature of the internet (and tools like blogging) in the many ways that it is changing cultures around the world.

Often I have to step back and remind myself what a small percentage of us are actually online so far. But for those of us who are, I can certainly relate to the experience of taking a true, caring interest in the lives, lessons, and thoughts of others who I might otherwise not know.

Trailhead said...

It's interesting. On the one hand I can completely understand the argument that the advent of the internet can isolate us from real contact, the kind of intimacy born of proximity.

But then I think about how communities have been built and ties made and sustained between people who have never met and who sometimes live across the globe from one another, and I am hard pressed to see how this is actually "narcissism." And really, that's what I think scares George Will the most. In his world people belong in boxes, the better to be set against one another.

It's either that or he's appallingly ignorant, which I simply don't believe.