Wednesday, January 31, 2007

Lonely Hearts Club

Did you know that you are lonely? And that blogging makes you lonelier?

That, at least, is the premise of Blogosphere: The New Political Arena, a new book in which communication-and-culture prof Michael Keren argues that blogging is "as melancholic and illusionary as Don Quixote tilting at windmills." (Actually, that makes it sound kind of fun.)

The problem, Keren claims, is twofold. First of all, blogging creates the illusion of a supportive community, but ultimately the blogger remains alone. This principle is exemplified by the plight of one blogger who lives in a cabin in the woods and writes about her cats. When one of her cats dies, "the whole blogosphere becomes crazy about the death of this cat and … she gets a community of support which is not real. These are people with nicknames who express enormous support, but they can disappear in the next minute … and she remains lonely."

Gives a whole new meaning to posting the cat, doesn’t it?

Even those of us who do not live in a cabin in the woods may still be affected by the loneliness of blogging, however. That is because our writing is motivated by the delusional conviction that we are addressing millions of eager readers. The non-celebrities among us may "end up like Father McKenzie in the Eleanor Rigby Beatles song, who is writing a sermon that no one is going to hear. Some of us are going to be embraced by the mainstream media, but the majority of us remain in the dark, remain in the loneliness."

After the recent Today Show debacle, many of us may be less than enthused about the mainstream media’s treacherous embrace. Nevertheless, it is indeed tragic that the blogosphere is preventing those who wish to sermonize to the masses from engaging in real, in-person interaction (an activity in which, I am sure, they would excel). For the rest of us, however, I would maintain that blogging is in fact capable of being combined with other forms of social interaction.

A few thoughts for Keren to keep in mind:

1) Bloggers are, by and large, introverts. There are exceptions, I know, but for the most part, bloggers are people who require and value alone-time: time to reflect, create, and re-charge. The time we spend blogging is not necessarily deducted directly from our real-world friendships: instead, we cut back on our Sudoku, our reading of People magazine, and our channel surfing. While these measures may put us at risk of becoming disconnected from pop culture, the blogosphere itself does much to alleviate that risk. If it were not for the blogosphere, I might not even know about Harry Potter’s new and disturbing six-pack, or realize that Justin Timberlake had lifted all his best moves from Bert.

2) Not everybody requires a Crystal Cathedral. I may not be a Robert Schuller or a Billy Graham, preaching to massive herds of willing converts, but I’m no Father McKenzie either. If all my regular readers were gathered into a single room (kneeling reverently before me), my congregation would compare favourably to that of many a respectable country curate. And I daresay we could throw together a delectable potluck lunch after the service. (I vote for Veronica Mitchell’s onion pie for a main course, and Beck’s cupcakes for dessert.)

3) Bloggers do not actually inhabit separate, parallel universes. We may be separated from one another by nicknames, time zones, and long-distance charges, but we have our clever ways of getting around such obstacles. We send packages in the mail. We email. We throw parties and meet for coffee and go to conferences. We do, in fact, exactly the same things that everybody does, family and friends who are no longer living in the same small village. True, we no longer bundle ourselves up in hats and scarves and pile into the cutter for a sleigh-ride followed by a taffy-pull in the kitchen, but we are real, for all that – and we are friends.

31 comments:

metro mama said...

I was sipping tea with three bloggers a few days ago, am meeting a few others for a playdate this weekend, and I'm having dinner with another Sunday night. Lonely? Definitely not!

BlogWhore said...

well put.

Veronica Mitchell said...

I think you are quite right. The analogy with long-distance friends is a good one. I wonder if the author would say the same thing about penpals, the old version of blogging.

It reminds me (in a tangential way) of a critic I heard once complaining that listening to an audiobook does not mean you have read the book; audiobooks are not real books, he claimed. And I wanted to say, so all those hours I spent as a child in my father's lap listening to him read means I still hadn't "read" the chronicles of Narnia?

Communication in a different medium, even faceless, is still communication, and it still breaks the loneliness.

Em said...

All very true... tis strange how some people get so worked up about blogging and see it as being somehow "separate" to the real world.

Joker The Lurcher said...

it sure keeps me sane!

penelopeto said...

In my experience, which echoes so comfortingly yours and mm's, the only merit that I can find to extract from Keren's dumbass theory, is to add a line to that wonderfully over-used Mark Twain gem, that could help keep me honest:

Write like nobody's reading.

And send my condolences to the dead cat lady.

Antique Mommy said...

I treasure my on-line friendships. And yes, they may move on, but that happens in real life too.

I think blogging is just another way to make friends, in addition to traditional means, not in exclusion (of).

Thought-provoking post as always.

Suz said...

I met two very good friends, who live in my area, through blogging, whom I never would have met otherwise.

Just like you don't become close friends with everyone you meet in person, you don't become close friends with everyone in the blogosphere. However, there are different types of relationships in any community and engaging at all can be a way of feeling less lonely.

Beck said...

Hm. Because of where I live, it's pretty unlikely that I'll meet many other bloggers - but at the same time, having people who share my enthusiasms and tastes is a good thing, no matter how far away they live. And if you did come over, I would make some cupcakes, definitely.

Blog Antagonist said...

I've given a lot of thought to blogging lately, as you might have guessed. I think it has it's dark side, but I also think that what you get out of it is what you put into it.

Shrug. Perhaps I'm not extremely self-actualized, but I don't really consider myself a social misfit or an introvert. For me, it's about writing and reading.

Friendships gained through blogging are just as real and just as hazardous as those formed in "conventional" ways. But I also consider them sort of the icing on the cake when it comes to blogging. Not really necessary, but undeniably nice to have.

I do know some people who eat cake only for the icing. It's those folks that are bound to be disappointed when the frosting is that strange whipped kind with very little substance.

Very thought provoking post, as always!

Mrs. Chicky said...

Good post. I like your take on the subject. Now I have to make some of those real life blog-connections!

Mimi said...

Lordy. Just read this in the paper over Mini-Wheats this morning. Been formulating a bloggy response all day -- chest puffed up with bloggy indignation, and puffed a little higher maybe because I am a Published Blogging Academic Expert (beh) and I'm still working it out. Thanks for such a thoughtful response when I'm still working on the grumble-grumble angle.

Maybe tonight will blog this too. Hm.

Mad Hatter said...

Like Beck, I face some of the issues of the cat lady in the cabin. Apart from yours and my little Chirstmas coffee, I am not likely to meet that many other bloggers and I certainly won't meet any on a regular basis. Yet, living in this somewhat remote place, I am pleased to have blogging as a pasttime b/c it opens up a female and parenting community that I don't have access to on the local level. It doesn't replace the person-to-person community I have in sleepy town but it definitely rounds it out.

I don't know if the mom-o-sphere is different from other arenas of the blogoshpere but what I find most refreshing about blogging is that it is something I can do with my evenings while I am trapped in the house with a sleeping child, separated from my husband who works evenings. Yup, I AM LONELY but not b/c I'm an introvert--because I am a parent and I have a job to do with my evenings. Blogging doesn't take away from my "real", in-person community, it simply enhances it--in the same way that Charlotte's letters to Mrs Gaskell help to keep her grounded. I like to think of blogging as the new epistolary age.

As for me as preacher? Phfft. I tend to get quite ranty here and there but those are the times when I imagine you all clicking away and saying "ho, hum, Mad's having another moment." You know, the same thing we do when our "real" friends get a little beligerent at parties.

I like the image of you as Curate of a small country parish. Funny that I contrast that with an image of me as beligerent drunk. "Save me", oh B&P, "Save me."

One more thing: as for nicknames, from what I understand most of us parents use nicknames to protect our children NOT to hide from reality (although there is that titilating aspect to the blog persona as well). Most of my readers now know my name b/c we also email. Heck, my closest readers are welcome to come stay for a visit next time they wend my way. That is a given. There'll be onions and cup cakes aplenty.

bren j. said...

Great post! I've read so many blogs written by pregnant women lately, it could make for one VERY interesting potluck. :)
Mmmm....a taffy-pull...

NotSoSage said...

Another excellent post. I have always been comfortable with the idea of writing things that other people will never see (evidenced by the numerous moleskin books filled with my bad poetry) and while I've been excited to have other people to share and exchange ideas with, I think I'd probably still be blogging, even if no one was reading.

I kind of feel like blogging is much like an online dating service, especially for parents. You meet many other parents (in the park, at childbirthing classes) with whom the only thing you have in common is that you both have children. It can take a while for you to determine whether you have anything else in common...and by that time, it's sort of awkward to back out of the playdates, especially when your kids are friends.

In the blogosphere, it doesn't take much lurking to determine whether you want to continue reading someone's blog and it's easy to be introduced to other bloggers by reading the comments.

No, I might not be able to wander over to that cabin in the woods (or a forest village in Malaysia) to be present for the burial of that poor woman's cat, but I can offer her some encouragement that the feelings she's having (those that she may not even feel comfortable expressing to her "real" friends) are legitimate and understandable.

Robbin said...

And some of us blog to keep close to friends were were forcibly separated from. I started blogging heavily after Katrina. Without it, the isolation would have been unbearable.

PeanutButtersMum said...

I wonder what the author would think of my marriage? Gentle Giant and I met online. I have some good irl (in real life)friends whom I met online. I haven't got any irl friends via blogging specifically YET, but I won't be surprised if that happens eventually.

bubandpie said...

Let me hasten to add that I mean "introvert" in the Myers-Briggs sense of the term: someone who derives energy from times of solitude - NOT a social misfit or loner. (I could get into my theory as to why introverts may have better social skills than some extraverts as well as deeper, more meaningful relationships...but I'll spare you.)

Oh, The Joys said...

I agree with everything you said, and yet - to make sure I'm honest - I often ask myself to reflect on whether or not I'm lonely and if I should be spending more time with "real" people. I think there are pieces of the truth in both arguements.

Mary-LUE said...

Guilty as charged, I am an extrovert blogger!

I recently read an excerpt from a letter to an editor in which someone listed all the things they thought are wrong about blogging. Interestingly enough, this person felt like bloggers have too strong of a desire to have their opinions read. Coming from a person who wrote a letter to the editor in the hopes it would get published, I found that point laughable.

I just assume that the blogosphere is as diverse as the so-called real world and that different people blog for different reasons. Can someone really say what all bloggers are like? Are political bloggers that similar to us "mommybloggers"? (I know we don't all like that term but for lack of a better term, I'll use it.) Are we mommybloggers all that similar? I just don't like the hubris that assumes so much.

Shifting gears, I've always said that blogging friendships aren't the same for me as real life ones, but that isn't because I don't value them or think they are wonderful. I just want so much to be face to face with so many of them. I'm a little envious of you all who've been fortunate enough to meet up in person. Some day...

Well, I've been quite chatty on your last few posts, B&P. You've been giving me lots to go on about. (I guess that's why I nominated your for Most Thought Provoking at One Woman's World's Share the Love Blog Awards!) I don't know if she will notify you or not. Voting begins tomorrow, I think and I notice you have been nominated in more that one category. Good for you!

ali said...

maybe i'm naive. but i consider many of other bloggers in my life to be, well, friends. and that if they lived closer to me, we'd actually be REAL friends in REAL life :)

Kristen said...

"Lonely" is a subjective term (as opposed to "alone" which I'd also argue that many/most bloggers are NOT), and I think I'd say if someone feels enormous support from a string of blog comments on one's personal tragedy, then they probably aren't feeling "lonely."

Also, just a tidbit from my own personal experience, I've actually been quite surprised at how much of a community feel the blogosphere can have. I wasn't expecting that AT ALL when we started our blog.

Pieces said...

Interesting. There are times when I find the blogospere a lonely place--just like I can be lonely in the proverbial crowded room. But isn't sitting in my living room reading about interesting things and chatting with interesting people more edifying than staring at the TV? I think so.

Kyla said...

I totally agree. And the potluck? Sounds delicious!

nomotherearth said...

I am under no delusions that I have multitudes of readers. I write because I want to keep a record of my life, and if people want to read it, that's fantastic. If they want to engage in lively debate or offer support, even better!

Part of this community that so enthralls me is the fact that it IS a community. People actually meet, emails are exchanged, monikers are dropped. That's cool.

Oh, and I would like to hear how you think introverts have better social skills, BTW...

bubandpie said...

Nomo - Basically, the idea is that an introvert is less likely to commit a major social gaffe. Introverts are often hyper-aware of social cues, quick to stop speaking if there's a hint of embarrassment or discomfort in the listener. Extraverts are able to be so friendly and outgoing precisely because they're not always checking themselves for fear of putting a foot wrong.

Jill said...

I would totally bring my cheesy potato casserole to your potluck.

ewe are here said...

Well said. Especially the part about introverts needing some time alone. And, like you point out, that time alone often comes from other 'lonely' pursuits. And blogging is a little less 'lonely' than sitting and watching the television.

Debra said...

I loved this post! In fact, it inspired me to write my own impressions of what is real in this blogging world and what is not. You can find my post here, if you'd like to read it:

http://debrasotherthoughts.blogspot.com/2007/02/blogging-amongst-real-people.html

I'm enjoying your blog and shall return! Thanks for a well-written post... Blessings, Debra

Lawyer Mama said...

Yes! You are so right. (Another introvert blogger here.)

T. said...

Well, I am an introverted blogger too, but that doesn't mean that I don't know how to be the life of the party when needed! It's not like I sit at home and rock back and forth in the corner, shunning all outside forms of life.

But as for the blog community being a false sense of support, well that author needs to walk a mile in my shoes oneday.

If it weren't for the online friends and community I found last year, I don't think I would have been able to survive the death of my son.

Sure, some of these friendships are strictly on line, but several of them have moved beyond the boundaries of our blogs.

But each one is very real to me and every supportive comment I have received has helped keep me out of a padded cell.

Well done. As always!