Thursday, February 01, 2007

Reality blogging

The friends I have coffee with every Saturday morning have made it all too clear to me that they don't think much of this blogging caper. The general attitude is 'Why would you want to sit staring at the computer for hours and hours when you could be spending time with real people?'

I'm not sure how much time with 'real people' they want me to spend. For a start, the amount of time I spend actually hanging out with people has not lessened since I took up blogging -- every Saturday morning with them for a start, and a precious, long-established ritual it is and long may it continue. (M, we will find a place with better pancakes, I promise.)

I still spend the many, many hours on the phone that I have always done, and stay in regular email contact with local, interstate and overseas friends (three Gemini planets, what are you gonna do) though for the Saturday girls this probably doesn't count as 'real' either. I saw both my sisters yesterday afternoon to arrange my father's birthday present -- he turns 80 today -- and will be seeing them again tonight at his birthday dinner. Etc.

I once did that Myers-Briggs personality test thingy and got a perfect 50/50 score on the extrovert/introvert section. Their criterion for deciding which you are, and this rings very true with me, is whether spending time with other people gives you energy or takes energy away. In my experience it depends very much on the people, but in a general way, for me, socialising starts out energising, and if the company consists of beloveds and intimates then it just goes on being that way.

But if it's a big general social thing and it goes on for long enough, there comes a tipping point, a turning of the energy tide, where instead of feeling enlivened by the company I begin quite abruptly to be desperate to be gone. The only thing that stops me fleeing into the night screaming and gibbering is that I don't actually have the energy to get up out of the chair.

Which is where partying en blog is perfect for the borderline introvert. If one is endlessly interested and curious about other people's lives but also needs to spend substantial amounts of time alone in order to recharge and regroup, blogging satisfies all one's nosiness needs without needing to be scheduled for, or in any way endured. You can stop and start whenever you like.

And the other thing is that your perception of the 'realness' of people undergoes a major shift. It may be that I and all other lovers of literature have a head start here. If you've spent your life reading novels and living through the characters' dramas with them, it's only a very small shift to thinking of your bloggy mates, whom you've also only ever encountered through reading, as very real indeed. This is of course is further helped along by photos: of their kids, their cats, their fridges and rugs, the things they've seen and made.

Of course there's lots of really interesting theoretical and intellectual stuff that gets said about blogging, including all the debate about whether it is or is not the New Journalism, though I have pretty much concluded that it isn't. There are all my own still half-formed but actually a bit radical ideas about the practices of reading and writing and how blogging changes the way we do them. There are the special-interest blogs, which in terms of intellectual and/or aesthetic quality -- Pharyngula, The Rest is Noise, Geoffrey Chaucer Hath a Blog -- tend to be the best of all.

And there is the political and philosophical and public-life discussion in all its ubiquity, though about 90% of it is dross; for good analysis one goes straight to the people one has learned to trust, usually still in the quality-controlled MSM or the even more quality-controlled library, rather than to interminable comments threads full of frothing, barking, semi-literate raves. (I exempt LP, where the majority of regulars can think and spell, but I still read the comments there more for the personalities than the content.)

For there is an awful lot of undirected aggression and hostility out there, to say nothing of raving lunacy, and the dread of being flamed whenever one happens to mention some word or discuss some subject -- feminism, Freud, abortion, cats, Amanda Vanstone -- that pushes some nutter's buttons is the single biggest thing that might eventually drive me out of blogging.

(This is where 'real' life has it all over blogging, actually. In a room or in the street, all but the most barking of moon units will usually see fit to maintain the ordinary practices of civil discourse and behaviour with strangers. Would that it were true in the blogosphere.)

But for all that, the main thing that brings me to the keyboard every morning is curiosity and concern about how everybody's going. There's a mere handful of people whose blogs I check regularly that I have actually met -- Elsewhere, Whitebait, Cristy, ThirdCat, Stephanie -- but my attention to the people I 'know' only online is of the same quality, and when there are crises or dramas or adventures in their lives I check in very much as I would with my oldest friend to see how everything's panning out.

So the crazy-brave Lymphopo, formerly Grannyvibe, is having her post-chemo scans today, to see whether the cancer has spread or has been halted. Poor Chris Clarke at Creek Running North (danger, Will Robinson, do not follow this link without a hanky) is spending the last days with his beloved old dog Zeke, who is very much not long for this world.

At the other end of life, Zoe and her family are bonding with Jethro, who was born ten days overdue after a bloggy chorus of slow clapping that went on for nearly a week. Chairman Mao the Burmese Cat, whose potential reaction Armagnac'd had good cause to worry about, has taken to the new baby with nary a meou of protest. Laura drops in occasionally to her blog to take a bit of time out from the flurry of cleaning and packing before she moves into her new house.

I've never met any of these people. But they and all my other must-read bloggers are as real to me as anyone I've ever been in a room with. They are, indeed, more real to me than most; I've got to know them through their writing and to care about what happens to them because of their sheer human quality, and the fun of their online company, and the richness of the lives they lead, and the common tastes and values we share.

So it's not a matter of fewer people in one's life; quite the reverse. It's a matter of a whole new dimension to one's life, into which one can pack a whole extra swag of human interest. Pack-rat that I am, with people as with stuff, to me the blogosphere is mainly just a lovely big new cupboard in the kitchen of life.


Zoe said...

Pav, I saw>this the other day, and thought immediately of you and some recent events.

And on topic, it's completely true that the folks on the other end of the computer are completely real. I bet some of your Saturday morning crew have got hobbies you think are pretty naff, too.

As I mentioned once before, blogging is tops for a new parent who can't get out much, particularly when a partner goes back to work (not yet here, thank goddess). You can actually find interesting grown up conversations if you know where to look.

Zoe said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Zoe said...

Brain not functioning, obvs, as I cannot post a simple link. I'll try


Meredith said...

Yes, blog relationships are as real, as moving, as important as any others. There can be many layers of community, many layers of reality.

PS, I have to lay claim as someone you've met, although only in a crowded lecture hall (I was one of your students at Melbourne Uni in, I think, 1986 or 1987). You gave excellent lecture.

Ampersand Duck said...

Pav, as usual, you've hit the nail on the head (V.Tired Morning Person just typed that as hit the nail IN the head, which sorta works for me), especially that point about being a reader and enjoying the broad cast of characters that blogging provides.

Which is why I get highly nervous before meeting bloggees, but then relaxe as I realise during the meeting that they aren't going to bite me or scrunch their noses up. Well, it hasn't happened yet, anyway.

It really is like having a never-ending novel, better than the best soap-opera, with dynamic genres and writing styles. What more does a reading gal need?

The Devil Drink said...

Nice piece of work, PC.
Interesting, isn't it, the way internet use makes a new class of 'solitude'. Spending time alone used to be a marginal activity, the preserve of pitiable singles, prophets in the desert and prisoners in correction, certainly nothing to be boasted about, but these days everyone can have a bit of that time-honoured pastime. They don't even have to do the hard yards of qualification, practicing their compulsive self-abuse, firing imaginary pistols at the mirror, and honing their lonely drinking until the early hours of the morning. (Partying 'en blog'? Um, yeah, if you say so).
Such is the whim of fashion, I guess, that the most bizarre things suddenly become 'cool'. It's OK, in fact I think it's receding already, and pretty soon blogging and blog-commenting will be as old-hat as man-bags.
Anyway, the vicarious 'realness' of people is totally overrated. Us anthropomorphs pwn all.

cristy said...

I love this post so much that I am sending it to my Mum to read.

I think that the introvert thing is certainly true for me (I come up as very introverted on that MB test despite my loud mouth). I too find people extremely fascinating, but really quite exhausting and need to spend the majority of my time alone. Blogging has been such a great way of finding a balance between the two inclinations - and is, as you say, quite a natural extension of reading novels or biographies for that very reason.

elsewhere said...

Interesting post, as ever, PC. I agree with much of what's been said above.

My experience of meeting other bloggers is that they generally exceed the 'voice' or personality presented through their blog. And there's often been a feeling that they're up the introverted, quieter end of the spectrum.

With the introvert/extrovert thing, I think the decisive factor is that introverts spend a lot of time wishing they were extroverts, whereas I don't know that this happens vice-versa. It's a bit like the Sydney/Melbourne thing. The closest I've ever heard from an extrovert to any kind of regret re: her extroversion was that her mother thought she was 'loud'.

I think my friend D, the social worker, is a bit like you. Far better social skills than me, much more chatty and vivacious but seems to need a lot more time at home than I do, re-fuelling by herself. I find it hard to work out: I expect extroverts to want to socialise.

genevieve said...

Kerryn, this is a lovely piece of writing, and while you are blogging with us we all have much to be thankful for.

To get all meta and heavy here, you have that uncanny knack of wearing your great learning/life experience lightly and getting the fleeting thought down on the webpage which marks all the bloggers I read as exemplars of the personal blog form.
You remind me increasingly of the great Sharon Gray (and if you know her real name, please let me know, I want a signed copy of that woman's collected columns for The Age.)

But in order for this to happen, good writers like yourself have to essentially be interested in other people in the first place. Which, far from making blogging a solitary activity, puts it on another page as far as I'm concerned. They don't call it social software for nothing.
[Let's all have another muffin :)]

sophie said...

Thanks for this post. I very definitely feel drained by real human company, so related to what you wrote.

Genevieve, Sharon's real name is Adele Hulse. To be honest I am not sure how private she is about it being known, though I've never been told I can't make the connection (I've written a couple of articles about Buddhism for which I've interviewed her.)

Susoz said...

You got me thinking (and I can't seem to do trackback for this):

Bernice said...

It is a really interesting phenomenon. I've come to it late and, quite by accident, chose a non-de plume(wishing to comment at LP in a derisory manner that seemed too impolite to do as myself)and have been shocked by how important it is to have a writing voice that projects in a way I never would.
I've found a circle of blogs which form a pattern of contact for me & its more about the possibility of seeing the world as others do, with an expectation of shared values & shared knowledge. Which may or may not be correct. Curious.

JahTeh said...

I love blogging and bloggers. It's like a good gossip over the back fence when I'm reading about the life of someone else. I know I've said this elsewhere but it's not an urban myth that divorced women don't get invited into married company so I was able to make a new group of friends online, even meeting up with some. I can put up posts on anything that interests me, last three were on meteorites, tiaras and antique clothing. I also get to pick on the PM and the rest of his cronies. In other words, great fun.

genevieve said...

Jahteh, I think that stinks and you can have my blog company any time you wish.
Thanks Sophie, that is good to know and I'll try and chase her up now. She is easily one of the best Australian columnists I've ever read - such a great and natural storyteller.
And I think that kind of writing reflects how I feel about the good blogging I find around the traps - one doesn't always need books when there is so much real drama going on, quietly or otherwise, and so many perceptive souls recording it so well.

And Caroline Jones in her book on meaning (v. famous, can't be bothered trying to find it though) refers to a book by May Sarton on solitude which should be read by anyone creative who occasionally feels the sensory insult of too much company. It is most reassuring - Journal of a Solitude, or Diary of a Solitude? (I shall find that one and take it to bed).

I do like the company of my own thoughts, and I love being able to find the thoughts of similar minds online quickly. Or in a library. Or a bookshop. Und so weiter.

JahTeh said...

Thank you Genevieve, I see we have a shared interest in a certain Welsh stud muffin.

genevieve said...

Well, yairs. And I wish he'd make some career decisions soon or he will end his days in a Burberry coat. Quelle horreur. Which reminds me, I must watch The Forsyte Saga again soon (it's late, I nearly called it the Forsyth Saga - another good thing about blogging, you can correct your spelling).

Pavlov's Cat said...

Zoe, I tried to go to the address you posted but it said the photo was unavailable -- what was it??

Meredith -- good heavens. I hate to think what I was talking about. And if it was 86 or 87 then I was doing two full-time jobs at the time and working about 100 hours a week, so I hate to think what I said. I'm glad it was a good lecture though.

&Duck, the nail in the head, I love it.

DD, your anthropomorphic form tends to further confuse the issue of irony, so I'm never entirely sure what you're getting at, but then that is one of the main properties of the devil drink, n'est-ce pas? (In fact, that is largely the point of it.) Are you perchance a sock puppet of Gummo Trotsky's, someone I also find v clever but quite hard to follow?

Cristy & El, re ex/introvert: I really wonder about this. Introverts wanting to be extroverts might change with age, I think. I know enough extreme extroverts to be horrified by the thought that I'll ever behave like that again myself (though I have been known to in the past).

Genevieve, that is a huge compliment. I was always a big fan of Sharon Gray's. (And Sophie, tx for info re real name.)

Susoz and Zoe, it ought to be possible to do links just with the usual code (pointy bracket a href etc etc).

And who is this Welsh stud muffin of whom youse speak?

Genevieve said...

Well, if memory serves me well, it's young Ioan Gruffud, he of Hornblower and Forsyte Saga fame. I'm assuming JahTeh and I are speaking of the same pretty face there. Midshipmans ahoy and all that jazz.

I'm glad you like SG/Adele's stuff too, Kerryn, wouldn't want you to think I'd pigeonholed you there. But she is easily the best personal columnist I've ever read, and I think your style of blogging has a similar elan. I used to love the combination of fabulous one-off incidents with dry yet humane writing (still do on the rare occasions she still appears). Wonderful, wonderful stuff.

pk said...

just a lovely big new cupboard in the kitchen of life

I'm stencilling that on the beige box. Thank you.

Suse said...

I loved this post.

The bit about coming to the computer each day to see what everyone's been up to, and how things are panning out (births, illnesses, house moves et al) is EXACTLY it. Perfect.

I love the community of it all.

I check here regularly for your delicious writing. And cat shots of course.