Monday, August 29, 2005

Unringing the Internet

Speak as if everything you say one day will be published in permanent marker.

I was virtually talking—talking in virtual reality. I sat in my living room, yet I was in a room filled with some exceptionally intelligent and hospitable people. We were talking casually, comfortably, unselfconsciously, as quickly as our fingers could get the words across the keys.

In another time it might have been a gathering in a hotel or a small condominium meeting. Subjects wove their way into and out of discussions. Questions were asked and sometimes answered. Jokes were cracked. Some fell flat. Strokes were given. Others were wished for. People were complimented. People were teased. People interrupted and talked over each other in the way talking people do. Someone even used the word sucks.

It could be that it was a better time virtually than had we literally been in one room. Layers of preparation and complication were blissfully erased. I didn’t dress up or make sure that I looked just right. I had no commute, nor did I need to find a parking place. I didn’t worry about people looking at me. I listened with my eyes to the words on the screen and was not once distracted by body language or the sigh I wasn’t supposed to hear. It was content without subtext—no extra information to process.

What a relief on my overactive radar. No bodies sat before me to complicate the messages. No extra worries were floating through the air. Gone was the excessive chatter and rushing about that comes from nervous humans trying to fill the silences. Gone was the need to look each other in the eye. Every smiley face had to be taken at its smiley face value. Each of us sat safely cocooned in our safe little space, yet we had the illusion of being together.

How simple it was for one lady to give out her email address. I could see her reaching into her purse to get a pen and paper to write it down for the one she was giving to. Did she mean to share it with the twenty or so other strangers in the room? Did she wonder when she “got home” whether the folks she had met might not have been who they pretended to be? Has she even considered that yet?

Questions of that nature were once reserved for occasions of misbehavior or making a wrong turn in an unknown part of a big city.

What exactly happened to our typed words when we returned to our three-dimensional reality? For the first time, I find myself interested in the minutes of a meeting. I’m thinking it’s too easy to pour information onto my computer screen. I know I’ll be listening more than speaking at the next meeting.

Mistakes in the virtual world become recorded history . . . the proverbial bell you can’t unring.

I’m still trying to find my way around this unreal reality.

—me strauss Letting me be


Anonymous said...

Misunderstandings are common on the internet as facial experession and tone of voice are missing. Even the wrong smiley can sometimes get you in trouble.

>>Did she wonder when she “got home” whether the folks she had met might not have been who they pretended to be? Has she even considered that yet?

That crosses everyone's mind at some point in their virtual lives, I think. :)

"ME" Liz Strauss said...

Hi Liz,
I agree that misunderstanding happen for just the reasons you point out. I think we're learning how to add the subtext or real text to avoid a lot of them.

I'm not sure as I look around me that people are quite as aware that what they're writing is longer lasting than telling secrets to a friend might be.

Anonymous said...

Or with a delete button, is it any longer lasting than yesterday's newspaper? Is the dissapproval (deserved or not) any more substantial than that of a stranger on the bus?
This world is like safely dipping your toes back into the schoolyard, where you were in a pool of people unrelated by anything other than age, or in this case, tendency to blog.
Really depends which layer of the onion you're at; where your own level of consciousness/sens of responsibility happens to be.
I like this proposition, I think it will run round my head arguing for and against itself for a good while.

"ME" Liz Strauss said...

I hear what you are saying Cheryl, but you can edit what you remember from the schoolyard. The words aren't written. No one can find the document from the schoolbus.
But the blog, the blog could still be out there 40 years from now. Scary.


Anonymous said...

I have some great ideas :) Nevermind. Next time.

"ME" Liz Strauss said...

Your point is made.
I see your account is closed as well. Mystery person.