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May 9th, 2004


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01:02 pm - Human Nature
Because it seems like a good idea, I turn to the internet for help. Strike that. Because it is the most comfortable and accomidating medium for me, I turn to the internet for my education. In the journey to wisdom, I reflect on the things I know I do not know. Things that I feel I should have a better comfort with. Some deficiencies are quite obvious, and so I use some of my time to improve on them. The internet helps, and the internet hurts, because it is all there, and cognitive dissonance is the nature of the beast.

I write today in particular about the curious relationship dynamics of geeky males "courting" on the internet.

For the past two mornings, upon loading my friends page, I have been exposed to the continuing stalker sagas of two of my female friends by geeky males. This is upsetting. I can see the distress it causes to the stalkees. The impact is compounded when I start to consider the list of other friends I have who have had to deal with this.

And it is made worse by the noise from the other side of the gender divide in my journal, the geeky single males. Of which I readily admit membership. Part of this property of the demographic I describe is a certain innocence regarding the initiation and development of relationships with a compatible partner. As above, we turn to the internet for wisdom and education. But it is a poor tutor. And we turn to our collective selves, but the blind leads the blind.

The stalker lesson is tricky. Because in many of these cases, one immediately empathizes with the initial attempt -- a brief conversation, exchange of message. For one who feels isolated, we know the warm sunshine from the attention of a beautiful person. It is a rush, and one understands why the message may be promoted to greater importance than it could rationally be considered. "She replied to my response from misc.market! The words were kind! Clearly, we are meant to be together"

And we study the relationships that do develop from simple exchanges. In both of the weddings of my contempories I've attended, the relationship started electronically. My dating history, and several of my deep friendships, have been developed over the aether. It is the medium we find most accomidating and comfortable, and where most of our time is spent.

The problem with the stalker lesson is that the particular point of diversion from the norm can be noted only in retrospect. Some people don't respond to email in a timely fashion, so is a followup appropriate? In the case of the stalker with psychotic issues, well, sure we can see that he crossed the line quickly and early and didn't see it -- he probably still thinks that he hasn't seen it because he has not reached it yet. In the case of the overeager brokenheart geek, he probably considers himself an old-fashion romantic who, if the movies are right, will eventually get the girl.

Livejournal may exasperate the issue. To the prospective stalker, LJ provides a level of personal intimacy hard to get otherwise from non-celebrities. It makes you feel comfortable with the target's minutae. To build empathy with their troubles, and to place the stalker in a position to consider how their own involvement might be written of. It is a naturally false intimacy, where like a book review on Amazon.com, there is a disclosure bias and a lack of context. She seems unhappy with the level of affection shown by her wrong-for-her boyfriend? I would be happy to have the opportunity to give someone random gifts of affection. I would not ignore her to play videogames. I am clearly more of the person she is looking for. This, without knowing that the real issue is a deeper, more subtle issue. Because when one is perceptive enough to figure it out, they act, not whine to their supportive friends.

But livejournal is not the issue, and leaving livejournal not the solution. To the motivated prospective stalker, to the geeky male, absorbing sidechannel information can be as comfortable as breathing. When does she sign on to AIM? What does her away message say? Where does she log in from? When and where do I see her (on campus, at work)? The patterns of behavior are absorbed and considered, and adjusted for -- not deliberately. Until one notices crossing the line, it is all "coincidence" and "casual knowledge accumulation".

The line doesn't exist, and within a demographic using a medium because they are poorly equipped in this social manner, to figure out what is enough is hard. Showing up at their house is crazy -- but being in the neighborhood and walking by? Letting them know how you feel, in longhand -- courteous, courageous, or threatening?

I guess the point of this entry is, cognitive dissonance. We tread in a world of inprecise spoken and physical language. It isn't solved by more explicit language or more open discussion, because as in the greatest cryptographic tradition, not only do we not know what the message is, we don't know ourselves, we don't know the other party, and the vocabulary is inconsistent and in flux.

(21 comments | Leave a comment)

Comments:


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From:combinator
Date:May 9th, 2004 11:28 am (UTC)
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Good writeup.
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From:daemonv
Date:May 9th, 2004 12:00 pm (UTC)
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Thank you. I didn't know you still read livejournal.
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From:skamille
Date:May 9th, 2004 11:52 am (UTC)
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I think at least part of the "line" is when you stop being ashamed of your behavior and admitting to yourslef that it's kinda creepy and weird and not something you would admit to doing, and when you think it's perfectly normal and justified.
And let's be real, here: both genders stalk. When you're interested in someone and you have computer access, it's very hard to resist the urge to watch their computerized movements, assuming you have the proper access. And it's creepy, yeah, but as long as you can limit yourself to watching their livejournal posts or fingering their andrew account, you probably aren't crossing the line. It's when you are physically following them around, sending them tons of ignored email, standing outside their dorm staring at their window...
Still, I think that at least geek women could cut down on stalking a lot by making their intentions towards members of the opposite sex more obvious. And geek men could cut down on stalking by not being such fucking chickens and asking girls out when they're interested in them in a clearly defined "date" manner. I really don't think there is a higher percentage of super-crazy obsessive stalking among geeks than among non-geeks, geeks are just far worse at making their intentions clear from the get-go.
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From:daemonv
Date:May 9th, 2004 12:16 pm (UTC)
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not something you would admit to doing, and when you think it's perfectly normal and justified.
I agree that I feel like I have a sense of (my) line. The point was that's not necessarily intuitive, and to some folks, knowing what is and is not creepy is tricky. For some, like trurl, I think Livejournal helps in this, because he has a forum for people like you to let him know if it is creepy. But several of the people I am talking about don't even necessarily care/use/have such a sounding board, and the problem can grow deep if you don't stop quickly.

And to the point of being weird and not something you'd admit to doing, I disagree. I don't post about my online personals experiences, because while I know that I am staying within the confines of proscribed behaviors, I still consider it weird and not something I'm terribly comfortable talking about. The same goes within my acquisition of friends like kellibunny, another transaction which I don't think makes either of us uncomfortable but which I have little interest in discussing on my journal.

I was atypically looselipped about the whole Danielle saga. In general, that kind of thing wouldn't really be fodder I talk about, and I think my friends have gotten used to me introducing random elements into the social mix without initial context (qiika, for example).

I didn't talk about both genders stalking, or about the non-geeky male stalkers, because those are not things I have any authority on. I have seen stalker experiences from the prospectives of geeky males, and from the stalkee women. I also know that, from experience, guys stalking girls is far more threatening. I was happy to have what appeared to be a geek girl stalker. I've only had one obscure and obscene phone call, and that too was more flattering than threatening. I believe all of that likely to be true with the other parties I am thinking of.
From:ex_trurl
Date:May 9th, 2004 11:02 pm (UTC)
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Thanks for managing to use me in the same sentence with the word creepy.
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From:daemonv
Date:May 9th, 2004 11:13 pm (UTC)
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trurl is not creepy. Oops, I did it again.
From:zkhan
Date:May 9th, 2004 12:11 pm (UTC)

internet relationships

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I'm not sure I agree entirely with your entry. I don't see the disonance. I think where the relationship started doesn't really matter. If you get lucky there's a point at which you meet in person that matters (or sometimes, doesn't).

Either way, the geeky male deserves to get screwed in the end. It's a good lesson. The stalked need to be more prudent about who they let read their blogs. It's their fault.

Just my Republican perspective from the South :-).

Z
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From:daemonv
Date:May 9th, 2004 12:25 pm (UTC)

Re: internet relationships

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The stalked need to be more prudent about who they let read their blogs. It's their fault.

I really hope you are not serious, because that reflects poorly on you, and I was trying not to name names.

I think where the relationship started doesn't really matter

Read skamille's comment, where she acknowledges that girls should give guys more cues about where they stand. Some of the cases I was talking about, the guys were given mixed cues, and as a result, the guys continued to believe that they had a chance and were making progress. But we don't blame the victims, in this case, when it escalates.

I will take a more personal response to this to a private channel if you like.
From:zkhan
Date:May 9th, 2004 12:43 pm (UTC)

Re: internet relationships

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I really hope you are not serious, because that reflects poorly on you, and I was trying not to name names.

Sure. I should soften my statement and say that you need to be careful what you post, extra careful. It's not an easy thing to do. I don't know about the specifics so I can't say what i think about what. I was just responding to the gist of your post. I agree with skamille that mixed signals probably make things a more complicated.
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From:leko
Date:May 9th, 2004 01:57 pm (UTC)

Re: internet relationships

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there is truth to that. people are putting this information on the net for public consumption, and they have no right to complain about who reads it.

this doesn't mean that stalking is excused, but reading a public blog is not stalking.
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From:daemonv
Date:May 9th, 2004 03:41 pm (UTC)

Re: internet relationships

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Certainly, believing one has a right to privacy of their online content "because they want it" doesn't fly with me. Whenever you commit an idea to the computer, you make a tradeoff between accessibility and privacy. If I don't write it, no one can read it. If I post a "friends-only" entry, I can expect that it is less likely that a non-friend will read it, but not zero-chance. If I post it publically but don't give out my name, I am still posting publically. I have to assume that any prospective date may go through the trouble of reading my public livejournal.

But the comment was not regarding the availability of the information, so much as how it was interpreted. It is one thing to oogle the breasts of a girl on a topless beach and would not be appropriate for her to complain that you looked; its another to touch, or rape, as a result.
(Deleted comment)
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From:denorae
Date:May 9th, 2004 08:08 pm (UTC)
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I remember reading an article a while back about the lack of privacy on the internet. The basic premise was that google was evil because it let people find out things about other people. They interviewed this one woman, who was complaining that people were finding these children's stories that she had put online, along with a bunch of personal information that she had put on her personal website. And the article blamed google for this woman's stupidity.
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From:qiika
Date:May 9th, 2004 12:54 pm (UTC)

Stalkers...

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I have both been stalked and been considered a "stalker". The "been stalked" consisted of (depending on the instance) repeated phone calls (at times obscene), emails (again), letters (snail-mail), repeated unwanted personal confrontation/attempted conversation, etc. The "considered a stalker" was once when I was researching a potential personals date online and found out plenty about the person and told them so prior to IRL meeting. Apparently that was too creepy for person in question and the IRL thing never happened (probably for the best, though he sounded interesting enough).

I'll say the "line" to cross is different depending both on who you are, who the other person is, and circumstance. Example, I googled you prior to our scheduled IRL meeting, and that was not considered creepy. Alternately, if a non-computer-user did online/etc research about me out of nowhere *I'd* be creeped.

My non-organized 2 cents.
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From:daemonv
Date:May 9th, 2004 03:48 pm (UTC)

Re: Stalkers...

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I googled you prior to our scheduled IRL meeting, and that was not considered creepy

Also probably not considered particularly fruitful, although I appear to appear more on google now, less Mormon composer and Epic programmer obfuscation.

But I also recall I sent you a link that I knew would backtrack to my homepage; I was curious if you would follow, and if you would acknowledge that you had.

I believe Googling dates is now considered socially kosher among the hip non-computer-geek scene in the hot urban crowds.

Heck, your first or second email, I did a reverse lookup on the IP you had sent it from (yahoo.com so graciously adds a header field) to see you were coming from Fedex. :)
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From:unreasonable
Date:May 9th, 2004 04:57 pm (UTC)

my rant on the subject

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I think you raise an interesting issue. One that's recently been nagging me.

Most of the people I meet are leaving a lot of both intentional and non-intentional digital footprints. As a geek, it's takes little effort to find out where you study, where you live and if you use lj or one of the friendster things, all sorts of personal details about you. What would have taken a private detective ten years ago is now almost easy as reading a supermarket tabloid. And getting easier. So the sort of lack of privacy associated with celebrity is to some extent becoming universal. And we're making it this way when we choose to move our lives into the online community.

We are not developing the social protocols to deal with this sort of new situation quickly enough. When you know what someone had for breakfast, how do you behave when you meet them for the first time? And should you be surprised when someone you hardly know asks you how your sick mother's doing? As I see it, we can either realize that we have overexposed ourselves and retract, or we must adapt our behaviors to take into account this new situation. And it's not all negative. By reading what people have to say about their lives, and leaving what I have to say about my life in a place where people can read it, I can form more relationships more efficiently. Is this a good thing? Am I better for it? These are still open questions.

After your done reading this, what will you go and learn about me?
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From:denorae
Date:May 9th, 2004 08:37 pm (UTC)

Re: my rant on the subject

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After your done reading this, what will you go and learn about me?

Orkut
Personal Website
andrewid: dunlavey
office: NSHA504
cell: 412X480X9340

ten minutes, tops.

I'm not actually interested in stalking you, just proving a point :)
[User Picture]
From:unreasonable
Date:May 9th, 2004 10:41 pm (UTC)

you're proving my point

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Ok nice work, you've proved you're a geek too. Now you've made it easier for my slightly less geeky stalker.

Do you have anything to say on the real questions though? Is what you just did aggressive? I don't know. And now what am I supposed to say if we meet? How are your cats? Or am I to pretend I don't know that you have pillow cases with pink stripes? What is appropriate? At least now I know who wrote in runes all over campus.

how come everybody gets turned on by thunderstorms?
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From:4thfromtheleft
Date:May 9th, 2004 11:03 pm (UTC)

Re: you're proving my point

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And to prove I'm a geek - you should use forward slashes "/" not back slashes "\" in your wesite's html code - it causes massive website breakage in non-IE browers.

I'm still thinking about the more important questions
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From:unreasonable
Date:May 9th, 2004 11:25 pm (UTC)

Re: you're proving my point

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All these people reminding me of how my crappy website. It might be enough to make me update it :P

And I really didn't need any more proof from you.
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From:denorae
Date:May 10th, 2004 12:01 pm (UTC)

Re: you're proving my point

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By reading what people have to say about their lives, and leaving what I have to say about my life in a place where people can read it, I can form more relationships more efficiently. Is this a good thing? Am I better for it? These are still open questions.

Some people show completely different personalities online and in person. Online journals and conversations inaccurately represent the people behind them, because everything is so conscious. Many subtleties of personality are obliterated because whoever's writing something online has complete control over exactly what they are saying, and not saying. People usually don't write what they are wearing, or what their hair is like, or how they are sitting in their chair, unless it's unique or funny or significant in some way. But all of those things can show a great deal about what a person is really like. People also don't usually write about things like "Now I am stopping to scratch my head," or "Now I am cracking my knuckles and producing a really annoying popping sound," or "Now I am brushing my hair, standing in front of my window in the sunlight." All that you can know about someone is what they are allowing you to know. Maybe someone will say "I followed my diet plan perfectly with breakfast this morning, I only had fresh fruit and cereal." And then maybe they'll go out and consume four triple cheeseburgers and a pitcher of beer for lunch, and conveniently leave it out of their next diet report entry. My point is that yes, you can form more relationships in less time, but what are those relationships based on? The only things you know of each other are what each person believes to be the best or most significant aspects of their lives. So maybe you're really impressed with someone's ideas, but what if it turns out that person is a 400-lb child molester living in a van down by the river? You can't learn everything about a person within the first five minutes of meeting them, but you will learn more in those first five minutes than you will in five weeks of reading their writings or talking to them online.

So, to answer your questions/comments:
-Yes (see above).
-Probably, but no harm intended. You could probably have it deleted without too much trouble.
-You can say "hello, nice to meet you finally! I've read so much about you, and now I can find out how much of it is true!"
-Haven't seen them in several months but I'd hear if something happened, thanks for asking.
-Does it really make a difference as to what color my pillowcases are? If I thought it was embarrassing, I wouldn't have put that picture online. If you think it's embarrassing, well, stop looking, or something. It's not too much different from seeing a random person walking down the street wearing a pink polyester polka-dot jacket with black leather pants with flames down the sides. You can either point and laugh, or say "hey that's cool!", and then you just file it away with any other things you happen to notice about them.
-What's appropriate would be for both of us to act like the people we really are, so that we can each see how well the online personalities that we project fit in with our actual personalities. What's appropriate would be for each of us to get to know the other person all over again, this time with all of the interesting subconscious subtleties that slip out without our awareness. Maybe you have laugh that grates on my nerves. Or maybe my hand gestures will remind you of someone you hated in high school. Or maybe we'll fall in love and get married and live happily ever after. There's no way to know!
-Yes, I take full credit for the runes :)

-thunderstorms? no idea.

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