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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.

(20 comments | Leave a comment)


[User Picture]
Date:May 9th, 2004 12:25 pm (UTC)

Re: internet relationships

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.
Date:May 9th, 2004 12:43 pm (UTC)

Re: internet relationships

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.
[User Picture]
Date:May 9th, 2004 01:57 pm (UTC)

Re: internet relationships

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.
[User Picture]
Date:May 9th, 2004 03:41 pm (UTC)

Re: internet relationships

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)
[User Picture]
Date:May 9th, 2004 08:08 pm (UTC)
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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