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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:


[User Picture]
From:denorae
Date:May 10th, 2004 12:01 pm (UTC)

Re: you're proving my point

(Link)
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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