Monday, August 01, 2005

Blog Buyer Beware!

That should really be conspicuously posted on the top of every blog as a warning that the contents within should be taken with a grain ( or in some cases) an entire shaker of salt.

On the face of it, one might reasonably assume that when people publish regular personal details of their lives, their thoughts, feelings or even just what they ate for breakfast, that the poster is telling the truth. I mean, blog communities are supposedly made up of folks who want to share real information with each other. There's generally an unstated expectation that unless it's obviously fiction, people are trying to connect with each other around real life experiences with the online world simply an extension of our living rooms or local gathering place.

Such an assumption would be incorrect because of a fundamental difference between the virtual community and real life - accountability.

In the real world a person's credibility is measured daily against their every statement and action - even facial expressions, body language and quality of their voice. It's relatively easy over time to gather a fairly accurate picture of the nature and character of an individual.

It is virtually impossible to do this online. The very medium itself provides sufficient anonymity that a blogger can create an entire persona - a new life if you will, without anyone, sometimes even themselves being the wiser. There are none of the day-to-day checks and balances that prevent people from misrepresenting the truth, exaggerating, or simply misinterpreting facts. A reader is totally dependant on the online writer's honesty, good intentions, memory or even their perception of reality. And we want to believe the poster - we really do. Particularly if they are cute and friendly. Add an untenable situation; a bad husband,wife, boyfriend,girlfriend, mother, father, a boss who fired them without cause, etcetera, etcetera, and we all want to ride in on our white horses and rescue, or at least commiserate with this unfortunate poster who clearly has been victimized by people and events beyond their control. We seldom say; you know, I don't quite believe that. Why would we? That's an unfriendly statement and in any event we don't want to believe we've been regularly misled by someone with whom we presumed to have an open, honest caring virtual friendship, even if it wasn't intentional on the poster's part.

I remember the C.B. radio craze during the '70's. I was about fourteen and couldn't wait to get one and talk with people from all over. I used to keep it turned on all the time, hoping someone I knew would sign on and want to talk with me. Or, simply listening to snippets of conversations people were having, deciding if I liked their manner enough to introduce myself and make a new "friend". I met the most interesting people on the airwaves in this way.

Let's see, there was the very sexy woman who flirted all night long with every guy she heard on the air. She turned out to be an eleven year old girl who's mother obviously had no idea what she was up to - I shudder to think about it. Then there was the rock musician who played all the clubs. He was forty-five and still lived in his parents basement, totally unable to get any job much less a real music gig. Then there was the guy across the street from me having an on-air affair with a hot married woman whose husband was abusive. The reality of course, was somewhat different.

I know these things because after months and months of developing what I thought was close, on the air relationships with these folks and building a picture of them in my mind, we all finally met. You never saw a group of more dumbfounded, slack-jawed, confused and disturbed people in your life. When the "rock musician came face to face with the eleven year old who had been calling him her husband over the airwaves for two months I thought he would crap himself. How she even managed to come into the city from another state for this group "reunion" is still beyond me. Or more to the point, what was she expecting to happen when everyone saw who she really was. The whole event was surreal and rather frightening to me. I didn't understand what had happened to these people I thought I knew so well.

I went home later that afternoon and unplugged my C.B. radio and sold it the next day to the guy across the street. I was done. I felt betrayed, duped, and made a mockery of. And the worst part of it was that I allowed it to happen because I wanted to believe these "friends".

Blogs or C.B. radios - it's all the same. There are many people who just want to honestly connect with other people around similar interests. I still optimistically believe these people are the majority. There are folks who are using the medium to further their creative writing skills, letting us enjoy hours of entertainment. And then there are those (I still believe only a few) who want something quite different from the experience. These people need external affirmation and confirmation to help define themselves. unfortunately how they define themselves is somewhat fluid and often quite different from what an objective observer would see. They want us to give them the attention that perhaps they are unable to get elsewhere, in a forum where they feel safe from discovery.

We tell our children not to believe everything they hear or read, but I think sometimes we forget to remind ourselves to take our own advice. Until we see each other face to face and over time meet our friends, family, and community we really have no idea what kind of people we have let into our lives.

Blogger Beware!