15 Minute Relationships

Today my daughter and I were discussing the peculiarities of the modern world and its enhanced opportunities for connecting as well as for literary voyeurism and exhibitionism. YouTube, My Space, Facebook, blogging: reality TV has come to the web.

In other times, this sort of exhibitionism was reserved for essayists, novelists, and the like. If they weren’t talented or honest enough with their craft, people didn’t read them and they (presumably) faded into oblivion as their essay collections or novels went out of print. This isn’t the case today, when anyone can have his or her 15 minutes of fame (which will be archived or preserved for posterity on YouTube), just as Andy Warhol predicted.

Yet somehow I doubt that even Andy would have predicted the in-your-face-ishness of places like My Space or YouTube, where anyone with a digital or video camera can become notorious, and where people think that human beings can be reduced to several thousand bytes and frozen like embryos for later revivification.

People seem to think that there are shortcuts to intimacy, as if putting up a My Space page, or blogging regularly, will build real relationships.

“It’s like making Inside Edition efforts, but imagining Lord of the Rings relationships and endings,” my daughter observed.

I loved her comment, and (with some relief) realized it was true. Relationships have always reflected the time and effort invested in them. If we make Inside Edition efforts, we’re going to get Inside Edition results. Only people willing to go on dangerous quests with tried-and-true companions can hope to come away with a friend like Samwise Gamgee.

11 responses

  1. Caroline, you’ve gone and done it now. Our relationship has lasted more than 15 minutes already! 🙂

    I find that lately I’m spending almost as much time reading comments here, thinking about them, and then responding as I am writing my own posts. That’s an interesting and unexpected result of writing about what moves me.

    You make so many good points, I hardly know where to begin. But the one that especially tickled me was the one where you said, in so many words, that our face-to-face friendships may be no more “real” than our on-line ones, for we do not tell our face-to-face friends what we blog about, and vice-versa. This is true! Well put.

    I’m not one of those people who thinks that relationships carried on almost entirely on line are not “real.” I did, once. For several years my kids and I played on on line game, called a Massively Multi-Player On Line Roleplaying Game, or MMORPG, called EverQuest. In case you’re not familiar with these games, one plays an avatar or character with different abilities and powers, depending on one’s class (priest, fighter, scout, magician). You can kill beasts, quest, adventure, craft things, and fight dragons. The large dragon fights could take a raid of 72 people. Seventy two! Yes, all of us working under a general, our raid leader or guild leader, taking this monster down. It was mad fun, and a great way of being involved in activities young men, in particular, seem to enjoy.

    Over the years during which we played, we became friends with many of the people in our guild. We met some face-to-face; some we emailed or phoned at times. Sometimes things happened that enraged or upset us; at one such time I said to my husband, “Oh, I don’t know why I’m even upset about this! It’s not as if it’s real life!”

    He looked at me curiously and said, “Well, if it’s real people playing the game, then it IS real life.” I thought that was brilliant and true. That was the last time I forgot to remember that “on-line” means “people on-line.”

    The on-line world has many advantages to everyday life. I don’t have to get dressed up, put makeup on, or use gasoline to get to where you are. I can chat with you at my leisure, and vice-versa. It’s still real communication. So, yes, I agree with you on that.

    Your feelings about hits to your blog also interested me. I keep two meters for some reason, but I rarely look at them unless I want to see who is skulking around my blog by I.P. address. I’m always surprised when I see that hundreds of people have read something; but I’m not deceived, as I can check how long people were here, and most are not here long enough to read anything of substance. Maybe their reader grabs it in a second and they read it at their leisure; I’m not sure. But it doesn’t matter.

    The reason it doesn’t matter to me is that one reader is enough to justify trying to write truly and well for. Even if I am the only reader. Granted, I’m myopic and may mis-judge whether my writing is any good or not; but I take just as much care. I’m glad I don’t have many comments or a cheering section like some popular blogs have. I don’t get the NoBloGoMo stuff and it seems silly to me (apologies to anyone who reads this who likes that stuff).

    I think what makes me feel nervous is writing the truth about how I feel about things important to me, whether my children or my faith, my husband or marriage, or anything that stirs me in my gut or heart. I don’t like fussing with people, and I’m always afraid that someone will come along and attack me and I’ll have to discipline myself somehow, either through self-control or by having to actually think even more about what I’ve already thought so much about, etc. etc.

    In other words, part of it’s laziness.

    I spent some hours over the weekend watching the DVD of a writer’s workshop, and one of the presenters talked a lot about the editing process. I never really thought about it being so time consuming, but it is. He said to write with your whole heart and edit with your whole head. Write out of the “I” and edit out of and for the “Thou.” I really liked that.

    I’ll post about it when I’m finished writing about what I’m writing about at the moment, which is Mass at the Catholic Church. I think I’ve almost got that (temporarily) out of my system.

    Hope you had a good night’s sleep.

  2. “……..My answer is, ‘it depends. It depends on the time invested; it depends on the quality of depth of the people involved; it depends on the time taken; it depends on the intention………..”.

    What you say, Eve, illustrates that technology is a two-edged sword. It can be used to ennoble or to debase; to do good or to do evil. It depends, as you said, on the intention of the user. I agree that most e-mails are badly written and shallow, most probably because they are written in haste, and to convey mere trivia. Most of them do the same thing as the utilitarian handwritten note of yore.

    But why shouldn’t e-mails between friends be as beautifully written as handwritten letters used to be? And we shouldn’t forget that lots of handwritten letters were as atrociously written and boring as most e-mails are today, and had the added disadvantage of being often illegible.

    The e-mail is still in its infancy, so books have yet to be published which contain the beautifully written e-mails between the modern equivalents of Robert and Elizabeth Browning, or Vincent and Theo van Gogh. I’m not saying such collections of literary and aesthetic e-mails will ever make their appearance, but there’s no reason why they shouldn’t.

    “………We have great width and little depth; we don’t know our cultural or ancestral history, culture, art, literature; we know nothing. We think we invented the wheel. We say “QUESTION AUTHORITY!” because we have no idea of when, how, and by whom it has already been questioned………”.

    I agree with you on this. But is it the fault of the internet, the blogosphere, facebook, and all of that? Because of the internet, no-one who is able to use it regularly should remain ignorant about anything if they wish not to be. So if we are ignorant about anything, we are willfully ignorant if we have the internet at home. To have the internet at home, is, for all intents and purposes, to have our very own reference library. So we can all be polymaths if we choose to be.

    “………how can we, in this technological age of non-relationships and a lot of instant communication, really get down to communicating and connecting as human beings? To what good use can we put our communications technology?…………”.

    It was Karl Marx’s great insight that changes in the means of production were revolutionary for societies as a whole. It changes the way we make a living, where we live, how we are educated, what we learn. This changes the way we think, and our values, how we relate to each other (our friendships) and many, many other things I can’t even begin to think of. We moved off rural farms and into urban factories. The invention of the motor car enabled us to live in isolated suburban homes, which destroyed the extended family, and substituted the isolated nuclear family, which has been described, I think insightfully, as a hotbed of neurosis.

    So it’s easy to see how communications technology in the form of the internet, e-mails, and the blogosphere, which represent a huge change in the way we make our living (the means of production) have radically changed our communities, families, and friendships. It used to be that we got both emotional and intellectual sustenance from our everyday friends. But with blogging and e-mails, we can get intellectual sustenance from people who we’ll never see, and don’t even know the names of.

    So our the things we talk about with the friends we see, may exclude anything of depth, or which is thought-provoking, because we can get this from our internet “friends”, who, consequently, may become meaningful friends for the very reason that we can talk to them about things we can’t talk about with our real-life friends, because it would be over their heads. This is the case with me, and I think also the case with one of your commentors, “renaissanceguy” who said:

    “……..The Internet has made it possible for idiosyncratic and eccentric people to find others like them, because they have quick and easy access to a vast range of people.

    I have few people in my immediate vicinity who care about the things that I do or want to discuss them as passionately as I do……….”.

    I concur entirely!!

    But just because we can’t discuss anything profoundly thought-provoking with our everyday friends, doesn’t mean we won’t become close to them, for intellectual sustenance is just one facet of a friendship. So we can still talk with them about all the myriad other things which one talks about with those we are close to. Even before the internet and blogging, how often did any of us discuss profound thought-provoking things with our friends or family? Probably not too often.

    “………There’s no substitute for ‘friends in the flesh.’ Your on-line friend can’t look you in the eye; your on-line friend can’t sit by the fire and discuss books with you for hours; your on-line friend doesn’t make love to you, doesn’t bring you soup when you’re sick, doesn’t sit at your father’s wake with you………”.

    Based on what I said before, I would disagree with you slightly, by saying that while there is no substitute for “friends in the flesh”, there will also be no substitute for friends on the internet or in the blogosphere, because the two types of friendships will be quite different, with one type being emotional, and the other type intellectual. To coin a phrase, we will compartmentalize our friendships.

    So your talk about “friends in the flesh” discussing books by the fire for hours with us becomes redundant, because our “friends in the flesh” won’t be of the book-reading type in this utopia I’m sketching out!! But I do agree that it is only ‘friends in the flesh’ whom we’ll make love with!! And while we’re making love with them, we won’t be discussing Einstein’s Theory of Relativity, or why the Roman Empire declined, because we’ll do this with our internet friends with whom we don’t make love!!

    As for our ‘friends in the flesh’ bringing us soup when we’re sick, and sitting with us at our father’s wake, are you not letting your memories of reading 19th century literature overtake you?!!!

    There are those (and you may be one of them!!) who say that an internet friendship can never be real because it involves, for all intents and purposes, two discarnate entities. Thus they are imaginary friendships, and so of no substance. Well, what about “friends in the flesh”? With most of them, is it not true that we are physically apart from them for about 98% of the time that we are friends with them?

    This means that 98% of the time, they exist only in our imagination. Given that our internet friends exist 100% percent in our imagination, this is a mere 2% difference, which, I’m sure you’ll agree, is of next to no importance.

    “………I notice that people who blog and have endless blogrolls also have boring, trite blogs. They don’t think or move people; they’re the eye candy of the blogosphere, intent on hits, ads, popularity and that’s all; this is the modern mind, if you can call it that. It’s the Paris Hilton mindset, not the James Joyce one………..”.

    I agree with you on this. But there is that tiny minority or blogs (and yours is one of them) which, when we discover them, make wading through all the boring and trite blogs to be worthwhile. I do confess to inordinately checking my site meter to see how many visitors I’ve had.

    And on days when there are more than 10, I experience a rush of pride that so many would deign to read my modest literary outpourings. But if the surge in visitors persists for more than a couple of days, I long for the numbers to drop, for I can almost sense them waiting like ravenous lions at the waterhole at feeding time, for their next morsel – and in my case, their next literary morsel. So when the numbers do drop off, as they invariably do, I experience relief, for now I don’t feel I have to write to anyone’s expectations.

    “………To put a medium like this one to good use, we have to take our time: I read a blog whose owner spends up to three or four hours on one single blog post. I am the same way. I’ve been thinking for two days now about how to write what I want to write here about something that deeply stirred me (a news item, of all things). People who ponder and think like this, and bring only three or four paragraphs out of that kind of care are using technology to its best advantage………..”.

    Yes, I’m one who, too, can spend several hours on one blog posting. It’s not so much my writing which takes up the time, so much as the editing. I think I spend three or four times editing what I’ve written, than I spend actually writing. This must seem unbelievable to anyone who reads my modest little writings. But there it is.

    Thank you for giving me the opportunity to air my thoughts on certain things.

    Now I must go to bed…………..!!

  3. Caroline, you asked, “Don’t they do today, what letter writing did before the advent of the e-mail, My Space, blogging etc, which is to be the current technology by which to facilitate and maintain friendships?”

    My answer is, “it depends.” It depends on the time invested; it depends on the quality of depth of the people involved; it depends on the time taken; it depends on the intention.

    Technology has made our lives more immediately demanding–the ring or buzz of the phone is in our pocket, in our purse, right with us all the time. It interrupts our conversations, if we have them.

    We write emails, which are notoriously, empirically bad for communication; good research shows that the email author rarely communicates as well or directly as he thinks he does; the reader is often offended.

    We have great width and little depth; we don’t know our cultural or ancestral history, culture, art, literature; we know nothing. We think we invented the wheel. We say “QUESTION AUTHORITY!” because we have no idea of when, how, and by whom it has already been questioned. We’re into it, it, it and not relationships with other human beings.

    There’s no substitute for “friends in the flesh.” Your on-line friend can’t look you in the eye; your on-line friend can’t sit by the fire and discuss books with you for hours; your on-line friend doesn’t make love to you, doesn’t bring you soup when you’re sick, doesn’t sit at your father’s wake with you.

    And our correspondence by email or on blogs and forums will have to go a long way before it is the stuff of the letters exchanged between Robert and Elizabeth Browning, or Vincent van Gogh and his brother, Theo, and so many others who spent long hours thoughtfully pouring their souls onto paper, and waited weeks and in some cases months to receive a reply.

    But you bring up such great points–you’re right, it is “potentially a huge topic”! Why don’t you write about it? I’d like to know what you think; how can we, in this technological age of non-relationships and a lot of instant communication, really get down to communicating and connecting as human beings? To what good use can we put our communications technology (if any, my inner skeptic mutters as we put it to good use right now).

    I notice that people who blog and have endless blogrolls also have boring, trite blogs. They don’t think or move people; they’re the eye candy of the blogosphere, intent on hits, ads, popularity and that’s all; this is the modern mind, if you can call it that. It’s the Paris Hilton mindset, not the James Joyce one. To put a medium like this one to good use, we have to take our time: I read a blog whose owner spends up to three or four hours on one single blog post. I am the same way. I’ve been thinking for two days now about how to write what I want to write here about something that deeply stirred me (a news item, of all things). People who ponder and think like this, and bring only three or four paragraphs out of that kind of care are using technology to its best advantage (although one might better encourage them to go straight to essaying for publication–but then who would read that, when we’re all busy on our iPhones?).

    Enough rambling. Tell me what you think.

  4. “………People seem to think that there are shortcuts to intimacy, as if putting up a My Space page, or blogging regularly, will build real relationships……..”.

    Why point your finger only at My Space or blogging as impediments to building real relationships?

    Don’t they do today, what letter writing did before the advent of the e-mail, My Space, blogging etc, which is to be the current technology by which to facilitate and maintain friendships?

    Think about the telephone – technology after all – which many of us still use to speak with friends who we would otherwise visit but for the telephone.

    History is filled with instances of people writing letters to each other over many, many years, and the friendships thus formed lasted a lifetime.

    Children used to have overseas pen-friends, and these epistolary friendships were often very fulfilling. Today we have blogging friends, or e-mail friends, or however we like to describe it.

    Why can’t they be as meaningful as the old pen-friendships?

    Technology has always affected the way we relate to one another, whether that technology is the telephone, letters, e-mails, and all of that.

    With communications technology now as it is, it may, for instance, no longer be necessary to have friends in the flesh, with whom our connections are primarily intellectual, since, if we want to have intellectual exchanges, we can now do so solely via blogging, or e-mails.

    So the friends we now make, whom we see, will now be different sorts of friends, who will fill our emotional needs, rather than our intellectual.

    This is potentially a huge topic!!!

  5. The Internet has made it possible for idiosyncratic and eccentric people to find others like them, because they have quick and easy access to a vast rage of people.

    I have few people in my immediate vicinity who care about the things that I do or want to discuss them as passionately as I do.

  6. Tiv, getting something “just right” when I write is so rare that when I do, I get such a rush out of it, I high five myself!

    I’m tired today, too. Don’t even ask why I’m still up.

  7. I was initial very dubious about blogging relationships as not being real, but I’ve learned through making various commenting errors just how sensitive bloggers’ feelings can be and that there is often a very easily hurt human on the other side of these words. I’ve tried to become more careful in how I saw things when commenting on other people’s blogs. Cole of Blahblahblah has expressed it well as when commenting, you are entering someone’s home, and you don’t start telling them how to move their furniture. Obviously, I still make bloopers.

  8. Jade, one way (of many) I’ve stayed involved with my teens is through gaming–big online games called MMORPGs. Once I said something offhand to my hubby that sounded like, “I don’t know why we got so worked up about that incident in the game… it’s not as if it’s the real world.”

    Hubby replied that actually, it was the real world because real people were playing the game.

    That has stuck with me ever since, and I’ve made my share of online friends; and they’re real! I meant, really, that small efforts beget small results, but our culture gives an illusion sometimes that LOTR style mythical, archetypal, deep relationships can happen just like *snap* that.

    I’ve only been blogging for weeks now and I already feel a great fondness for you and others I’ve met blogging. I have no doubt at all that as months and even years go by, we will be friends and I will hope that when you guys come westernish (for I assume that all cool people live in California), you will stop by and visit me and I’ll feed you and we’ll chat, and then you’ll go on your merry way. And it will be real.

  9. Good debatable topic. 🙂 I’ve made my share of wonderful lifelong friendships on the web, through blogs…but also met a handful of people who appeared and disappeared like magic.

    I think the foundation/introduction is made when we share information (via the internet)…but the rest? It’s up to us to continue the connection and make it meaningful.

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