Tuesday, May 22, 2007

Here be Dragons

Well now, I have been minded to close this blog down for quite some time. Although I've enjoyed writing it, and some few have enjoyed reading it apparently, it had grown into a huge jumble-sale of opinions, facts, personal reminiscences. So I started tinkering with it months ago, but gradually it has been borne in on me (the operative word is "tenosynovitis") that rejigging it, and even just keeping it going, is taking more and more of the time and energy that I no longer have to spare.

I must confess, these latest posts have been those I had in hand anyway, written in easier times, awaiting opportunity to put them up, so I've been able to delay the end.

Then, on top of that, I have noticed that the blogsphere is not immune to the difficulties that beset other internet communities.

A fellow blogger has expressed the conviction to me that internet friendships are not "real" friendships. They are different, certainly. My ex, who had to do a lot of business over the net, used to complain that different standards of behaviour applied in the virtual world. If you wrote someone a letter, she said grimly, or even just left a message on an answerphone, you usually got a response; but an email or a text message could get completely ignored and you'd never know why.

I know people who flatly refuse to take part in internet conferences or symposia; they say that it is impossible to get a "feel" of what's going on, what the consensus really is, what people really are thinking.

Lucky those who can progress from virtual contact to personal, and find that their hopes were not dashed. (I can't say, instincts. There's nothing for the instincts to work on, in virtual contact. The tiny changes in facial expression, in tone of voice, the infinitesimal pauses in response, the whole-body language, all the things that give welcoming or warning signals.)

Same with internet forums and messageboards. I shall always owe a debt to ouch! talk because I stumbled across it at a stage when I was not adjusting at all to the notion of being disabled for the rest of my life, and there, at that time, I found those who were patient with newbies and willing (after the obligatory lurking and first ignored postings period) to stretch out a friendly hand. B W-F, CP, JQ, AH, and many more whose "real" names I never knew, I salute you and I keep you in what passes for my heart in gratitude. But sadly, those boards became overrun with trolls (so did most of the BBC boards at that time) and the BBC proved helpless to do anything about it. Well, you can to a degree put up with unpleasantness and bullying at work - look at The Apprentice - but who invites it into their own living room? So I drifted away, as did many of those who had been regular posters, and in my case have never bothered to return, though I hope all is well there now. It is so easy to let go: there are no meetings to be cut, no social arrangements to be altered, you don't even have to write a letter of resignation. And so it goes.

One of the BBC boards was so thoroughly destroyed by trolling that a new, privately-run forum was set up and worked well for a long time. Then it got religion - oh my paws and whiskers, if you want to plumb the depths of nastiness on the internet, go to religious sites - the BBC's own were pretty terrible, modding or not (usually not). But then there was a clampdown on bullying, and it's up-and-running as good as new again. These things change and pass.

Even in the blogsphere, I know two or three others who have in plain English been driven out of their blogspace, either by being outed against their express wishes (Gimpy Mumpy, for example), or by abuse after airing unpopular views (Al Masters, for example), or by having their URL hijacked (several, but I'm damned if I'm going to publicize stolen goods). None of these are what the "real" world would call decent behaviour.

I was once hiking through Castleton, in the Peak District, which is a little old town with narrow streets and lots of tourist in the season: result, traffic jams. There was one fat little guy sitting in his car, pounding his horn, scowling and mouthing insults at pedestrians and motorists who presumed to delay his majestic progress. I always remember that scarlet, pouting face, and my immediate thought: I bet you don't carry on like a two-year-old outside your car. The closed car is a kind of protective shell, a mini-world permitting behaviour that the individual would be inhibited from perpetrating in the "real" world. Same with the internet, I think. Normal courtesies do not always apply and will not be resumed after the break.

I am grateful to those who have read this blog and commented, it's the communication that has made the effort worthwhile. Who, apart from a few dedicated diarists, writes into a vacuum? So, my thanks and good wishes and keep blogging.

Whew! Glad that's over at last!

Hic dracones, indeed.