When I write a Livejournal entry, I often write for the hypothetical reader. I don't mean by this that I target any specific reader. I always find that e-mail, IM, and the telephone, as well as in-person meeting, are better for actual discussion with people than the vaguely epistolary but rather detached pages of a weblog.
My posts rarely do "call and response" in some one-to-one way with what I read in someone else's journal. I do, sometimes, imagine that x is reading this or y, and will "get it". But I don't try to have one-to-one discussions by weblog. It's not unusual, by contrast, for my posts to take a different angle or aspect of an idea I read, and play with it. I particularly like the idea that I blend ideas from weblogs and other resources into new topics for my wanderings. But I write with the hypothetical reader in mind, who unites all the ideas into a gestalt.
The hypothetical reader is not the reader herself or himself, but what that guy Plato, between indiscretions, might have called the "form" of the ideal reader. When I write, I have in mind that a reader reads what I write, who will understand how the point I make connects not only on its own, but also connects with what I have written in my weblog before, and what I will write in my weblog again.
I enjoy receiving comments, which lets me know for certain that someone reads, but as my Livejournal friends are in the main quite kind to me, I don't live in the suspense others experience as to "is anyone out there?". I also know from the rare e mail over the years, as well as the very general guidance that my counter service, with its "it's free so we don't log addresses,but we tell you in general which servers review your weblog" aura provides, that people read who "lurk" the journal, often for extended periods, rarely permanently. So I don't know just who reads, but I know that people do read outside the people who tell me they read.
I therefore write as if someone makes sense of it all. It may be a person from my friends' list, or it may be a
stranger, or it may be a friend or relative who reads without commenting. But someone understands it all.
Of course, deep down, I know that I am my own hypothetical. I am the person, in this vein, who rather surprisingly is just what I imagine myself to be.
My brother's hobbies include running a rather successful website for people who are enthusiasts of late-model Cadillac automobiles. He told me of a study he'd read, which surveyed lurkers on a website. The study suggested that those who read a site, though they never register or join or comment, nonetheless feel a "part" of the community of the site. This idea appeals to me in so many ways beyond websites and weblogs. The notion that a community exists, even a silent community, is a comfort against the cold.
The commonplace expression for an autobiographical writer is "I am providing the reader with a window to my world". I am not sure my world has that many windows, and sometimes I think that getting to know me is like visiting a hall of mirrors. I am a person whom people must spend some time getting to know to really know me at all. I suspect most people are the same.
But if not a window, then what? I theorize that my journal is a trail. It meanders off, turning here, and turning there. It leads to roughly nowhere, but that's part of the point. But unlike a window, through which one must somewhat tackily enter a building one would prefer to enter by the door, a trail permits one to loop back, to
wander, to stop and look at a butterfly on one's own knee. If one gets lost or finds the brush too thick and a bit boring, one doubles back to the car.
A very few times in the past few years, I've had to double back myself. In one instance, I wrote a long and encouraging comment, including not particularly insightful constructive criticism, and then felt so embarrassed that I'd done so that I defriended the offended party, which is something I virtually never do. It suits my sense of propriety just right that I retreated not because I had been done wrong, but because, if anything, I had wronged. Clearly, I had moved off that person's trail and stepped onto a pulpit of my own.
Despite the attraction of a plein air gathering, most folks don't really need a chataqua lecture tour in the middle of their rustic hike. Yet, I don't really mean that I did wrong as to the kind soul I defriended, I suppose. I like to imagine that my friends are people who value my frankness, and who don't mind if I think out loud once in a while, even if I am completely wrong. I like to imagine that among along my friends' trails, there exist not only scenic tours of their psyches, but also the occassional pulpit or gazebo for creative interaction. I have to be reminded, from time to time, that each meeting has its own rules of order. I then have to hunt the meetings whose rules are congenial to mine. Yet the other meetings are good meetings, too, in their own way.
In the main, I think that people walk along with one another well, and that in this walking there is a virtue of community despite the pixels and polls.
I picture this wandering as a long hike, with no particular desination. I like to imagine that people hike with me, as we speak, and nod their understanding, and some days, perhaps on hypothetical future days, share their thoughts and visions.