Robert (gurdonark) wrote,

The vivid use of imagination in cyberspace

We're clearly in the first primitive days of interconnectivity on the internet. The communication advantages the internet offers were the stuff of science fiction only when I was a teenager. The issue now is not whether we will accomplish more personal business, personal interaction, and commercial interaction over the internet. The issue is only how long it will take for us to do that much more on the internet than we do now.

Everyone who uses the internet with any frequency eventually comes to realize the problem with interpersonal connection on the internet. From the time that one gets an ISP account, one can engage in communication with folks in one mode or another. Whether it is the most primitive BBS boards (and those earliest BBS boards were primitive indeed), or one of those animated icon sim universes, interface with others can be a big part of recreational use of the internet.

I don't want to plow the ground again which so many have covered who write better than I can do on this topic. I don't propose to tackle the "big picture" topic of just what it means--this bringing strangers "into one's life" via a monitor for moments or an hour a day. I just don't have any insight into that which is not obvious to anyone.

I also am not going to talk about the problem of impersonation. Some percentage of folks one encounters on the internet are not who they appear to be. Fortunately, most of those are fairly bad impersonators, and it is reasonably obvious. I am sure a few are good impersonators, and I just don't realize they are impersonating folks who are rather different from whom they are. Like most people who use the internet to interface with others, I mentally discount in my mind the literal belief in any bulletin board, message board, journal, or other internet interface, unless I have a "real world" contact with the person involved. Instead, I focus on what I call the "literary" aspect of the interface--the truths within which are independent of the "literal" nature of the writer's "true life". This gives rise to the often amusing phenomenon in which some clown believe s/he is engaging in some grand deceit about his/her persona, when in fact the reader often sees through the feint, but more importantly, already discounts as if role-playing were involved. I don't think I'm particularly sophisticated on this score, and I'm sure others are more canny than I am about such things.

What interests me today is the way in which my own imagination colors what I infer from the internet posts I see, including my experience on LiveJournal. LiveJournal is an experience of writing and reading, so imagination is an essential component of the process. But often I wonder if I do not infer more from posts than is really there. It is human to imaginatively "flesh out" the 'story' behind the words, when reading anything. That cannot be wrong, because it's just so commonplace and typical of the way anyone reads anything. But I still wonder if I don't put more "flesh" on some posts than the writer intended. The accompanying danger is to "comment" on a construct of the reader's which is far too elaborate, in relation to the writer's intent.

Most of the people I enjoy on LiveJournal write with substantial allusion and some indirect hinting. This form of writing all but requires the reader to "supply" ideas, a bit of knowledge of refernces, and other typical "novel reading" skills. This is a good thing, overall, for writer and reader. But sometimes I wonder if my imagination over-supplies. Sometimes I may be seeing far more in the text than is actually there. I have written previously that one thing I like about myself is the ability to infer "the missing fact" from a factual setting, on line or off. But in the midst of this "self-congratulation" on my "perceptive mind", I must also recognize a mild danger. There are no bright lines defined in how to respond to a journal. On some level, one responds how one responds. But I do wonder if my imagination does not get the better of me. I then wonder if the better course is not to limit my comments to the "literal text" of the posts. My imaginative writing perhaps is best left for my own weblog.

I believe that rich comments, addressing what a post covers, can be a lot of fun for poster and commenter. I am certainly not disparaging long comments (or short ones, for that matter, as I tend to make a lot of each). But on some level, I worry that when a comment becomes an outlet to show one's "insight" or to "try too hard" to find interconnection, or to address things beyond the allusions and symbols in the journal, must less its literal text, then I get concerned. I worry that some need for creativity, or some need to be "liked", or some need for interface detracts from the quality of the comment, and the limited call-and-response gospel hymn of the journals. It's not really that I wish to comment less, or comment shorter. It's certainly not that I intend to put my imagination on hold as I read journals. It's just that there's some "neediness" in here someplace, when imagination runs too free, and I get bored of being or seeming "needy". It's not a neediness for friends--heaven knows I have good ones. It's not a neediness to be "brilliant"--I am reasonably comfortable with who I am. I'm happily married, so I have no neediness on that score. I certainly have no interest in the more earthy uses of the internet. I am rather grateful, also, that life is not one large AOL chat room. So perhaps what I dislike in my feelings is something more limited, either a neediness to be "liked" or a neediness to add color and texture to the experience. As for the need to be "liked", it's an unworthy sentiment, and I want to spend less time worrying with it. As for the need for color and texture, that's a matter of my own weblog, or novel, or poem, or mail art, or what have you. I need to "add too much color" to other coloring books, when I can instead put new colors in my own.

I guess I feel this cyberexperience is a great deal of fun. It is the future, so to imagine "leaving the internet" is a bit "luddite".
We'll all be interconnecting in the long run via the net, so the notion of getting in "on the ground floor" remains appealing.

But as I read the wonderful novels I follow here on LiveJournal, friends list and otherwise, I must focus on the fact that it is someone else's novel, someone I don't and won't know, which must be savored for its own allusions and content, and not altered too much with my own notions. I will certainly not meet all of my friends on my friends list; it is rather likely I will meet none or, improbably, a very few, other than those I know already in real life. The best tribute to the experience these journals provide is to read those journals for what they are, and not to spend time worrying about my own interface with the journalists. A comment to a journal is a reaction to a text about another person's views. It's not really much more than that. Imagination is an active and sometimes wanton tool. I do not plan radical change, but I will not get caught up in allowing imagination convert the reality of a journal experience into a "construct" of my imagination.

Imagination in cyberspace is a wonderful thing. But too much imagination, like too much chocolate, can be rather cloying, and negatively impact the internet experience.
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