I’ve been busy on Open Republic, which is going well, and also a bitch of a cold. Hence my silence, which must be a relief to both my readers, but I feel obligated to put something up here. I’m also putting together a Viet Nam war story to illustrate one reason wars are unpredictable – the FUD of war exacerbates the fog of war.So here are some BloggerCon notes.
At Bloggercon Saturday, John Perry Barlow led a session that explored the place of emotion in blogging. It was generally agreed that one’s true nature emerges when you blog regularly and that people respect the trajectory of your thoughts even if they disagree with some of your posts.
It seems to me that we’re developing our own character in the blogosphere. Just as an author’s characters stray from the original intent, so do our own voices find their true calling, and we reveal ourselves. I’ve been meaning to hook up with Barlow for about 18 years, so it was good to meet him finally. John entered Wesleyan University in the fall of 1965, just after I graduated. Clearly our experiences diverged widely in the next four years, but oddly enough, our values really didn’t. I first heard of John in 1986 when I hired David Duggin’s ad agency to handle promotion of the Dynamac computer, which I had funded in a moment of tech enthusiasm inspired by Steven Levy’s seminal book, Hackers. (When I sat next to Steven at ETech, I told him he’d cost me three years and a lot of money, but it was a fun ride.) David is also a Wesleyan graduate and said that I should connect with this Wyoming rancher who also thought computers and connectivity would be important to us all.
Later, about 1994, John appeared on the cover of a Wesleyan University Alum magazine, posed with a rifle, a wooden fence and a Mac sitting on a fence post. The theme of the article was, of course, the Electronic Frontier Foundation that John founded with Mitch Kapor. Since John still owned his Wyoming ranch at that time, the image was spot on–the frontiersman protecting his homestead from meddlers.
His session on emotions in blogging was set up about eight minutes before it started, but it was the most engaging at Bloggercon. John has had more than his share of life, including tragedies, but I doubt he regrets the price of living large. John described the reaction to blogs he posted when his friend Spalding Gray disappeared from the Staten Island Ferry. He knew Spalding’s mood and understood that he’d probably jumped from the ferry. He conjectured that Spalding was swimming to Cambodia for real, reprising his best known work. John described how he’d been attacked by a few commenters for blogging the likelihood of the suicide before it became official. It struck him then that our culture has put death off limits for discussion because it’s now considered a failure, and he repeated it yesterday. Here’s what he said on his blog:
“Merely to speak of death in plain terms is considered by many to be disrespectful and offensive. This is a peculiarly American sickness which is, among other things, wrecking our health care system – over 70% of America’s total medical expenditures are devoted to extending the last few miserable weeks of life. Our pathology about death abstracts us from it and renders us far too capable of inflicting it on others without remorse. And, worst, it allows us to dwell in a kind of numbness to life that we would not permit ourselves if we did not make ourselves numb to death. To be in denial about death is to be in denial about life.
His point about bankrupting our health care to extend pain for a few weeks reveals the curious perversity of managerial capitalism. We deny our humanity and our spirit based on data from the fundamentalist school of superstition. (With death off limits, now our righteous nannies are going after fucking)
There was a lively discussion including, of course, the rudeness of commenters, which seems to bother some more than others. However, John has noticed that blog com mentors are far less rude than com mentors on bulletin boards or discussion groups like the old WELL. Dave Winer feels that the form discourages rudeness, because identities are better known.
What occurred to me is that we have safety in candor – When we speak from the heart in our authentic voice, there simply are fewer handles for small minds to grab. It’s useful to remember that mean means small, or petty; which also means small. It’s a great language.
The conversation visited depression, another verboten malady never to be acknowledged or confessed by real guys. Spalding Gray suffered from it and I sensed that many of those present had dealt with it. I’ve felt slightly melancholic all my life, though I don’t come across that way – perhaps I compare my insides to others’ outsides. I wonder if people self-reflective enough to blog are self-reflective enough to feel the pull of their inner tides.
However I see the diagnosis of depression to be a little too quick and convenient, like ADD diagnosed in spunky kids. I’ve often wondered if what really gets people down is the stark contrast between the glowing possibilities and heightened state promised by our virtual world – video – juxtaposed to the mechanical responses we’re expected to carry out in dealing with the, well, mechanics of life. There’s depression, which is like a low spot in the road, and Depression, like the injury-based abyss that Spalding Gray fell into. Should doctors reach for the script pad whenever the patient’s hope muscle is out of shape? I’m not sure. Maybe s/he just needs more hope.
Our Animatronic Age
John also invited comment on the cultural ennui that he senses. Things that once got our collective goat go by with hardly a comment, emboldening those who want to fix things which most of us don’t think need fixing. Performance is the obsession of our time: we’re flooded with images of performers creating nonexistent realities and it’s become part of the zeitgeist. So we’ve become performers ourselves, putting on a persona at parties and at church and the workplace. Performance is so routine that politicians are expected to be presidential in the way that news anchors are to be anchor-like. Understanding the issues and dealing with them is out of favor.
We appreciate performances around us, the more perfect the better. We like people to satisfy our expectations and not be themselves, like theme park animatrons. At work we’re smart to appear professional rather than be effective. As family members we’re expected to play our role well rather than finding the bright path of pe
rsonal possibilities that most of us can’t see in front of us. It’s more convenient this way.
It’s all pretty exhausting, and that’s part of the ennui. It also seems to me that we’re missing the hope thing. America has rarely gone this long without a hope matrix. Even during the depression, we had FDR, who was doing something for us. Then we had WWII which quickly became a shared hope that, in about three years, we’d be done with this and move into a bright future. After the war we had the 1946-1974 prosperity wave, with each new crop of kids knowing their life would be better than their parents’. The late seventies and eighties were a new wave of stock market run-ups and novel ways of capitalizing growth. The nineties, of course, were so wild that we had those crazy E-Trade ads, promising that everyone was a lottery winner.
A Hope Chest
It’s like hope was canceled in mid 2000 after a 5-decade run. I’m not sure either party recognizes how dismal it’s been for four years, and that most Americans are looking for something better. We need some hope to puff us up and let us look up from the ground and stick our chests out.
Yeah. That’s what we need. A hope chest.