We Don't Know Each Other

I started thinking about this when Ymar and I got into a bit of a tiff. He made some incorrect assumptions about me that were irritating. After going back and forth a few times, it occurred to me that there's no particular reason his assumptions about me should have been right: We don't really know each other.

It isn't just that we've never met. Most of us post anonymously here because we don't want to be known. At the least, there is some group of people, co-workers or family or potential future employers, that we don't want to know our thoughts.

I don't know about anyone else here, but in addition to using a pseudonym, I also do a few things when I write or comment that I hope help to obscure my analog identity. For example, there are subjects I don't comment about because I'm known in professional circles for expertise in them. I avoid using examples from my life or talking about jobs I've had. I also don't post photos of named places geographically close to where I live.

So, it only makes sense that we don't know each other because we don't want to be known by random strangers, or by people who may be looking into our analog lives. And yet, I think we do want the regulars here to know us, and we want to know them. We may even think we do know them. Many of us have been commenting here for 10 or 15 years. I consider all of the regulars here friends, although it's a strange sort of friendship.

I also believe that this has contributed to some of the intractable disagreements we've had over the years. In analog life, I would probably know a lot more about a friend, where they grew up, what work they'd done, something about their family, etc., before I got into serious political or philosophical discussions with them. Knowing things like these doesn't often change what I say to friends, but it does change the way I say them. And, of course, the whole dimension of non-verbal communication is cut out.

There have been some significant disagreements in the comments over the years, and at those times I have regretted that we weren't at the pub or in the park hashing them out where we could more easily make ourselves understood, and where we could have a good idea of where things stood between us when the discussion was over. There have been some arguments, especially I think with Cass and Tex, where, at the end, we all just abandoned the thread, and I wondered if I had offended someone.

Analog discussions provide immediate feedback that can quickly be used to adjust our expectations for what comes next. If I unwittingly say something that's going to cause trouble, there's usually a facial reaction that warns me we might have a disagreement or misunderstanding. Then I can act accordingly, maybe explaining more or quickly analyzing what I said to look for problems, and I will know to take my interlocutor's next comment with the understanding that we may have a problem. Not so in blog comments, when I may unknowingly post something that's going to cause trouble and not have any warning of that fact until reading the reply. Blog discussions leave so much out that we normally depend on.

In the last few years I've tried to adjust the way I comment to account for these things, but especially when I'm tired, I still forget and comment as if everyone here knew me and I knew them.

I have often wished we could have a Hall gathering somewhere, a day or a weekend of getting to know each other. Unlikely, given the distances I think lie between us and the problem of coordinating our varying schedules. We can't even seem to schedule a book-club-style discussion. But maybe not impossible.

20 comments:

Tom said...

About this: ... and where we could have a good idea of where things stood between us when the discussion was over.

When I'm talking with friends and we have a sharp disagreement, I try to never leave things on that note. Before we took our leave of each other, I would always do something to take the edge off and end on a friendly note.

That's more difficult to do in blog comments than in analog life.

Eric Blair said...

I don't think anybody knows Ymar. Or wants to.

Tom said...

He's an interesting enough fellow, and I'd like to understand him better. It's true that he doesn't seem to play well with others, though.

Texan99 said...

I would like very much to know Ymar better.

I can't recall that you have ever offended me, Thomas. I probably would remember! But honestly, nothing comes to mind.

I'm not very camouflaged here. I use a pseudonym partly out of old habit, and partly because I don't want Google searches under my name to expose just anyone to my more prickly opinions, especially friends and family. They generally know they disagree with me about many things, but I most often try not to rub their noses in it, if they haven't invited a discussion on the subject (and sometimes not even then, though I've been known to lash back when provoked).

douglas said...

It's a fascinating question, are virtual friends real friends? Ten years ago, I'd have said no, gimme a break. Now, I'd have to say yes, and agree with you about some of those asterisks that mark the difference. On the other hand, I think it's fair to say that many people I interact with in the real world also know only that portion of me that I allow them to know, and don't know much of who I am. Only a very few really know me, with my wife being first in that category. I suppose one alternative is to have a private discussion group, where people can feel more free to expose their real names, jobs, locations, etc. But if part of why you participate in a discussion like this is to hopefully pull others into considering those ideas, a private group is counterproductive to that objective.


I certainly feel as though I'm among friends here, and personally, I'd love to meet a bunch of you, but you're right, it seems like a pretty difficult thing to make happen. You'd probably have to plan at least a year in advance to give people a chance to fit it in their schedule. Also, I don't know about the rest of you, but the economy of the last eight years hasn't helped us out away enough to take a big vacation. We've been staying within driving distance for all these years.

Well, if any of you ever find your way to Southern California, let me know, I'd love to meet up!

Grim said...

I sometimes wonder if this medium strips away some of the accidents that keep us from knowing each other's essence. Americans strongly sort by age, for example -- it's rare to have many friends who are even a decade in age apart from you, let alone multiple decades. Yet here some of us are older and some younger, and no one really knows.

It also allows us to speak somewhat more frankly than we would do if we were bound by social ties. I'm sure Tex and I have had more frank conversations about sexuality and the difficulties of men and women in understanding each other than I ever have with anyone in person; and Cassandra as well, before she left us.

Philosophers sometimes have good conversations in person in spite of knowing too much about each other, but not always. Those who have been to war together often can. But it is not necessarily the case that knowing more of the accidents of birth helps you to know the true soul.

Ymar Sakar said...

Anonymous Eric Blair said...
I don't think anybody knows Ymar. Or wants to.

Au contraire, when EB demanded to know how many I had killed, because he assumed I didn't know what I was talking about concerning the subject, that was indeed a babyish but tentative move towards that "want".

Anonymous said...

Douglas, I'd say that I have made more true friends, meaning people that I will drop almost everything to go help, and vice versa, in 8 years on line than I met while working and going to grad school (a 15 year span). Most of those I have met in real life and found that some things are easier to communicate than on line, others more challenging when face to face.

LittleRed1

Tom said...

I can't recall that you have ever offended me, Thomas. I probably would remember! But honestly, nothing comes to mind.

That's good. I figured I couldn't have offended you too badly because we got along well on later threads, but at the time it was difficult to know.

As several of you point out, it's true that the online format makes some things easier as well. Maybe it keeps us focused more on each others' ideas than in-person conversations generally do. It's certainly true that I wouldn't have as wide a circle of friends without online friendships, and I'm glad we do keep up with each other here.

And there are ways to adjust the way we write things online to be more clear, and consciously making very few assumptions about those we are in discussion with is important, too, I think.

Maybe one day we'll have a holodeck sort of thing we can all log in to for virtual discussions.

raven said...

I am not quite sure if the meet should be at the rifle range, the pub, or the library... In an ideal world , all these locations would be close at hand.
This is a good place, welcoming but no coddling- I feel my brain has been stretched a bit by all of you. For an average guy with no education to speak of, that is a really good combination. Thank you all.

Eric Blair said...

And I still don't think you know what you're talking about, Pigeon.

Nathalie Uy said...


Breathe it all in, Love it all out. May you have a good day, and keep on sharing good thoughts :)
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imarksweb.net

douglas said...

Raven, I think a ranch with a nice library would be perfect. If I won the lottery, I'd just rent one for a week and invite y'all to come join me and mine. I was poking around a little, and dreaming really, but I was thinking something along these lines would be great. high mountains, pine trees, lakes. You can bring books and beverages, so library and pub- check. Get out into the wilderness and finding a place to shoot, shouldn't be too much problem. Plus, horses. Ah, if only the economy would pick up...

Tom said...

Raven, maybe just with the rifle range nearby. Hearing protection makes conversation there difficult. We could go shoot, clean up, then hit the pub & library.

Douglas, that would be nice. I imagine there are a number of ranches we could arrange to stay at between east & west coast.

raven said...

The ranch house perched on a small rise, facing SE looking over the river , a pasture long enough to put down a Super Cub,or maybe even a 180.
The ponderosa pines starting a hundred yards or so behind the house, running up to the foothills of the Rockies. the draws filled with aspens and clean sparkling trout water. Sweet vanilla fragrance in the air as the morning dew burns off. Mixed with 100LL...

A sandwich, a thermos, bino's, a rifle, a hat. A nice walk in the woods. ( carrying the weapon is not "necessary",but it does give a certain focus as far as remembering who we are and how we got here, in the same sense a fisherman sees the river, and all it's eddy's, riffles, and potential, more clearly than the sunbather)









Tom said...

You kinda make it sound like a place we should buy and move to.

Ymar Sakar said...

Anonymous Eric Blair said...
And I still don't think you know what you're talking about, Pigeon.


Technically, you have no idea what I'm talking about, you might as well be honest. You said so yourself before.

I actually think you're hurt whenever I bring up a topic you either don't understand or can't trump. After all, you only recognize those as your equal or as better than you, who have "done things". Anyone else is inferior in your eyes, and it is testified by your own attitude towards them on certain subjects.

One early example would be the weight of tournament armor. You act as if the idea of second layer padding to absorb the impact of wooden lance strikes never occurred to you. Nor did it seem to occur to you, EB, that the additional weight of the armor was to account for the extra space of the padding, which causes a severe restriction in joint movement when getting on or off a horse. I cannot imagine how it must hurt to have an inferior point out something you've never thought of yourself. But I suppose you can always tell yourself that I don't know what I'm talking about or that you can never figure out what I'm talking about or that I'm wasting your time.

It's a good face saving gesture, so let's call it that then. But I still think you're a liar and trash, EB. Methane is more useful than you, since people can burn it and it is odorless.

douglas said...

Boys, it's getting a little too personal. Take it outside... oh, that's another thing you can't do virtually.

Ymar Sakar said...

Is that you Grim, moderating this, or somebody else?

raven said...

Maybe we should have the meeting in Forks, WA. On a Saturday night. At the saloon. In 1970. Nothing like a bunch of Loggers, Commercial fishermen and Indians to liven up a place.......
ya'all have good time, I'll be down on the river camped out with a fire and looking to catch a steelhead at first light. :-)