I know we often bemoan the state of the Internet. Surely it’s been a home for some of the least civil, most bullying words we’ve ever heard in broad company.
But let’s take a balanced view. That’s how we find our way.
The Internet has also opened up whole new ways of finding and having friends. On the blogosphere we talk mostly about kindred spirits. Whether for surfaces – someone else who loves butterflies! someone else with broad shoulders! someone else who grew up with iced tea spoons! – or depths – you too divorced, lost your temper, lied and felt terrible about it and hoped to be forgiven – we find our pods. Our leaps, our exaltations, as leopards or larks.
But we may also find friends who differ. I like this.
I’ve talked before about my group of young women friends. We’re extremely scattered, across the UK and the west of the USA. I’m at least 25 years older than everyone else. So our commonality is less straightforward, but no less acute, than friendships of age and place. And it’s been a revelation, negotiating our communication over the years, growing trust, creating a shared language.
For my birthday they sent me this necklace. Inside, their birthstones. My heart, as they say, grew ten sizes that day.
Recently I’ve had heartening interchanges with some other Internet friends too. In these cases, different politics. One former blogger and I got involved in a perfectly polite discussion, she apologized for tone anyway, we chatted privately, and in the end she characterized our opposing views as, “same soldier, different battles.” Which made sense. And which, in the embodied world, we might never have had the space or patience to say to each other.
Another woman and I agreed civilly on Twitter that despite our different positions, we saw each other as friends. In that case I’d say the point of conjunction was the way we both talk. Which seems odd, but works.
There’s another woman who always tells me that she loves my blog posts. I don’t even know her last name.
These are small moments, but they matter to me.
Civility can be easier on-line than in person. I until recently saw these easier interactions as somehow less valuable than the more difficult in-person sort, but I’ve changed my mind. Rather than discount the frictionless relationships we can have online, I now believe they offer a model valuable in its own right. Not Real Life Lite, more like old school pen-pals, if you will. Lessons therein.
If it’s easier to be supportive online – why is it so hard in real life? If it’s easier, conversely, to speak difficult truth online, why so hard in real life? If we learn from difficult stuff surely we can learn from ease? I’m still thinking.
So in the middle of what feels, in the United States, like a long hallway, doors open on either side, people screaming at each other in the small gray rooms as we pass, maybe there are some people walking right next to you. We can agree to keep going until we reach the green outdoors.
Or maybe we can sit down, right here under the fluorescent lights, for tea. Not a revolutionary idea, that, but not all progress requires revolt. I know I’ve got those silver spoons somewhere. I bet you have a tablecloth, and someone else knows how to bake. Someone bring the pakora, someone else the scones, the bao, the Cheetos, even. I’m sure somebody likes Cheetos, and I probably don’t need to argue that.
Pass the whole milk and have a wonderful weekend.
Note: The necklace link is not monetized. I never monetize a Saturday post. Them’s the rules.