A while back a friend of mine complained that s/he had been de-Friended by someone on Facebook, and didn’t know why. Facebook, like many Internet sites, provides a method by which you can e-mail a private message to someone, even if you are not officially Friends. There is also the option to block all communications from specific people. This blocking option is perfect when someone is being a pest or obnoxious or harassing, because it does not give the offender any specific words to batten on angrily; it doesn’t confront; it merely removes the person from one’s universe.
My de-Friended friend, if also blocked, thus has no recourse. There is no way (through Facebook, anyway) to ask the ex-Friend, “What’s up with that?” This brings the lost art of the apology into a new realm of being not just lost, but impossible. My friend cannot issue a blanket apology, or find out what s/he did to offend and make specific amends, because all communication between these Friends has been shut down, unilaterally. Their Friendship on Facebook is over.
I’ve experienced a tiny version of that on a popular international blog. The blog owner/moderator evidently did not like a critical comment I made (and it was critical, but not crude, insulting, or off-topic), for I have discovered that now none of my comments appear on that blog. Zippo, nada; nothing I post shows up. I have been completely blocked from posting. Naturally, this hurts my amor propre. It would hurt more if I hadn’t been posting under a pseudonym using one of my alternate Internet identities. I can still comment on this blog, should I suddenly be overcome with a strong need to, because I can always manufacture another Internet identity. Thank you, Google and Yahoo and the rest of you. Regardless, I can still read the blog, so I am not losing much except the exercise of my own ego through commenting.
It’s salutary to be rejected on the Internet in a snap-judgment, no-second-chances manner, because it’s a reminder that regardless of how entre nous the person blogging comes across, we do not have a personal relationship. We have merely a virtual relationship—as in no relationship at all. Other than my interest in checking that blog and any ego buildup or revenue the blog owner gets from my hit, we have nothing. That’s the true extent of my contribution to that blog, in real terms. What the blog gives me is news on a topic that interests me, and a false sense of community.
Although the ability to comment on a topic is a very inclusive and seductive aspect of the Internet, the inclusiveness is an illusion. We commenters are not included, not unless we number in the thousands or the blog owner has a need for public reaction from readers. That sort of thing happens mostly with the New York Times, or Slate, or any of the big media presences. For a personal blog, it’s different. To remain in the owner’s good graces, we have to tread carefully. Even then, who knows? We may fail to please, or even actively offend.
Was I wasting my time trying to be part of something I am not? To some degree, perhaps. As a blog owner myself, I look at comments as a sign that someone is reading my blog, which presumably is the point of all this writing. Yet I have visited many blogs that have excellent things to say yet garner few comments, so comments themselves are not proof that a blog has reached an audience (nor are hits, necessarily, since people can cut and paste instead of copying a link). Comments are proof that a community has formed around a blog.
What I am struggling to articulate is that I probably ought to save my commenting for thoughts of real importance to me, whether acceptable to another blog owner or not, whether part of a community or not. It’s easy to dash off a comment, but the feeling of being part of a conversation is a false feeling. Before this, I have found myself writing comments and then not posting them. Thinking through my opinion was enough for me. Even the egotistical consideration of recording my thoughts on the deathless, eternal Internet was not sufficiently seductive for me to click Publish.
It turns out that all of us have our asocial moments on the Internet, even when involved intellectually. That’s why people would de-Friend you, or block you, because even when they are putting themselves out on the Internet, they’re not really wanting to be public.
As site visitors, the threat of being de-Friended, or blocked, or simply moderated into oblivion is also a good reminder that we do not have to make comments about everything. If we don’t have something interesting or amusing to say, maybe it’s okay if we say nothing. Maybe not; maybe the site owner is desperate for comments, and wants a community to build. Whichever it is, we’re not necessarily supporting the blog or site owner by verbalizing; often we’re merely counted as hits.
Here’s the kicker, though. To some people, lurkers are deviants, sneaky people who watch but won’t reveal themselves. To others, they are normal. Given these opposites, which is the best course? To speak, or to remain silent? Our comments could be unwelcome. Yet, commenting is enabled on most blogs and sites. The contradictions inherent in all this are overwhelming.